New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 25 SUMMER ISSUE AUGUST 2012 July 31 to September 4, 2012

The Long View
Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao and Sylvia Plachy
Widely Different
Luna Park by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao. Source:
Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, "Luna Park"

Now gallery browsers have yet another reason to head downtown — actually three reasons — the South Street Seaport Museum has found a new lease on life by partnering with the Museum of the City of New York. And from the looks of the initial photography shows there now, the marriage is off to a good start.

The photography gallery is on the museum’s fifth floor and features three separate exhibitions: Widely Different: New York City Panoramas by Liao and Plachy curated by Elisabeth Biondi; a photographic record of the Occupy Wall Street movement at Zuccotti Park by various photographers; and Shipbreaking by Edward Burtynsky—large format photographs that document how old freighters are readied for the scrap heap in Bangladesh. Three engaging photo shows plus a few floors of other museum exhibits make the journey worthwhile.

“Widely Different” is an apt title for this exhibition by two well-known photographers – Sylvia Plachy and Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao – because their shooting styles and most likely their temperaments couldn’t be more different.

Plachy is a well-known street shooter, who had a long association with the Village Voice and now takes photographs for the New Yorker. She lets her eye find her subjects and uses a hand held panoramic camera to capture them.

Of the seven images in her show, several are in black and white, giving them a more documentary feel, but the pictures in color best capture the theater of the street. In her photo of a Bronx street through a car’s side window, the panoramic image captures a reflection in the side view mirror of a man holding a hose and the same man and hose in the rear window. It’s a literal double exposure. In an affecting black and white image, Plachy shoots at waist level to capture a young girl staring at the camera. And in what looks like a real grab shot, Plachy gives us a tilted vertical of a mannequin’s legs sticking out from under a car on a busy midtown street. It’s a sight that could have stopped traffic and the kind of picture you have to take, no matter what camera you’re using.

 by Sylvia Plachy. Source:
Sylvia Plachy

In contrast, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao takes multiple images of a scene and then Photoshops his pictures into layers, recreating the scene with light and textures that no single image could capture. His photos are huge; my guess is that his photograph Under the El at 69th Street in Woodside, Queens is seven or eight feet long. The long and multiple exposures create blur but also a mixture of streetlight and daylight peeking out from above the El structure that I don’t recall seeing before. Liao’s photo of “Five Pointz,” the graffiti Mecca in Queens, is also part of this exhibition. The width of the view is astonishing as is the level of detail – you wonder how many exposures he had to combine to create this panorama. Ditto for his block-long Times Square epic. The detail draws you in for a closer look. My favorite in this series is Polar Express, 2010, which is a panoramic view of the new Luna Park at Coney Island. The venerable Wonder Wheel in the background is reduced to a marvelous blur of concentric circles.

The “Occupy Wall Street” and “Shipbreaking” exhibitions here add diversity to an enjoyable visit. The Seaport Museum made sure there’s something for everyone.

Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao and Sylvia Plachy
Widely Different

Seaport Museum
12 Fulton St.
Lower Manhattan - East         Map

Wednesday, February 1 to
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sun, 12 to 6