Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Flickering photology


Text available via DOI:

View graph of relations

Flickering photology: turning bodies and textures of light

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter



This essay explores the first version of Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight, a highly-acclaimed solo for Daniel Proietto with lighting by Michael Hulls, animation by Jan Urbanowski and costumes by Stevie Stewart which was premiered at the In the Spirit of Diaghilev festival at Sadler’s Wells, London, in 2009. Taking note of the mesmerizing effects created on Proietto’s body as he turns in circles and spirals under Urbanowski’s expanding and shrinking nocturnal imagery, the essay considers the ways in Afterlight reflects early twentieth-century experiments with light and colour in the paintings of Degas and the movement studies of Muybridge, Marey and others. Furthermore, the essay takes Afterlight as a postmodern looking-glass through which we can glimpse early modern dance works from the same period that transfigure the human form through the play of light on bodies that turn in stage space. These include Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Golden Slave from Shéhérazade, which is explicitly re-imagined in Afterlight, and Serpentine Dance by Loïe Fuller, the “goddess of light” whose Paris debut was in 1871, the year in which Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass was published. Indeed, the way in which Afterlight multiplies itself by refracting those early twentieth-century works is compellingly reminiscent of the optical effects through which human experience distends and shrinks in the two Alice stories. On this basis I argue that Afterlight creates a flickering (or unstable) “photology” (or knowledge of light) in which there is not only a relay from Maliphant’s work to optical experiments in early modern dance and visual art, but also a relay from those practices to phenomenological theory, especially as that has been developed by Merleau-Ponty, Levinas and Benjamin. This theory provides an alternative to the hegemonic western philosophical and scientific tradition in which – as I indicate with reference to examples ranging from laboratory experiments, through landscape painting, to European dance theatre in the last thirty years – gross material things are “illuminated” by the “light” of transcendent human reason. If “light” in that tradition is thus the founding concept-trope for “the intelligible activities of a knowing subject [who is] entirely separated from the passive mechanisms of a physical body” (Vasseleu 1998: 14), then the alternative phenomenological theory celebrates “textures of light” in which the subject who touches, sees and moves is always enfolded within, but can never master, the other that is touched, seen and moved. Considered in this way, Afterlight offers an after light, or erotic light, in which the dancing body at first coils into consciousness of itself, but then unfolds to trace and caress, but never grasp, the textures of light of an elemental other that is non-possessable and indeterminable.