REMEMBER: An AIDS Memorial Retrospective – A Closer Look at Some of the Images Included in Kurt Weston’s Show
One of my favorite photographs by Kurt Weston is Dark Angel. The image is also included in Kurt Weston’s show, Remember: An AIDS Retrospective, running at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art from December 1 through December 29, with opening night on December 1, World AIDS Day 2018.
Here’s a closer look at the Dark Angel photograph by Kurt Weston:
Through the years, AIDS has remained a strange disease, touching people’s lives in the strangest of ways. As an artist, Kurt Weston has used art as a means of expressing his own vision of the disease.
In that sense, Dark Angel may best capture Weston’s first intimate experience with AIDS. The photograph is one of his first to be inspired by Angels in America, the play he went to see when it came to Chicago.
In Western monotheistic religions, angels are pictured as God’s messengers, living among humans and in the transitional space between Heaven and Earth. They can be guardian angels helping humans throughout their physical life, or they can be angels of death, delivering the coming of Death. The concept of angels and the symbolism of funeral rituals concur in the artist’s work, revisiting old concepts about life, death and the vast beyond that follows.
Kurt Weston’s Dark Angel is an angel of Death. He is also an angel of AIDS, which, at the time, was a Death sentence. Weston’s angel appears out of the shadows with his wings spread wide. The image shows actually an implied representation of the angel’s wings, which are basically the shadows from where he’s peering out.
Although the photograph is a mixture of poor light and shadows, the angel’s face is clearly illuminated because, even if [an] AIDS [diagnosis] symbolized the beginning of a terrifying death process, to the artist there’s also something trans-formative about the disease. Throughout the years AIDS has changed many people’s concepts about death and dying, and about how individuals celebrate their lives and how they honor their dead. [Hence, the funeral scene in the 2003 movie, Angels in America.]
Before the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, many envisioned funerals as horrifying events where they would mourn and sob over an open casket. As the epidemic started to decimate the gay community and people started losing so many friends to the disease, funerals became more celebrations of life. And this transformation started to spread throughout the culture.
Weston’s Dark Angel symbolizes an angelic figure composed of a play of the elements often used in the artist’s work—darkness and light—to manifest the subtle interaction between what’s real and what is not. This interaction further transposes between the dark angel and the white cat that doesn’t seem afraid of the angel, but rather interested in his stake. The cat was actually “a happy mistake,” the artist explains, talking about the technical part involved in creating the image.
The photographer used a view camera, which is a large camera that requires a piece of film, called sheet film, inserted in a film holder. He put this sheet film in the back of the camera and had the subject stand as he appears in the photograph, holding on to his stake.
The room was completely dark, as the artist started walking around with a hand-held flash, popping the flash off in different angles to create different shadows as he walked around, thus creating the shadowy wings of the Dark Angel.
Unbeknownst to Weston, while he was moving around, working on his photograph, his cat, Che (from Che Guevara), walked inside the room and was accidentally illuminated when the flash came off. It wasn’t until during the developing process that the photographer discovered the cat, which wasn’t supposed to be in the picture, staring straight at the angel’s stake.
Although Kurt Weston created Dark Angel in total darkness, he also interjected the only light into the image to illuminate the angel’s face. The light is a symbol of hope and of life’s triumph coming through the immense blackness of the (then) terrifying AIDS epidemic.
Read more about the Dark Angel and other images from Kurt Weston’s Blind Vision series in Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography. For a face-to-face experience with the Dark Angel and other photography work by Kurt Weston stop by the Orange County Center for Performing Art throughout the month of December, 2018.
As always, thanks for stopping by,