By Robert Beck
Photography was more complex and less available before the digital age. My dad had a darkroom in the basement, where I learned to appreciate the language of light. Apartment dwellers with a passion for taking pictures would set up darkrooms in their closets. Now everyone has a camera at their fingertips, and in the city, somebody lives in the closet. More than a century was defined by black & white photos, but that genre, especially chemical printing, has become a niche, artisan practice. We’ve arrived at a point with digital manipulation where photographs can’t be trusted. Of course, paintings never could.
Many of my New York memories are black & white. I’m greatly influenced by my father’s photos, along with those afternoons as a kid spent after school watching programs on our b&w television. Magazines and movies turned the world to color, but it was dazzle, and you could tell a good story without it; sometimes better. Black & white has determination. It comes in the door with an edge, talking tough in a fedora. It suggests that the viewer consider the content and not be distracted by the prettification.
I wasn’t sure which view of the original headhouse at the 72nd St. station I wanted to paint, and I walked around imagining how it could be described from various locations. I looked through the door glass on the north side, watching people pay their fare and go down to the platform. One guy waited until the others were through, then he took off his backpack and ducked under the turnstile. He was down the stairs in a flash. Obviously, he makes a practice of it; he had the moves down pat. I wondered if I would be thrown out if I set up my easel inside there. Of course I would.
It’s not so much the building’s details that attracted my attention as that Mission-like design. It sits squat in the open square, ringed at a distance by shoulder-to-shoulder high-rise buildings held in abeyance by…what? Time, I suppose. For now, it looks like a subway station outside of Albuquerque. There is sky and clouds overhead, and air. If a sunny day happens, you can find it right here. It’s a place where a New Yorker might be tempted to look up.
To contact Robert Beck or see more of his work, visit robertbeck.net
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