Every now and then there is a photography exhibit that offers, if not the truly novel, then at least the truly fresh, that is, a wonderfully different expression of familiar genres. Chasing the Light II, now on display at the Richmond’s glavékocen gallery is just such an exhibit. Filling the gallery’s generous wall space, Chasing consists of an impressive number of large monochrome pigment prints of photographs captured by artist Alex Nyerges during early morning strolls around Richmond and other cities around the globe. Just as a maestro conductor can tease out delightful nuances in a classic symphony, Nyerges (whose day job is the Director of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), manages to squeeze fresh, captivating images out of two longtime standard genres, the flâneur and the cityscape.
What distinguishes Chasing from most cityscape photography is that Nyerges generally eschews the formulaic composition consisting of a wide-angle, iconic viewpoint bathed in glorious light. While such images make great postcards, they generally no longer move the needle for most gallerists. Nyerges instead seeks out compositions that are at least as much about the highly graphic and formal elements of the scene as they are about the ostensive subjects, even highly recognizable subjects like the Eiffel Tower, or Richmond’s 9th Street Bridge. With an obviously deep understanding of composition and design (who can be surprised by that!) Nyerges prefers to focus on visually arresting arrangements of shade, shape, and texture as these design elements are briefly fashioned by the sun as its early morning rays play on the city’s architecture and environment. Since color can distract from the appreciation of shade, shape, and texture, printing most of the Chasing photographs in monochrome is a brilliant choice. This fact is brought home by the few color photographs in the exhibit, as they don’t carry quite the same visual punch as their B&W brethren.
The emphasis on design means that Nyerges, unlike most flâneur street photographers (think Cartier-Bresson or Winogrand), generally does not make people on the street, doing what people on the street do, the fulcrum of his images. However, those few images that do depend on people for their punctum—for example, Look Right, Look Left, a view of a London street corner from above—remind us that cities, after all, are constructs built by people for people. In any case, there is an element of Cartier-Bresson in most of the exhibit’s images. Given how fleeting is the perfect light during the early morning hours—and it is precisely that perfect light that Nyerges is chasing for his graphic compositions—there certainly is an element of the decisive moment in most every image.
Chasing the Light II is a wonderful exhibit. See it if you can. It runs through December 23rd at Richmond’s glavékocen gallery. Proceeds of the exhibit go to benefit the VMFA.