Tag Archives: Affinity

Neil Goldberg and New York Moments

UPDATE: Goldberg’s exhibit Stories the City Tells Itself at the Museum of the City of New York has been extended through July 4, 2012.

Multimedia artist Neil Goldberg grew up on Long Island, and his childhood was full of trips into New York City, a place that he says always seemed glamorous for being just out of reach. There was a certain part in the drive, on the way through the borough of Queens, when the car would pass the massive apartment complexes known as LeFrak City. “I just thought about all those windows and how behind each of them lives were being lived,” says Goldberg. “You couldn’t see into them but it was thrilling to think of them as this big, dense collective of lives.”

Neil Goldberg

Installation at the Museum of the City of New York.

Goldberg’s continued affinity for the collection of lives that is New York City is on view in his solo exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, which has recently been extended to run through June 19. The show contains a dozen different projects plucked from two decades of his work for their focus on the city.

But Goldberg says that the city is not so much subject as catalyst for his work. “I’m deeply fascinated and engrossed with New York but really all the projects in the show are really just about being alive in a body,” he says. “New York has all these amazingly specific qualities that I love, but in the end it’s a huge, idiosyncratic public space and it’s a place to watch people being alive. That’s the thing that I’m mostly interested in: the basic mystery of ‘here we are, alive in these bodies, at this point in time.’”

The mundane moments he captures, such as the boarding of a bus, are overlooked by the people involved. And there is often, the photographer finds, an instant of rich emotion beneath the banality of it all. “There’s nothing more mundane than missing the subway, but the way it’s experienced has a more operatic quality than what’s actually happening,” he says. “Which is that you’re going to have to wait another five minutes.” His choice of video versus still photography depends on whether that emotion is best emphasized inside or outside of time. The faces of people who miss the train, he says, are best examined freed from the rest of the bustle of the station; the moment of orientation when one emerges from the subway, on the other hand, needs to be conveyed as a transition from confusion to clarity.

The exhibit involves both formats, still and moving, installed in a way meant to echo the city: viewers can choose what to focus on but can’t prevent the rest of the world (the sounds and sights of nearby videos, not presented in isolation as is typical in a museum setting) from seeping in around the edges.

Goldberg says that the show’s title—Stories the City Tells Itself—is a reference to a story he in turn tells himself. In that fiction, the city, like the photographer, is observing its residents being alive. “I like to think of the moments as being overlooked by the people involved but existing for the pleasure of the city itself,” he says. “Maybe no one is noticing these people as the emerge from the subway or the little trapezoids of beautiful sky, but somehow the city itself is watching.”

The exhibit Stories the City Tells Itself is on view at the Museum of the City of New York through July 4. More information about Neil Goldberg can be found here.

The Body Beautiful: Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s Self-Portraits

For Arno Rafael Minkkinen, nudity is akin to spirituality. “I don’t want to be seen as a nudist,” he says. “But there is something about how close you get to the act of creation by walking around by yourself in some stretch of forest in Finland, with nothing on, looking for a photograph, climbing rocks and moving around like a monkey. Bared assed and just digging your toes into the soft earth, you really feel like you’ve been created.”

Over the past forty years that sense of freedom has compelled him to photograph himself in a variety of scenarios: sometimes curled up on a sandy beach, other times dangling off the edge of a cliff, always naked as the day he was born. The sites change constantly, but Minkkinen routinely becomes part of the landscape, connecting body and nature in the most surreal ways. In one shot taken in Nauvo, Finland, he hunches over in a lake so that his dirtied back resembles a log or rock emerging from the water. In another—taken in Stranda, Norway—he balances on a tree so that his leg and thigh form a branch extending from the trunk. “There is no age to the picture when it is just the landscape and the body,” he says. “They could be reality from 1305 because of the nudity.”

Born in Helskini in 1945, Minkkinen believes his affinity for nature—and, more specifically, water—reflects his Finnish roots. Another deep-seated influence is that he was born with a cleft palate. “My mother had been hoping for a princess girl and I was the total opposite of that,” he says. “I always felt like an affront to her beauty.” Doctors corrected the cleft palate as best they could, but with results that fall far short of today’s possibilities. “Surely someone who is missing a limb or who is deformed in a really horrible way has to have it a lot worse than my mouth. But a mouth is what you kiss with, eat with, speak with. That’s where people look when they watch you.”

Minkkinen, who immigrated to the United States with his family when he was six years old, rarely features his face in photographs. Even so, he still describes them as “nude self-portraits.” In the same way that Alfred Stieglitz took “portraits” of his wife Georgia O’Keefe that only featured her hands, Minkkinen sees his body as an entry point to humanity. That he’s shot them over four decades adds to the sense of autobiography. “I put my face in there every once in a while just to remind the viewers that it is me,” he says. “They have to know I’m the one who is making the picture.”

Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Massachusetts-based artist and photographer. See more of his work here

William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook