Work of the Week – January 13, 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014


by Adrian Etheridge

Welcome to 2014! At this time a few weeks into the new year, many people are embarking upon new resolutions, questioning what they have been doing with their lives as they think of the transience of human existence. So, for my first post in the new year, I thought I would feature an artist whose entire body of work revolves around human movement and change.

Matthew Pillsbury (1973-Present) was born and raised in Neuilly, France by his two American parents. After receiving a BA in Fine Arts from Yale, he continued his education at the School of Visual Arts in New York where he received his MFA on 2004. While studying in New York, he also began using an 8 x 10 large format camera. He has continued shooting in this format,  creating long exposures – up to two hours long – in black and white.

As an avid street photographer myself, I find Pillsbury’s work particularly interesting because of his uncommon style. While photographers typically think of long exposures in concordance with night landscapes or still lifes, this surveyor of human existence adapted the technique to his own work to track human movement. He began taking long exposures in 2002. Inspired by the multiculturalism and energy of New York City, he set out to show how familiar experiences such has using a computer or reading a book can be radically transformed during hour long exposures. According to Pillsbury, he shoots in black and white, for the time being at least, because the different light sources in color in his shots would compete.

Much of his work focuses on people moving through static architectural spaces, using the beautiful architecture of Paris and New York City as backdrops. However, his piece Grande Galerie de l’Evolution features a display of life-like animals at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The exhibit is about the “diversity of the living world, the evolution of different organisms and man’s impact on the environment.” Pillsbury’s monochromatic image of the life-like creatures dove-tails perfectly with his human streetwork, because he uses the beautifully-photographed exhibit to discuss how all life is fleeting. With his exquisite use of natural light, the solid geometric lines of the museum juxtapose with the soft organic forms of the evolving animals. In this way he comments on the stolid enduring nature of man-made architecture that often outlasts its architects, as opposed to the constant movement and change of organic life.

As Pillsbury said, “We are here only briefly. Every moment passing bringing us closer to our last. Much of photography is an attempt to stop the clock—to assert our presence: ‘I was here, I matter.’ Here, my photographs are doing something different: We are shown the fragility and fleeting nature of our presence.”

Artwork above: Matthew Pillsbury, Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, 2008, archival pigment ink print, 44 x 30 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Nat C. Myers Photography Fund.. Permanent Collection. 2012.44.99.