Portfolio > First Light, Last Light

First Light, Last Light

The images in “First Light, Last Light” are solargraphs, months long exposures of sun tracks, the pattern the sun makes moving across the sky over an extended period of time.

In the last 6 months, I have made about 350 soda can pinhole cameras, loaded them with black and white photographic paper, taped and ziptied them to fence posts, rocks, the windmill, trees — any outdoor stable surface I can find. After exposing the paper for 2-4 months, I retrieve the cameras, open them in subdued light, remove the paper which takes on subtle color from the long exposure, and scan the negatives. In some cases, I enhance the color in Photoshop. The horizontal images result from placing the soda can upright, the vertical images from placing the can horizontally. The titles refer to the places where I set the camera.

My husband, Eric Renner, passed suddenly April 9, 2020, three weeks into the pandemic. We had collaborated artistically for 33 years. We shared a good life and a passion for pinhole photography. For the first year after he left, I was barely able to walk into our studio. I started seeing a grief therapist 14 months after his departure. She encouraged me to get back into the studio — I listened to her advice, and began this body of work.

I have been reading “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin and find some parallels with the book and my present life. Chatwin writes about Australian Aboriginal people and their songs that map and describe their land, sacred songs about sacred sites. They believe that the land didn’t exist until a song was created about them — their beliefs are very complex, but in this moment, they speak to me through these images I have captured. I spend a few hours every day wandering my property, putting out cameras, taking in cameras and writing down descriptions of where I place the cameras so I can retrieve them in a few months. Some of the descriptions are funny (next to tree Wood Guy cut down that had the rattlesnake skeleton in it), some are poignant (across arroyo from cottonwood tree Eric planted 40 years ago), but most of all, it’s a journey back through my life on the land I shared with Eric. It’s as if I am creating my own songlines and recreating our existence together that now exists only in memories.

The land I live on in the Mimbres Valley in southern New Mexico is stunning with many cherished and enchanted places where Eric and I would often say to one another, “that’s where the fairies live.” I find solace in continuing to live here.

Since I moved to the Mimbres Valley 35 years ago, I have yearned to make photographs of the land on which we lived. I now realize that I was concentrating on the land, rather than the relationship of the land to the sky above.

Eric had a lifelong interest in astronomy, and was a self-taught student of the sky. He loved this place we called home and I feel certain he is somewhere in these images.
Nancy Spencer
February, 2022

<15> Windmill, 87 days,  7.25.21 - 10.20.21
Pinhole Solargraph Photograph
2021
<122> Windmill, 59 days, 10.17.21 - 12.25.21
Pinhole Solargraph Photograph
2021
  <124> Windmill, 59 days, 10.17.21 - 12.25.21
Pinhole Solargraph Photograph
2021
<129> Windmill, 59 days, 10.17.21 - 12.25.21
Pinhole Solargraph Photograph
2021