Issue #220  12/7/2015
Photo Books: Cities Dark and Light, from Saville and Abadzic

By Matt Damsker

By Lynn Saville. Damiani. Hardbound; 128 pgs.; approximately 60 full-color prints. ISBN No. 978-88-62080-411-6. Information: http://www.damianieditore.com; info@damianieditore.com.

Building powerfully on her 2012 book of urban photography, "Night/Shift," Lynn Saville's new volume, "Dark City," delivers her increasingly artful and richly inflected visions of slumbering spaces at twilight, dawn, midnight--whenever people are scarce and structures speak most eloquently for themselves. Indeed, Saville is more portraitist than street photographer, turning her found images--of shuttered warehouses, vacant buildings, closed-for-the-night shops, parking lots, and architectural ruins--into glamorously lit honorings of place, suffused in neon saturations, sharp slants of ambient light and the spiky sentinel bursts of lamp post bulbs.

The subtext may be economic, affirming that the seeds of every urban boom and gentrification are stirring in the rubble of the last bust, but the subject is most human, even when the evidence of people is fleeting (a blurred passerby, or a ghostlike remnant of the photographer, reflected in glass, or casting her shadow at the bottom of the frame). For Saville lingers over the tools and evidence of urban endeavor, the ladders and brooms, cranes and tarps, awnings and gates awaiting the activations of the day, roused from dormancy and infused with the aspirational energy of the city.

But just as these photographs capture urban potential, so too do they mourn a little for the spiritual and physical vacancies that are an urban byproduct. In his foreword to the book, the remarkable British author Geoff Dyer wryly notes: "The neon SPACE FOR RENT sign on West 51st Street in New York advertises its own emptiness so effectively that it seems a shame to convert it to any other use." Wherever Saville roams--beneath or above Manhattan's High Line, the muraled side streets of Portland, Maine, the scarred row homes of Philadelphia's Fishtown, or a shuttered restaurant in Columbus, Ohio – she locates bursts of color and odd filigree, such as the bright green vegetation that grows from the side of a half-demolished warehouse in Seattle. There's life and light, always, in the darkness.

In her end note, New Yorker Saville eloquently acknowledges that "neither a city's iconic sites nor its goods are on display. This is perhaps unexpected, given that we often assume a city's purpose is display--of persons, commodities, architecture, and spectacles of all sorts. But for me, the dark city has been stripped of its agreed-upon attractions. It is an empty skeletal set in which objects can dream, and light and shadow can dance uninterrupted."

By Stanko Abadzic. Published by Kadar 36. Hardbound; 182 pages; approximately 80 black-and-white prints. ISBN No. 978-953-57665-6-1. Information: http://www.kadar36.hr.

Prolific and peripatetic, Croatia's Stanko Abadzic has photographed the street life of Europe's most atmospheric cities--Paris, Berlin, Prague, Zagreb--for two decades, and now he has turned his lens toward what may be the most charged locale of all: Istanbul. The Turkish hinge of Occident and Orient, Istanbul is a multitude of things, but in this historical moment it represents deep potentials of dark and light, as Turkey becomes an entry and exit point for those seeking to join the mayhem of the Middle East, and those seeking to escape it. Abadzic's camera seeks, instead, to locate the daily life of Istanbul in its moments of simple human drama.

As Alex Novak, of Contemporary Works, USA, asserts in his brief note at the front of this new book, Abadzic is "the epitome of a street photographer…He more than any of his contemporaries, has taken up the mantle of Henri Cartier-Bresson with a genius and wit…"

Indeed, Abadzic opts for scenes--the everyday interplay of street vendors hauling their wares, waiting meditatively for customers or connecting with them, as well as scenes of the young and old, cats and dogs, making their way on foot against backdrops of poverty and reminders of Istanbul's layered history. But he also aims for the still places that exude sheer Turkish character, the geometries of windows, stairs, terraces, doorways, Muslim prayer spots, and the pentimenti of scarred walls and their weathered postings, graffiti, and images from eras past.

Abadzic's available-light exposures are warmly and broadly toned, his figures stepping from or into shadow as they navigate the day. A child leaping playfully from a doorway is offset in one frame by a grand Turkish carpet hung from a section of crumbling brick wall. A young man stares unknowably at the camera in front of a jumbled mass of old tires. Men puff at hookahs or cigarettes, lost in thought, opaque. A woman in hair rollers is seen behind ornately patterned glass, staring off to the side, sadly.

As Visnja Vukasinovic puts it in his introductory essay to the book, "What emerges in Abadzic's photographs is not an image of the city, but the wealth of consciousness of inhabitants…Abadzic simultaneously dreams it and observes it…" In these images, he certainly captures the melancholy and uncertainty that pervades a city at the crossroads of dissonant cultures, a city roiled and tempered by time, yielding beauty and secrets in its ruins and relentless motion.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)