Repopulating the Street: Contemporary Photography and Urban Experience

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This article was downloaded by: [University of Georgia]On: 18 December 2014, At: 05:14Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKHistory of PhotographyPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/thph20Repopulating the Street: Contemporary Photographyand Urban ExperienceRosemary HawkerPublished online: 21 Aug 2013.To cite this article: Rosemary Hawker (2013) Repopulating the Street: Contemporary Photography and Urban Experience,History of Photography, 37:3, 341-352, DOI: 10.1080/03087298.2013.798521To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2013.798521PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose ofthe Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be reliedupon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shallnot be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and otherliabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/loi/thph20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/03087298.2013.798521http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2013.798521http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsRepopulating the Street:Contemporary Photography andUrban ExperienceRosemary HawkerOver the past thirty years, the city as represented by art photography has been shownas progressively empty and alienating. While the emptiness of nineteenth-centurystreets was due to the limitations of photographic technology, it was activelypursued as a formal device by the New Topographics photographers. Recent artphotography shows an even more pronounced trend towards showing the city asvacant. This contrasts starkly with the densely populated, bustling, urban environ-ments typical of twentieth-century street photography. This essay argues that imagesof an empty contemporary city can be understood as a symptom of disciplinaryrelations internal to photography as an art form, and as a consequence of artphotographys distancing of itself from vernacular representations of the citywhen the distinction between art photography and vernacular photography is atrisk of collapsing. Empty urban images tell us about modes of experience in thecontemporary city and about photography itself. This essay uses the trope of thebanal as a way of locating the extreme form of the everyday that typifies thecontemporary photographic discourse of the street. Philip-Lorca diCorcia andMelanie Manchot both address the everyday street as an acute site for understandingthe negotiation of public space and contemporary experiences of the city. Both referto yet go beyond the dichotomy of the city as empty or full and reveal a different setof relations to the street through photography.Keywords: Paul Strand (18901976), Max Dupain (19111992), Jeff Wall (1946),Philip-Lorca diCorcia (1951), Melanie Manchot (1966), street photography, NewTopographics, everyday, banal, vernacular photographyContemporary photographs of the city are often curiously empty and still, a condi-tion made emphatic in Jeff Walls Dawn (figure 1).1 Such images work against themore familiar image of a densely peopled and dynamic city that excited earlymodernist photographers and that has informed the genre of street photographyever since (figure 2). Today, much of the world has achieved a population density,structure and organisation that was rare when modernists advertised the vibrancy ofurban experience. The myriad social networks of the city enable new ideas ofcommunity and individual connectedness. Yet, over the last thirty years, the city asrepresented by art photography andmost recently by prominent photographers suchas Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Greg Girard, Gabriel Orozco andLaurenz Berges the list is long and yet reductive is shown as progressively vacant,its streets empty of human activity and interaction.No doubt there are multiple influences many external to photography thathave led to what I describe. One could learn much from studying the actual processof urbanisation to understand the relations played out through this photographicEmail for correspondence:r.hawker@griffith.edu.au1 Walls work began as a photograph ofactors on a set but these figures wereremoved.History of Photography, Volume 37, Number 3, August 2013http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2013.798521# 2013 Taylor & FrancisDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 trope. Nevertheless, this essay can only make a simpler argument that the numbingemptiness of the city as found in so many contemporary photographs can in part beunderstood as a symptom of disciplinary relations internal to photography as an artform and a popular cultural practice. These starkly depopulated urban settings arethe result of art photography distancing itself from vernacular representations of thecity that have thoroughly absorbed the language of art photography. The aesthetic ofthe everyday, celebrating the work-a-day yet dramatic, busy and characterful city, asit does particularly in street photography, has been so successful, so widely embracedand repeated, as to become generic. Photography that claims the status of art does sopartly in its opposition to the vernacular, avoiding widely recognised formulas, inpursuit of a more acute and aesthetically challenging form of the everyday. I refer tothis amplification of the everyday as