They can be vague and ghostlike, but we all occasionally see them. Afterimages are the hazy auras of things that are no longer there and can be caused by bright lights fluctuating at night. Photographer AnnieLaurie Erickson began to see them all the time after a traffic accident. Maddening at first, they became more intriguing to Erickson as her symptoms eventually waned. She even invented a camera with a special sensor specifically to capture afterimages, and upon moving to Louisiana she discovered petrochemical refineries as perfect subjects for her new pursuit. Glowing like diabolical Christmas lights on an industrial scale, they became objects of fascination that she stalked and recorded — a practice that resulted in occasional scrapes with the law. In the post-9/11 world, no photos of such facilities are allowed, which heightened her impression of them as "strange forbidden cities." The result is this Slow Light series of large color photographs that bend both the laws of optics and the Homeland Security statutes.
The images themselves are grainy and ominous yet sometimes almost jazzy. For instance, a Port Allen refinery (pictured) suggests a vintage science fiction illustration, or even a visual version of a rhapsodic saxophone riff from the bebop era. But the gaseous aura is less than reassuring, and in another Port Allen image a single smokestack pumping mystery vapors into a granular night sky is downright chilling, a postcard from an unnamed abyss. A view of glowing scaffoldlike refinery structures in Norco looks infernal yet celebratory, as if the denizens of Hades built chemical bonfires to welcome the lord of the underworld. But Erickson's view is more philosophical: "For me, these images evoke both a presence and an absence. They are points along a continuum between strict representation and subjective abstraction, or between our immediate visual reality and the decaying, remembered imagery that subconsciously shapes our perception." It is a perspective she earned the hard way. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT