Sunday, December 21, 2008

Manhattan Out by Raymond Depardon

In the winter of 1980 while visiting New York City, Raymond Depardon spent many afternoons wandering the streets equipped with his camera and black and white film. He returned the following year in better weather and 97 images from these couple trips have been collected in Manhattan Out just published by Steidl.

Using his Leica like a shotgun fired from chest level, the wide angle of his lens gathered information wholesale as he navigated the crowds attempting to work without notice. Usually zeroing in on one or two subjects within his direct path, the photos also collected information on the periphery that often prove more interesting and unexpected.

One thinks of New York as a vertical city, one that seems two-tiered with a street level reality and the penthouse reality. The latter is often imagined but rarely experienced firsthand as that divide is often only crossed with affluence. Depardon's images in Manhattan Out stress the horizontal of the streets and sidewalks and are captivating with their splayed perspectives. The wide-angle lens stretches the foundations of buildings (and sometimes human faces) converting all into an odd
elastic cement pulled at the edges.

Add to this the cutting swaths of sunlight broken by deep shadows (made more extreme by some underexposure) and a seductive stage is set for the various gazes of the pedestrians. Although shooting from the hip, half the characters are wise to Depardon's attempts at surreptitious surveillance. They look, not at Depardon the person who has maneuvered his way into their path but at Depardon the camera whose tiny lens is taking in their likeness. It is this gaze that we settle upon and 'read' for deeper meaning. In the best of which, we are privy to a moment of inner reflection. In the lesser, we are left with people in awkward moments of realization like a deer caught in the headlights.

Depardon's pedestrians are often straight from Central Casting's stable of 'street photographer's subjects' with their fur-lined coats and aged faces. There are more drooping jowls in these pictures than taut cheeks and all is amplified by the folds of fabric that catch the light with wonderful twists and turns.

Depardon in sequencing this book often draws relationships across the gutter. In one image, the back of a man walking with his arms at his sides matches the same shape as his female counterpart on the next page. In another, a man wearing a winter balaclava becomes an ominous shadow (Depardon's) that is cast at the bottom of a photo of an unsuspecting woman in fur coat and high heels. In Central Park two women entwine arms while rollerskating while on the facing page a man is arrested by two policemen. Cinematic in effect, the pace (no pun intended) of our walk is quick and energetic. Depardon has us weaving through the crowds and barely gives us time to settle on the smaller details before thrusting the next photo into view.

Printed on a matte paper with the images surrounded by thick black borders, the tone of the book is celebratory but with a dark side. Certainly not the New York Deniro's Travis Bickle wished a rain upon to wash away the scum and slime but not the Disney wonderland it eventually became either. The size of the book and the grey flexible cloth covered boards feel perfect. The whimsical typography of the title pages seem straight from a Jacques Tati film and set the mood for light-hearted with occasional dips into the difficulty of city life. The cultural and urban theorist Paul Virilio contributes an introductory text.

Books of street work, especially made in New York, can be so depressingly predictable with endless variation on photos we already know so well. What Depardon accomplished with his cinematic viewpoint shot without verticals (there are no verticals in films after all) is a wonderful drift into the flow of life that feels fresh even though we know we've been down this street before.


Anonymous said...

Mr Wong Tong hua - a B&W photographer who is shooting over 50 years.

his photos for New York trip

Michal Daniel said...

Here are my 440 pages of East Village, 20 years later:

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favourite books of 2008!

Altough these photographs are taken 'from the hip' there seems to be much more contact with the passers-by then in most of this kind of photography. Makes me think of some of Lisette Model's work. I also love the deep black tones and contrasts (and the flexible cover).

May I also recommend Depardon's 'Villes / Städte / Cities' which is the complete opposite: vertical, in colour and the people photographed are 'more distant'. The book also has a flexible cover.

Matt Weber said...

Happy holidays!

"The photos also collected information on the periphery that often prove more interesting and unexpected."

That's probably why I'll buy this one. I think that 1984 is my current cut off point for defining "Old New York"

Michal: Send Jeff a copy and let him review the book.

Anonymous said...

Depardon is quick and smart but is it enough? Is there any depth there? No and no.
I've seen Correspondance new-yorkaise when it was published every day in Liberation and I remember having been pretty unimpressed. Depardon was dealing with major influences (at least Friedlander) and never found his own path. A few years later, he was more into Plossu but once again failed to capture the essence of the right gesture.
With Manhattan Out, it is a different style again and, well...

Anonymous said...

Can anybody point me in the direction of currently active street photographers? Have any recent street books been released of present day work?

Anonymous said...

Will, has a lot of work.

For books you might want to check out:
Leo Rubinfien's Wounded Cities
Richard Kalvar's Earthlings.
Christophe Agou's Life Below.
Matt Weber's Urban Prisoner.
Gus Powell's Company of Strangers
Jeff Mermelstein's Sidewalk
Jesse Marlow's Wounded
Matt Stuart's....oh sorry Matt doesn't have a book. HA!

Those books have some recent work. Rarely are good books of this sort published with all recent pictures. That practice generally takes years to build a publishable body of work.

Anonymous said...

You could try Zoe Strauss' hard-hitting 'America', obviously Mark Steinmetz's work, and Slinkachu's 'Little People in the City' (!) or Whitaker's 'In Spa City' just for light relief.

Anonymous said...

for the Anonymous asking for street photographers. Luis Baylón is a spanish street photographer, his topic is mostly Madrid, he is working from late 80s and i think his first book is 'Tarde de toros' (let's say 'an evening at bullfighting', it's an expression so i don't know the possible match) in 1997. he works only in 6x6 format. his web:

mario fm said...

Vi suas fotos no site: Magum.
Gostei muito, adoro fotos com contrastes picantes,

Unknown said...

My name is Sergio and I follow Paul Virilio’s work for quite some time. Recently I got acquainted with a book authored by both Depardon and Virilio called Native Land. There is plenty of photos and various provoking essays. Unfortunately I haven’t seen their last collaboration on Raymond Depardon: Manhattan Out. I am interested in knowing what Virilio’s contribution to this text is. Does his essay have a title? What does he talk about?

jeff ladd said...


Someone else will have to answer that as my copy is a French edition and I don't read French.