New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Joel Grey
1.3 New Color Images
R. Wayne Parsons
Joel Grey, “Horatio Street, 2008”

Joel Grey, the actor most known for his role as the MC in Cabaret, is also a photographer, and you can find a selection of his most recent work at Steven Kasher Gallery. The twenty-one moderately sized images on display were taken with the actor’s cell phone. Given the constantly-changing boundaries of accepted practice in fine art photography we will no doubt see more gallery work from the low end of the digital camera spectrum.

The work is a grab bag of assorted subject matter the photographer encountered on his travels and in daily life. And, indeed, the absence of a coherent thematic focus is one of the weaknesses of this exhibition. Another problem is the too-frequent lapse into found-photo cliche; we see the usual graffiti, the photographer’s shadow on the street, a building facade reflected in a puddle, urban detritus, and so forth. These subjects, which have attracted myriads of photographers for decades now, comprise the bulk of the exhibition. But this material is so overworked at this point that without a different way of seeing, which Mr. Grey does not provide, there is insufficient reason to hold our attention.

Of course there are a few good images. My favorite shows a doll’s head in a wire basket; the presence of more baskets with unidentifiable contents in the background suggests a self-storage facility or some such location. But despite the obvious truth that this is just an ordinary doll’s head in an ordinary wire basket, the impression is of a monumental semi-sentient being on the verge of liberating itself from an unexplained captivity.

One image is notable for taking advantage of the limitations of the medium. Cell phones and other low-end digital cameras are notorious for their excessive amount of digital noise (especially in images taken in low light), visible as seemingly misplaced dots of color. In a night photo of two street walkers seen from the rear (“Ladies Night”), Grey uses the large quantities of noise to accentuate the nitty-gritty to be found on Little W 12th Street on a pleasant summer evening.

But the real problem with this exhibition is that it is yet one more example of our society’s misplaced fixation with the culture of celebrity. Had this photographer’s name been Joel Jones, you no doubt would not be seeing these images in a prestigious Chelsea gallery. But Joel Grey, celebrity actor, is given wall space and publicity, and other equally or even more accomplished but unknown photographers are denied equal opportunity.

Joel Grey
1.3 New Color Images

Steven Kasher Gallery
521 W 23rd St.
Chelsea         Map

212 966 3978

Thursday, May 27 to
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Hours: Tue-Sat, 11 to 6