Photos: The Uneasy Conflict Between Artificial and Natural Light

Artist Kevin Cooley has traveled the world capturing landscapes where one light shines on the horizon

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Kevin Cooley and Bridget Batch

The landscapes tend to be stark, with just a hint of human presence. Los Angeles-based photographer Kevin Cooley has captured such scenes around the world for seven years, using solitary lights amid vast landscapes to convey feelings of unease. “It’s about being lost in the world,” he says, “and being lonely.”

Sometimes Cooley pits natural light against artificial light, as in Iceland (above), where the aurora borealis bears down on a strip of highway illuminated by a nearby tunnel. “I try to find locations that present nature as this very powerful, dangerous, foreboding force that we all have to reckon with,” he says.

Photographing Iceland’s landscape under the North’s constantly-shifting daylight, Cooley says, “makes you very aware of how sensitive we are to light, and how light can change in unexpected ways.” (2008)

Devoe Street refuge

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(Kevin Cooley)

For his series “Take Refuge,” Cooley built a snow fort on Devoe Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and lit an emergency flare inside it. He says he likes the ambiguity of flares “because you don’t know if it’s a distressed situation or just a fire.” (2011)

Wind River Canyon

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(Kevin Cooley)

The series “Lights Edge” features long-exposure shots of light beams slicing through dark landscapes. “These lines mark time and show an impact on the environment, but they’re also mysterious,” says Cooley. (Thermopolis, Wyoming, 2007)

Cité window

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(Kevin Cooley)

Boats on the Seine in Paris inspired “Bateaux Mouches,” a series of solitary figures bathed in boat floodlights. “These are lonely photographs,” says Cooley. “The figures give you a sense of scale, and make you relate to the person and the circumstance.” (2003)

Lookout Tower

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(Ryan Reed)

Cooley found this fire lookout tower while driving around Idaho’s Clear Water National Forest. The Forest Service has decommissioned many of its detection towers, and this one could be rented for overnight stays with a spectacular view. (2010)

The Hoover Dam Bypass

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(Kevin Cooley)

The Hoover Dam Bypass (above) is an alternative route to the famous dam, on which Cooley captured this image on a windy evening shortly before the bypass’s 2010 completion. Our struggle to master landscape, he says, is “part of the human condition.”

Matador cave

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(Kevin Cooley)

Cooley, who says he is “always location scouting,” came across this cave on Matador Beach in Southern California. He juxtaposes natural and manmade light to question presumptions of our control of nature. (2011)