When the Lights Went Off We Saw

In an innovative attempt to capture the physical effects of such an abstract notion as “light”, Sara Naim’s first solo show unveils a body of work that examines the unseen qualities of photography. It suggests a hidden visual existence behind every image. In this series, each photograph is an enlargement of the edges of photographic negatives that were over or un-exposed and interrupted by light leaks. Burnished and fluorescent hues emerge, corrupting what was once there and revealing forms that would otherwise have remained unnoticed. Within each frame lies the ethereal possibilities of images that never were, relics of lost potential.

First begun in 2010, this series has consumed more than 100 filmstrips, which were then dissected to select the images exhibited here. The result of light rays, a broken camera shutter, and unpredictable glitches of scanners interrupt the images’ surface, giving way to vibrant warm bursts of color and residual traces of a chemical reaction. Fingerprints, dust and scratches rest upon layers of painterly grain and explosive nebulas of color. Burnt portraits and landscapes resonate against pitch-dark edges.

The structure of the materials she photographs beautifully mirror some of the grandest and most mysterious elements of our universe, like the surface of distant planets, the warping of light from ancient stars or the anatomy of plants and other natural wonders. Her works invite the viewer to look beyond the surface and ponder, seeking a deeper understanding of the patterns and forces that are at the core of our existence.

Sara Naim uses her practice to question the ways in which we see. Her photographs explore the boundaries between the seen and unseen; between science and art. Naim’s photographs have depicted dead skin cells, sound vibrations, the cornea of the eye and now, light. Her influences derive from John Berger’s novel, Ways of Seeing, where he writes, “We only see what we look at.” Just as it is important to step back to understand a situation, it is just as necessary sometimes to step forward and inspect.


Sara Naim is of Syrian origin and was born in London in 1987. She grew up in Dubai UAE, but moved back to London to study, where she completed a BA in Photography from the London College of Communication in 2010. Directly after, she worked for photographer Ryan McGinley in New York, where this series began. Sara has exhibited in Dubai, London, Cologne, New York, Arles, Jura and Guernsey. She currently resides and works in Dubai, and will start her MA at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, this fall.

Find out more at the Pavilion Downtown website.