Sunday, December 17, 2017
Human Interest

Frank Hallam Day's images of glowing RVs are at turns charming, creepy

Frank Hallam Day has toured the world to photograph ship hulls and shipwrecks, mannequins and cherry trees, American waterways and the after-dark time of those giant balloons you see floating over New York City parades. It's good stuff. But his recent work that's getting a ton of attention — including the Oskar Barnack Award from Leica — is a series called "RV Night," and it takes a turn that's haunting and creepy, and at times funny and pathetic. The series evokes a theme of Man versus Nature with an almost post-apocalyptic tilt.

And it's set right here in Florida. All of it.

Over four winters, the former State Department employee currently living in rural Virginia pitched his tent around Florida's parks to capture images of solitary RVs aglow in the wilderness. There are no people in these photographs, and in most the blinds are drawn. The RVs appear to be hiding in the brush, like End Times outposts, and they bear ironic brand names like Cougar and Escaper and Wilderness.

The genesis of the idea?

"Well, you know, it basically just fell into my lap," Day says in a telephone interview. "I was in Florida camping at night and I had a fire going, a campfire. And I loved the way the light looked on the trees against the night sky. It's unusual foliage: palms and scrub oaks and pines. I thought, I'm a photographer, I know how to do lighting. So I started shooting it.

"I was doing all these interesting Florida nighttime photos without the RVs. And then one night I turned around and there was this RV, glowing. I went, 'Oh, my God. That is amazing!' And that was that."

It felt new, and it's always hard to make new art.

Inspired by Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam), he shot hundreds of portraits of RVs spookily entombed in Florida flora, from Lee County to Flagler County, the trees soaking in his synthetic lighting. The series appears in Day's book, Nocturnal.

And the people in the RVs didn't know he was there, he says.

Was he ever caught?

"Not once," he says. "People thought I was taking pictures of owls. I would say, 'Yeah, I'm looking for owls.' "

There's an unspoken anxiety in the juxtaposition of RVs (What's more wholesome than an RV?) and the impenetrable darkness of the forest.

As the project ticked on, Day got the sense that "there's really unfinished business in our relationship with nature and that things could go off the rails and go wrong. It's not necessarily a happy ending."

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