New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 7 February 12 to 19, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
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Street Players
Robert Anderson
Chessmen
Ed Barnas
 by Robert Anderson. Source: robertandersongallery.com
Robert Anderson

The phrase “decisive moment” implies a degree of spontaneity that is often not the case. To catch a critical moment one does not merely look and snap, but rather stops and looks, taking the time to observe a space, evaluate the visual possibilities, and then, wait for all the elements to come together before releasing the shutter, sometimes multiple times.

Robert Anderson’s collection of portraits of pay-for-play “chessmen” in Union Square Park is a good example of this. On his commute through the Park, Anderson observed these players, their boards set up on makeshift tables, ready to play all comers for a small wager. Stopping along the way to or from the subway, he has photographed them since 2010, recognizing the regulars and their opponents. Twenty portraits of these players are now on view in the Robert Anderson Gallery.

Entering the back room one feels like an observer in the middle of the action. The 11 x 14 pigment prints are framed in white mats and hung in two rows. The faces are closely cropped, mostly from the chin to the forehead, and shot as horizontal images that provide only a small bit of out-of-focus background to place the subject in the context of the street. Taken while the players were in the “game,” these are not posed portraits. The faces are rich with texture and, printed in black and white, offer no clue as to what decade they might have been taken. Aside from the close horizontal cropping, what unites these images and makes them a cohesive body of work is the reflection of a chessboard in the eyes.

 by Robert Anderson. Source: robertandersongallery.com
Robert Anderson

In several images the subject appears to look impassively at the viewer, sometimes with the slightly superior smile of a master. Generally, however, the player is not looking directly at the viewer but at the board, brows furrowed, presenting a façade of utter concentration on the game. But since they are playing on the street, they are “players” in more than one sense of the word and must allocate at least a modicum of attention to their surroundings, if only to note who is watching and who might be their next opponent.

While I don’t normally associate close-up portraits with street photography, this body of work definitely fits within that genre. And in a digital world where color is the norm, consciously suppressing color in digital media to concentrate the viewer’s eye on the essentials of the image is a welcome continuation of a tradition that works quite well here.

Robert Anderson
Chessmen


Robert Anderson Gallery
24 W 57th St. 5th Fl
Midtown         Map

646 455 0393
robertandersongallery.com

Thursday, January 3 to
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Hours: Tues-Sat 11 to 6
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