What's illuminated in the darkness of night? Senior Dylan Crawford's photography exhibit, "The Nobodies", which opened last night, explores this question with 18 black and white night photographs and a striking transformation of the Fishbowl Gallery.

The Nobodies is the culmination of Crawford's fall 2009 independent study in photography. The exhibit has been turning heads since Crawford hung his work on Wednesday. From across the Quad, frames of white seem to be floating on a large expanse of black space, catching the eyes of Bowdoin students who are accustomed to seeing the gallery's normally white-washed walls. It is not until entering the Fishbowl and approaching the delicate seven inch by 10 inch images that their ethereal, haunting quality is illuminated.

Crawford's series of prints combine traditional film and darkroom practices with digital alteration in Photoshop to create compelling and intimate night scenes. Strong tonal blocks of black and gray, marred, blurry edges, and anonymous, often formally dressed models, combine to create a sense of mystery and emptiness. Crawford's conscious manipulation of light is vaguely reminiscent of Renaissance chiaroscuro, a technique in which painters consciously created a compositional contrast between light and dark.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography Meg Gould, Crawford's adviser for the project, commented on his work saying, "Dylan began this independent study with a very clear visual idea of what he wanted to accomplish, and pursued this vision rather relentlessly all semester. These photographic moments are elaborately constructed at every stage of the process, but carefully betray neither the cinematography nor the extensive technical manipulations. His work probes issues of staging and the photographic moment—not to mention hinting at voyeurism, anonymity, loneliness and fear."

Crawford, an environmental studies and Asian studies major, took Photography I with Gould as a first year student. It was not until this past fall, however, that he returned to the darkroom.

Crawford's photography project emerged out of an idea he worked with in Photography I when he went into the Bowdoin Pines with a flashlight and a friend to create what he called "odd portraits" at night. Last year, when he began to feel his time at Bowdoin coming to a close, he asked himself, "Why not do this for a semester?" and drew from his earlier work to create the premise of an independent study of night portraits with dynamic lighting that would culminate in a formal exhibit.

To create the images, Crawford used 35mm film, adapting traditional technique to the challenges of nighttime shooting. Crawford's overall body of work evolved organically and relied on actual scenes in the Brunswick night scape. Crawford spent a lot of time at night walking around Brunswick, looking for what he calls "unusual occurrences" which he defines as places where street lights were out or shop windows created intriguing lighting dynamics.

Due to the difficulties of shooting at night, his original visions often changed while shooting the full role of 36 photos, which usually yielded just one or two workable prints. Working with his models, all of whom were Bowdoin students except his sister, Crawford incorporated new angles and ideas as he went along. Crawford then developed his film in the darkroom.

Rather than using the negatives as the starting point for darkroom prints, however, he considered them a "rough draft of the picture." He then scanned them into Photoshop where he edited them for several hours each before printing them digitally.

In an effort to create non-specific and ephemeral images, Crawford used Photoshop to varying degrees. In one picture he took out an entire street of houses because he felt they were distracting; however, in others he limited himself to removing or blurring specific street signs or text that would have made the location more identifiable. Though he says a few remain "fairly obvious, such as back of Quinby," he does not think the photos "scream Brunswick" but instead "capture an ambiguous suburban area."

Though he took many more pictures and created several other finished prints, the final exhibit is an edited collection of 18 prints on the walls of the Visual Arts Center (VAC). Crawford realized that the photos needed to be cohesive as a group. Thus, he chose to remove photos that could have stood as intriguing artistic prints on their own, but were too specific and obvious for the generally anonymous tone of the exhibit.

It's a "bookend" experience, Crawford said of spending a semester of his senior year engaged in this creative pursuit that connected him with his earlier project during his first year. Though he said that the independent study was an incredible opportunity and experience, Crawford explained that, realistically, he does not think that he will be pursuing art as a career post-Bowdoin. It is this fact that makes "The Nobodies" an even more unique experience, both for Crawford and for his viewers.