the banal but my use of the word banal is notFigure 1. Jeff Wall, Dawn, transparency inlightbox, 2001. Courtesy of the artist.Figure 2. Paul Strand, Fifth Avenue at 42ndStreet, New York, platinum print, 1915. #Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul StrandArchive.342Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 pejorative. Rather, it is an attempt to locate an extreme form of what is called theeveryday in photographic discourse: a profound literalness that contemporary artphotography seems to pursue. To explore these issues is to understand why the city asa subject for photography has become emptier and enervated while our cities areincreasingly populated, chaotic and, in many ways, more enabling than ever before.In this way, these images and their relations tell us something of the discipline ofphotography at the same time as they tell us about modes of experience and relationswith the world as represented in photography. Therefore, the emptiness identified inthe photography of urban banality is both a literal and a figural emptiness. It appliesto both the city that is represented and the photograph as emptied of style.This essay will put some evidence to this claim through a loosely historical casestudy of the photographic representation of the city that shows how our experienceand understanding of the urban environment have undergone this strange inversion.I will then look to photography by Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Melanie Manchot thatsuggests new ways to encounter and interpret the city through photography and,importantly, a way out of the impasse of the banal.The city has always been a ready subject for photography, its accelerating changecoinciding with the mid-nineteenth-century invention of the medium. As such,photography has played a constant role in understanding urban experience. Yet,looking across photographic representations of the city from the nineteenth centuryto today, we can see a strange binary inversion of the city as trope, where, broadlyspeaking, the twentieth-century city is shown as densely populated and dynamicwhile the twenty-first-century city is comparatively still and empty of people.Steven Jacobs also identifies these extremes when he charts the representation ofthe city as void across photographys history, doing so against a backdrop of morefamiliar representations of the metropolis of chaotic diversity.2 Jacobs identifies thelimits of technology as responsible for the emptiness of early urban photographs,where long exposures erased the bustling activity from the streets of nineteenth-century Paris:At a time when artists and writers were starting to define themodernmetropolisas a place of hurried activity and fleeting impressions, photography reduced thesame scene to a panorama of motionless, lifeless objects. Because people arecompletely absent or reduced to the shadowy form of blurred ghosts, the urbanlandscapes recorded in early photographs were often described as cities of thedead.3Rapidly changing photographic technology saw exposure times shrink from hours tominutes and to fractions of a second by the turn of the twentieth century. Withsmaller cameras and shorter exposures, street photography quickly developed into agenre based on spontaneity and celebrating the activity and excitement of the city.Yet, as Jacobs details, in a wide variety of photographs across the nineteenth andtwentieth centuries, and in examples from literature and architecture, streetsremained empty in order that the city might be construed as a site of isolation andalienation or as architectonic andmonumental. Jacobs concludes his discussion withreference to photographs from the 1960s to the present, arguing for their thoroughlyestablished post-urban emptiness.4 Returning to the technology and discipline ofphotography, he notes the further entrenchment of emptiness by such topographicphotographers as Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore and Lewis Baltz and continued today by,among others, Wall and Gursky. He describes the move away from the spontaneoussnapshot aesthetic of street photography and towards the physical and emotionalreserve of large-format cameras, concluding: The urban void no longer expresses asublime horror or loneliness and alienation. Emptiness has become everyday andbanal.5Jacobss thorough account of the various symbolic and aesthetic uses of the cityas void implies a fairly even-handed oscillation between the two opposed tropes ofthe city as dense and dynamic or as empty and still across most of the history of2 Steven Jacobs, Amor Vacui: Photographyand the Image of the Empty City, History ofPhotography, 30:2 (2006), 10818.3 Ibid., 108.4 Ibid., 118.5 Ibid.343Contemporary Photography and Urban ExperienceDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 photography. I argue for a stronger distinction between the photographs of thetwentieth-century and twenty-first-century city, where the history of photographyand developments in photographic technology intersect in the representation ofexperience in surprising ways.While exceptions in both categories of image are easily found, from the turn of thenineteenth century onwards photography characterised the city as peopled and purpo-seful. Photographers such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans and Robert Frank clearlycelebrate the citys density, industry and activity. Their photographs show peopletraversing