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Sunday Salon
with Greg Fallis

George Ciardi


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He was a factory worker for a couple of decades. Now he works as a courier, driving up and down the Duwamish Waterway, an industrial estuary in Seattle, delivering packages to the sorts of factories where he used to work. And he takes photographs…weird, unearthly photographs…mostly at night, photographs that reveal aspects of the urban industrialized wasteland which few people ever see.

As you might expect, he’s self-taught. His equipment is simple: an old Canon F1 SLR that he bought in 1980, a tripod, and an umbrella that he duct-tapes to the tripod when it’s drizzly outside. “Those are the best conditions to shoot” Ciardi says. “I like it when thick clouds reflect the street lights and block out the moon and stars.”

Ciardi made the shift from talented amateur to fine arts photographer with his Artificial Daylight project. He was attracted to what he calls the "functionality" of industrialization. He began to make long exposures with daylight-balanced color transparency film, relying on whatever native light source is available. The resulting eerily-colored images taught him that sodium vapor lamps produced yellowish tones; mercury vapor lamps gave greenish-blue tones. Ciardi used that knowledge to previsualize the various industrial settings he encountered in the daylight.

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The strange colors emphasize the other-worldly ambience of the vacant industrial sites. There is a distinctly dystopian feeling to much of Ciardi’s industrial work in the Artificial Daylight project; many of the photographs feel precariously balanced between disasters soon to happen and disasters that recently happened. The total absence of people in the images heightens that feeling. Although the scenes are not themselves scary, they are scenes in which one would not be surprised by the sudden appearance of zombies. And yet, they are undeniably beautiful.

“The most amazing thing about time exposures,” according to Ciardi, “is this idea that you’re looking at two or three minutes compressed into a frame that is viewed instantly.” That certainly is an intriguing concept, but to me the most amazing thing is how those compressed minutes are so often translated into a soft stillness. Even the hard, sharp edges of corrugated sheet metal and steel beams acquire a muted character.

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There is no sense of industrial noise even in Ciardi’s most active images. In the photograph above (Midnight Sun) it almost seems as if we’re looking at a factory that silently manufactures the stuff from which ghosts are made.

Ciardi doesn’t limit his work to industrial sites; he’s also turned his lens on the countryside. He uses the same essential long-exposure technique, but his landscapes have an entirely different aura of dreaminess. Where Ciardi’s industrial settings are full of geometric shapes and angles, his landscapes are marked by fluid lines and gentle organic curves. The images retain a certain hallucinatory feel, but these are welcome hallucinations.

These are images of rare beauty created by a self-taught photographer using outdated technology and comparatively unsophisticated techniques to photograph scenes many would consider to be unsightly. Any of us could have made similar images…if we’d thought of it, if we’d been willing to go where Ciardi went, if we were willing to go there when he went there, if we were that dedicated. Any of us could have done it…but George Ciardi did.