In an Instant: Photography as Time Machine
by Nicole Katze '11 (M.A.)
Have you ever returned to a place you’ve been before and seen something, or smelled something, which made your memory of that place so concrete, it was as if you were in that moment again?
A fine arts photographer and associate professor of art, Dennis Weeks, M.F.A., plays with this concept throughout his series of large-scale, “long exposure” digital prints, as he refers to the work. In them, he combines hundreds of photographs into single compositions, effectively capturing the experiences of subjects who may not have crossed paths in real life.
“Photography is its own kind of time machine, because photos stop time,” Weeks explains. “Showing how things change over time became a fascination of mine over the years.”
Finished pieces are often large panoramas of cities and landscapes that emphasize the relationships of the people present in them. Of particular interest to Weeks is how people interact with monumental art and architecture. In “Social Conscious” (2007), a group of individuals wander by each other near Jacob Epstein’s huge bronze sculpture, “Social Consciousness,” which is located behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Though the commanding bronze is at the center of the photograph, the subjects in it don’t notice the imposing work; instead they are absorbed in themselves. In “Eakins Oval” (2011), people seem to acknowledge each other, but in reality, they weren’t there at the same time.
Weeks spends hours in the same spot to capture these images, shooting anything within a 360-degree arc that interests him. Then, he uses digital photo technology to construct his scene. “Many creative people don’t think technology is capable of artistry, but I think it is,” Weeks says. “I try to teach my students that, if they go out into the world with fresh eyes and a belief that they can use this digital technology well, they have the advantage.”
A former department chair, Weeks has had a deep and lasting impact at Saint Joseph’s, helping to guide a fledgling art program into the comprehensive department it is today, as well as establishing the current digital photography program. His professional work has taken him from the United States to Canada, Italy, Ireland and France, and has been widely collected and exhibited at institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia
Art Alliance, Silicon Gallery in New York and Wabash Gallery in Chicago. He received the Sears Roebuck Foundation Award for Education Innovation, as well as excellence in teaching awards at Saint Joseph’s.
Weeks earned his degree in English at SJU while studying photography at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, and his M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He now works to teach his students — art majors and non-majors alike — about their potential as artists. “I strive to give them the tools to be creative and to teach them that they have the freedom to be creative,” he says.
Weeks embraces this same spirit in his own work. While long exposures containing multiple images continue to engage him, he recently exhibited “Vasari Corridor” (2013), which is a single image, captured in a split-second. “It’s also about time,” he notes. “In this case, it’s the juxtaposition of elements that take place in an instant: A woman glances at a bicyclist while he’s talking on his mobile phone and speeding past the Vasari Corridor that connects the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence, Italy.”
For Weeks, so much life was contained in that one moment, his only choice was to commit its memory to the time machine.