2007-2008 2006-2007 2005-2006 2004-2005 2003-2004 2002-2003 2001-2002 2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
1996-1997 1995-1996 1994-1995 1993-1994 1992-1993 1991-1992 1990-1991 1989-1990 1988-1989 1987-1988 1986-1987
< Thumbnails < Last | Next >

Light-Space Modulator

Lászlo Moholy-Nagy
Light-Space Modulator, 1930
Gelatin silver print
27.2 x 20.8 cm; image: 27.2 x 20.8 cm
Purchased 2001
© Moholy-Nagy Estate / Bild-Kunst (Bonn) / SODRAC (Montreal)

László Moholy-Nagy was a painter, a sculptor, a filmmaker, a producer of photo-collages and photomontages, and a renowned educator. He was also a pioneer in abstract photography, and made his mark by introducing early-twentieth-century technology into the various art forms he practised.

Moholy-Nagy came to be an artist through an unusual turn of events. His plans to become a lawyer were interrupted in 1914 when he abandoned his studies at the University of Budapest to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. Returning to civilian life at the end of the war, wounded, and suffering from shell shock, he began to paint and draw. In 1923 he accepted an invitation to teach at the Bauhaus, first in Weimar and later at Dessau.

It was around 1922, when Moholy-Nagy and his wife Lucia were first experimenting with photography, that he started to formulate his ideas about the making of a three-dimensional mobile object, which he then called "Lichtrequisit" or "Light Prop". His plan was to project light onto a blank wall through the moving parts of a machine constructed of metal and glass elements, thus creating arresting patterns from the intermingling bursts of light and shadow. The abstract effects of light that would be created were reminiscent of the luminous shapes seen in his photograms of the 1920s. Finally constructed in 1929, when Moholy-Nagy was involved in stage design and lighting for the State Opera in Berlin, this kinetic sculpture, today known as Light-Space Modulator, was expressive of his deep interest in the relationship between man and technolgy and the articulation of light and space.

When Moholy-Nagy decided to use Light-Space Modulator as a subject for photography he was fully aware of how the light-sensitive layer of the photographic paper, which he considered to be the "essential tool of the photographic procedure," would capture the complex textures of the reflective metal surfaces of the discs and grids and the translucency of the glass spiral. By emphasizing the complex interaction of the materials of the machine and its moving parts, Moholy-Nagy created an intricate and lively composition of light and shadow, form and texture.

Although we know that this photograph was one of several that Moholy-Nagy made of Light-Space Modulator, it is difficult to say for certain how many there were in the complete series. In this particular photograph, taken at an oblique angle, the artist has captured the dramatic effects of projected light bouncing off the polished metal and plastic surfaces of the machine. Like its companion pieces at the J. Paul Getty Museum, it suggests that Moholy-Nagy was not interested in a mere factual description of the machine but rather wished to explore its complex beauty in a medium ideally suited to record the properties of pure light. Thus he moves in close to the object, cutting off the top and bottom, and focusses our attention on the abstractions of light and their interactions with the geometric forms of the machine. The ideas that spawned Light-Space Modulator have taken on a new life through the photograph.