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Harlem, the Landscape

ArIc Mayer is an exceptionally thoughtful photographer whose work has been featured before at this blog. He has a new series of images that, like so much of his work, encourage contemplation of a subject that is otherwise trapped in stock images articulating a standard narrative. We know all about Katrina, right? Or the beauty of the American West. Or Harlem. We may have never been there, but we know the story. Aric never denies what is really there in the story, nor does he provoke the viewer to see things from some odd angle. Instead, he carefully works you into his line of vision until you start to think about what you are seeing. After that, you’re on your own, but that is enough.

The new set of photographs are from Harlem. You know, the streets teeming with bodies, sound, and signage. The once magnificent buildings now dilapidated, the streets lined with litter and grafitti, the iron grates on the storefronts and the lurid murals on the walls. Like this:

Oh, to be able to describe the beauty, the intelligence of trees. Beauty too rarely seen, for how often do we stop and simply look up? How often on a cloudy spring day, and in the city? What is more important, however, is not that he looked up, but that this is given to us without any sense of contrast. The message is not that a world of beauty and potential lies just above the concrete, nor the ugly insinuation that beauty is everywhere–i.e., even in Harlem. This is a photograph of nature, but not to denigrate urban life. There is no myth, no transcendence, no need to escape. Instead, a different resonance: wisdom, ancient ways, endurance, another dimension waiting to be heard.

Perhaps even serenity:

But “serenity” is too simple. As with the first image, there is something poignant, even haunting about this photograph. A drain can conjure up images of water and of floods, or of blood and of too much being drained away, or of waste and the ultimate return to the earth. And yet this spot is so clean, and so well worn, as if rubbed smooth by many generations of spring rains. The bird-like shape of the lighter patch could be a totemic animal, or the drain some kind of communication device. If the stones could speak, would we listen? Were we to see the city anew, like a spring landscape, what would we see?

You can see the full set of Aric Mayer’s Harlem photographs here.


Harlem, the Landscape


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