Michael Light: 100 Suns at Burning Man
Summary NoteIn 1998, Michael Light installed the photographs from Full Moon under Plexiglas at Burning Man a year before the book was published; similarly, he installed 100 Suns a year prior to its publication. Materials include the entire series of 100 Suns photographs, and five photographs of the installations at Burning Man in 1998 and 2002.
Michael Light is a San Francisco-based photographer, bookmaker, and pilot whose focus is the environment and how contemporary American culture relates to it. His work is concerned both with the politics of that relationship and the seductions of landscape representation, particularly as found in the arid Western spaces of America. He works with found, appropriated imagery gleaned from public archives and his own 4 x 5" negatives, most often taken from the air. Visual books are at the root of most of his output.
One strain of Light's practice has been to rework familiar historical photographic and cultural icons into landscape-driven perspectives, often with an aerial component, by sifting through large and overlooked public photographic archives. His first such book and exhibition, Full Moon (1999), used lunar geological survey imagery made by NASA's Apollo astronauts to show the moon both as a sublime desert and an embattled point of first human contact. His second archive-based book and exhibition, 100 Suns (2003), focused on the politics and landscape meanings of U.S. atmospheric nuclear detonations in Nevada and the Pacific, 1945-1962.
Another longstanding aspect of Light's production has been to physically fly over both settled and unsettled areas of western American space while photographing with a large-format camera, pursuing themes of mapping, vertigo, human impact on the land, geology, and various aspects of the sublime. A private pilot, Light has a small, two-seat, high-wing aircraft specifically designed for aerial photographic work. He is currently working on an aerial photographic survey of arid America, tentatively titled "The Inhabited West."
Scope and Content
Light has been a participant at Burning Man since his first visit in 1996. In 1998 he installed the photographs from Full Moon under Plexiglas on the playa a year before the book was published; similarly, he installed 100 Suns a year prior to its publication.
Between July 1945 and November 1962 the United States is known to have conducted 216 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. After the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1963, nuclear testing went underground. It became literally invisible—but more frequent: the United States conducted a further 723 underground tests, the last in 1992. 100 Suns documents the era of visible nuclear testing, the atmospheric era, with one hundred photographs drawn by Light from the archives at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. National Archives in Maryland. It includes previously classified material from the clandestine Lookout Mountain Air Force Station based in Hollywood, whose film directors, cameramen and still photographers were sworn to secrecy. Since the tests were conducted either in Nevada or the Pacific the book is simply divided between the desert and the ocean. In the book, each photograph is presented with the name of the test, its explosive yield in kilotons or megatons, the date and the location. The enormity of the events recorded is contrasted with the understated neutrality of bare data. Interspersed within the sequence of explosions are pictures of the awestruck witnesses. Detailed captions are provided for each photograph in a section at the end of the book, as well as a chronology of the development of nuclear weaponry and an extensive bibliography.
Materials include the roll of photographs comprising the entire series of images in the 100 Suns book, and five photographs of the installations at Burning Man in 1998 and 2002.
Quantity / Extent
Related Archive Collections
Light, Michael. 100 Suns. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
Light, Michael. Full Moon. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
- Folder 1 Project Roll and Installation Images, 1998 – 2002