urban space, their multiple unknowable agendas briefly intersecting, theirdiverse trajectories underlining the dynamism of the city as a place of purposefulactivity. Strand uses heightened viewpoints to emphasise the proximity of bodies andtheir convergence, while Evanss and Franks grounded views amplify the compressedspace of the crowded street and the indirect looking and seeing that enables people tofind a path through the throng. Throughout the twentieth century, modernist photo-graphers carried this theme still further, making the sense of the city as a complexorganism all the more apparent. Even when this tipped over into incoherence, the cityremained dynamic a place of endless and diverse possibility. This is variously com-municated through the press of bodies in the street, chance encounters, crowded cafes,and traffic, all set against the dense urban grid, multi-storied buildings, and industrialstructures. This was the case whether the city was New York, Paris or Sydney, asdemonstrated in examples from such diverse photographers as Robert Doisneau,Alexander Rodchenko and Max Dupain (figure 3). Even when the city was the back-drop to solitary moments that might signal exceptions to this trope, these examplesoften communicate a sense of having this remarkable place to oneself, of going placesand doing things within its enabling infrastructure, rather than of being alone oralienated in an indifferent environment. While the examples from Surrealism thatFigure 3. Max Dupain, Rush Hour, KingsCross, gelatin silver print, 1938. # TheMax Dupain Exhibition Negative Archive.344Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 Jacobs identifies clearly resist the prevailing aesthetic, by casting the city as alienatingand otherworldly their resistance demonstrates the strength of the mainstream mod-ernist response and its familiarity.As a subject for photography, the city has been theorised in many ways, mostfamously through Walter Benjamins claim that new media collapsed the distancebetween lived experience and art.6 This topic is also addressed through urban andarchitectural theory. Parallels with the empty city are found in the concept of the cityas void (as described by writers such as Bernardo Secchi,7 echoed by Jacobs and seenin photographs by Struth and Gabriele Basilico), and in the concept of terrain vague(as described by Ignasi Sola-Morales and often addressed by Walls photographs).8While we can continue to discuss everyday experience through these images andideas, the nature of this experience seems radically recast, and recast in a way thatruns counter to the simple logic of population densities and urban infrastructures.So, how can we understand this shift away from the dynamism of the twentieth-century city?The move towards the emptiness and anonymity of the contemporary city owesmuch to the enormous influence of American conceptual artist Ed Ruscha and, inturn, New Topographers such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore and Bernd and HillaBecher.9 Their work rejected the Romantic inflection of modernism in favour of asupposedly detached and styleless treatment of the built environment. The presentdiscussion aims to understand how contemporary examples build on and differ fromwhat was begun in the 1970s by those photographers and others.One way to evidence changing attitudes to the city is to look more closely at thehistory of street photography. The twentieth-century photographic canon includescountless photographers working, at least in part, in this genre. Some have alreadybeen mentioned, such as Strand, Evans and Frank, but also Harry Callahan and LeeFriedlander are representative photographers.10 While today street photography isstill part of photographic practice, it is hard to think of photographers of Wallsstature who work in this mode. One reason for this is that the genre has become sothoroughly the purview of the amateur enthusiast, the commercial or the ethno-graphic photographer, as distinct from the art photographer (although as alwaysthere are exceptions, such as diCorcia or Beat Streuli). Photo-sharing sites and blogsproliferate the genre and its expression of the direct experience of the city asaddressed in self-conscious artfulness. This array of images is in many senses diverseand captivating, and in others generic and predictable, for the most part repeatingfamiliar visual formulas learnt from modernism.The assimilation of modernist culture and technique into everyday image-making is seen across many forms of photography, but is pronounced in therepresentation of urban experience. That the style of art photography has beenthoroughly absorbed in vernacular expression is evident on FlickR and in blogreferences, both visual and written, to photographers such as Struth, Gursky orWall. These sorts of examples are important because, as Craig Owens argues, thevernacular determines what art photography is not.11 If Owens is correct, it followsthat when art photographys modes become so apparent that they are seen inpopular, commercial and amateur photography, it is proof of their conceptual andaesthetic exhaustion for art. Whatever their original merit or, one might even say,truth, they have become cliches and for the present are unusable. They may remainpotent, even as they continue to circulate, but their self-evidence and repeatabilitymean they are outside the autogenesis and inimitability that defines art in theaesthetic era. Benjamin locates just such an outcome in the early industrialisationof photography in a photographic practice he describes as arty journalism, peddlingthe consolation that the world is beautiful.12So the familiarity of this address to the everyday that we see in this photographymeans it has become a genre based in a predictable transformation of the ordinaryinto the extraordinary. We can see the origins of this effect in modernist photo-graphy where someone like Strand shows the walk to work as monumental and6 Walter Benjamin, TheWork of Art in theAge of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), inIlluminations: Essays and Reflections, ed.Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, NewYork: Schocken Books 1985, 21751. This isalso the case for the impact of broadertheories of the everyday and culture. Whilethere is no room to account for thecomplexity and breadth of this discussionhere, Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes,Maurice Blanchot and Michel de Certeau aremost often identified with these theories andtheir impact upon contemporary debates.7 Bernardo Secchi, The AbandonedTerritory, Casabella, 49:512, 513, 514(1985): 1819, 1213 and 1415.8 Ignasi Sola-Morales, Terrain Vague, inAnyplace, ed. Cynthia C. Davidson,Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1995, 11823.9 William Jenkins, New Topographics:Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape,Exhibition Catalogue, Rochester, NY:International Museum of Photography atGeorge Eastman House 1975. See also AlisonNordstrom and Britt Salvesen, NewTopographics, Tuczon, AZ: Center forCreative Photography, University of Arizonaand Rochester, NY: George Eastman HouseInternational Museum of Photography andFilm 2009. The latter is the catalogue for atravelling exhibition that restaged theoriginal New Topographics exhibition andexamined the lineage of the NewTopographers from 1975.10 Jacobs identifies the 1960s shift totopographic photography as being a moveaway from street photography. Jacobs, AmorVacui, 108.11 Craig Owens, Detachment, from theParergon, October, 9 (Summer 1979), 49,cited in Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea:Writing, Photography, History, Cambridge,MA: MIT Press 2001, 58.12 Walter Benjamin, Little History ofPhotography (1931), in Selected Writings,Volume 2 (19271934), ed. MichaelW. Jennings, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Pressof Harvard University Press 1999, 526.345Contemporary Photography and Urban ExperienceDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 symbolic, or where, for Frank, the crush and rush of the city is exhilarating. Thisdrama all too easily becomes conventional when it merely exercises the oppositionbetween the everyday and the spectacular, transforming one into the other. Thephotograph as transformative or illuminating has been widely celebrated. For exam-ple, John Szarkowski writes:on the evidence of Thomas Romas pictures the light comes down with suchsweet sympathy that asphalt shingles and cyclone fences are shown to be as fineas marble, and [. . .] the weeds in vacant lots make us think of Eden.13This too easy transformation and the overblown and overfamiliar rhetoric for whichit has become an occasion is what contemporary photographers who pursue thebanal eschew.For contemporary photography to mark out an aesthetic domain appropriate toart, it needs to avoid the photographic codes of transformation that have been sothoroughly identified through the widespread use of photography, through the veryrepetition and reproduction that the medium is predicated upon. In the context ofthe contemporary representation of the city, art photography exceeds popularphotographic culture through a literalness that goes beyond the transcription ofthe everyday to identify objects and scenes through the most direct means. When weremember that the banal is about the repetition of the already known and entirelyapparent, these photographs make no claim to revelation or transformation orartfulness. As such, they distance themselves from the vernacular. Therefore, whatis at stake here is not just the subjects being everyday and obvious and the points ofview familiar, but rather an emptying out of the forms of photographic art as theyhave developed over the mediums history.While much has been written about the everyday as an aesthetic, there isrelatively little on the banal. One exception is an essay by Eugenie Shinkle that clearlyidentifies the banal as an aesthetic in contemporary photography.14 Shinkle describesthe banal as being unconcerned with the transformation of its subjects and under-stands banality as grounded in a temporal condition the indecisive moment, theopposite of a famous cliche of photographic art, and, as such, indebted to vernacularphotography. Shinkle also emphasises the banals resistance to emotional and criticalengagement, and although this is where the banal begins, it is finally counter to aproductive quality of banality. Shinkle considers vernacular photography as unre-flective and unconventionalised, whereas this essay argues that the uptake of themotifs of art photography in the vernacular is at the heart of the current turn tobanality.When the New Topographers became more documentary than the modernists,who had earlier insisted on being more documentary than the pictorialists, they bothalso pursued decreasing degrees of style. So it is with the anti-aesthetic practised