From his series Above & Below, Cedar Falls, Iowa artist Noah Doely presents 18 black and white images made using a pinhole camera. These constructed, underwater cave scenes explore themes of evolution and origin and raise questions about authenticity in art.
Doely was inspired to make this series after reading about the evolution of the eye and the modern-day chambered nautilus, which has retained its same form for millions of years, including its primitive vision that is strikingly similar to an early form of photography, the pinhole camera. This connection between the evolution of the eye and early photography resonated with Doely as a photographer and a sculptor and he responded with perceptively crafted cave images.
I produced these images by casting and arranging rocks into cave-like formations, submerging them in a large water-filled glass tank, lighting these aqueous dioramas from a single light-source and then photographing them with exposures ranging from twenty-four hours to several days using a pinhole camera in an otherwise darkened room (see diagram). With this type of camera, I created primordial images that produce illusions of scale in a dialectic between the subject and means of apprehending or recording it. The nautilus’ eye and the cave are among the references I use to consider the notion of ancient vision.
Caves possess a web of connotations that relate to origins, vision, and illusion. My work aims to destabilize the notion of an authentic encounter by blurring the distinction between reality and illusion. I’m interested in the precarious nature of subjective experience and the range of interpretations that surround natural realities. Origins are a reoccurring and central theme in my work, which includes the role origin stories play in science, myth, and art. Although my work isn’t exclusively photographic, that medium remains central to my practice, because of its complicated relationship to truth and verifiability and its paradoxical ability to evoke both trust and skepticism.
Noah Doely was born in Golden Valley, Minnesota in 1982. He earned a BFA in Sculpture from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls in 2005 and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego in 2013. He has had solo exhibitions at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles, California; San Diego Museum of Art; Locust Projects, Miami, Florida; Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, Florida; Viafarini, Milan, Italy; Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, Washington; and the Des Moines Art Center. He has been awarded fellowships and residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and The MacDowell Colony. Doely’s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Juxtapoz Magazine, and Burnaway Magazine. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Northern Iowa.