MUNICH.- This is New York! Or are they dream worlds, chimeras, inventions, or perhaps testimony to a past era? Viewers are astonished, recognizing the places and getting lost in memories. A city of silence, beyond the turbulence of everyday life, a metropolis with no people, as if a spell had been cast on it: Grand Central Station, Fifth Avenue, the Flatiron Building, Katz's Restaurant, the Brooklyn Bridge-familiar, but never seen this way before.
When we unsuspectingly removed these photographs from a drawer-seven views, all taken in 2001 (before September 11), softly sketched as a result of long exposure times, printed on deckle-edge paper with the streaky border of a Polaroid-we urged the photographer to return to New York, where he had lived now and again over an extended period, in order to continue the series. Over two more years, including stays in each of the seasons, he produced a portfolio of photographs, of which the present volume presents a selection of nearly eighty works.
With his clear idea of shooting techniques, composition, light, formats, and his dispensing with color, the exquisite printing in rich, subtle tonality, and the form of the images' presentation-handmade paper, passe-partout, frame-Christopher Thomas picks up on classical traditions. As a renowned photographer of a glamorous world of products, he has access to all advanced technological possibilities, and as an artist he is familiar with the power of the image. His photographs seem classical, from another time.
Before dawn, when the city is asleep, Thomas sets out in the twilight with his large-format camera-a field camera built for him by Linhof-which forces him to move slowly, as well as a tripod, a black cloth, and black-and-white Polaroid film. It is as if he were taking himself outside of time. As if, at this moment when night borders day, he could uncover the essence of the city, erasing the profane and quotidian in favor of the "eternal" or timeless. He approaches his "motif" with a documentary intention and at the same time establishes the aesthetic of the romantic and painterly. He concentrates on the real, focuses attention on the object, and yet a hint of "another" world becomes tangible. Like idealized landscapes in the romantic tradition, his photographs have a poetic sensuality, contemplative power, and an emotional aura; they evoke sensations such as admiration, delight, aesthetic pleasure: the parks and piers, the Hudson River and Coney Island, the cemeteries and bridges, the Statue of Liberty, in the early morning fog, beneath autumn leaves, schemas in the mists, pristine blankets of snow, silvery skies, gleaming surfaces of water, squares, and monuments-all without any traces of flaneurs or residents.
Hidden away in the beauty that derives from silence are the melancholy and fear of loss. The perfect always bears its own inherent risk, and the stasis of time includes change. What may nostalgically seduce our eyes as a "souvenir," a memory, also evokes as an alternative vision the racing speed, the inhumane, and the wounds of the city.