Love Letter to Nathaniel Dorsky

A film still showing a view through a window. Behind the window, a white sculpture of a man's head in the style of Ancient Greek sculpture lies on its side on a table covered in a taupe, satiny cloth. A large, shiny, gold object that could be a sculpture of a sun shape sits below it, cut off by the bottom of the frame. The scene outside the window reflects in it, creating a surreal compression of space.
Nathaniel Dorsky, Threnody 2, 2010. Epson ColorFast pigment ink, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl (100% cotton rag).
4 x 6 inches. Courtesy of Anglim Gilbert Gallery.

“How can you use the tender light of cinema to touch the heart of an audience?”—Nathaniel Dorsky

On any given day, on the foggy edge of Golden Gate Park, Nathaniel Dorsky is surely working away. One of North America’s most important experimental filmmakers, Nick has been living in San Francisco since he moved from New York with his partner Jerome Hiler in 1971, in the midst of one of San Francisco’s most vibrant and creative chapters. Since then, the two have held down the metaphorical fort for the city’s dwindling art community and spent their lives safeguarding the aesthetic and cultural importance of experimental art. Nick’s work, most famously in the form of silent 16mm films shot on a Bolex camera, exposes our world from a dream-like perspective: a face through the lines of a tree branch, a golden pendant in a shop window reflected in a sea of colors, Nick’s own wide smile behind the heavy barrier of the camera when the moment has been secured. 

Through the interplay of reflection, light, and shadow, Nick’s films create a form of visual poetry that have moved me since I first saw them as a little girl. He translates San Francisco to the screen through an intimate understanding of its most unique qualities and a deep appreciation for its beauty. Despite the city’s fundamentally transient history, Nick has remained an observer, telling the story of San Francisco through its enduring details. Throughout my life, Nick has taught me and so many others that the key to making meaningful art is to commit to the practice of awareness. Nick’s work speaks to the unspeakable, to the remarkable beauty of life’s subtleties.