I’ve always suspected that people who watch the sunrise possess secrets the rest of us do not. Looking at Megan Berner’s backlog of early morning Instagram posts, I am convinced that this is true.
The secret is not how stunning Reno skies are (if you live here and are a sunset watcher, you already know this); it’s not that you can get your sustenance by looking at a low-in-the-sky sun (if you have successfully turned yourself into a plant, though, please share); it is the loose impression that firsthand, first-thing-in-the-morning beauty surely makes on you over time.
By posting her photographs on social media, Berner gives away parts of this “thing of beauty,” and, in the process, creates a small community of followers. Some are locals who cannot get up for the sun or don’t have an east-facing window, others live elsewhere and keep a tether to Northern Nevada through these images. Five years ago, Berner’s sunrises found a larger social media audience as featured posts during the Nevada Museum of Art’s Tilting the Basin exhibition.
In October of 2019—after 500+ photographs and seven years—the project came to a natural end when Berner moved out of her artist loft and lost her view. Last December, the work was brought back as a book, Good Morning, with funding from Kickstarter, Sierra Arts Foundation, and the Nevada Arts Council.
As a latecomer to Instagram (and a post-dawn-riser), I am happy to have a collection of all the sunrises I missed. Like Berner’s posts, the color on each print image is clear and saturated, framing the same composition each day—a thin, backlit strip of the Virginia Foothills against a looming sky. Unlike Berner’s posts, the photographs sit plainly on white pages that are soft to the touch and free of all text except capture dates, saving us from scrolling, detaching the paper versions from a user-timeline.
Other vestiges of social media remain. Single photographs and stacked rows nod to close-up feeds and faraway grids. Earlier images have styled frames that eventually disappear as years go by (and as their use became less popular on the platform). Even in the act of reading the book, I find myself replicating the only Instagram experience I can handle—a few pictures at a time.
A blue spectrum rainbow touches a blood horizon. Veils of strawberry clouds cover dim voids. Ozone hangs, allowing only pretty colors to pass through. Coral, periwinkle, cornflower. Other photographs remind me of things that were happening at the time they were taken. Late May 2013, cerulean fade (my daughter Coco’s first birthday); Summer 2017, sunset-looking sunrises (post-divorce Rumspringa); Christmastime 2018, purple contrails, torched hills (Mittens, my cat, is born).
Most images are not portals. They are color studies and daymarkers: proof of how our atmosphere scatters early light and part of a larger regional lexicon that has, many times, been exhibited in museums and published in books, but mostly is added to without fanfare by the artists who take down the contours of the day—their words and images eventually inseparable from our own sense of place.
“The sun is a fact,” one of our lexicon adders, Jared Stanley, writes again and again. A former collaborator with Berner, the poet is talking about the high desert sun—probably as it is peaking, probably as it hits your skin. But Berner’s sun is a fiction, captured through a window, over a distance, hiding behind a horizon line. Not yet seen, not yet it’s own subject, liminal is the word Berner likes to use, meaning the space between two things. Night and day, earth and sky, not being and being. Both suns are true and additive to an understanding of the high desert, and—if you live here—to your concept of home.
Early this morning, I get up for the sunrise, but miss it. I think I am only a few minutes late because when I head outside, the hills are still pink, shimmering and colloidal in the unnatural humidity. I had forgotten that land is only half-formed this time of day; dough that will roll over if I push it, that will bake later in the full sun. Mittens joins me as if we do this everyday, his orange body curled and shivering on my lap, warm but acting cold. He stares directly into the sun and I imagine he is taking in his nutrients for the day. The red, Elisabethan ruff around his neck that is supposed to scare birds away looks more regal, less ridiculous, than usual. He is a glowing angel and the hills are a first-thing beauty.
Images courtesy of Megan Berner. Her book Good Morning is available at Sundance Books & Music in Reno, or from the online store of Melhop Gallery º7077, where she is represented. To see more of Megan’s work, visit her website.