Friday, October 9, 2009

Michael Collins, London Cityscapes @Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 9 color images hung in the main gallery space. The light jet prints come in two sizes: 48x60 (framed in brown with no mat, in editions of 7) and 20x24 (framed in black and matted, in editions of 15); there are 6 images in the large size and 3 in the small size. The prints are straight large format images made from 8x10 color negatives, which are then digitized and printed onto photographic paper. All of the works were made between 2007 and 2009. A small exhibition booklet has been published in conjunction with the show. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Michael Collins' bird's eye views of London remind me of all the failed photographs I have personally made from the rooftop observatories of tall buildings around the world. It doesn't matter whether I am visiting the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, or the Eiffel Tower, I'm always astounded by the breadth of the view and the staggering detail below and delusionally think that I could somehow capture this grandeur with my snapshot camera. Of course, this is never the case; the pictures never even come close to matching the experience of seeing the view first hand and are therefore relegated to the dustbin - they're not even good enough to be put in the album.
Michael Collins has however taken the pictures that I have always envisioned. His massive objective views of London are incredibly sharp at nearly all distances, highlighting the intricate details of the dense built environment. Taken on cloudy days in uniform neutral light, the images of the city become a patchwork of muted greys, browns, and tans, old stone and new glass mixed together in chaotic layers; the view looking down flattens the scale, making the city look like a model railway or an urban planning exercise.
Not only do these pictures represent the precise topographical reality on the ground, they also provide a time capsule image of the city at one exact moment (just like the 19th century panoramas made of major cities of the time); taken a year later, the same view of London will be different - an unfinished building will now carve out its final silhouette, or an old building will be gone, demolished in the ongoing process of renewal.
Given their subtle palette and direct approach, these images don't brazenly announce themselves as worthy of prolonged attention. But get up close and look for more than a moment; there are hundreds of tiny stories hiding in plain view.
Collector's POV: The prints in the show are prices at $8000 for the large images and $3000 for the small ones. Collins' work has not yet shown up in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. Contrary to my usual prejudice against overly large photography, the big prints in this show are the most successful; the size allows the viewer to get enveloped in exploring the minutiae.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews: Londonist (here), Evening Standard (here)
Michael Collins, London Cityscapes
Through October 17th
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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