Exhibition: ‘Eyes on the Street: street photography in the 21st century’ at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 11th October 2014 – 4th January 2015


Olivo Barbieri (Italian; lives and works in Modena, Italy)
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American; lives and works in New York)
Jason Evans (British; lives and works in London)
Paul Graham (British; lives and works in New York)
Mark Lewis (Canadian; lives and works in London)
Jill Magid (American; lives and works in New York)
James Nares (American; lives and works in New York)
Barbara Probst (German; lives and works in New York)
Jennifer West (American; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Michael Wolf (German; lives and works in Paris and Hong Kong)



Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps



Watching the watcher watching…


Many thankx to the Cincinnati Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



“Some of the artists in ‘Eyes on the Street’ made their work at street level; others sought higher vantage points. Some sharpen our appreciation for individuals, while others underscore universal urban traits. Some work with still images, while others create films and videos. What links them, and binds them to the historical tradition of street photography, is the quality of attention they give these bustling environments. They are watchful. What distinguishes them from the twentieth-century street-photography tradition, however, is that these artists are also acutely conscious of the active roles cameras play in making urban public places today. They know they are part of a greater system of watching.”

Brian Sholis, Associate Curator of Photography, Cincinnati Art Museum



Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Barbara Probst. 'Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.' 2013


Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #106: N.Y.C., Broome & Crosby Streets, 04.17.13, 2:29 p.m.
Ultrachrome ink on cotton paper in twelve parts
Each 29 x 44 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy, New York



On January 7, 2000, Barbara Probst first deployed a photographic technique that has become her signature and which she is still fruitfully exploring. On that night she used a remote-control device to synchronise the shutters of twelve cameras, creating as many perspectives on the same scene. In that work, and the more than one hundred that have followed, Probst dissects the photographic moment. Take, for example, the twelve-panel Exposure #106, exhibited here, which combines colour and black-and-white film, multiple photographic genres, staged and unscripted elements, and a patchwork of vantage points. One can’t help but “read” these individual images sequentially, creating a false sense of narrative momentum from a collection of pictures taken in the same instant. One likewise builds, as Probst has called it, a “sculpture in the mind” by piecing together a three-dimensional scene from two-dimensional fragments. The process is never perfect, underscoring, as does all of Probst’s work, the incompleteness and partiality of any photograph.

“Probst forcefully deconstructs the notion of photographic truth, not by specifically questioning that photographic truth but merely by pointing out its necessary incompleteness.” ~ Jens Erdman Rasmussen, Dutch curator.


Jason Evans. 'Untitled,' from the series "NYLPT," 2008


Jason Evans (Welsh, b. 1968)
Untitled from the series NYLPT
Gelatin silver print
24 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the photographer



Jason Evans is a street photographer who, in his words, simply likes to “walk around and look at things, follow people, and get lost.” The series exhibited here, NYLPT, was made between 2005 and 2012 in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience. Aware that people consume images in myriad ways, Evans not only developed the photographs in a darkroom, but also worked closely with a book publisher and digital programmers to create versions of the series specific to different mediums.


Olivo Barbieri. 'site specific_ISTANBUL #4' 2011


Olivo Barbieri (Italian, b. 1954)
site specific_Istanbul #4
Archival pigment print
45 x 61 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York



Between 2003 and 2013, the Italian artist Olivo Barbieri photographed more than forty of the world’s cities from low-flying helicopters. Fascinated by the expanding megalopolises, Barbieri sought a new visual language to present their shifting forms. He hit upon the idea of using a tilt-shift lens – normally used to correct the apparent convergence of parallel lines in pictures of buildings – to render sections of his images out of focus. By also slightly overexposing the photographs, Barbieri created a diorama-like effect; the people and places he captured seemed to inhabit miniature worlds. His pictures contained enormous amounts of information yet placed some of it tantalisingly out of focus.

This visual effect became so popular that Barbieri sought other ways to push photography’s language in response to the cities that inspired him. In recent years he has adopted a wide array of digital post-production techniques to modify his images, all in service of representing the dizzying state of cities today.

“Captivated by a vision of the twenty-first-century city as a kind of site-specific installation – temporary, malleable, and constantly in flux – [Barbieri] sought a photographic corollary for the radical mutations of urban form that he saw taking place.” ~ Christopher S. Phillips, curator


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps


Installation view by Rob Deslongchamps



Cameras are an integral part of our lives, and the Cincinnati Art Museum’s new exhibition, Eyes on the Street, on view Oct. 11, 2014 – Jan. 4, 2015, examines how they can be used in public spaces. Through a collection of photographs, films and videos by 10 internationally renowned artists – most of whom have never previously exhibited in Cincinnati – the exhibition reimagines street photography and reveals how cameras shape perceptions of cities. Eyes on the Street is the Art Museum’s contribution to the region-wide FotoFocus festival and is a celebration of street photography in the twenty-first century.

