It’s not too much of an exaggeration to compare the impact of digital technology on contemporary image-making to the revolution wrought by silver-nitrate photography in the mid-19thcentury. Both technological advances fundamentally altered how people created and consumed images—even how people (artists included) came to see the world.
Photography pushed painting out of its role as a recorder of experience into a more creative and subjective direction: abstraction. Likewise, our daily production and consumption of the billions of photographs taken every day, and shared immediately, worldwide, via the internet, has fundamentally altered the conception of who is and who is not a photographer or artist. In the age of selfies and cellphone digital cameras, we all are; just push the shutter and then click "share." Facebook and Instagram do the rest.
Chris Dorley-Brown complicates the immediacy of the point, shoot and share experience in large color photos of the unprepossessing street corners of Hackney. This East End London borough is the artist’s hometown, and, incidentally, birthplace and home to a motley crew of eminences, including Edmond Halley, the astronomer, and Joseph Priestley, the chemist; the writers Daniel Defoe, William Hazlitt and Harold Pinter; Michael Caine and Alfred Hitchcock; the artist Rachel Whiteread; the musicians Gary Brooker and Sid Vicious; and the criminals Dick Turpin and Reginald and Ronnie Kray. In an ongoing project worthy of a Victorian gentleman naturalist-scientist, the artist has created a photographic archive of Hackney since 1984.
But in The Corners the artist’s current exhibition at San Francisco's Robert Koch Gallery, it’s not documentary work, precisely. Dorley-Brown combines several artistic traditions in order to render his street-scene slices of life with a kind of monumental realism (reminiscent of Dutch paintings of timeless daily life) and a distinctly contemporary point of view. The latter is shaped by the documentary street photography tradition of life caught in passing, on the run, and captured precisely at Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”—the right place at the right time.
Dorley-Brown sets up his DSLR on a tripod, capturing the scene before him in a diffuse light with minimal shadows or glare. Then he waits, like a patient nature photographer in a camouflaged blind. He uses a telephoto lens and multiple exposures (I surmise) to catch his unsuspecting prey, and shoots for up to an hour, recording the time intervals (easily recovered from the camera’s EXIF data) in the photographs’ titles.