In his Blackout photographs, Douglas has scripted and staged scenes from a hypothetical present-day emergency scenario of the total loss of power in New York City. A rare series set in contemporary times, and only Douglas’s second work to be shot in New York, these imagined vignettes are meticulously planned, seamlessly interweaving fact and fiction in their evocation of past events that affected the city, such as the 1977 blackout or, more recently, Hurricane Sandy. Beginning with his 2008 Crowds and Riots series, in which he reconstructed the 1971 Vancouver Gastown Riots, Douglas has used the photographic medium as a tool for understanding the interpersonal dynamics that arise in such moments of societal fracture. In 2017, the artist turned his focus to the pervasive global unrest of 2011—a year that saw Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and riots in cities including London and Douglas’s native Vancouver, amongst other mass protests. In Blackout, as in these related series, Douglas juxtaposes images that are filmic in their sweeping overview of what a collectively felt catastrophe might look like, with others that offer intimate glimpses into individual experiences. Through this visual tension, he effectively redirects focus to a basic human level—foregrounding how new rules and relationships are forged in such liminal moments and evoking a range of emotions through subtle visual cues.
“In ten rather painterly shots, the artist presents familiar scenes of isolation and camaraderie, theft and rescue, drawing on accounts of comparable real events, including the 1977 blackout and Hurricane Sandy. It’s a method that he’s used several times before as a way to explore how unexpected shifts in living conditions affect our relationships with our surroundings and each other, but here the lighting (or lack thereof) makes the experiment visually as well as psychologically satisfying.” – Photograph Magazine