“Street photography is a perennial subject of museum exhibitions, but by emphasising the role cameras’ technical capabilities play in making these artworks, I hope to broaden our understanding of the genre,” said Brian Sholis, associate curator of photography. “At the same time, it’s important to recognise that we are not merely subject to faceless surveillance, but can use cameras to amplify the invigorating aspects of city life.”

Eyes on the Street reimagines the genre of street photography and demonstrates how cameras shape our perceptions of cities. It features ten internationally renowned artists who work in photography, film, and video, each of whom deliberatively uses the camera’s technical capabilities to reveal new aspects of the urban environment. Through high-speed and high-definition lenses, multiple or simultaneous exposures, “impossible” film shots, and appropriated surveillance-camera footage, these artists breathe new life into the genre and remind us that urban public places are sites of creative and imaginative encounters.

The exhibition title comes from influential urban theorist Jane Jacobs, who wrote, in her classic treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, of “eyes on the street” being crucial to urban neighbourhoods’ vitality – and their ability to accommodate different people and activities. Today, discussion of cameras in public spaces often revolves around surveillance tactics or battles over first-amendment rights. Eyes on the Street reflects the diversity of urban experience and shows us how cameras can help us comprehend the complex urban environment.

The show includes artworks made in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Beirut, Tokyo, Istanbul, and elsewhere by artists who have exhibited widely and have received numerous grants, fellowships, and prizes. Most have never before exhibited in the Cincinnati area.

Press release from the Cincinnati Art Museum


Philip-Lorca diCorcia. 'Head #23' 2001


Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Head #23
Fujicolor Crystal Archive print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London



To make the photographs exhibited in Eyes on the Street, Philip-Lorca diCorcia affixed a powerful strobe flash to construction scaffolding above a sidewalk in Times Square. He placed his camera some distance away, so as to remain unnoticed, and photographed unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. This outdoor “studio” married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be easy to miss if we passed them on a busy street.

The resulting series, Heads, comprises a few dozen photographs chosen from the thousands that diCorcia made between 1999 and 2001. Erno Nussenzweig, the subject of Head #13, discovered the photograph of him in 2005. He sued the photographer for using his image without permission. The case went to the New York Court of Appeals, where judges ruled that diCorcia’s images qualify as art, not as advertising, thereby exempting him from privacy protections afforded by law. The case has become an important precedent for artists who wish to take pictures in public places.


 Jill Magid. 'Control Room' 2004


Jill Magid (American, b. 1973)
Control Room
Still from a two-channel digital video, ten minutes
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris



For more than a decade artist Jill Magid has deliberately worked with institutions of authority to create videos, books, installations, and other artworks. For a series made in Liverpool in 2004, Magid spent thirty-one days in the English port city – the length of time footage from its Citywatch surveillance system is stored. Wearing a red trench coat, she aimed “to use the CCTV system as a film crew, to act as the protagonist, and to be saved in [its] evidence locker.”

During the project she developed relationships with the camera operators. In the video Trust, Magid closes her eyes and allows a CCTV operator to verbally guide her safely through the city’s busy streets. She has described the interaction as one of the most intimate she has experienced, and wrote the Subject Access Request Forms, used to obtain the footage, in the form of love letters. As she later said, “Only by being watched, and influencing how I was watched, could I touch the system and become vulnerable to it.”


Installation view of James Nares's film 'Street'. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.


Installation view of James Nares’s film Street. Photo by Rob Deslongchamps.



James Nares Street



James Nares moved to New York during the 1970s and joined the experimental music and art scenes as a filmmaker, painter, sculptor, musician, and performer. Today he is perhaps best known for his beautiful abstract paintings, but he has made still- and moving-image work throughout his career. His 2012 film STREET has drawn renewed attention to his work with cameras. STREET uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to mesmerising effect. Shot from the window of a car, “the camera is moving in one line at a constant speed,” he has said. “I take small fragments of time and extend them. […] I just wanted to see the drama in small things that happen all the time, everywhere, the little dramas that become big along the way.”

