Thursday, July 23, 2009

Will Steacy in Harper's

I was recently flipping through the new August issue of Harper's (here) and came across a short photo essay/portfolio (9 images) drawn from Will Steacy's Down These Mean Streets project. It seems that all of our media outlets are now searching for contemporary work that somehow captures the current angst of the nation; scenes of struggle against failure, and despair, and hopelessness, modern day equivalents of the dust bowl shots of the FSA photographers (Evans, Lange, Rothstein et al.). They want to point our attention to the vacant lots and For Rent signs, the abandoned buildings and empty neighborhoods, as if they weren't obviously visible in every town in America.

What I like about Will Steacy's approach to this now overexposed subject is that rather than give us the standard dreary deadpan view of these marginal grey neighborhoods, he has explored this terrain at night, when the street lights add a toxic glare to the surroundings and the threat of undefined danger is now out in the open rather than hiding in the shadows. (Burned Car, Los Angeles, 2009, via Conscientious, at right.) There is a subtle electric buzz in these pictures, capturing that tingling feeling when your senses are on high alert; a mixture of uneasy anxiety, excitement, and a hint of fear, knowing that you are a bit exposed out here in the night. The addition of the darkness turns these streets from merely exhausted and depressing into something altogether more desperate.

And yet these kinds of shadowlands and in between zones are everywhere in this country; dodgy areas of disrepair and decay that form the (growing) border areas between the "good" neighborhoods from coast to coast. So in some ways, the subject matter of these pictures is altogether unsurprising. And while we've seen them before, Steacy has found a way to infuse the rubble piles and security doors with the elusive spirit of the moment: nervous, a bit threatened, and undeniably on edge.

Collector's POV: Will Steacy is represented in New York by Michael Mazzeo Gallery (here). The images from this series come in two sizes, 16x20 and 24x30, priced at $1200 and $2000 respectively. My particular favorite of the images in the Harper's portfolio is Bench, Queens, 2008, an image of a wooden bus bench, sawed apart, leaving only the solitary metal supports.

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here) and blog (here)
  • Down These Mean Streets @NYU Gulf & Western Gallery, 2009 (here)
  • Interviews: Conscientious (here), BOMBlog (here)

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