byhigh-art photographers of today. In making starkly ordinary images, photographersturn all the more insistently away from illusion and its familiar conventions towardsthe most direct, literal factuality available through photography. Paradoxically, thiseffect is just as likely to be achieved through the meticulously staged and constructedimage as through the refusal of mediation and manipulation that has characterisedmost documentary modes of photography.An insistent control over the human figure is common to many contemporaryphotographs of the city. Struth photographs in the early morning so as to have emptystreets and still construction sites. Wall directs actors into place and later digitallyerases them. Without wanting to collapse distinctions between these images, it isclear that the city as represented in these scenarios is a problematic place. Althoughindividual works might open to a range of interpretations, these photographers ofrecent decades make a city that is, at the very least, in a state of suspension, and atworst hostile and disabling. This sense of agoraphobia, identified by Jacobs,15 isentirely contrary to the vibrant city of much of the twentieth century. Yet cities today,in other contexts, are recognised as genuinely enabling in ways that they only13 John Szarkowski, cited in ThomasRoma, Found in Brooklyn, New York:W. W. Norton 1996, back bookcover.14 Eugenie Shinkle, Boredom, Repetition,Inertia: Contemporary Photography and theAesthetics of the Banal, Mosaic, 37:4(December 2004), 16584.15 Donna Brett also discusses thisagoraphobia in the context of post-warGerman photography. Donna Brett, TheUncanny Return: Documenting Place inPost-war German Photography,Photographies, 3:1 (March 2010), 722.346Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 promised to be in the early twentieth century. However, this is not apparent fromcontemporary art photography. Having emptied the city of its inhabitants, it seemsthe only way for photography to reintroduce them is as actors on a set as Wall hasdone in works such as A View From a Nightclub (20042005).In understanding this paradox and its historicity, it is also useful to examine thework of Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Melanie Manchot. Their photographs of the cityaddress urban experience and the medium of photography through different visualarticulations of the roles and abilities of photography across its history. While bothdiCorcia and Manchot can be said to be street photographers, they understand theaddress to their subject not as an aesthetic form or genre so much as a task or topos.For both photographers, the means to this is technology and the resuscitation ofearlier modes of address to their subject matter. At the same time, they elide the toofamiliar aesthetic of street photography as a genre. The photographs that result couldnot be more different.While diCorcia and Manchot also photograph the figure on the street in highlymediated ways, there is something very different at stake for our understanding andexperience of the city in their photographs. Both address the relationship betweenthe individual and the mass and the negotiation of public space that reveals some-thing of an interior private life. Both make photographs that represent their subjectsin a way which is neither spontaneous and unself-conscious nor staged. The subjectcomes into these photographs in distinctly different manners, but it is a coming intothat is an insight into urban life and a fresh angle on the disciplinary history of artphotography. Their work moves us on from the antimony of the fullness or empti-ness of the city and from the impasse between vernacular and art photography that isexpressed in the banal.Philip-Lorca diCorciadiCorcias street photography of the last twenty years makes a bridge betweenmodernism and contemporary shifts in the genre. His Streetworks series from the1990s has strong connections back to the movement and energy of the denselypopulated modernist city where individuals paths intersect and diverge as theycross the public space (figure 4). His more recent street-based works, as seen in hisseries Heads, represent a stark departure from this approach (figure 5). In theseworks, we find historical continuity with the photography that has shown the streetand its activity since the mediums invention, but this is developed beyond the binaryopposition of emptiness and fullness. diCorcia describes his earlier work when hestates: I was challenging what was happening in photography. A lot of that has beenabsorbed to the point where it is a cliche16 but he could make the same claim,perhaps even more strongly, for these recent works.These photographs are taken in the street from an obscured, scaffolded vantagepoint using zoom lenses, multiple flashes and remote triggers. They are candidphotographs made without their subjects knowledge or consent as they move withinthe range of the photographers sophisticated technology. Their subjects are largelyor completely isolated from the details of the street and the other bodies around themby the aggressive light of the flash. The city itself recedes into darkness, as if erased(figure 6). The space of the street is so compressed by this approach that the figureseems to be pressed up against the picture plane, exposed and yet hermeticallyintrospective. While these images are made in densely peopled urban space, theyconcentrate on the individuals in