André Kertész, Carrefour Blois, 1930, Silver gelatin photograph

APRIL 20 – JUNE 8, 2024

The bustling metropolises of Paris, London, and New York stand as iconic symbols of human civilization, each with a unique cultural, historical, and architectural identity. Photographers have long been drawn to these cities, seeking to capture the vibrant rhythms and intricate patterns that define urban life. This exhibition delves into the works of photographers who use these cities as their subjects, exploring the interplay between the rhythms of the city, the patterns it weaves, and the dynamic relationship between architecture and inhabitants.

The bustling metropolises of Paris, London, and New York stand as iconic symbols of human civilization, each with a unique cultural, historical, and architectural identity. Photographers have long been drawn to these cities, seeking to capture the vibrant rhythms and intricate patterns that define urban life. This exhibition delves into the works of photographers who use these cities as their subjects, exploring the interplay between the rhythms of the city, the patterns it weaves, and the dynamic relationship between architecture and inhabitants.

As photographers delve into the urban landscape, they’re often captivated by the intricate tapestry of architectural patterns. Paris, with its iconic landmarks and quaint streets, serves as a rich source of inspiration, inviting photographers to explore the interplay between historical charm and contemporary dynamism. Eugène Atget, renowned for his documentation of Parisian architecture in the early 20th century, bequeathed a legacy of images illustrating the city’s evolving essence. Witnessing the modernization of old Paris with a heavy heart, Atget’s lens captured the delicate equilibrium between ornate architectural details and the evolving urban fabric. As Paris metamorphosed into a modern hub renowned for its grandeur and romance, post-World War II French Humanists shifted their focus from architecture to human experiences. During this era, they skillfully immortalized moments of joy and fostered a candid connection among the city’s inhabitants.

London’s architecture, blending historic landmarks with contemporary structures, offers photographers a diverse canvas to explore the city’s patterns. Its vast size and diverse neighborhoods provide abundant opportunities to capture the contrasts within the urban landscape. Bill Brandt, hailed as the most significant English photographer post-World War II, enjoyed rare freedom in documenting wartime efforts. His focus extended beyond mere buildings, delving into the intricate tapestry of patterns woven by London’s inhabitants, spanning social classes and urban locales from luminaries to the streets, rooftops, and buildings.

New York, renowned for its towering skyscrapers and diverse neighborhoods, has long captivated photographers exploring the intricacies of urban life. Among them, Berenice Abbott stands out for her iconic series “Changing New York” (1935-1938), which meticulously documented the city’s architectural evolution during the interwar period. Abbott’s journey to becoming a prominent photographer began in Paris, where she worked as a darkroom assistant for the American surrealist photographer Man Ray. It was during this time that she first encountered the work of Eugene Atget, whose photographs were owned by Man Ray and deeply admired for their artistic significance. Inspired by Atget’s legacy, Abbott returned to New York with a newfound passion for capturing the essence of her own dynamic city. She embarked on a photographic project that mirrored Atget’s dedication to documenting Paris, focusing on New York’s modernization. Her images vividly depict the stark contrasts and geometric patterns illuminated by the city’s lights and shadows. Abbott’s work is not merely a documentation of buildings and streets; it is a testament to the rhythmic harmony between New York’s structures and the ever-shifting patterns of light and dark that define its urban landscape.

The cities of London, Paris, and New York have consistently captivated photographers, offering a rich mosaic of architectural wonders, diverse activities, and vibrant inhabitants. This exhibition showcases the works of classic photographers like Berenice Abbott, Andreas Feininger, Andre Kertesz, Bruce Davidson, Edouard Boubat, Louis Stettner, Robert Doisneau, and Sabine Weiss, presenting a comparative study of their approaches to capturing the essence of these iconic cities. These photographs aim for authenticity, depicting the cityscape with minimal manipulation. Classic photographers adeptly captured fleeting moments, relying on their mastery of composition, lighting, and timing to crystallize dynamic urban scenes into a single frame, each image reflecting a unique facet of city life.

In contrast, contemporary photographers such as Stephen Wilkes, Xan Padron, and Michael Massaia employ a diverse array of photographic tools to create compelling images. As photography tools evolve and cities undergo dramatic transformations, these photographers demonstrate a new form of inventiveness. Their approach transcends the confines of a single frame, allowing for a more nuanced exploration of the interplay between architecture, activities, and people over extended periods, offering fresh perspectives on the evolving urban landscape.

Below are concise glimpses into how select photographers in this exhibition have encapsulated various aspects of city life:

Berenice Abbott (New York) – Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York” series (1935-1938) stands as a testament to her unwavering commitment to documenting the evolving architectural landscape of the city. Employing meticulous composition and a keen sense of light and shadow, Abbott accentuated the geometric patterns of New York’s skyline. Her work serves as a visual chronicle of the city’s metamorphosis during the early 20th century, capturing both the enduring essence and fleeting nature of its architecture.

Andreas Feininger (New York) – As a photographer for Life magazine, Andreas Feininger chronicled the urban dynamism of mid-20th century New York City. His iconic photograph “View from Empire State Building” (1947) encapsulates the architectural grandeur of the city. Feininger’s adept use of perspective and composition magnifies the vastness of the urban landscape, revealing intricate patterns formed by skyscrapers against the horizon. Through his lens, Feininger skillfully captured the awe-inspiring essence of New York’s architectural prowess.

André Kertész (Paris and New York) – André Kertész, revered for his mastery of composition and pioneering role in the photo essay genre, traversed both Paris and New York in his extensive oeuvre. In “Meudon, Paris” (1928), Kertész demonstrated his prowess in capturing the harmonious interplay between architecture and its surrounding environment. His images exude a timeless quality, accentuating the enduring essence of the urban landscape. “Carrefour Blois” serves as a prime example of Kertész’s work, seamlessly bridging the realms of classic and contemporary photography.

