Verse and imagery entwine in Midnight Light, a book that illuminates darkness and uncovers life pulsating in the land of the dead. It is the creation of two dear friends—writer Michael Pace and photographer Brian Paglinco—who wanted to share their artistic vision with the world, as well as pay tribute to their enduring friendship. The pages contain a series of gothic-inspired poems and photos that transported me to different time periods and places as I explored the work.
I delved into the book on a quite evening, and I must say it’s been a while since I’ve read a collection of poems. Contrasting themes include life and death, despair and joy, love and loathing. This juxtaposing of concepts is one of the book’s endearing qualities, and is even evident in the title, Midnight Light. The darkest time of night is when the clock strikes midnight, yet it seems that there’s a mysterious luminosity that still penetrates.
Lines such as, “In the darkness I’m thinking of light” from “Resting Star/Nesting Star” and “Life is a series of dreams/Conscience lies in between” from “Still Feel Shadows,” highlight the fine line between opposing ideas—day versus night, conscience versus subconscious and dreaming versus reality. Tones of melancholy, contemplation and yearning brought to mind Edgar Allan Poe. Attempting to analyze the text goes beyond the scope of what I’m doing here, but the literature gives the reader room to interpret it in a variety of ways.
The photographs that accompany each of the poems enrich the words and stir the imagination. I thought of the souls whose remains inhabit the graves and visualized them as characters in the forgotten stories the poetry was weaving. The imagery varies between black & white and color, and captures statues of stoic angels, historic mausoleums, ornate gravestones and serene landscapes. Some tombs are grand, and others are small, overtaken by grass and weeds. The pictures communicate both the beauty and bleakness of death.
Midnight Light resurrects and reveres the spirits contained within its pages, reminding readers of the timeless adage, night is darkest before the dawn.
I had the fortune of asking writer Michael Pace and photographer Brian Paglinco questions about their crafts and the process behind creating their first book. They give a closer look into their experience in the following interview.
Q: Can you each talk a bit about your backgrounds in writing and photography? What led you both to pursue your chosen creative paths?
Michael: I think my passion for poetry began as a child when I loved to use metaphors to describe what was around me. For example, I’d think that my made-up tree fort (not really a fort, but a place in a tree I would go to) should be called the “crab claw” because to me that’s what it looked like and I would sit in the middle of the crab claw and be safe from what was happening around me. From there I started to write in poetry books formally when I was about 15. To me it was/is my journal. It’s a way to describe my life to myself in the type of description of what my eyes see and my heart feels; much like communicating through metaphors that are very real to me. The poetry is the result of a distillation of my life from my eyes to my brain, into the heart and then on paper where it manifests out into the world as my “vision.”
Brian: Well, I believe I started considering photography as a serious lifestyle hobby in my mid 20’s. Though I would rather not tell you how long ago that was, I will tell you that I would anxiously await my photos after dropping them off to be developed (I also think dinosaurs still roamed the earth). Though film developing remains a niche photography endeavor, I’ve since converted to a digital format. To be honest, I don’t know really how or when it became such an important part of my life. I first used photography in the traditional sense as a form of documentation. I would shoot the basics: people, places and things. This trip, that trip, so and so’s birthday etc…just casual stuff. Then I found myself taking pictures of architecture because I always enjoyed looking at buildings. And after that it was all over. The need for “balance” had burgeoned and taken over. Not just geometric symmetry, but “balance.” Color, absence of color, lighting, and the “weight” of what you are shooting. Photography had become contextual and emotional. And there was no turning back. It became a physical manifestation of who I am and how I communicate.
Q: The imagery in this work is beautiful. How did you both decide which burial sites you wanted to feature in Midnight Light? And what others are you eager to photograph next?
Michael: Brian took many pictures at the beginning and I took the task of matching the pictures with the poetry. It was massive because we initially had double the amount of material that we ultimately used. We eventually had to make some hard choices of what we would print and during that process Brian also helped with coordinating photos with poetry and order. That’s essentially the heart of this work. Two friends learning to work together later in life and using their passions in unison. Ultimately, I believe it has strengthened our bond and we have encountered challenges but have grown through them.
Brian: I had a neat (or creepy, depending on who you ask) hobby of walking cemeteries. Growing up in New England they are engrained in your lifestyle because they’re everywhere, so I thought nothing of it. One day, I went up to visit Mike and mentioned we should check out a cool looking cemetery in the center of town. This is where we stumbled across a late colonial era crypt in the side of a hill (extremely rare because of how much that would of cost back then). Built of stone and covered in green mold, its iron door brown with rust, and a cluster of trees on top that stretched high into the air! It was a sight to behold. This is when Midnight Light was born. As the inspiration, it’s now the first photo in our book. I must have 10 different perspective photos of that crypt, each having different shutter speed iso variations in both color and black & white. So I would say the total number of shots of that crypt is probably around 150.
Everywhere I go I look for unique and interesting things to see and potentially photograph. And there isn’t any type of history more “set in stone” than a gravestone. They are the first places I look for whenever I go somewhere new .
Q: The text really transported me to another realm as I was reading. Did the photos inspire the words for the poems or was the poetry written before shooting?
Michael: The poetry was carefully matched with the photos. The poetry itself was taken from journals from as far back as ’91-’93. The last piece “Memories of Me” was the last one created. I believe that one was written in 2018.
Brian: The irony with Midnight Light was the timing. Mike had just gone through a bunch of his writings. He had organized them into a volume and printed out a few copies. I was honored to have received one. I thought his stuff was fantastic. A natural ability to use language to create a meaningful, emotional and rhythmic reading environment. “We have to make this book,” I thought.
Q: What was the experience like working on this book together and what do you hope readers take away from the contents within it?
Michael: It really was a great experience. I am such an admirer of Brian’s work and couldn’t be happier with what we have created. With that said there were disagreements on selection, order, etc. and we needed to compromise—but that was the whole point from the beginning and why we used this project to strengthen our friendship. I couldn’t be happier with this first book and hope for another in the future.
Brian: Yeah, we had some challenges. Two chefs in the kitchen preparing and cooking up a unique piece of Gothic beauty, yet always looking past the key ingredient, “the artist’s anchovy,” compromise. Not the piece itself, but as individuals. Pruning the plants a bit so they produce stronger limbs and fruits. Unfortunately, it’s a necessity in order to develop a structured piece. And there are advantages to a collaboration as well. And they are all based on trust. We had the same vision of what Midnight Light was going to be. And we both had the same resolve to get there. We would build off each other. We would keep each other motivated. And through each poem, and each photo, we began blazing our trail. We developed, and eventually realized, our story for readers to follow. Gothic style literature, entrenched in the drama of the human condition: Love and Loss, Hope and Despair, Life and Death. Each combined with an artistic photo of a final resting place. This emotional reading experience takes me back to my first glance at the colonial crypt in the side of the hill. And what I felt when I first saw it: it was “Hauntingly Beautiful.” This is where I would like the reader to be, in my shoes at that moment.
Q: Are there any plans to collaborate again on another book project? Would it be a similar theme to Midnight Light or an entirely different concept?
Michael: There is a whole second Midnight Light book that we had to hold back because of printing costs, etc. I would love to see that realized. Also, we both have plenty of material in different subjects that can be formed together in the future.
Brian: In addition to the second volume of Midnight Light, I’m sure there will be other collaborations. As we move forward in this crazy thing called life I’m sure a new opportunity will present itself!
For more information about the project and to purchase the book, visit the Midnight Light official website.
You can also follow the pair on Instagram.