John Hilliard

Sixty Seconds of Light


Not on display

John Hilliard born 1945
12 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper
Image: 400 × 6001 mm
Purchased 1973

Catalogue entry

John Hilliard b.1945

P07233 Sixty Seconds of Light 1970

Not inscribed.
Twelve black and’ white photographs, each 15¿ x 19¿ (39.2x49.2), to be displayed in sequence in a horizontal row without gaps between frames, giving overall dimensions (frames included) of 15¾x 236¼ (40 x 600).
Purchased from the Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Lisson Gallery, September 1971; Prospect 71, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, October 1971; The New Art, Hayward Gallery, August–September 1972 (no catalogue numbers; repr. p.42 correctly dated, in a special layout designed for the catalogue, but dated 1970–71 in handlist).

The following notes, based on a conversation with the artist in April 1974, have been approved by him.

The photographs in P07233 were taken using a 120 film, the twelve exposures of which correspond in number to the twelve photographs in the work. P07233 is the third printing of the second version of this work. The first version was a single photograph measuring 20 30 in. of the twelve constituent photographs arranged in three horizontal rows of four with the length of exposure and the aperture indicated in writing beneath each. This version, which contains a mistake (one of the hands stuck at one point) was reproduced in Flash Art, 28–9, December 1971–January 1972, p.10. The first printing of the second version was exhibited at the Lisson Gallery in 1971 (see above) and later destroyed. The second printing of the second version was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1972 (see above) and was slightly damaged during installation. This printing is retained by the artist; the printing owned by the Tate Gallery is more nearly perfect.

The photographs represent a standard photographic dark-room clock photographed in artificial light (to ensure a constant light level) against a wall. The clock is supported on nails that are not visible in the photographs. The clock belongs to John Hilliard, who bought it specially to carry out P07233 and has subsequently used it constantly. As the photographs record, the clock was set to indicate twelve different durations of time increasing by regular 5-second increments from five to sixty seconds. The clock’s indication of each time-span determined the simultaneous length of exposure of the film in Hilliard’s camera. From the resulting negatives, the enlargements used in all three versions of P07233 were exposed in the enlarger for a standard length of time. This length of time was determined by the exposure-time required to produce an accurate image from the five-second negative which was then scrupulously adhered to for the eleven further prints; this uniform exposure time was measured, during the enlarging process, by the same clock.

The clock has two hands, a minute hand and a second hand; when it was bought, the face was white and the hands black. To make P07233, Hilliard painted most of the face black and the second hand white, since a black hand against a white ground would not have reflected light. Because it was in motion when being photographed, the white second hand can be discerned only by the blurred trace of its movement round the clock as it measures the length of exposure time. In the five-second exposure, the minute hand stands at one minute past the hour. In each successive photograph it moves progressively further forward, until in the sixty-seconds photograph it stands at two minutes past the hour. This is because Hilliard was unable to start the clock and operate his camera shutter simultaneously. He therefore had first to start the clock, then allow the second hand to move round for sixty seconds then operate the shutter when the second hand was exactly at‘12 o’clock’.

In P07233 Hilliard’s intention was to make a work the appearance of which contained all the information the spectator needed in order to understand the work. In this sense those of his works to which it is closest are Camera Recording Its Own Condition, 1971 (repr. Studio International, Vol.183, April 1972, p. 170) and Twelve Representations of White 1973 (twelve colour photographs, each taken using a different brand of colour film, of .a white wall that is blank except for the packet, bearing a brand name, in which the film was bought).

The premise underlying T01731 and many other works by Hilliard is that for any given motif there is no such thing as a single photographic truth. One factor that led to Hilliard’s concern with this theme was his consciousness, beginning when he was still a sculptor, of the extreme inadequacy of the often single photograph by which a sculpture was better known than it was in three dimensions, to convey the reality of the work’s appearance, despite the strong impression of reality given by each photograph. Hilliard’s response was to demonstrate the elusiveness of photographic reality by taking in each work a given motif or a given photograph and varying one or more factors of its presentation. Given this aim, repetition became an inevitable feature of most works, in order to identify the variable factor. Once he had established what were the different variables in the taking, the production and the presentation of photographs, Hilliard approached the problem quite scientifically. For any work, the motif was selected simply on the criterion of what would most efficiently convey the relevant information within the variable under investigation.

In some ‘Notes from 1970–71’ published in the catalogue Beyond Painting and Sculpture (works bought for the Arts Council by Richard Cork), 1973, p.44, Hilliard wrote:

‘1. After continually using a camera in the most utilitarian way as a recording device, there inevitably comes a point at which one directs one’s attention to the instrument itself, to examine the possibilities of this thing that one has previously used in only a limited manner. And one proceeds to put it through its paces, to push it to its limits, revealing the inconstancy with which it can represent its objects. ‘2. The camera is capable of “seeing” what is ostensibly the same object in many different ways. Further, the completed photograph can be significantly altered by its context, or by the presentation of a selected image area. What does it mean, then, to say, for example, “This is a photograph of a sculpture” ? How adequate or reliable is the representation? When a photograph “stands for” a sculpture (or whatever), it does so as only one of a large number of possible alternatives; and differences in camera position, film stock, depth of field, shutter speed, print editing, etc, will determine not only the nature of the photograph but also the way in which it is interpreted.

‘The two separate observations above go some way towards describing the premise from which several sets of photographs (1970/71) commenced. These deal specifically with the versatility of camera use (as distinct from the further flexibility of printing, trimming, etc.). Each set demonstrates a particular variable, using a constant (repeated) image which is qualitatively manipulated as a consequence of modifications in the handling and mechanics of the camera—i.e. the “same” picture changes according to the camera’s condition.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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