Chris Marker- Passeges at Peter Blum Gallery

Originally posted on May 17, 2011 in CityArts

While viewing the gigantic exhibition of photographs by Chris Marker at the Peter Blum Gallery, I was struck by one question: How much of a role should context play in understanding and appreciating an artist’s work? To explain, Marker is a legendary figure in cinema history, having made the movie La Jetée, from which countless filmmakers have derived inspiration. He’s kind of an insider guy, an underground artist whose unique vision has endured through decades of changes in the art world. Yet if I did not know any of this, how would I feel about the 200 or so photographs currently on exhibit at both branches of the Peter Blum Gallery?

Passengers is an exhaustive show of digital photos of people on the Paris Metro, taken from 2008-2010. Capturing his subjects by what appears to be a spy camera, Marker then plays with the images, using Photoshop to tweak color and tone. He plays with textural aspects of the images, many of which look grainy, as if the film had been “pushed’ in an older film developing process. The majority of the images are of women—old, young, lost in thought and sleeping. The overall effect is of a world of disconnected people and environments. Marker’s subjects stare off into the distance. Very few of his subjects are looking at the camera, subverting the very notion of portraiture.

Chris Marker "Passengers"Chris Marker “Passengers” 

A student of Marker’s history recognizes the exhibition as another step in his visual evolution. However, without this context, the show might read as a little tedious. There are some knockout individual images, but the sheer volume of pictures of essentially the same subject becomes somewhat numbing. The collective effect is that of a collection of film stills, a group of studies of its subjects, rather than a cohesive narrative about them. As if looking through the windows of a passing subway car, we register briefly the small dramas within and then quickly move on to the next window. Knowing Marker’s eccentric cinematic vision, perhaps this is exactly what he has in mind.

Through June 2, Peter Blum Chelsea, 526 W. 29th St., 212-244-6055 and Peter Blum Soho, 99 Wooster St., 212-343-0441.

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