the crowd in such a way as to amplify theirindividuality, their living an interior and private life in a public space, even whencaught in diCorcias interrogatory flash-lit exposure. Their faces register the emotionor lack thereof involved in negotiating an urban experience that we cannot see.In his essay Little History of Photography, Benjamin described early photo-graphy as causing the subject to focus his life in the moment rather than hurrying onpast it; during the considerable period of the exposure, the subject (as it were) grew16 Philip-Lorca diCorcia in an interviewwith Robert Enright and Meeka Walsh,Attentive Contradictions: The PhotographicWorld of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, BorderCrossings, 108 (November 2008), 32.347Contemporary Photography and Urban ExperienceDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 into the picture in the sharpest contrast with appearances in a snapshot.17 Thistemporal experience of photography inscribes the subject into the image, theirappearance becoming more dense and certain with the duration of the exposureand their self-conscious being in the moment. The becoming of the image is also thebecoming of the subject. This durational experience of photography is in consider-able contrast to the brevity of diCorcias exposures, yet his photographs locate theintersection of the subject in the moment as acutely as Benjamin claims for earlyphotography. diCorcias photographs see their subjects enter the picture as ifthrough a suddenly opened door, their presence and precise subjectivity deliveredas a sure and palpable shock of apprehension.While these photographs present a curious mix of the formal portrait and thesnapshot, their high-end technology means they depict people in the street in a wayFigure 4. Philip-Lorca diCorcia, HongKong, Streetwork, 19931997, Ektacolorprint, 1996. Courtesy of the artist and DavidZwirner, New York/London.Figure 5. Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Head #23,Fujicolor Crystal Archive Print, 2001.Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner,New York/London.17 Benjamin, Little History ofPhotography, 514.348Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 never before possible. We might expect startled faces responding to the sudden lightof the flash, but the speed of the camera and its pairing with the flash mean we seethem in the tiny fraction of a second before this can occur. For the most part, we seefaces that are unself-conscious, lost in the reserve of their public-shaped appearanceas presented to the street. That these photographs are voyeuristic seems clear, yet atodds with the fact of their being taken in public where their subjects make themselvesvisible and observable. We see something so personal here that it is at once dis-comforting and compelling and curiously reminiscent of responses to Daguerresfirst photographic portraits:We didnt trust ourselves at first, to look long at the first pictures he developed,we were abashed by the distinctness of these human images, and believed thatthe little tiny faces in the picture could see us, so powerfully was everyoneeffected by the unaccustomed clarity and unaccustomed fidelity to nature of thefirst daguerreotypes.18So it is again with diCorcias Heads. That it is still possible for developments incamera technology to make us abashed in our looking is a remarkable fact that linksus to the history of the medium and its strongest effects.Benjamins observation of photography in the 1930s also still holds true: Thecamera is getting smaller and smaller, ever readier to capture fleeting and secretimages whose shock effect paralyzes the associative mechanisms of the beholder.19There can be no doubt that diCorcias photographs are powerful and revelatoryimages which are immediate and arresting. Since Benjamin wrote, cameras havebecome still smaller and more portable, but it is the speed and accuracy of diCorciaslarge-format photography that delivers the shock of these secret images. The tech-nical apparatus with which they are made and their startling effects take them wellbeyond the purview of vernacular street photography and out of an aesthetic of thebanal into a new register of the city and our experience of it.Melanie ManchotManchot has made a number of series of works in the street, many of which make aneven more direct connection to the history of street photography than diCorcias.Manchot addresses the negotiation of relationships between the public and privateFigure 6. Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Head #10,Fujicolor Crystal Archive Print, 2000.Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner,New York/London.18 Karl Dauthendey, cited in BenjaminLittle History of Photography, 512.19 Benjamin, Little History ofPhotography, 527.349Contemporary Photography and Urban ExperienceDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 through what she describes as the performative elements of photography andportraiture.20 In contrast to diCorcia, Manchots street portraits are made with theknowledge and consent of her subjects. I will restrict myself to just three examples:Groups and Locations, photographed in Moscow in 2004 (figure 7); Neighbours,Berlin from 2005 (figure 8); and Celebration (Cyprus Street) (figure 9), a video andphotographic work made in Londons East End between 2009 and 2010.In Celebration (Cyprus Street), a two-part project for Whitechapel Gallery,Manchot