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By Suzanne Révy
In his book, The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer describes a lone, silhouetted figure walking through an urban environment in an Alfred Stieglitz picture. That figure, Dyer writes, then reappears in several images by André Kertesz as he looks down from his apartment window onto Washington Square Park. This lonely man in his overcoat is seen again in a William Gedney photograph, and to continue the thread, he appears in several pictures by Ray Metzger. That “everyman,” it seems – minus the hat – has sauntered into Alan Schaller’s series of prints called “Metropolis” currently on view at the Leica Gallery in Boston through January 27, 2019.
Schaller explores metropolitan locations around the world like London, Budapest, New York City and even Mumbai, India making graphic, punchy black and white images in cavernous urban spaces and crowded subways. Strong geometric elements like a diagonal slant of light or triangular layout generate dynamic compositions, and in several, a subtle humor. In “London, South Bank” for example, a figure walks along a brick wall illuminated by beam of light that could be generated by the figure’s own eyes, like some kind of urban super hero. In others, like “London Underground Escalator” an almost completely black image is punctuated by three lights and three figures emphasizing the disconnection one might feel traveling through empty public spaces among strangers.
When Schaller utilizes texture and weather conditions, his pictures take on a more emotional tone. One can feel the raw, cold rain in “New York” as businessmen parade down a cement sidewalk under their black umbrellas or the relative humidity after a summer storm as a silhouetted figure strolls through the rising steam in a plaza in “Budapest.” Similarly, the light and texture on the sidewalk in “Pest Control” endows the several tiny figures with a sense of foreboding, as if perhaps they are the pests to be squashed. And in the “Four Giacometti’s” Schaller seems to be channeling his inner Kertesz in his use of line, space and scale.
Many of the figures in Schaller’s pictures are anonymous, but in “London Underground” we glance a serene face through the window of the train. It is a poignant moment, and one many subway riders experience; you glance up, see a face, and acknowledge a human connection before the train departs, disconnecting you forever. Perhaps Schaller continued to seek her during his forays around the world. Like so many photographers before, he seems to have found disconnection and anonymity among humanity as they navigate the vast urban centers of the world; yet he emphasizes our dislocation through a strong eye for light and space.
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