Looking at the Work of Sze Tsung Leong, Michael Schmelling & Tomoaki Hata on the White Walls of Chelsea

©Sze Tsung Leong/Yossi Milo Gallery

I don’t like talking about it because I feel guilty but at this point it’s probably time to get over my shame and just confess. Here it is: I live in New York City and I rarely look at photography in galleries. It really is some ‘shameful shit.’ Access to an abundance of great work, printed at the highest quality and I rarely take advantage of it. Not to mention the networking opportunities. Disgraceful.

What’s my excuse? A hybrid of laziness, social anxiety and forgetfulness. Where does the time go? Why do these shows only last three weeks? When exactly are the galleries open? How can you possibly enjoy yourself in a small space primarily filled with photographers drinking free booze?

What compounds the guilt is the fact that every time I do venture out into the wilderness of Chelsea or Dumbo, I usually enjoy myself and feel energized after looking at the photography. And sometimes I meet people that I’ve only known through internet which always makes you realize that the internet is dumb if you don’t connect it to real life.

Upon this realization, and because who knows how long I’ll live in NYC, I’ve decided to make an effort to get out and see some shows, and meet some people. I’d heard good things about Sze Tsung Leong’s Cities at Yossi Milo and after viewing some of the work online I knew this was a show I didn’t want to miss. BTW, amen to Yossi Milo for showing nice big photos on their website. That’s the way to do it.

©Sze Tsung Leong/Yossi Milo Gallery

Big Photos On White Walls

If ever there were a series of photographs that needed to be viewed large and on the wall, it’s Cities. I walked around and viewed each photograph up close, immersing myself in the scene. In some of the photos I’d search out the street scenes and often would find interesting street photographs buried within. It was like looking at a multitude of photographs contained within one. The photos were often densely layered, with juxtapositions between modern architecture and dilapidated buildings. As I looked at these photographs I started to feel the complexity of urban living and how without us really realizing it, we’ve sprawled out so far that it’s almost impossible to really define our cities by geography. Where do they begin and end exactly?

On the website there are captions, so you know what city you’re looking at, but at the gallery there are no captions next to the photographs. There was a guide you could reference, but I decided I wasn’t going to use it. I felt it was better if I didn’t know the location. There were a few cities, like Paris that were obvious, but for the most part I really had no idea. This added to the sense that I was looking at the Cities of the future, Cities that each had a distinct past, visible in it’s architecture, but a past that was quickly vanishing due the uncontrollable advancement of the modern world.

Geoffrey Ellis Recommends Michael Schmelling

©Michael Schmelling

A few weeks ago I received an email from Geoffrey Ellis. He was coming to New York for work and invited me to a get together with a few other photographers. He was one of those photographers I’d chatted with through the web and whose work I appreciated, so I looked forward to the opportunity to chat with him over a few beers in the real world. Dalton Rooney and Timothy Briner showed up, and the four of us spent a few hours discussing photography, cameras, the internet, Instagr.am, TV, Brooklyn and the Gilmore Girls which apparently is very popular amongst a certain demographic of photographers (facial hair, shoots film, married.)

While bellied up to the bar, Geoffrey mentioned that he’d checked out the Michael Schmelling show at CLAMPART, and highly recommend I do so as well.

This recommendation came back to me as I stood outside Yossi Milo, face in my iPhone, looking up my next destination on NY Art Beat. Michael Schmelling at ClampArt. Right next door. Perfect. And it was closing that day. Serendipity was suddenly driving this particular Chelsea voyage.

I wasn’t familiar with Schmelling’s work before walking into the gallery but after a quick glance I knew it was up my alley. The work documents the Atlanta Hip Hop scene, mixing candid, portraiture, still life, color, black and white, found objects and a bit of collage thrown in for good measure. Primarily though, 35mm bright colors dominate.

There were a few stand out photographs but it really was the type of project that worked as a collection. The main wall was hung like a color filled collage and had more impact when you stood back and took it in as a whole.

I left the gallery feeling victorious, knowing I’d taken action on a personal recommendation and caught a show on it’s last day. Riding this high, I decided to consult NY Art Beat again in search of one more stop. I decided on Tomoaki Hata at Miyako Yoshinaga.

Connecting the Dots While Looking at Photographs of Japanese Drag Queens

©Tomoaki Hata

As I walked in I noticed a few books sitting on a table in the corner. They were from Hata. They were the type of random urban landscapes and ephemera that I’ve come to appreciate in certain types Japanese photography that I’ve seen. A mix of taut and loose compositions, black and white, some color, minutia, banal. But what was on the wall was radically different, nightlife, bright colors, androgyny, drag queens.

Only after a bit of research did I learn that the project was a documentation of “Osaka’s gay, nightlife district.” As I was looking at the photographs, I was connecting the dots in my mind. I’d started out looking at a project that looked at the world’s sprawling urban landscapes from a distance, almost reducing them to incomprehensible abstractions, and ended my day looking at a documentation of a sub-culture within one of those sprawling landscapes. Somehow it fit together, these macro and micro views of our urban landscape, connected in a visual way I’m not certain I completely understand just yet. Perhaps it’ll take a few more journeys to the white walls of Chelsea before I figure it out.

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  • Blake

    I’m jealous. Relatively speaking I live in a photographic desert, maybe 20 shows per month within 100 miles but I see all of them. If I lived in NY I’d probably see more, or else just freak out from pure overload.

  • http://twitter.com/GwenLafage Gwen Lafage

    I understand the feeling of guilt for not going to galleries enough. I guess the more choice you have and the less you see in a way. I moved from Paris to SF and manage to see much more things here! I went to a conference by Sze Tsung Leong last week (my comments here: http://carteblanchephotography.blogspot.com). Must be so much better to see the big photos on white walls! :) Love your blog by the way! :)