examines the traditions of group portraiture in conjunction with the streetparties that were common in post-war East London. The first part of the project wasan exhibition on the history of the street group portrait. This was followed by theCyprus Street party itself, organised and filmed by Manchot. She also took a series ofstill portraits of members of that community.Neighbours is a series triggered by a set of postcards that Manchot found in athrift shop in Berlin. Each postcard shows a Berlin street scene with an exact address.Manchot returned to those addresses and photographed what she found there, whenFigure 7. Melanie Manchot, Groups andLocations (Moscow), Cathedral of Christ SaintSaviour, 6.23pm, 2004, C-type photograph,2004. Courtesy of the artist.Figure 8. Melanie Manchot, Linienstrasse,Berlin Mitte, Neighbours, Berlin, C-typephotograph, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.20 Melanie Manchot and John Slyce, AnElongatedMoment: A Conversation betweenMelanie Manchot and John Slyce, inMelanie Manchot: Moscow Girls, ed. KatjaBlomberg, Berlin: Haus am Waldsee 2006,n.p.350Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 possible asking the occupants of the building to pose for her in a group streetportrait.Groups and Locations is a series of photographs taken in public places inMoscow. In Russia, it is illegal to photograph groups in public, and Manchotachieved these images by setting up her camera on a tripod and asking people inthe vicinity to stop and turn towards her camera on a signal. In this way, the subjectswere not just aware and consensual of Manchots photography, but engaged in agroup resistance against authority. The police were quick to stop Manchot, but,being without Russian, she feigned ignorance, packed up and moved onto anotherlocation. These figures, widely ranged across the public space, may seem strange andawkward, but this also connects to Russian law that forbids group demonstration butallows individual demonstration, defined by a separation of approximately 30 feet.21For all its seeming otherworldliness, Manchots photographs of curiously dispersedfigures can also be understood to document an aspect of street life in Russia.Each series achieves something different for the subjects negotiation of the city.Sometimes this is political, sometimes historic, sometimes a combination of the two.In all cases, Manchot, even more visibly than diCorcia, marks out a set of relationsbetween the figure and the street and reveals something of what the context of thestreet brings to our understanding of the person. Her posing of subjects is highlymediated and yet the relations she refers to through this process are extraordinarilydirect and revealing of individualised experiences of the city. Manchots subjects inMoscow are staged in their response to the camera, but the photographs that resultare documents of their relationship to place and state. The photographs of Berlin areportraits of the city itself, its streets and people, made all the more so by theirhistorical stretch, the shaping of the city and its people across time. Celebration(Cyprus Street) sees the people of the East End drawn back into the street by acommunity and context made possible and apparent through photography, videoand the art gallery.Manchots group portraits are some of the most successful and innovativeexamples of how photography might articulate new meanings of the city, how itmight move beyond the impasse of the everyday and the banal. The strength of theseimages lies in their resurrection of historical modes of photographic representationbased in community and the celebration and/or solemnisation of its gatherings. Theturn to address the camera, while occupying the public place, directly acknowledgesthe street, and by implication the city, as a space of negotiation.Figure 9. Melanie Manchot, Celebration(Cyprus Street), C-type photograph, 2010.Courtesy of the artist.21 Andrew E. Kramer, In Russia, DissentTurns Into a Solo Act, New York Times (6January 2011), A13.351Contemporary Photography and Urban ExperienceDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014 ConclusionContemporary photography arrived at the banal through playing out aspects of itshistory and disciplinary formation that see art photography attempt to distance itselffrom the success of street photography in the vernacular. diCorcia andManchot helpto inform us retrospectively about what has happened in the photographic repre-sentation of the city that both reveals and shapes our urban experience. Their workprovides a means to think about the history of street photography and its dichot-omous formation of the city as empty or full, the disciplinary formations of photo-graphy in the vernacular or art photography, and about the street as an acute site ofurban experience. In diCorcias and Manchots photographs we see a commonknowledge of a common experience, articulated through one of the most enduringand vernacular genres of photography and yet revealing new understandings of thatexperience. Their engagement with figures on the street could not be more different,yet each offers a solution to the problem that the everyday city has become forphotographers one that simultaneously acknowledges the complex history of itssubjects, both the city and photography.352Rosemary HawkerDownloaded by [University of Georgia] at 05:14 18 December 2014

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