Bruce Davidson (New York) – Bruce Davidson’s “East 100th Street” (1966-1968) stands as a powerful testament to his dedication to documenting the human experience within the urban landscape. By focusing on the residents of East Harlem, Davidson’s work transcends mere architectural aesthetics, delving deep into the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants. Through candid and intimate portraits, he brings to light the human side of New York, offering a poignant contrast to the more traditional approach of architectural photography.

Edouard Boubat (Paris) – Renowned for his poetic and humanistic photographic style, Edouard Boubat captured the essence of Paris with empathy and insight. In “Les Quais de la Seine, Paris” (1952), Boubat skillfully framed the city’s architecture as a backdrop to the leisurely pursuits of its inhabitants. His work frequently underscores the intimate bond between individuals and their environment, weaving a narrative that transcends the mere physicality of urban structures.

Louis Stettner (Paris and New York) – Louis Stettner’s photographic oeuvre traverses both Paris and New York, presenting a distinctive perspective on the urban landscape. His series “Penn Station, New York” (1958) and “Les Halles, Paris” (1950s-1960s) vividly capture the bustling energy and architectural intricacies of these iconic transportation hubs. Stettner’s remarkable talent lies in his ability to seamlessly blend the fleeting essence of individuals with the enduring structures of the city, resulting in a nuanced portrayal of urban life that resonates with authenticity.

Robert Doisneau (Paris) – Renowned for his whimsical and candid depictions of Parisian life, Robert Doisneau frequently utilized the city’s architecture as a canvas for human interactions. In his iconic photograph “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville” (1950), Doisneau immortalizes a spontaneous kiss on the streets of Paris, seamlessly intertwining the human experience with the architectural charm of the city. His work embodies the romance and vibrancy that characterize the cultural identity of Paris, capturing fleeting moments of beauty and intimacy amid the bustling urban landscape.

Sabine Weiss (Paris) – Sabine Weiss, a contemporary of Doisneau, directed her lens towards the poetic and humanistic dimensions of Parisian existence. Through her photography, Weiss adeptly captured the delicate interplay between individuals and their urban surroundings. Her images exude a palpable sense of nostalgia, highlighting the enduring essence of both the people and the architecture that shape the city’s identity.

Bill Brandt (London) – Bill Brandt occupies a paramount position in the realm of photographic art, his pioneering work spanning the mid-20th century. Going beyond mere documentation, Brandt delves into profound realms of social commentary and human experience. His iconic images, characterized by dramatic contrasts and innovative compositions, encapsulate the essence of British life. From gritty scenes of post-war industrial landscapes to evocative portraits of both the elite and the marginalized, Brandt’s photography embodies a fusion of artistic vision and societal insight. His ability to redefine the photographic medium has left an indelible mark, influencing generations of photographers worldwide.

Roger Mayne (London) – Roger Mayne was a virtuoso of visual storytelling, his lens capturing the pulse of post-war Britain by freezing moments of raw authenticity and social change. His images, notably those of Southam Street in London, transcend mere documentation; they evoke a profound sense of humanity, resilience, and the ephemeral passage of time. Mayne’s keen eye for the ordinary unveiled a lasting impact on documentary photography, turning his work into a cultural time capsule that preserves the nuanced layers of society, reaching deep into the heart of the human experience.

Contemporary Photographers: Exploring Technological Frontiers

Stephen Wilkes – Stephen Wilkes, a contemporary photographer renowned for his innovative “Day to Night” series, employs cutting-edge photographic techniques to capture the passage of time within a single frame. In his acclaimed “Day For Night” series, Wilkes seamlessly blends images taken throughout the day into a composite photograph, revealing the dynamic patterns of activity, light, and shadow within the urban landscape. This technique offers a fresh perspective on the relationship between the city’s architecture and its temporal rhythms. Over the course of a decade, Wilkes has produced remarkable images of numerous world capitals, as well as capturing natural phenomena and geographic wonders on a global scale.

Xan Padron – Xan Padron, a photographer based in New York, employs a multimedia approach to delve into the intersection of architecture and human experience. His photographs capture multiple individuals candidly navigating the same urban spaces, showcasing the dynamic movements within these environments. Through the composite layering of multiple images, Padron adeptly mimics the rhythms of city life, accentuating the diverse activities and interactions of people within a particular locale.

Michael Massaia – Michael Massaia, a contemporary photographer known for his expertise in nocturnal long-exposure techniques, creates evocative images that unveil the ethereal essence of the urban landscape. Massaia captures a surreal perspective of New York’s iconic skyline and the tranquil beauty of Central Park during the early morning hours. His meticulous use of long exposures and selective toning of prints imbues his work with a serene and contemplative ambiance, highlighting the contrast between the bustling city and moments of solitude. As a virtuoso of the darkroom, Massaia demonstrates an innovative and masterful understanding of photographic techniques and chemistry, ensuring that each print is unique and resonates with its own distinct character.

Photographers who center their focus on the vibrant cities of Paris, London, and New York navigate a rich tapestry of rhythms, patterns, and architectural portraits. Each city, with its distinct personality, offers an alluring canvas for visual storytellers aiming to capture the dynamic interplay between urban life and its physical surroundings. As these photographers freeze moments in time, or, in the case of the most contemporary ones, expand the time dimension, their works serve as windows into the intricate relationships between inhabitants and the architecture that defines these iconic metropolises. Through their lenses, these artists invite us to immerse ourselves in the symphony of city life, where rhythms, patterns, and architectural portraits intertwine to form a compelling visual narrative of human existence within the urban landscape.