About John Vias

Self-portrait of artist John ViasRead my bio to learn more about me. My artist statement tells why I create my art. See my artist resume for my exhibits, education, awards, and more. My technique FAQ tells how I create my art. There is even a short video of me talking about my work.

Members of the press, please visit the press room.

Bio

John Vias wanders around in the dark taking pictures. His award-winning night photography has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and other art venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Such venues include the Pro Arts and Slate galleries in Oakland, Canvas Gallery and Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, the Berkeley Art Center, and Stanford University.

Vias’s work has won awards in juried shows and has been reprinted in the press. It hangs in public, private, and corporate collections in the US and abroad.

John Vias (rhymes with “bias”) was born in Evanston, Illinois. He earned a Certificate in Photography from University of California Berkeley Extension and a BA from the University of Florida. He lives and works in Berkeley, California. You can preview his work at his website, johnvias.com.

Statement

I photograph in the dark. Night brings on a curfew, emptying streets and sidewalks. The even sunlight of the day gives way to dramatic pools of light, creating impromptu stages where the actors never arrive.

Photographing at night is also like shooting a movie all on one frame. Time is compressed, movement is frozen. What’s left is stillness and quiet. With our hurried lifestyles, my work is an invitation to slow down. And look.

I hope my work inspires you to visit my studio. You can also purchase prints right here.

Artist Resume

Born: Evanston, Illinois. His last name rhymes with bias.

Exhibitions

2014

Noctilucent: Night Photos by John Vias, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA. Curated by DeWitt Cheng.

Collector Art Shop, Berkeley

2013

Winter Open Studio, 2008-2013, Berkeley

Autumn Collection, SLATE Contemporary Gallery, Oakland, CA

East Bay Open Studios, 2004-2013, Berkeley/Oakand, CA

2012

Dis/Order: Juried Annual, Pro Arts, Oakland, CA. Curated by Naomi Beckwith.

Collector Art Shop, Berkeley

Spring Forward into Art, Studio 1509, Berkeley

Winter Open Studio, 2008-2012, Berkeley

2011

Courage, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland

John Vias (solo), Bay Area Visual Arts Network, Oakland

2010

Glimpses in Time, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland, CA. Juried by Linda Connor.

Rotunda Gallery Exhibition, USF School of Law, San Francisco, CA. Curated by Saiko Matsumaru.

2009

Studio Nocturne, 2005-2009, San Francisco

Glimpses in Time, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland. Juried by René de Guzman.

2008

Ten Winners, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland

Glimpses in Time, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland. Juried by Stephen Wirtz.

Nocturnes…in Berkeley?, The LightRoom, Berkeley

Insights: Focus on Emerging Photographers, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland

Juried Annual, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland. Juried by Laura Hoptman.

2007

Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios, 2004-2007, Berkeley

Nest Gallery Opening Reception, 2007, Oakland

Glimpses in Time, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Oakland. Juried by Stephen Wirtz.

EBOS at OAK, Oakland International Airport, Oakland

Juried Annual, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland. Juried by Berin Golonu.

Quarterly Exhibition, MobiTV, Emeryville, CA

2006

Transmissions Gallery Holiday Show, Berkeley

New Visions: Introductions, Pro Arts, Oakland. Juried by Gary Sangster and Dennis O’Leary.

Preview Exhibitions for SF Open Studios, Canvas Gallery, San Francisco;

San Mateo City Hall, San Mateo; Embarcadero, San Francisco

After Dark: Night Photos by John Vias (solo), Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

The Nocturnes, A Biennial, online

Berkeley Civic Center Art Exhibition, Berkeley. Curated by Robbin Henderson and Archana Horsting.

Berkeley Art Center’s Annual Members’ Showcase, Berkeley

2005

EP Designworks’s June Exhibition, online

This Is Not Your Father’s Nocturne, online

A Night on the Hill, San Francisco

2004

Embarcadero Nocturne, San Francisco

Members Only, Richmond, CA

The Nocturnes, A Biennial, online

Grants and Awards

Creative Capacity Fund, Quick Grant, 2010

Juror Award, Glimpses in Time, Oakland, 2008. Awarded by Stephen Wirtz.

