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Liquid echoes 

Edward Pratt Foley looks out over the water, and what he sees fuels a whole body of work. Waves, ripples and raindrops. Boats, maps and sails. The sky above, the lake below.

As a boy, Foley grew up in Northport in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. He watched as Lake Michigan changed daily, even hourly, from a placid glistening surface across which he could see for miles, to a turbulent expanse that threatened whatever moved on it (and all the infinite states of water in between).

Eventually, after photography studies at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Foley’s fascination with water took him to Seattle and San Francisco: “I started doing work with water and sound and their relationship. I took a view camera and synched the shutter, so the length of the exposure for the photograph was recorded on a minidisc recorder. Then I took the sound (of the water) and fed it into a computer to get a visual of what the sound would look like. So it’s the visual-sound specter of that image.” Foley had found a way to make both the sight and sound of water visible.

Now in his final year of graduate studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Foley continues to find new approaches, both graphic and aural, to his fascination with H2O. For (0,0) Editions, as a companion to the booklet A Smaller Part of the Larger Body, he produced a CD called Projects for Water: Water Samples and Shipping, which included water sounds of the North Pacific and the north end of Lake Michigan, ship engine sounds, and interviews with lighthouse keepers and sailors.

As part of his show at detroit contemporary this month, Foley will hang two dark photographs (above) which record the same site in different ways. The shot on the left, a single six-hour exposure of Lake Michigan in the middle of the night, captured the Northern Lights (the white haze on the right), the movement of shipping along the horizon (the white line across the bottom) and the movement of the stars (the arcs in the sky). The shot on the right is a map of the exact nautical location of the shipping lanes photographed on the left. Here the traces (the distant echoes of light) of our relationship to the world of water become the whole story.

Like the work of environmental conceptual artist Robert Smithson in the ’60s, Foley’s practice has become a meditation that opens a door to the sublime.

George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at

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