It is fitting that Fernando Espinosa Chauvin’s pop-up exhibition opens Thursday at HG Stones. The store’s geometric, marble interior emphasizes the photographer’s strong architectural voice. This voice manifests itself first in the show’s subject matter- aerial landscapes featuring magnificent New York City buildings. However, Chauvin’s articulation of structure functions more-so methodically than thematically. A strong sense of construction and form is present in his photographs of both New York and the Galapagos. It can be seen here in the way Chauvin frames his photographs, paying attention to shadow, line, and symmetry.
Note the way Chauvin frames the Freedom Tower in Venezia, drawing the eye of the viewer to the top of the photograph. This is contrasted by the strong diagonal line of the pedestrian walkway adjacent to the river.
Notice also that the trees lining this walkway are stark white. This is accomplished through use of infrared photography techniques. As Chauvin explained to me, these techniques change the way the camera interprets color. One such effect is the transformation of blue and green to white. This explains why the trees in Venezia are devoid of shading.
Black & white film recognizes differences in saturation alone. It doesn’t distinguish between colors. Thus, a shade of green and a shade of brown that have the same saturation might not be discernible from one another on black & white film. Using infrared changes the saturation of different colors, which results in high-contrast images. This is how Chauvin intensifies his aerial landscapes.
Note the application of infrared in Dream Lights of the City 1.
Without infrared, the grass and the road in Dream Lights would likely blend together as two similarly-shaded blocks of visual space. Infrared reveals a high-contrast relationship between them- an unexpected curving pattern in the earth.
Chauvin’s fascination with contrast comes from his desire to provoke shock. This desire can be traced back to his years as a fashion photographer, when shock factor was a tool in his editorial toolkit. Back then, surprise was an important way of shaping a photograph’s narrative and aesthetic. Today, he is still seeking to create images that startle and dazzle viewers.
Chauvin’s years in New York- 23, to be exact- have exposed him to the city’s erratic temperament. He describes the city as harsh, but also recognizes that its challenges are what made him a better photographer. “The city shows you things,” he says. “It changes your mind.” The city’s dual identity- as both a harsh and nurturing environment- is also an undercurrent of this exhibition. Chauvin intends the high-contrast, infrared images to reflect the city’s tendency to oscillate between light and dark.
I would extrapolate that Chauvin’s attraction to aerial photography also reveals the city’s bilateral personality. Taken from a helicopter, these photographs feel both magnificent and precarious. Their scope is vast, yet the viewer cannot find his footing.
You can see the combination of all these effects- architectural, high-contrast, and aerial- in Dream Lights of the City 2.
The architecture of Central Park forms the structure of this photograph. It is amplified by the diagonal stretch of St. Nicholas Ave. This street disrupts the symmetry of the photograph for the better. It shocks us out of our complacency, turning us into active consumers of this photograph.
The white treetops achieve the same effect. They call to us, asking us to question their texture and their abundance. We recognize the space to be Central Park, but there is something uncanny about the cauliflower-trees between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.
It is impossible to blindly consume Chauvin’s photographs when they magnify and distort landmarks we think we understand. That is what makes them so powerful: they make you look.
Fernando Espinosa Chauvin’s pop-up exhibition at the HG Stones in Chelsea opens this Thursday, November 30th, from 6-8pm. Serious inquiries are welcome to attend. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn more about Chauvin and see more of his work, feel free to peruse the photographer’s website.
Until next time!