Providence Lights - The Dynamo House

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Providence Lights: The Dynamo House 

Curatorial Statement:

The Dynamo House was originally a power plant, lighting up Providence with its energy. With Providence Lights: The Dynamo House, we aim to shed light on this historic building, built in the style of Georgian Revival architecture of 1912.  Providence is developing into a bold new city, yet we fear that with all its changes its history may be forgotten. The Dynamo House is a strong part of that history, but due to the economic recession of 2008 it has fallen into disrepair. Although many plans have been proposed for the building, such as turning it into a hotel or a Rhode Island History Museum, none of these ideas have come to fruition. Now it stands forgotten, a relic of the past.
In his photographs of the Dynamo House, Dan Zhang captures a variety of industrial elements, including steel frames and pillars, to build a geometric interplay of linear lines.  By focusing on the structure, his photographs highlight the grandeur of the architecture, despite its age and neglected state. They tell the story of the many layers of its development, use, and abandonment. His work is all on metallic paper. Annika Klein's photographs capture the way the lights of the city of Providence at night penetrate the dark building. Her photographs represent what needs to happen, light needs to enter dark, the city needs to enter the Dynamo House, and light it up once more. Her 
All the photographs in this show were taken at night without using any flash. The photographers were presented with the technical challenge of illuminating the building and finding light in the dark, reflecting our challenge with Providence Lights: The Dynamo House. Our challenge is to raise awareness of the issues facing preservation of the Dynamo House. We aim to do this by inviting viewers to explore the dark gallery space and illuminate the photographs of the building. We invite them to shine a light on the photographs and to see the magnificent structure that we are trying to raise awareness of. 

The Shoot

Our initial plan was to put lights into the Roger Williams Park, but when the park cancelled on us last minute, we were left without a show and only a day to put something together! We had been discussing the Dynamo House with a RISD student who is redesigning it for a project. We were trying to do something with her on the park, but instead we asked her to show us and two photographers how to get into the building. The photographers had already agreed to take photographs of our show in the park, so were ready to go. We decided on a night shoot, because of the time practicality, but also because it was what would emphasize the light the most. 

After clambering over a wall by the river, we squeezed through a hole in the fence and entered the grounds of the Dynamo House. We ran into the building and were immediately struck by its enormity, its beauty, and its neglect. The building is four floors high and there was a lot to exploreBecause it was a night shoot, the photographers faced enormous technical challenges. They waded through black rooms trying to seek out some light in the dark. Nervous to use a flash, they had to wait thirty seconds for each exposure. With every click of the camera, we stood in silence, listening to the strange shuffling around us, thinking of what could be lurking in the dark corners. Eventually we reached the roof of the building where an awe inspiring panorama view of Providence sparkled in the night. Returning to campus,  Brown did not look the same. It was too pretty, prim and proper. We couldn't wait to bring our experience of the Dynamo House to campus. 

The photographers

We chose two photographers with very different styles. Both photographers are deeply obsessed with different elements of the medium. Dan is fascinated by the relationship photographers have with time, where they take an instant snapshot and capture a moment. Annika is fascinated by the lack of subjectivity of the photographer, and the inability to take a subjective photograph. By bringing both photographers together, the shoot became a sort of collaborative experience. Dan and Annika worked very well together, discussing their techniques, helping each other with lighting, and working together to find the right angles to photograph. 
Sometimes they photographed the same view, sometimes they focused on different views. With two distinct styles, both of their photographs had subtle differences, even when photographing the same thing. Dan Zhang's were very clean and technical, focusing on creating a technically perfect photograph. They had no noise and a good focus.  Annika Klein's photographs for this series were more playful, as she experimented with the light. Dan focused more on the structure and history, Annika more on the way light infiltrated the structure of the building. Dan's photographs were printed on metallic paper, Annika's were printed on matt paper. These differences made these photographs work beautifully together. 

Photo works by Annika Klein' 15 

Photo works by Dan Zhang' 15 


The Installation

We hung all these images in Buxton lounge on simple hooks, which we just stuck into the wooden walls, so high up that it didn't matter if we damaged the wood. We attached to the photographs using tape and added to weights to the back of the images. We used fishing line to hang the images because it is not visible in the dark. The works were hung at different heights getting increasingly high towards the back of the room. At first entrance, the works invaded the viewers space, then gradually their eye upwards as though the viewer were exploring a gave. This meant that they had to use their flashlight, as they needed it to literally traverse the space. 
 The room was too big for the show, so to make it feel smaller, and give more of a feel of the Dynamo house we decided to put some detritus on the edges of the room. We created a stack of DJ equipment which was lying around the house. We made it look like it was thrown in there. The equipment was dark, so barely visible, but just added to the sense of the Dynamo House. We also left a ladder and a grill from the fireplace on the other side of the room, arranged with a sheet and an arm chair and stool to add to the impression that we were in an abandoned place.  The Curatorial Statement and title of the show were stuck to the door, which was only left a bit open.  We couldn't get flashlights in time but asked everyone to use the flash on their phones. This worked well. 


People seemed to really have a sense that they were in the Dynamo House. The show made people very curious about the building, thus it successfully rose awareness of the building on campus. It was beautiful to see everyone's flashlight joining together in lighting up the photographs of the Dynamo House. I hope the viewers recognized the symbolic gesture that they were partaking in., even those that did not read the curatorial statement. 

Clickhere for video footage of the exhibit. 
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