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When Eric Pickersgill’s culturally astute photographs went viral on the Internet, it only astonished one person – him. Capturing people frozen in the midst of everyday activities with their hand-held devices removed, Pickersgill’s images have resonated widely in today’s digital world. Satirical and often poignant, his photographs were featured at AIPAD last week and will be on exhibit at Rick Wester Fine Art in New York City through May 21, 2016.
Pickersgill’s photographs contain no digital gimmickry, nor are they intended to be a scold. Shot with a 4”x 5” view camera, Pickersgill’s subjects re-enact commonly encountered scenarios and hold their poses while the photographer confiscates their devices and makes his images. The situations are so mundane that it magnifies their unnerving impact.
I think Pickersgill’s photographs hit home because they are a loving indictment. We know these people – they are us. In his images, we recognize both how laughable and how pitiable we are as we tap away, each of us in our own private Idaho. Connected and disconnected, human and robotic, present and absent – participants in the modern order.
Predictably, Pickersgill’s photographs have elicited a range of reactions. One man whose wife was hospitalized after being hit by a texting driver became so agitated he had to leave the gallery. I found it both humorous and ironic to observe how oblivious people become to their surroundings – even loved ones – sucked away by some compelling parallel universe. Seeing this behavior in children is more than a little disturbing. What happened to horseplay until dinnertime or until someone got hurt, whichever occurred first?
Pickersgill’s photographs beg the question, “are we better off now than before?” He heightens our attention to this question by utilizing the timeless quality of black and white photography, thereby exaggerating the effect of digital technology on our lives. Rather than appearing either entertained or annoyed, Pickersgill’s subjects are so devoid of emotion, it stings. “I realized I was standing in a room full of empty spaces”, observes gallery director Rick Wester, reflecting on Pickersgill’s photographs. Empty spaces, loaded with meaning.
For more information about this show, go to: http://www.rickwesterfineart.com/exhibitions-archive/2016/2/27/removed and http://removed.social
Feature Image: “Angie and Me, 2014” (detail) by Eric Pickersgill (courtesy of the artist and Rick Wester Fine Art, NYC).