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Guest Blog by Suzanne Révy
It was a striking contrast seeing Matthew Pillsbury’s pictures at the Benrubi Gallery just after visiting the Garry WInogrand show that closed last weekend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both exhibitions display an interest in public places, and the way in which people inhabit them. Winogrand, of course, glances quickly with a small camera and a rapid shutter creating a cacophony of faces and gestures, while Pillsbury takes a long look using large format cameras and a slow shutter, both offering surprising details within the frame. He imbues his imagery of crowded or occupied places with the glow of light and the soft blur of movement. The results are emotionally serene images which ask questions about human connections to environment, to technology and to each other. His work will be exhibited at Benrubi Gallery in NYC through October 25, 2014.
The Pillsbury show features fourteen images in color and in black and white all made earlier this year in Tokyo. A black and white grid of interior spaces from the Nakagin Capsule Tower was the only image made in private rooms; they reveal the idiosyncrasies of each tenant from the neatniks with their spare surroundings to those awash in clutter. Each space is illuminated by one or more screens both large and/or small, while the faces and identities of the occupants are hidden in their ghost like movements. Another black and white image depicts the mirrored ceiling of Tokyu Plaza (featured image and last image). This space may be more crowded than the picture initially suggests; a careful look reveals the delightful reflection of several pairs of feet, a woman’s high heel shoe, the sneakers of a rider on an escalator, and hints of moving crowds reflected through mirrors at several different angles. In both images, Pillsbury uses a fractured approach which emphasizes the cloistered and disjointed nature of public and private urban life.
Among the color pictures, four of them were made in Tokyo’s parks during the crowded cherry blossom season revealing the dynamic between viewing the world, and viewing ourselves in that world. Hanami #1, Ueno Park Wednesday April 2nd shows three sets of three people making their selfies under a canopy of delicate blossoms or in Hanami #14 Inokashira Park Saturday April 5th, the crowds in the foreground hold their devices up to record paddle boats as they glide across a pond in the background. Both images suggest, perhaps, that we don’t pay quite enough attention to the places we visit by preferring to engage with our technological devices while enjoying a day at the park. Contradicting that notion, however is Hanami #11, Shinjuku Gyoen with it’s picnic goers in the bright sun of a gorgeous spring day, and the atmospheric and rainy scene of Hanami #5, Chidorigafuchi depicting people under their umbrellas viewing the blossoms before these ephemeral flowers are washed away.
Patrons in the gaudy and colorful Robot Bar picture are almost completely invisible due to Pillsbury’s use of a long exposure, but a tiny glass of what looks to be a Kir Royale toward the left side of the frame, suddenly help reveal that the bar is crowded with people who appear to be engaged with their surroundings and with each other. Perhaps such an extravagant interior holds more interest than our gadgets.
Probably my favorite image is Tokyo Train Station with its magnificent architectural details, patterned floor, grids of windows and ceiling tiles, dramatically tall columns, all largely ignored by the ghosts of commuters as they pass swiftly through the station. Also ignored, two traditionally and decoratively dressed women who stand near the bottom center of the frame, motionless as they quietly check their smart phones, as unaware of the space as the commuters who rush past them. It is a mundane moment, probably more so than many of the other pictures in the show, but reveals quite clearly the artist’s interest in how technology has changed our personal interactions.
Pillsbury’s photographs become more enlightening when compared to the crowds and people in Garry Winogrand’s pictures – made some thirty to fifty years ago. It was intriguing to observe that Winogrand’s subjects often seem just as unaware of the people and spaces surrounding them as those distracted by today’s technology. Perhaps it’s a timeless human trait to keep to oneself when enveloped by crowds of strangers in public spaces.
Suzanne Révy is a Boston-based fine art photographer whose work is represented by Panopticon Gallery. She writes the blog, A Grain of Sand. To learn more about Suzanne’s work, go to: http://www.suzannerevy.com/ OR http://www.panopticongallery.com/artist/suzanne_revy/#Suzanne_Revy_40.jpg
For more information about Matthew Pillsbury: Tokyo, go to: http://benrubigallery.com/exhibitions
For a review of the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, go to: http://elinspringphotography.com/blog/winogrand-at-the-met/