Robert Burley
The Disappearance of Darkness
2013 10 12 ... 2014 01 12


Silver based film is dying, silver based film is dead. Digital technology has shifted photographic film into the domain of history and heritage. Its disappearance resulted in that of the entire industrial and commercial system that kept it running: factories, offices, studios, stores… All these spaces are now abandoned and facing destruction.
In 2005, the Canadian artist Robert Burley started to explore these now deserted locations where the noise of machines and conversations still seems to float in the air. His first target was Kodak, photographing the empty interiors of the Toronto factory, then the much-covered implosion of the historical Rochester and Chalon-sur-Saône factories, before moving on to other manufacturers: Agfa-Gevaert, Ilford, Polaroid…
In addition to the simple immortalisation of emblematic places, Robert Burley’s images tell the story of the disappearance of the material culture of photography.

The “Robert Burley, The Disappearance of Darkness” exhibition is a natural follow-on from the Michel Campeau show in 2012. Campeau, another Canadian, did a photographic inventory of the last dark rooms on the planet.

In recent years, Robert Burley has been documenting the end of silver-based photography through the abandonment and destruction of the factories that make photographic film. The exhibition is organised in tandem with the Ryerson Image Centre (Toronto), and focuses on the historical moment when technological changes irreversibly redefined the photographic medium. The Disappearance of Darkness deals with the relatively sudden and brutal end to a hundred-year industry. In 2005, Robert Burley was given permission to take photographs of the Toronto Kodak factory, an industrial complex that manufactured film, photographic paper and equipment. Over a period of a year, he recorded the abandon and demolition of the Toronto factory before moving on to other manufacturers whose factories were also progressively closing down: Kodak France, Agfa-Gevaert, Ilford, Polaroid. In 2007, he witnessed the implosion of the Chalon-sur-Saône Kodak factory, the last trace of the brand’s presence in France. As a photographer who usually explores landscapes and architecture, Robert Burley naturally took an interest in the compact aspect of the buildings whose unique architecture enabled mass production. The exterior views show formidable monolithic structures with no windows, stripped of all human presence and movement. These ghost factories seem to have undergone a nuclear attack. Through the emptiness and silence, these photographic tableaux evoke the devastating economic consequences that have resulted from the digital revolution.

Robert Burley (b. 1957) teaches at the School of Image Arts (Ryerson University, Toronto).

A book in English accompanies the exhibition:
Robert Burley, The Disappearance of Darkness: Photography at the end of the analog era
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012
160 pages
Isbn: 978-1616890957

Exhibition curator: Gaëlle Morel, curator at the Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto