David Stephenson: Light Cities: Sea Level

4 - 26 May 2012

We live in the epoch of the "Anthropocene", with the planet under increasing environmental stress caused by human activity. Since his New Monuments series (1979-81) human-altered environments have been the subject of David Stephenson’s artwork, which explores the relationship between nature and culture.


Stephenson began photographing cities at night in Australasia, Europe and America in 2005, using large format cameras to create highly detailed, large-scale composite digital prints that reveal globalised urban growth, energy use, and light pollution. In these images, light is explored as a visual metaphor to present the glowing night city as an emblem of so much that is both good and bad in our industrialised culture: a monumental technological sublime, where awe, beauty, and human aspiration are tinged with the horror of potential environmental catastrophe, our engine of modernity seemingly running on empty.


Partially funded by a 2008-09 Australia Council Fellowship, work from the Light Cities series was first exhibited in 2010 in Sydney, and acquired by Artbank. This led to a 2011 solo exhibition in New York, which was featured in a Domus interview. Selected work from this ongoing project formed part of a survey exhibition of Stephenson’s work at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne in 2011. Stephenson 2012 exhibition at Bett Gallery will include never before exhibited images of three seaport cities of increasing size – Hobart, Melbourne, and New York. The beautiful waterside position of these urban centres reveals a looming problem: vulnerability to rising sea levels due to climate change.