Treading in the footsteps of Charles Marville, Brassaï and Atget, German photographer Christopher Thomas creates black and white images of cities in a state of repose, as if only the viewer's gaze could animate these empty streets. After years of photographing his native Munich, Thomas turned his camera on his adopted city, New York. The resulting exhibition of 30 large-scale cityscapes feels both nostalgic and contemporary, offering an elusive glimpse of 19th century tranquility while hinting at a cryptic apocalyptic ending just around the bend.
The exhibition, co-curated by Ira Stehmann and Petra Giloy-Hirtz, accompanies the publication of New York Sleeps, by Christopher Thomas, Petra Giloy-Hirtz (editor) Ira Stehmann (editor), with essays by Robert Shamis and Ulrich Pohlmann. (Prestel, Munich, Berlin, London, New York, 2009)
Curator Bob Shamis writes in his essay Coming Upon New York: “The quietness that these photographs evoke, so at odds with our expectations, is at first unsettling for someone well acquainted with New York. The urban landscape may be familiar, but this is not the city that most of us know and experience. The total absence of people in Thomas’ photographs is the result of shooting in the early morning hours, when even New York’s streets are almost deserted, and because of the necessity of making long exposures with his view camera. With his lens shutter opens for many seconds for each exposure, moving figures did not register on the slow film that Thomas used, reinforcing the impression of the city as the site of a lost civilization.”
From views of an abandoned Staten Island ferry terminal to the deteriorating Coney Island Cyclone, Thomas documents urban scenes that while outwardly static, show a city in perpetual transition. The presence of previous inhabitants lingers heavily within each frame, like dinner plates that have recently been cleared away.
Like a Surrealist flaneur, Thomas explores the complex tension between absence and presence in his dreamlike outer landscapes. Devoid of human figures, his images of winding alleyways, imposing monuments and gleaming mist-filled harbors veer off at random into psychological terrain. Using a custom large-format camera and Polaroid film, he has created a nebulous archive of our collective inner longings.
Born in Germany in 1961, Christopher Thomas has worked for magazines such as Geo, Stern, Merian, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin. He has produced numerous photo essays and received international awards for commercial and fine art photography. He lives and works in Munich and New York.
Christopher Thomas: New York Sleeps will be on view December 3, 2009 through January 9, 2010.
Steven Kasher Gallery is located at 521 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10011.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 6pm.
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