Published by Safe-T-Gallery Inc.
Don Burmeister: Owner/Editor
Barbara Confino: Associate Editor
Chris Marker, the French experimental documentary filmmaker (La Jetée) and multi-media installation artist, has a new show of nearly 200 photographs shared between two locations of the Peter Blum Gallery, Chelsea and Soho. The 70 or 80 (gallery estimate) pictures in Soho were all taken from 2008 to 2010 on the Paris Metro. This reviewer has seen only the images at the Soho space, so I hold out the right to change my opinion after I see the uptown section, although the show appears to be all of one piece.
The Subway/Underground/Metro has long been a magnet for photographers. The forced intimacy of strangers and the bringing together of disparate and exotic looking types brings out the voyeuristic instincts of many. The unwritten “I’m not looking at you - you’re not looking at me” mental armor of the crowded transit rider makes photographing strangers a bit easier here as well. Walker Evans famously photographed in the New York subways in the 1930s with a small camera hidden in his overcoat. And since then there are few New York street-type photographers who have not succumbed to the temptation. Bruce Davidson in the 1980s and Michael Wolf in the subways of Japan in 2010 both come to mind. New York Times photographer Librado Romero currently has subway images on display from the 1970’s at Soho Photo Gallery, and (full disclosure) even this reviewer’s first published photograph was of two riders sitting on the Seventh Avenue Subway in the 1990’s. Someone always seems to be photographing someone in the subway somewhere.
Shooting in the usually dim conditions has become easier as well, and this last factor is where Chris Marker steps in. In his museum installation work he has played on the concepts of ‘old’ digital technology, and in this show he presents obvious digital images. These are not perfected, hyper real creations, but rather images with the quality you might expect from a medium-grade cell phone camera, the characteristic ‘JPEG artifacts’ seen when you enlarge compressed digital files a major leitmotif of the work.
Marker compounds the ‘old’ digital look with a rather inept application of Photoshop filters to smooth out the rough patches. This is true especially on the faces of young women who are his subjects in more than 9 out of 10 photos. He seems to have discovered the color saturation controls as well. And then there is the sheer number of images! Digital images are cheaptheir proliferation reducing our interest in any one over the other.
Riding the subway home, I had two conflicting thoughts. Perhaps Chris Marker is indeed making an insightful comment on our cheap, disposable digital photo age. Or, and here is where the creepiness factor comes in, perhaps he’s just an old duffer with a cell phone camera who spends his days stalking pretty women on the Metro.
Then again, maybe it’s both.