Juror Award, Glimpses in Time, Oakland, 2007. Awarded by Stephen Wirtz.

Finalist, Berkeley Civic Center Art Exhibition, Berkeley, 2006

Honorable Mention, Berkeley Art Center’s Annual Members’ Showcase, 2006

Finalist, 7×7 magazine’s Bring on the Night photo contest, 2005

Lectures/Public-Speaking Engagements

Lecture, “Enchanting Night Photography,” Pro Arts, Berkeley, 2007

Guest Lecture, Pro Arts, Oakland, 2007

Guest Lecture, Night Photography class, UC Berkeley Extension, 2006

Education

Certificate in Photography, awarded with distinction, UC Berkeley Extension, 2004

Bachelor of Arts, University of Florida, 1990

Technique FAQ

Do you use film or digital?

Until 2013, I used film. Because the type of film I used is no longer available, I now shoot digitally.

What kind of camera do you use?

Exhibiting photographers get this question a lot. I’m never sure why people ask it, so I’m never sure how to answer. Are people asking if I use film or digital? (See “Do you use film or digital?”) Are they asking because they’re inspired to try night photography themselves? (Great! Any camera that can handle long exposures can work.) Or maybe my studio visitors are simply making conversation. Well, I’m happy to talk about my work.

Medium format film vs. 35mm formatAnyway, I now use a Nikon D5100 digital SLR. I used to use a Bronica GS-1 medium format camera. Medium format is in between 35mm and large format (the old-timey camera with bellows like an accordion and the photographer under a black drape). Medium format let me capture more detail than 35mm, so I can make larger prints. With modern high-resolution digital cameras and skillful techniques, large prints can be made from digital negatives too.

How do you get those colors?

Film’s failure to reproduce colors accurately over long exposures worked to my advantage. I have never used filters. The otherworldly colors you see in some of my images are caused mostly by the reaction of the film to long exposures it wasn’t designed for. Now that I’m shooting digitally, and street lights are being converted from orangey sodium vapor to white LED, colors are often more realistic, but that’s okay too.

Do you add light?

The light you see in my photos is almost always existing light—mostly street light and moonlight. Rarely, I use a spotlight to lighten shadows.

Did you use either really fast film or high sensitivity?

That’s a reasonable assumption, but in fact I used very slow film, often ISO 64. Slower film has smaller grain, so the resultant prints are smoother and not as grainy. For similar reasons, I use a low sensitivity setting on my digital camera.

How long are your exposures?

Shooting digitally, my exposure times are from under 1 minute to 6 minutes. When I shot film, my exposure times ranged from 1 to 12 minutes—yes, minutes, not seconds. (There’s a lot of thumb-twiddling in night photography.) I also bracketed my exposures, which means I made multiple exposures of the same scene, each at a different exposure time, hoping one of them would be the right one. Usually, one was, but it’s certainly possible to over- or underexpose at night. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

Video

Hear about how I got started in night photography, my current work, and my inspiration in this two-minute YouTube video. Below the video is a slightly edited transcript.

“Hi! My name is John Vias and I photograph the urban landscape at night. I got started in it when I was a photography student. I was up late at night, which I typically am–I’m a night owl–and I thought I might as well go out and shoot and see what happens. So I did. I photographed in B&W first and liked the results I got, so I kept at it. I’ve switched to color. Night photography is what I’ve done exclusively since 2004.

“The image I have in the show I call Slow Down. It’s a nautical speed limit sign in the Berkeley Marina. In the background is the constellation Orion. Over the winter of 2006 I photographed in the Berkeley Marina around the time of the full moon and shot park benches and other subjects. “Slow Down” is one of my favorites in that series. The name comes both from it being a speed limit sign trying to get boaters to slow down as they enter and exit the marina but also, in a larger sense, that we’re living lives at an accelerated pace. We seem to keep going faster and faster and faster. We run from place to place and from appointment to appointment and we’ve forgotten how to take leisure, to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. My night photography is about encouraging people to see that beauty. To slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every day. I hope my art can encourage you to do that. Thank you.”

John Vias, night photographer