Robert Kawika Sheer
"The Spirit of John Muir with Star Trails, Yosemite" is a performance chromogenic photograph created by Robert Kawika Sheer. The artist signed this work in the lower left and editioned it in the lower right. Edition: 27/250. This landscape photograph is mediated by the body of the artist, which adds a performative aspect to the work. the picture depicts a clearing in a a pine forest. A kind of altar appears at the center of the photography, perhaps in homage to John Muir: a felled branch lays atop boulders, producing a tent-like silhouette. A spectral shadow is cast on the rocks. Star trails streak through the night sky. In this work, the artist can be seen casting his shadow on the rocks, underneath the wooden "tent." Through this ghostly image, which the artist calls a "Spirit Shadow," Sheer "performs" the spirit of John Muir in the natural setting of Yosemite, befitting the conservationist and the environmental activist who fought to make Yosemite a National Park. The star trails, formed by the long exposure of the film, track the passage of time and the movement of the Earth. "The Spirit of John Muir with Stars Trails" is a performative event, carefully stages for preservation in the future.
Artwork Size: 20" x 16"
Frame Size: 30 5/8" x 26 5/8"
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.