Syzygy, an astronomy term used to describe the alignment of celestial bodies, is the title of Alex Marks’ first solo exhibit at the Marfa Book Company. His nomenclature makes sense: In order for these 16 photographs to end up on the gallery walls, a lot of disparate forces had to align.
For one, Marks, a night photographer, shoots a mere two days out of the month. Ideal light levels occur only during the full moon and the night immediately following. Plus, the fickle desert weather has to cooperate. Cloud cover renders even some of those nights too dark to shoot.
Besides battling the forces of nature, Marks must deal with human nature. At 11:30 P.M., most people are socializing, settling in for the night, or already asleep, but that’s the time he heads out to take advantage of five or six hours of peak moonlight.
"So many times I forced myself to go out even if I wasn’t in the mood to," Marks says. "But it was a good shooting experience after I got out there."
He wanders the Marfa plateau by bike or motorcycle, or in his van, searching for subjects to photograph.
A look around the gallery reveals Marks’ eye for broad horizontal striations of color and tone. In "Stream," his camera records the continuous flow of light as a train rolls down the tracks, which registers as a thick, warm blur of peach spiked with bright streaks of amber and white gold.
He often focuses on a single elements as the center of the composition. In "Yucca," for example, a tree stands starkly against the horizon, which bisects the photograph into desert and sky. White light radiates from the center, leaving a dome of dark blue along the image’s top edge, echoing the rounded outline of the yucca.
Beyond the composition, Marks leaves the rest of the image up to chance.
"Me and the film just kind of hang out, have a beer together and watch whatever moment is going on," he says.
He varies his film and exposure times, betting that the different elements will come together in the final image. He doesn’t split hairs with technical details.
And more often than not, they do.
His photographs are lushly saturated, dreamy landscapes with an evanescent quality of light–although produced in the early morning hours, these shots look like they were taken at twilight, or maybe at dawn. And Marks, who moved to Marfa after studying photography at the University of California Santa Cruz, manages to capture a sense of place–the horizontality, the isolation, the vegetation, the droning trains, that magical light.