A few weeks ago, I showed “Invisible Cities,” at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, at the first #WIP Slideshow along with some great works in progress from photographers whose work I really dig. Magda Biernat, Drew Levanthal, Timothy Lyons, Luis Alberto Rodriguez, and more.
The photographs were workshopped at Mana Contemporary with the photographer Gregory Halpern, who recommended the short stories of Italo Calvino and fiction by the Argentine writer Borges. The title Invisible Cities is taken from a short book of fiction in which Calvino imagines conversations between Genghis Khan and Marco Polo, where the Italian voyager describes to Khan the cities that he’s been in.
In the slideshow as in the book, the photographer/voyager is a foreigner, a migrant in a foreign land, the member of a diaspora long displaced from homeland. In it, he longs for the familiar and scavenges for reminders of his childhood home, family, country and playground. But he no longer finds it, limited by physical distance and by the passage of time.
So instead, he photographs places from countries other than his own, the names of the countries are kept undisclosed from the audience but they all contain aspects of his home country . The photographs transform into visual poems that can be seen as parables or meditations on culture, language, time, memory, death, desire ,or the shared nature of human experience.
At some point, the photographer realizes tlike Calvino, that the places he photographs are not places in the way we normally think of the word. Places, countries , cities , landscapes — are constructed not of steel and concrete but of ideas. Each city and photograph represents a thought experiment, or, as Polo tells Khan in the Italo Calvino book at one point, “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”
The photographer uses familiar tropes of travel photography but also attempts to deconstruct the genre. It begins quite literally: views of cities, roads, oceans; but ends in dream-like photographs that become more fantastical, like Borge’s fiction. The images are a self reflective reverie on personal memories, embedded in the ability of photography to suggest or instigate ideas, to depict the un-photographable aspects of memories, the foreigness of unpossessed places.
Here, a passage from Italo Calvino’s book that guided this project;
“I could tell you how many steps make up the streets racing like stairways and the degree of the arcades curves and what kind of zinc scales cover the roof; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this but of relationships between the measurements of the space and the events of it’s past. The city does not tell its past but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the grading of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the pulse of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”