Painted Walls L.A. by Jeffrey Milstein.
Visions: Photographs of City Life
+ Cultural Center, through April 30
In this age of appropriation and manipulation, of postmodern
fractiousness and multiplicity, in a world where realities
are questioned and deconstructed, it can be refreshing to
walk through exhibition of “straight” (unmanipulated) photographs.
I don’t mean in any way to diminish the power of technology,
or to disavow the notion of reality as a creation.
But there can be comfort in knowing that, at some moment in
time, in some place, some version of the image before you
existed in real, three-dimensional space, and was experienced
by someone who chose to convey it to you.
The Rennselaer Chapel + Cultural Center in Troy is currently
hosting an exhibit of work by photographers whose processes
honor the medium’s inherent and traditional capacity to capture
a moment, to record an event, to present their experiences
of life in urban settings. Urban Visions: Photographs of
City Life was curated by David Brickman, a local artist
well known for his own photography, as well as his critical
eye and public voice (he is an art critic for Metroland).
In his statement, Brickman asserts his intention to offer
a variety of work within this traditional genre, presenting
six artists with their own distinct visions, “not to force
an artificial cohesion among them.”
Walking into the chapel, you are greeted on one side of the
corridor by George W. Simmons’ photographs, and on the other,
by works from Ben Palmeri. The commonality between these two
bodies of work begins and ends in the topical presence of
people in their native urban environs.
Simmons presents 13 color images of his neighbors in Sheridan
Hollow and Arbor Hill, creating a sort of collective portrait
of the neighborhoods themselves. The pictures serve to document
not only the activities and surroundings of these people,
but the moment of their interaction with the photographer.
The “sitters” in Simmons’s work are visibly aware of his presence,
clearly having interrupted their activity to engage his camera.
This awareness, rather than striking a disingenuous note,
as it might seem it would, reveals a wholly authentic human
response. His subjects tend to take a proprietary stance,
conveying a curiosity, and often a touch of suspicion, in
their unpretentious gaze. This is the top note. Beneath the
translucent glaze of that single moment, are clues to the
stories of their rich and complex lives.
The subjects of Palmeri’s black-and-white photographs,
on the other hand, show no mindfulness of his presence at
all. These pictures were taken in the streets and parks of
New York Ctiy, where the presence of a man with a camera is
hardly considered worthy of notice. In fact, there is very
little interaction between subjects within a frame. Each person
is removed, self-contained, and essentially alone. In one,
a man sits alone with his shoes off, bag by his side, and
his head bowed. His dark form is dwarfed by a massive white
marble structure, the lines of which hold him securely in
his retreat, as he rests. These images each serve as a portrait,
of sorts, of urban solitude.
In his cityscapes, Ron Force achieves another sort of solitude
through distance and order, with an emphasis on the patterns
of architecture, movement and light. His crisp black-and-white
prints exude a cool remove from the untidiness of actual human
entanglement, allowing for our imaginations to fill in. In
his images of New York, and various European cities, Force
transports the viewer to places literally far above and away
from the bustle of the city. He shows us skyscrapers like
they’re building blocks, and city lights like they’re stars.
In my favorite, our vantage point from a darkened rooftop
offers a lyric view of “State Street Roofs,” in which an enchanted
strip of steep gables and arched windows is illuminated from
below by miniature points of radiant light. It’s a magical
Anchoring the back wall in the main reception area (Fountain
Gallery) are Kersten Lorcher’s small, distinctly vertical
photographs. This placement proves to be a wise curatorial
decision, as it gives us an opportunity to appreciate the
work on two important levels. As you enter the space, you’re
met with a row of boldly modern (shall we say neo-modern?)
abstractions; lush fields of color with a strong underlying
structure and a crisp sheen. The formal beauty of this work
holds fast as you approach it to discover the images of four
local industrial sites. The mint-green field becomes corrugated
steel siding, the rich blacks and subdued grays become wet
asphalt and cinder blocks, the soft smears of green, the building
reflected in a puddle. Lorcher’s images are eerily vacant,
leaving space for us to discover, as he did, their unlikely
In the back room (Lounge), Curt Miller presents a truly documentary
body of work, consisting of nine black-and-white photographs
of Pittsfield, Mass. The pictures seem to represent a very
small area of the city, including a central square, a bank,
a couple of churches, and the Berkshire Museum. Each landmark
appears in two or more frames, offering a thorough record
of the architecture within its context. Human presence in
this work seems incidental. While each picture reaches a fairly
deep tone in its shadows, the lighter areas seem faded, as
if by age or overexposure. The images, in their manner, their
composition and their presentation, have a strongly nostalgic
feel to them. This feeling is underscored by the title on
the wall text, Pittsfield, Now, which suggests that
somewhere, there exists a Pittsfield, Then. Miller
does seem to have more to say than “Here it is.” I, for one,
would be interested in a little context, to help nudge me
in the right direction.
On the other half of the Lounge are Jeffrey Milstein’s eight
large square photographs. These pictures are packed with visual
information: rich, saturated color, intricate details and
interactions between humans, animals, and their urban environments.
Milstein’s inspiration seems to spring from the strong presence
of brightly painted exterior walls, as backdrops for mundane
human activity, and for their potential in creating narratives
with unwitting passersby. There is a certain levity to this
work, both formally and conceptually, a clever playfulness
suggested in the subject’s unintentional part in the project,
in the shallow depth of field, and in the intensity of light
In the end, the curator stays true to his word by not dreaming
up some artificial relationship between the work on display
here. Instead, he offers a relatively broad range of possibilities
within a specific genre, and he presents it in a crisp, well-paced,
and thoughtful manner.