I caught a glimpse of them from the bodega across the street. From the sidewalk they were clearer, and I hurried to cross 7th Avenue. I entered the bustling gallery and saw the photographs, finally, in the kind of perfect clarity only a personal viewing can provide. Before me were six achingly poignant moments of quotidian life frozen in time and rendered significant.
Six photographs. Six stories. Six moments captured by photographer Damon Pablo, currently exhibiting at the Art Bazaar at the Lyons Wier Gallery. Founded by Michael Lyons Wier in 2009, the organization provides opportunity for emerging artists like Damon to show and sell their work, gain exposure and acquire representation.
One photo taken at The Bronx Zoo gently posits questions on confinement, social order and innocence, as expressed by both Damon's innate eye for composition and his uncanny feel for available light. A little girl gazes over a barricade to a polar bear hemmed in his enclosure. The polar bear sticks his head out towards the girl, his jaws stretching out and into what is about to become a giant yawn or, possibly, a gentle roar.
The girl, outfitted in practical wintry gear, stands alone near the edge of the photo. She is tiny in stature, but she still powerfully personifies civility in the face of chaos, i.e. the Polar bear. The barricade reinforces the idea that order must be both protected and kept separate from chaos; the bear is "tamed" by the stone fence, the girl wears a coat to protect herself from nature's wild elements. Damon composes these elements in such a way that he confidently suggests a point beyond the photo's edge where both the lines of the fence and of the bear's enclosure may eventually converge: a gentle reminder that once man and animal weren't so separate.
As a traditional black and white street photographer, Damon develops all his film by hand and shoots with a manual Leica camera. Choosing to maintain the integrity of the original negative, all his film is hand printed and always full frame. His pieces are clearly influenced by the greats who established the genre in the 20th Century: Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt.
Two lovers sit atop a hill, perhaps about to kiss. He frames the couple sensitively: the whole world stretches out underneath them, supportive, enveloping them and their love. We feel what it is like to be in love: blissfully one with each other. But this joy is bittersweet: perched above everyone as they are, they separate themselves from the world.
Damon's eye may be penetrating, but the result is always tender, always compassionate. His eye captures vulnerable moments of both the old and the young, the able-bodied and the handicapped, people hard at work, those busy with play, and those who, untethered, exist somewhere in between.
Two women lean against a building's window ledge, waiting. Though they are united in their purpose, gender, and even their stance, these two couldn't be more separate from each other. While both women hold on to the ledge and both have one knee bent (although they bend in opposite directions), they are entirely different entities. Formally composed by Damon amidst the harsh realities of right angles: unyielding, intersecting squares cover the sidewalk, the building, the glass panes, and even the subway vent, the women's interior lives are gently revealed. The older woman, wiser and unafraid of what lies ahead -- knowing only what is certain -- looks at the photographer head-on. But the young woman, holding fast to her dreams and aspirations, turns away from Damon's discerning eye, looking to her own reality.
I left the gallery, melancholic and pensive, still reeling from the emotional impact imparted by Damon's work. His singular moments of humanity are truly visceral, and, like all art, leave me grateful for the experience.
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