STREET is an unscripted 61-minute high definition video filmed by artist James Nares over one week in September 2011. The final video is a mesmerising experiment in the nuance and beauty of everyday people and people-watching; providing a global view that extends beyond the streets of New York where it was filmed: from Battery Park to the furthest reaches of Upper Broadway, and West Side to East Side in Nares’ personal homage to actualité films. In Nares’ words, “I wanted the film to be about people. All it needed were magical moments, and there are enough of those happening every moment of any given day.”

The scenes are drawn from more than sixteen hours of material and accompanied by a guitar soundtrack performed by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.



Eyes on the Street

Brian Sholis

Associate Curator of Photography
Cincinnati Art Museum

The title of this exhibition comes from the architecture writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs, who, in her classic 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, wrote of eyes on the street being crucial to the vitality of urban neighbourhoods, in particular their ability to accommodate different people and activities. She was celebrating her Greenwich Village neighbours, “allies whose eyes help us natives keep the peace of the street,” the “lucky possessors of a city order that makes it relatively simple to keep the peace.” She was quick to add, “there is nothing simple about that order itself, or the bewildering number of components that go into it.” Fifty years later the elements that make urban life vibrant and challenging are even greater in number, and the omnipresence of cameras is one of the greatest changes to the ways we manage a city’s order. Today, discussion of cameras in public places often concentrates on issues of surveillance, personal privacy, and first-amendment rights. As the writer Tom Vanderbilt asked in a 2002 essay that touches on Jacobs’s legacy, “Why is a police surveillance camera on a public street any more intrusive than a patrolman stationed on the corner? […] The real question in all of this is motive, not means: who’s doing the watching, and for what purpose?” The artworks brought together in Eyes on the Street offer ways to think about the social, political, legal, and architectural implications of these questions.

The photographs, films, and videos exhibited here also offer ways to reimagine the genre of street photography, which art historians typically associate with Jacobs’s mid-twentieth-century era. At the time she was drafting the ideas quoted above, photographers like Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Garry Winogrand prowled Western cities, 35-mm cameras in hand, taking pictures of the daily sidewalk ballet. They worked tirelessly, often photographing rapidly and without introducing themselves to their subjects, whom they corralled into rectangular compositions that expressed some of the dynamism of the passing parade. By contrast, the artists in Eyes on the Street, all working in the twenty-first century, respond to the changed conditions of the city in part by using more deliberative strategies to capture their subjects. They recognise the pervasive influence of cameras on the urban environment by employing their own cameras’ special capabilities to show things our eyes may not see or our minds might not notice. For photographers working half a century ago, the lens was a natural extension of their hands and a relatively simple conduit of their artistic sensibilities. The artists in Eyes on the Street work more self-consciously to disclose the forces conditioning the urban environment and to acknowledge cameras’ active role in that process. In so doing, they create stunning still- and moving-image artworks that show us such places as New York, Shanghai, Beirut, Paris, Chicago, and Istanbul as we’ve never seen them before.


Faces in the Crowd

Writing more than a century ago, German sociologist Georg Simmel diagnosed the mental life of people living in rapidly modernising cities, suggesting that our psychological survival depended upon separating ourselves from the many stimulations of the urban environment. The influence of Simmel’s thinking upon the social sciences has been profound, but scholars today increasingly identify an inversion of his theory as true: for the survival of the metropolis, we must overcome narrow individualism to empathise with others who share it with us. However, one’s capacity to relate to others is necessarily limited, and this cosmopolitan ethics can be difficult to maintain. James Nares’s 2012 film Street uses the remarkable clarity offered by a high-speed, high-definition camera to offset the potentially numbing effect of so many encounters. By slowing down his footage of New York sidewalks, taken from the window of a car moving thirty miles per hour, Nares isolates small vignettes unspooling on the sidewalk. Peoples’ movements are picked out in fine detail, their individual gestures and expressions heightened into a slow-motion monumentality. A similar effect characterises the photographs in Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s series Heads (1999-2001). To make these works, diCorcia, affixed a flash strobe to construction scaffolding on a sidewalk in Times Square. Placing his camera far enough away to be unnoticed, he pre-focused his lens on the spot illuminated by the flash and captured unwitting strangers bathed in a halo of light. His improvised outdoor studio married control and chance, isolating people from their busy surroundings and catching them in moments of inwardness. Their pensive faces reveal complex interior lives it would be all too easy to ignore should we be strolling past them. The quality of attention afforded by Nares and diCorcia’s cameras results in the humanism of their work and grants the dignity we can read in these faces. As the critic Ken Johnson observed of Street, what results is an update of “Walt Whitman’s poetic embrace of humanity. The camera gazes at all with the same equanimity and finds each person, in his or her own way, dignified, loveable, and even beautiful.”

