Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City' exhibition at The New York Public Library

One of the many hats I wear at my day job: I'm the publicist for an exhibition that opened on May 2 at The New York Public Library. If you're in the New York City area, Eminent Domain is definitely a worthwhile exhibition to check out. Here's the press release:

Disappearing Storefronts of the Lower East Side, Life with a Chinatown Family, and Views from the Unseen Edges of New York City Featured in Major Photography Exhibition at The New York Public Library

Five Contemporary Photographers Observe New York City’s Ongoing Evolution of Private and Public Urban Space in Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City – May 2 to August 29, 2008

Shifting views of public and private space through the cameras of five contemporary photographers reveal the constantly changing and often unfamiliar urban landscapes of New York City in Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City, an exhibition of more than 200 photographs at The New York Public Library.

Eminent Domain features the recent photographic projects of five New York-based artists that deal with the life of the city in terms of passage (of seasons and time, people and place) and exchange (between individual and collective, interior and exterior). The works, by Thomas Holton, Bettina Johae, Reiner Leist, Zoe Leonard, and Ethan Levitas, will be on view at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street from May 2 to August 29, 2008. Admission is free.

“Turning on the nature of photography itself – which always complicates the relationship between public and private – all five projects resonate with current debates about the reorganized urban landscape, whether through the effects of gentrification, globalization, or municipal redevelopment,” said Stephen C. Pinson. exhibition curator and the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs of The New York Public Library. “While none of the photographers’ works specifically address the legal concept of eminent domain – or the taking of private property for public use – all of the projects deal with the timely topic of the changing nature of space in New York City today. A photograph, after all, is a transaction between the private and the public that is negotiated through the taking of an image – a kind of eminent domain of the visual realm.”

Thomas Holton became very close with the Lam family in Chinatown, photographing the family of five living its everyday family life, at their apartment, school, and grocery market and even attending weddings and traveling to China and Hong Kong to visit relatives. Holton’s color photos of The Lams of Ludlow Street (2003-2005) are accompanied by Polaroid photos taken by the three Lam children, including their viewpoint as well as Holton’s empathetic perspective on being a Chinese family in New York City’s Chinatown. (image: Thomas Holton. Untitled from the series The Lams of Ludlow Street.)

Bettina Johae’s borough edges, nyc (2004-2007) includes color photographs, digital slideshows, and a new remapping of New York City’s five boroughs. While undertaking a total of 27 bike rides in all five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island), Johae photographed the perimeter of each borough along its farthermost accessible path, displaying areas seldomly seen or included in representations of New York City. A beautiful, abandoned shipyard is located among the green fields of Rossville, Staten Island; traditional houses perched upon garages are spotted in Manhattan’s Marble Hill; and an airplane is shown flying a little too close for comfort above a two-story house in Queens’ Warnerville/Rosedale neighborhood. (image: Bettina Johae. si_4888 rossville, staten island from the borough edges, nyc series.)

Reiner Leist offers a more intimate view of the city in his Window series (1995-present), using a nineteenth-century view camera to photograph the scene from his studio on the 26th floor of an office building on Eighth Avenue. Leist has taken a photograph daily since March of 1995 at varying times of the day. (If he was unable to take a photograph, the day is represented by a black print.) The series becomes an ongoing portrait of the subtle and radical changes in the New York City skyline that includes One Penn Plaza, Madison Square Garden, and until September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center. On display are the images taken on September 11-15 from 1995-2007, including September 12, 2001, which documented the day following the World Trade Center attack. (image: Reiner Leist. September 12, 2001 from the Window series.)

Zoe Leonard’s Analogue (1998-2007) is a lyrical documentation of the City’s slowly disappearing local character in the wake of a global economy. Although centered on the storefronts of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, the project also touches upon the route and destination of New York’s castoff clothing in the contemporary rag trade. As its name suggests, the series is also an elegy of sorts for a long-standing tradition of documentary photography, which Leonard sees passing with the onset of digital photography. The images on display comprise a portfolio of forty dye transfer prints, an increasingly rare process of color printing that is itself in jeopardy of obsolescence. (image: Zoe Leonard. Drop Off A.M., Pick Up P.M. from the Analogue series.)

Elevated subway cars from the J, M, and Z lines seem to be the subject in Ethan Levitas’s Untitled/This is just to say (2004-2007), but these color photographs also show passengers in various forms of private and public life: A man standing in between cars during a snowstorm smokes a cigarette; Hassidic Jews are engrossed in conversation; a woman staring directly at the camera seems to be the only passenger in an otherwise empty car. The trains become microcosms of the City as the project functions to collapse the distinction between our private and public selves. (image: Ethan Levitas. "#75" from the Untitled/This is just to say series.)

