Robert Kawika Sheer

Spirits Honoring the Lone Cypress No. 2 (39/250), 2002
Photograph, Chromogenic Print
16 x 20 in
SKU: DB5593d
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"Spirits Honoring the Lone Cypress No. 2" is a photographic performance by Robert Kawika Sheer, signed lower right and numbered lower left 39/250. The image features a rocky outcropping from which a cypress tree grows on its edge overlooking the sea. The photograph is set against a pre-dusk sky in which one can see barely perceptible star trails. Highlighted shadow “spirits” stand on the rocks around the tree and gesture toward it, presumably honoring the cypress.


Using a 4x5 camera, Sheer achieves the effects of presence and the passage of time captured in a single image by using a long single exposure lasting from forty-five minutes to seven hours. No digital manipulation or multiple exposures are used in the creation of his works. After the photographer opens the shutter of the camera, he enters the frame of the picture, becoming a performer in the scene. Because he is using low-intensity moonlight to illuminate the night, Sheer can enter the camera’s view without the negative recording his movement. Through this ghostly image, which the artist calls a “Spirit Shadow,” the photographer is a performer in the image. "Spirits Honoring the Lone Cypress No. 2" is a performative event, carefully staged for preservation in the future.


Artwork Size: 16" x 20"
Frame Size: 26 3/4" x 30 5/8"


Artist Bio:


Robert Kawika Sheer was born in Anaheim, California and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He fell in love with photography as a high school freshman at Oahu’s Punahou School.  In 1981, he attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California where he studied photography and earned a Bachelor of Communication Arts in 1985.  Over the next 15 years, Robert developed his mastery of photography by taking various advanced photography classes at Santa Monica College.  On an excursion to the Mojave Desert in 1999, Robert discovered the “Spirit Shadow” technique that soon had his fine art photographs hanging alongside the works of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, and Rembrandt.  

Robert’s pictures are all performance-art photographs; no digital manipulation or multiple exposures are used in their creation.  They’re all taken at night with long single exposures lasting from 45 minutes up to six hours using a large-format 4 x 5-inch view camera.  After Robert opens the shutter of his camera, he enters the frame of his picture (sometimes accompanied by his wife Ingela) and becomes a performer within the scene.  Because he is using low-intensity moonlight to slowly illuminate the nighttime scene, he is able to journey in front of the camera without the negative being able to record his movement.  

In order for you to see his presence in the form of a “Spirit Shadow”, Robert carries a small portable lighting device hidden in his hand and stands facing a wall.  He quickly creates a circle of bright light on the wall and partially blocks the bounce of this light trying to reach back to the camera with his body.  The result is a black silhouette surrounded by an illuminated aura.  Over the course of the lengthy exposure, the moonlight makes the black silhouette translucent while it brightens the entire scene.  Since the negative can’t see him moving around, once he creates one “Spirit Shadow”, there’s nothing stopping him from creating more “Spirit Shadows” on the same negative. As far as he knows, Robert is the only photographer in the world performing this style of photography.