In his series NYLPT, photographer Jason Evans reverses this penchant for individuation. The acronym stands for “New York London Paris Tokyo.” Working over a period of eight years, Evans would expose a roll of 35-mm black-and-white film in one of these cities, then rewind and set aside the roll until his travels brought him to another. There, he would reload the film and re-expose the frames, sometimes doing so up to five times without knowing what the results would look like. As he has said, “The ‘decisive moment’ was no longer out there waiting to be hunted down,” as with traditional street photography. Instead, “it had moved behind the lens, onto the film plane.” Sometimes a fragment of language or familiar landmark reveals where part of the picture was made. More often, however, the textures, shapes, and surreal combinations of built environments come together to connote urbanness as a category of experience.


Jennifer West. Still from 'One Mile Film' 2012


Jennifer West (American, b. 1966)
One Mile Film (5,280 feet of 35mm film negative and print taped to the mile-long High Line walk way in New York City for 17 hours on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 with 11,500 visitors – the visitors walked, wrote, jogged, signed, drew, touched, danced, parkoured, sanded, keyed, melted popsicles, spit, scratched, stomped, left shoe prints of all kinds and put gum on the filmstrip – it was driven on by baby stroller and trash can wheels and was traced by art students – people wrote messages on the film and drew animations, etched signs, symbols and words into the film emulsion lines drawn down much of the filmstrip by visitors and Jwest with highlighters and markers – the walk way surfaces of concrete, train track steel, wood, metal gratings and fountain water impressed into the film; filmed images shot by Peter West – filmed Parkour performances by Thomas Dolan and Vertical Jimenez – running on rooftops by Deb Berman and Jwest – film taped, rolled and explained on the High Line by art students and volunteers)
Still from 35-mm film transferred to high-definition video
Commissioned and produced by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Courtesy of the artist and Marc Foxx, Los Angeles



Jennifer West is resolutely experimental in her approach to film, and is known in particular for the ways she treats her film stock: submerging it in seawater, bathing it in chemicals, or exposing it to different types of radiation, usually to psychedelic effect. Her One Mile Film … (2012), commissioned by and for the High Line, an elevated park in New York, documents free-running practitioners – athletes who explore environments without limitations of movement – climbing, jumping, and exploring the park and its environs. Here, though, her “treatment” is an alternative method of recording people in this public space. Once she had completed filming, West affixed her film stock to the High Line’s footpaths, inviting park visitors – some 11,500 of them – to walk on, roll over, draw on, and otherwise imprint their presence upon her work. The finished film appears semi-abstract but is in fact a trace of the people who passed through that particular place on that September 2012 day, like the rubbings people make of manholes and headstones.


Michael Wolf. 'Night #20' 2007


Michael Wolf (German, 1954-2019)
Night #20
Digital c-print
48 x 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York



The number of both people and buildings tucked into Hong Kong’s small landmass inspired Michael Wolf to express the verticality and compactness of that unique place. His series Architecture of Density emphasises the repetition inherent to most large-scale construction by zeroing in on building facades and eliminating the ground, the sky, and all other elements that might reveal the picture’s scale. The residential towers seem to stretch on forever; the only variation comes from small human elements, such as laundry hung out to dry. The buildings depicted in the series Transparent City, made in 2007 and 2008 in Chicago, are not quite as close together, and Wolf subsequently created looser compositions. He likewise took advantage of a 300-mm lens and the buildings’ glass curtain-wall construction to peer through the windows at the life inside. “I became acutely aware of being a voyeur,” Wolf said.


Mark Lewis, Still from 'Beirut' 2011


Mark Lewis (Canadian, b. 1958)
Still from a high-definition video, 8 minutes 11 seconds
Courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto



In his short films, Mark Lewis repeatedly isolates the fundamental gestures of cinema, exaggerating a zoom or a tracking shot to reveal the constructedness of a seemingly natural scene. Without sacrificing beauty or mystery, Lewis’s meticulously planned works uncover the kinds of artifice that big-budget popular movies aim to conceal. In his eight-minute film Beirut (2011), Lewis crafts a Steadicam shot to explore the multiple cultures and tangled histories represented on a Lebanese street. In a remarkable single take, the camera rounds a corner, proceeds down the street, then lifts magically into the air, floating above roofline to situate these histories in the larger urban fabric. And the end of this short film reminds us of the life that continues around us even as we focus only at street level.



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Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Phone: (513) 721-ARTS (2787)

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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