In addition to the five photographers’ works, artist Glenn Ligon contributes a personal written narrative about all of his New York City residences in Housing in New York: A Brief History (2007) which was commissioned for this exhibition. Ligon’s writings are interspersed throughout the exhibition space, reminding viewers that behind the (now) public images lie myriad personal and private stories.

The exhibition is presented in The New York Public Library’s largest exhibition space at the landmark building on 42nd Street, and its design complements the photographers’ themes in creative ways: Ethan Levitas’s large images of subway cars are displayed on the space’s longest wall, side-by-side, replicating a subway train. Thomas Holton’s photographs of the Lam family are shown in a semi-enclosed space reminiscent in size of a small apartment. Reiner Leist’s images of the cityscape outside his window are shown as a selection of framed prints and as a larger group in a digital slideshow so that viewers can appreciate both the intimacy and the seriality of the project. Ten images from each borough of Bettina Johae’s landscapes are available for viewing through flipbooks attached to the wall, and five slideshows of images (one for each borough) are displayed next to Johae’s hand-drawn remapping of the city. Finally, works by each of the photographers are installed outside the exhibition space, in the more “public” spaces of the Library.

Stephen C. Pinson, exhibition curator and the Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs of The New York Public Library, acquired the materials on view after receiving funds from a benefactor specifically designated to purchase photographs that enhance the Library’s collection of New York City views from 1950 to the present day. Bettina Johae’s series borough edges, nyc (2004-2007) was the Photography Collection’s first digital acquisition. An online version of borough edges, nyc, also commissioned by The New York Public Library, will be available on the exhibition website at

Companion Volume

Edited by and including an introduction by curator Stephen C. Pinson, Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City features highlights from the five photographic projects presented in the exhibition. The book includes statements about their work from each of the photographers: Thomas Holton, Bettina Johae, Reiner Leist, Zoe Leonard, and Ethan Levitas. All of their projects intersect and resonate with current concerns about the reorganization of urban space, and its public use, in New York City. Also included as a counterpoint is artist Glenn Ligon’s literal narrative of his own housing in the city as a reminder that behind these (now) public images lie myriad personal and private stories. Published by The New York Public Library. 80 pages, 7 x 8 in., 70 images in color and b/w, eminent domain court case time line, suggested readings. $22.50. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-87104-460-0.

Books are available from The Library Shop at Fifth Avenue and 42 nd Street. Mail, phone, and Internet orders are accepted. For more information, call 212.930.0641 or visit

Curatorial Tours

Curatorial tours with exhibition curator Stephen Pinson are scheduled for Wednesday, May 14 at 11:15 a.m. and Friday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 people. Register in advance via e-mail at or call 212.930.9284.

Docent Tours
Free public tours of Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City are conducted Monday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday (through May 18) at 3:30 p.m. All group tours, including school groups, must be scheduled well in advance. Unauthorized tours are not permitted. To schedule a tour, call 212.930.0501. Group tours are $7 per person for adults ($5 for seniors); no charge for full-time students.

Additional Public Programs

Visit the exhibition website at for details about additional programs.
Other artists, photographers, and interested public are invited to participate in a collaborative, online project on the theme of eminent domain through a link on the exhibition website.

borough edges, nyc

A series of bike tours to selected edges of the five boroughs, led by photographer Bettina Johae. Each tour begins at 12 noon and will last approximately three hours. Rides will be at an easy pace and for all ages and fitness levels. Interested individuals should e-mail

May 11 – The Bronx

May 18 – Manhattan

June 1 – Queens

June 15 – Brooklyn

June 22 – Staten Island

Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City will be on view from May 2 through August 29, 2008 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. The exhibition is open during regular Library hours: Monday, Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sunday (through May 18), 1-5 p.m. Closed the following days: Saturday, May 24; Monday, May 26; Friday and Saturday, July 4 and 5. Admission is free. For more information, call 212.592.7730 or visit

About the Photography Collection
The Photography Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs comprises approximately 400,000 photographs, including examples of almost every photographic process from the earliest daguerreotypes to contemporary digital images.

The Photography Collection was developed in 1980 when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division. The historically stated focus of the collection has been "documentary photography," a term originally coined in the 1930s to describe the work of photographers who attempted to document specific social conditions. The Photography Collection, which has significant holdings in this area, actually encompasses a much broader range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography, and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market.

Future collection activity and development will focus on fulfilling the department's role as the most accessible public resource in New York City for the study of photographs and the history of photography.

About The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers - the Humanities and Social Sciences Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library - and 87 Branch Libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The New York Public Library serves over 16 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 25 million users internationally, who access collections and services through its website,

Acquisition of works for this exhibition was made possible through the Estate of Leroy A. Moses, which provided funds to purchase photographs that enhance the Library's collection of New York City views from 1950 to the present day.

Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., and by an anonymous contribution in honor of Elizabeth Rohatyn.

Additional support has been provided by
The L Magazine, the exhibition's Media Sponsor.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz I. and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.


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