The photographer redefines the cityscape in his latest exhibition.
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One of the great things about living in New York City is that it constantly reveals itself to you in new ways. Photographer Michael Eastman feels the same way, and he explores the phenomenon in cities around the world, creating works of art that transform cityscapes into almost unrecognizable, dreamlike scenes. “Urban Luminosity,” his latest exhibition, comprises 23 large-scale photographs that take on nighttime architectural scenes from Shanghai to Seattle. Metal monuments appear like rippled seawater; Manhattan’s Tourneau building calls to mind a snowy Norman Rockwell painting. Eastman, who has been practicing his art for 42 years, compares his process to mining: “You’re in a city in the dark, and it’s not all beautiful, and then you find these pieces that have the potential to, once they are polished, become valuable and scarce.”
The exhibition runs through October 20 at Barry Friedman gallery, in far west Chelsea, right by the High Line—another great cityscape turned dreamy.
Do you choose your locations beforehand?
No, it always just sort of happens. I head one way and see what turns up. Like the Tourneau building: I was looking at a window across the street from it, and I kept getting closer and closer to it until finally I couldn’t shoot it anymore. Then I turned around and saw this reflection staring me right in the face. When you’re on the street, sometimes the things that you don’t expect come looking for you.
How did you come up with this project?
I took the first photo six years ago, while I was working on the series “Vanishing America.” I took a photo in St. Louis, and it made me realize that photographing at night is like entering a different world.
How do you transform an ordinary surface into something so surreal?
I’ve always used only available light, but since I am shooting at night, I use really long exposures. All cars going by, the streetlights turning on—that is all built up on the film, so you never know what you’re going to get until you see the print. I love the surprise of finding these jewels buried in dark urban areas.
Were any of them a big surprise?
The golden escalator. I spotted it when I was walking out of the Ritz in Tokyo. To me, it was one of the strongest transformations from something fairly mundane into something extraordinary, just because of the way it was lit and the long exposure. And with this subject in particular, having the print in such a large scale makes it seem like it’s a door you can walk into.
I’m just beginning this project. Hopefully two or three years from now, it will be even stronger than it is now.