Walking into the Pratt Student Art Gallery, I notice a large framed print of a homeless man whose face is obscured by the metallic structure of New York City. “This is one of those pieces where you can clearly identify New York as the geography.” The picture centers the man on a signature example of objective street life.
Perpendicular to this opening piece, an incredibly close profile of a woman’s hands are captured in vivid detail. Their self-embrace is intimate. Every piece in the show has this sort of candid, subjective quality, rich with personal urban narratives. Some are warm despite the cold, and some leave us wondering what, why, and how.
Some of these pictures offer an odd distance between the subject and the viewer. There is no need to identify the subject. An old, feeble hand, decorated with golden rings and a manicure, holds an expensive bottle of prescription heart medicine.
One photo shows a woman emptying her purse on the street among pedestrians and shadowy strangers. That is not what draws my eye. The contents of her purse sprawled on the dirty sidewalk offer a glimpse into her life and culture. Chase Manhattan bank card, iTunes gift card, stamp-set “Get Healthy America” food and fitness cards, business cards and post-its, half-regurgitated out of the mouth of a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag. Perhaps she’s waiting for the bus.
A retail space under construction was once an ATM kiosk, and the last remaining proof of it remains in a window’s wax labeling, almost scraped away, much like the retail space inside. Desolation, destruction, a passive interpretation of future creations that will one day cover up the past.
“I’m only giving you views I want you to see.”
Roughly one foot from the ground, the photographer’s camera captures a letter of emotion and sincerity. The keywords “My dearest… jail… streets… dead or in jail…” stick out. This letter had so much brevity, and yet it’s cast aside, littered and left to no voice, a watery pickup of sewer streets, a dirty home for a dirty life.
A Styrofoam food container hangs motionlessly between the belly of a city trash can and the unidentified hand that releases it. More human interaction exists around it, but only to further illustrate the scene aptly captured in visual clarity. What will happen when time catches up with it, transforming the passive to active?
Ben Zucker’s exhibit “In Between Before and After” and other works are available for purchase through his Blurb page here.