Why Urban Eyesores Are This New York Photographer’s Treasure
Some photographers use the camera as a tool of documentation to record, as objectively as possible, the people and scenes that catch their eye. Others use the camera as a tool for art-making, presenting carefully constructed or manipulated pictures that may tip into abstraction. Cuban-born, New York-based photographer Luis Mallo falls somewhere in between these extremes.
Though he shoots “straight” (a term that came to be used to describe an unmediated approach to taking and printing photographs), the way he frames the people and places before his lens is not necessarily straightforward. The evocative results of this paradoxical-seeming approach are currently on view at Praxis, in a solo exhibition of his photographs of urban scenes, titled, appropriately, “Interruptions.”
Describing the genesis of the series that compose the exhibition, Mallo once explained: “I started photographing industrial windows and facades, but I couldn’t find a way to break through the surface. Then I photographed some industrial gates and fences that covered and obstructed the scene behind it, but did not conceal it entirely.” These partial views sparked his interest, and he commenced toting his large-format camera around the more industrial parts of Brooklyn and Queens, capturing glimpses of what lay behind construction fences, fogged windows, scaffolding, and other such barriers—and effectively transforming sights that are ordinarily considered eyesores into compelling images.
His photographs urge viewers to peer through the slits and apertures in these interruptive barriers to see what lies beyond. They highlight our innate need to make sense of our surroundings through the gathering and ordering of information by confounding this process, and only ever offering visual fragments that cannot be neatly pieced together. While some may deem this a frustration, for the artist, it is the key to a work’s fascination. “An interesting work of art for me is one that perplexes and makes you question what it is you’re looking at,” he once said.
“Interruptions” is on view at Praxis, New York, Jan. 8–Feb. 21, 2015.