There's a Certain Slant of Light

An exhibition of photographs by Elizabeth Pedinotti documenting the experience of loss, death, and mourning


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Eduardo Cadava

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce There's a Certain Slant of Light, an exhibition featuring new works by Elizabeth Pedinotti, on display in the Slought vaults from February 11-March 13, 2010. The opening will take place on Thursday, February 11 from 6:30-8:30, with remarks at 6:30 by Eduardo Cadava of Princeton University, author of Words of Light and organizer of the exhibition.

There's a Certain Slant of Light is the first of a series of small Slought-sponsored exhibitions of work by young artists, in this instance the San Francisco-based photographer Elizabeth Pedinotti. Installed in the margins of the exhibition Strictly Death, concurrently on display in the main galleries, Pedinotti's photographs stage the experiences of loss, death, and mourning that are photography's signature, at the same time that they initiate a play of light and shadows, traces and time, perspective and slanted views, that invite us to reflect not simply on the limits but also the possibilities of the very medium itself. Pedinotti's accompanying video, Plates, offers an allegorical counterpoint to what Walter Benjamin called the photographic "plates of remembrance," and does so in order to suggest the interruptions, breaks, and destruction that arrive with the photographic arrest (if every photograph works to preserve or fix a memory, it also threatens to put it under erasure). Together, these works suggest that the kind of looking, recording, and witnessing that a single photograph occasions always also bears witness for photography in general: for all its singularity, a photograph cannot but evoke, in more or less subterranean ways, its relation to photography as such. According to Pedinotti, the photographic image cannot be thought in isolation from the concept of the trace and from the ways in which it allegorizes a subject's dispersal, even when photography works to capture a subject by interrupting and arresting time in the moment of a shutter's release.

Taking its title from Emily Dickinson's remarkably photographic poem, There's a Certain Slant of Light the exhibition - like the poem - encourages its viewer to look at a death that he or she cannot see past. If the poem understands loss as natural, as a mere conversion, say, of day into night, of light into shadows and darkness, Pedinotti's photographs tell us that there is nothing but loss, death, and transformation - nothing else is more "natural" - even as they seek to mark the survival that is necessary to bear witness to this death and change. Whether signaling the indirectness or slant of light, the imprint or thread of this or that particular moment, the extremities of the body or the tenuous line between the human and non-human, these photographs are traversed by finitude.

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This is why the slant of light - which in Dickinson appears as a kind of "imperial affliction" - is not simply a premonition of death (of the death that comes with every photograph), but a kind or type of death. In these photographs, light is itself a kind of death, even as death is perhaps what makes light possible. Everything that follows from this indicates that the experience of loss, the anticipation of death, enables each photograph - what Dickinson calls a "Seal," "a certain Slant of light" - to probe the conditions and consequences of perception. The signature of this loss would be marked in what keeps and does not lose, what keeps, preserves, and seals loss. As Derrida has remarked, "it is necessary to keep loss as loss. This is perhaps the photographic emotion, the poignancy of which Barthes speaks. One keeps the archive of 'some thing' (of someone as some thing) which took place once and is lost, that one keeps as such, as the unkept, in short, a sort of cenotaph: an empty tomb."

But what is loss or death? This is the question that all photographs ask us to engage and it can be posed at each step of Pedinotti's photographic trajectory - the world she photographs no longer exists, and already, even as she was photographing it, it was in the process of altering and disappearing. This is why these photographs recall the traces and specificity of a particular moment, even as they inevitably mark the disappearance, loss, and ruin of this same moment. Indeed, the strength of these images lies in their insistence that things pass, that they change and alter. The very law that motivates and marks her photographs is this law of change and transformation. Pedinotti knows that everything will pass, and this is why her photographs involve as much the production as the recording of images, as much an act as a gaze, as much a performative event as a passive archivization. This is also why everything in her photographs is destined to death, and not only to what we elsewhere have called "strictly death."

There's a certain Slant of light,

Emily Dickinson

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –


Elizabeth Pedinotti (b. 1978) holds a BA in photography from the State University of New York, Albany. Her work has been included in group shows throughout the U.S. She is currently enrolled in the photography MFA program at the San Francisco Art Institute, and recently received an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Berenice Abbott Prize competition and was the Runner-Up for the 2008 Aperture Portfolio Prize for her series "Space Between Hours."