Reyner Banham (1922 - 1988)

Written by Reyner Banham

Scenes in America Deserta, 1982

It is a light that artists record when their eyes tire of fighting the intense glare of an over-illuminated world. It is a light that many of us nowadays believe we have seen—but, paradoxically, it is because we have taken steps to protect our eyes against that glare. […]

It is a boring old truism that we see new experiences through the filters of the culture we bring with us; as the Mexican proverb says: “Nothing is truth, nothing is a lie—everything depends on the color of the glass you look through.” But for my own affluent generation of tourists, those cultural filters are also physical facts, one in front of each of our eyes. We see sunny places by courtesy of Zeiss, Bausch & Lomb, Correna, Sundym and Polaroid, and we see just as much of the brilliant scene and its colors as their products — balances forgotten on our noses — permit us to see. The “hard, grey light” as I have called it so many times, is a fiction; it exists only on our side of our customary lenses. The true light is indeed hard, but it is not grey — it is no color at all. To call it white is to tame and domesticate it. The full sun of the desert — the Mojave in particular — gives a spectral, hurtful light that is a close brother to heat, and strikes equally hard.


© 1982 Reyner Banham; Layton: Gibbs M.Smith

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