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By Suzanne Révy
A confession… I’m less interested in photographs that are purely abstract, so it was a surprise to be drawn to the complex circles, lines and patterns in Jim Nickelson’s delicate pictures from his series Harmony of the Spheres currently on view at the Garner Center Gallery at the New England School of Photography in Waltham, MA through December 7, 2018.
There is something familiar in the shapes Nickelson creates through linear arrangements to render fragile spheres which are presented in both black and white and softly muted color. Are they tiny electrons pulsing around a neutron? Or are they the heavens circling above? Turns out they are celestial, Nickelson writes, “I create each photograph in Harmony using as raw materials photographs of one night’s performance of the night sky, and then create pieces from a series of completed photographs.”
Harmony of the Spheres is akin to a musical piece in three movements. The first is called “Prelude” and is presented in black and white. It starts with an image that evokes a horizon and a night sky, then progresses to images that recall classic black and white negatives made up of streaks, dots and lines. The second movement is called “Ourobos” in which Nickelson uses a simple orb to recall the sun or the moon during an eclipse. The finale, presented as cyanotype prints is titled “Euclidean Sonata” in which the nighttime streaks of stars are gently rendered into geometric shapes such as a cylinder or cube.
Scientists and artists – both ancient and contemporary – have long searched for and observed patterns in the cosmos in order to better understand the essence of the universe and our small corner in it. From those observations, we have created mathematics, art and music to expand our lives beyond mere survival, and there is comfort in knowing that the earth takes a year, give or take, to revolve around the sun and a day to rotate on its axis. It has been on this trajectory long before early humans arrived and will likely continue after we have perished from this planet. Harmony of the Spheres offers a reminder of the beauty of that trajectory. Nickelson’s elegant symmetries and geometric forms unite the musical, artistic and scientific themes from which humanity draws meaning from our vast solar system.
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