I/Eye: On Photography

Gray City

Posted in Other Artists, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on March 16, 2012
From *Gray City* © George LeChat. Reproduced here with the kind permission of the artist.

From *Gray City* © George LeChat. Reproduced here with the kind permission of the artist.

George LeChat recently sent me his maquette Gray City, which I’ve been reading with pleasure. LeChat’s San Francisco — the ostensible subject of the book —  is not a city of crowds, social upheaval or urban angst; it’s a street wanderer’s serial absorption in a scene for which he feels at once affection, an invitation to distraction from self,  and perhaps a certain affinity for its reaches of solitude.  It’s a city held close by its landscape, where open space reinforces the (mostly) human scale of the streets, and where the tidal patterns of fog, bay and ocean establish a corresponding rhythm of advance and retreat for the camera. Sometimes we see the inhabitants at close range, as at the counter of a bar on in a cafe, or even at home; other times we see them in a park or on the street, where the camera’s ‘normal’ eye (I’m guessing a 50mm lens for a 35mm format in many, though perhaps not all, of these shots) affords enough surrounding space to emphasize their uniqueness within the frame. We don’t get to know these individuals; we get to see them — much, as we presume, they get to see the photographer — involved in the desultory purposes that brought them out onto the streets in the first place. If LeChat maintains a certain distance, rather than navigate the degrees of intrusion required for probing one’s subjects, it’s because he adheres throughout to the equable role of fellow inhabitant: he makes no special show of virtuosity, or entitlement, with the camera. The use of monochrome (black and white film is LeChat’s choice) does underscore a stylistic preference: there’s a series of understated visual puns — which simply couldn’t have been handled  in color and which I’ll leave to the reader to explore — embedded in the sequencing. So the possibilities of incisive formal play in black and white are here quietly, yet definitely, insisted on as the work’s vital pulse. They’re among the reasons why, more than fifty years after Frank’s Americans, people still compose photo books in this medium.

George LeChat is the author of Hiding in Plain Sight.

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