Instead of shying away from dark places in her photographs, University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Architecture Catie Newell embraces it. In her exhibition, “Overnight,” which opens June 11 at UMMA, Newell took photographs in both Rome and Detroit and features breathtaking scenes of Detroit’s dimly lit streets. When Newell started her project, just 40 percent of Detroit’s streets were lit by streetlights. She took advantage of this rare setting to compare how places during the night may be viewed by audiences as completely different in the daylight. Newell was interested in doing the project for many reasons, fascinated by the fact that at night, settings take on a very different characteristic.
For example, some of the photographs have brightly lit, ordinary trees while houses settle into the dark background. There’s a new focus on a tree that is similar to the ones we see each day, but when contrasted with the darkness, the photograph produces a really powerful moment that Newell hopes these moments will cause audiences to pause and allow the contrast to sink in.
Newell’s interest with the nighttime began to grow three or four years ago while traveling to and from Detroit and Rome. The project began to really kick into gear once Newell was a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. With her work as an architect, her instillations in Detroit coincided with photographs focusing on the contrast of the light and dark.
“Knowingly and not knowingly, I’ve been studying darkness and nighttime for quite a while,” Newell said. “I do love installation work and I’ve realized in photographing my own work, there’s a tendency toward very dark places with a little bit of light.”
There were challenges along the way in Newell’s project, including trying to beat the sunrise, because when the light peeked in, the colors of the photographs changed to a blue hue while Newell was creating black and grey color scales. Avoiding having her pictures coming out blue was her biggest challenge. But fear was not one of the challenges Newell had to face when walking around Detroit at night.
She finds the darkness beautiful and hopes audiences will gain the same perspective while viewing her exhibit. Naturally, as Newell points out, people don’t stick around in dark places for long, feeling out of place, missing out on beautiful moments waiting to be captured.
“(I want the audience to have) just an appreciation of darkness and nighttime, not that it is scary, but it is really beautiful,” Newell said. “It’s the secret identity of our spaces, we so easily shut it out with light.”
Newell’s exhibit of photographs will also include an installation, a sculpture that features different materials and how they react and change appearance with light and darkness. It will showcase her background in architecture, which she has won many awards in, including the 2011 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers.
“Overnight” will be at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 11–November 6 in the Irving Stenn, Jr. Family Gallery