Long Exposure Photography Captures NYC’s Fleeting Moments

Manhattan-based Matthew Pillsbury’s new show of photography at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, “City Stages,” is a love letter to New York City.

Photo by Roger Edwards

Ever since its invention in the 19th century, photography has taken on the city as a favorite subject. Now as the digital age   speeds up our world, one photographer invites us to slow down and look closer. Manhattan-based Matthew Pillsbury’s new show at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, “City Stages,” invites us to reflect. It’s a love letter to New York, with all its seductions and challenges.
NY eve

Photo by Matthew Pillsbury

If photography aims to capture the moment, how does it do that in the city that never sleeps? Pillsbury might have just figured that out. He applies his masterful use of long exposure technique to express his appreciation of the ultimate metropolis.

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Photo by Roger Edwards

Having grown up in Paris, another quintessential urban landscape, he believes that “our experience of city life is often the result of design–whether the 19th century work of Haussmann or the building of the big urban projects under Mitterrand.” With this kind of awareness of the built surroundings, it’s not surprising that his photos make such a powerful statement about how New York relates to its inhabitants (and vice-versa).
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Photo by Roger Edwards

“I think many of us don’t question the role that the city plays in our daily lives when in fact we are in dialogue with it. Even beyond providing the stage/setting for our daily interactions, the city is actually a living character in our lives,” says the photographer. “We often comment on the role of the city when we find it oppressive (‘I need to get away this weekend’) but don’t realize that it’s a continual dialogue and that like any relationship it can be joyful, celebratory, or melancholic.”
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Photo by Matthew Pillsbury

That richness is exactly what we see in his work. From the grounds of Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park (where the long- exposed ghostly feel of the participants make a poetic statement about their poignant relevance in contrast to their fragile circumstances), to the Jean Nouvel protective structure for the Jane Carrousel whose lights are captured in such way that it express its connection to the roof, while rendering the early 20th century design with a contemporary feel. Time captured, expanding time itself.
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Photo by Roger Edwards

Time is also on the photographer’s mind when he compares New York with his years in Paris. “From public transportation, to cultural venues to general maintenance, I think that Paris has done an amazing job of keeping itself modern. I think New York is finally catching up after years of neglect. It’s very easy to underestimate the value that the city can bring into our lives– particularly what investing in the arts and the urbanity can give us. A project like the High Line can literally energize the city and by extension our lives in ways that are hard to fully measure.” Maybe hard to measure, indeed, but for Pillsbury it’s seemingly effortless to express.
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Photo by Matthew Pillsbury

As an architecture photographer myself, and though working from quite different approaches, as I wonder through the city I can certainly relate to Matthew’s concept that “beauty is there waiting for us when we want to take note of it.” It’s a matter of how we allow for time, while we text, tweet, and sometimes… actually look up. He gets his point across not only with his images but with his craft as well:

“ I think that the length of my exposures brings to light the fleeting nature of our experience of time. We are here only transitorily and whereas most photographs are taken as a way to assert our presence, I think that my work tends to highlight the fragility of our presence.” Pillsbury photographs tell us that allowing for that “fragility” as we negotiate the city is how we come to appreciate its complexity and its beauty.
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Photo by Matthew Pillsbury

zuccatti
Photo by Matthew Pillsbury
Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer whose work is part of many collections, including the Mies van der Rohe’s Archives and house by MoMa, New York.  He exhibits  both in the US and on the international fine art circuit, from classic B & W prints to large scale photo installations. A published author, his work can also be seen in major design and lifestyle publications. His “Architecture Photography” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/archi.photo) receives over half a million hits monthly.

Categories: Arts + Culture

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