Monthly Archives: April 2007

Tod Papageorge at Pace/Macgill Gallery

Street Photography,  long championed by MOMA and John Szarkowski is a genre that has varied results. Walking the streets of major  cities, a photographer can, fisherman like, cast a rectangular picture frame into the waters of the urban peoplescape, and sometimes land a striking image. Inside of the picture frame an  unusual or quirky moment from the continuum of everyday life can be frozen forever.

At best, a photographer has an alert eye and a great sensitivity about how to organize the many elements into the photographs borders. At worst, this kind of work seems  to be nothing more than  a snapshot of people doing something that only the photographer thought was interesting when he pressed the shutter button. Essentially a voyeuristic activity, street photography  preys on unsuspecting people freezing them for  photographers’ knowing audience to examine. Some photographers are rather cruel,  and their photographs portray people more as specimens. Other  photographer treat human beings as elements that are arranged within a formal relationship inside of the picture frame. When to release the shutter is crucial, and the best practitioners have created enduring images.

Todd Papageorge knows well when to press his shutter button.   Unlike the cruel and  ridiculing manner of many street photographers practice, he has a light touch. The black and white photographs are made in Central Park, and capture most people in moods that range from amorous, playful or relaxed. A   man stripped to his briefs lies on his back on a slope of uncut grass. The warming sun  that encouraged the man to disrobe makes both the grass and his white skin glow.

Papageorge, captures people in  relationships both emotional and physical. One image depicts two young girls dressed with the same style (short scanty shifts and hairstyles) standing on the left and right sides of a tree.  The girl on the right  is clutch kissing a young man, while the other appears to be brooding about being alone. Friends or sisters, who can tell, but their nearly identical appearances poses a question as to why one girl is being kissed and the other is alone. This show presents a small   selection from more than 20 years of Papageorge’s work published in a new book.

There is humor in many of the photographs. A standing girl with her arms loosely hanging at her side stares at a ball hovering a few  inches from her face. This instant make what is probably ordinary play into a kind of mystery.  How is the ball suspended? It is a simple, offhand image, made without meditation of any sort, but the girl’s eye contact with the floating ball makes the statement.

The book is filled with all sorts of simple observations plucked out of everyday life. No image is terribly penetrating or dramatic, but as a whole the compilation of all those years of looking have proven that Papageorge has a sure and deft vision.

Astrid Korntheuer, Galerie Poller, 547 West 27th St.  Through June 23rd. Like many German photographers, Korntheur has great command of her technique. Her subjects are not extraordinarily scenic, nevertheless she makes truly beautiful landscape photographs that are delicate and atmospheric. These are large,   color ink jet images  approximately 40×50” Many depict  woods and grasses at twilight. The textures and colors are subtle but very engaging and  a very deep spacial illusion is created. In one image,  drops of water hang from the branches looking like pea size golden balls. The technical qualities of these photographs invite the eye to examine the entire image, and tiny sharply rendered detail provide much  to examine. Also on hand are black and white images.

Supervisions Andreas Gefeller

I encourage a visit to see Gefeller’s photographs. A quick look at this work calls to mind some of Gursky’s more formal synthetic imagery. Like Gursky, Gefeller digitally combines multiple photographic frames to construct a single image printed at an imposing scale. His work also shares the formal structure of Gursky. Probably unable to resist, Gefeller has examined some of the same subjects of Gursky (namely High Rise buildings). So too, Gefeller’s work may have been inspired by the photographs of Grzeszykowska & Smaga, which I had discussed last year. Geffeller has photographed empty apartment flats in exactly the same manner as they did with the occupied apartments. While influences can be seen, Gefeller advances our understanding of the medium.

Gefeller’s work has much in common with aerial photography, where subjects seen from above show an unfamiliar way of seeing. His aerial views are of the ground beneath our feet, and his most striking images show us the ground that most of us would regard as ill kept and in need of a good clean up. Take as an example the image of the floor of a race track, littered with losing tickets, horse racing papers and beverage cups. Seen directly overhead all of these details coalesce into a striking composition.

Similarly he photographs a litter of lottery tickets strewn about a cobblestone street. Not knowing what is outside of the picture area, one can imagine that the holders of the losing tickets dropped them at the source of information about winning or losing. A accumulation of tickets at the bottom of the frame dissipates as fewer and fewer tickets can be seen scattered towards the top of the frame. The extremely fine detail of the photograph allows for each ticket to be examined closely.

Beyond this investigation of flat subject matter, this artist has added a technical innovation to the work. Each image is made from hundreds of individual digital pictures, all seamlessly assembled as a grid. David Hockney employed a similar methodology using small prints aggregated to a whole image comprised of numerous prints.

Gefeller has refined the technique, by moving his camera position directly over the ground. Keeping the camera at a fixed distance from the ground, he allows his camera to function as a kind of flatbed scanner. In a film clip available at the gallery, Gefeller is seen pacing the ground, supporting a camera tripod with the legs poking into his belly like a flag bearer on parade. He marches a few steps forward, stops and makes an exposure then moves on to the next spot in a grid, always keeping the camera parallel to the ground.

This technique produces extremely detailed images, as the large prints are comprised of low magnification frames all assembled to make the larger whole.

Another image of a nursery appears to be a delicate spidery grid of trees , some with bare branches and some with brown leaves against what seems to be a snow covered ground. As all of Gefeller’s other images are taken from above, the viewer is surprised to learn that all of the trees were photographed directly looking up from the tree base.

The best images in the show are complex and surprising. An image of the Holocaust memorial is abstract to the point of bafflement, but photographs of painted pavement is conventional. Rigorous formal organization of flat subject matter in the photographic frame has oft been explored, taking inspiration from abstract painting. But in Gefeller’s best work, this pursuit is practiced to a high degree of achievement.