Chicago Sun Times

Seeing the Light
by Margaret Hawkins
June 22, 2001

Mark Citret’s illuminating photos offer new view of everyday objects

Mystics and psychics sometimes describe the process of passing from this life into the next as “going toward the light,” and I couldn’t help but think of that phrase when I saw the photographs of Mark Citret. Whether or not they are intended to symbolize that ultimata journey, these pictures evoke it.

Citret photographs the most ordinary places. It is how he sees them that makes them extraordinary. Often positioning himself and his camera in a dark place, Citret frames views into blurry, blindingly bright vistas just beyond our focus. In one view, through a grouping of cypress trees, our line of vision arrives in a foggy clearing, turgid with moist white light. In another, we look through a dark boathouse somewhere in Michigan toward dazzlingly bright water. In one especially minimal but arresting image, we look down a bland hallway toward an open door out of which pours light. The effect is both weird and hopeful. What in the world is in that room at the end of this drab hallway?

In each photo there is this sense of moving through a tunnel toward some magnificent possibility. It is as if we travel until we reach the light and then stop, blocked by the force of the miraculous. Citret doesn’t explain this phenomenon, he simply repeats it in photo after photo as if to make the point that the most mundane places can yield the most sublime experiences if only we keep quiet and pay attention.

Even the photos that don’t follow this tunnel formula create a similar sense of mystery. In “Bathroom, Kings Inn,” the tub in an ordinary motel room takes on a shrinelike presence, and a view of an air vent on the floor of an art museum in France looks otherworldly.

These photographs are all about light, about how light is what we see first and last when we see anything, about light as the essence of matter. It is a concept that begins to sound religious, reminding us of all the “I am the Light” language in the New Testament, and as such it links these photos to something beyond the scenic. There is a sense here that Citret is trying to remove himself from corporeality altogether and photograph only light. Good for us that he doesn’t succeed, though, because the most interesting photos here are not the most abstract but the ones where apparently supernatural light appears in motels, on playgrounds and in dingy hallways.

It’s hard to tell if Citret means to say so, but the message these trash-can epiphanies give off is that the divine is everywhere and sometimes most palpable where we least expect to find it.