Iain Baxter&’s photograph of a New York City street at dusk (Dusk, New York, New York, 1971) is about as eerie as they come these days. The scene is hemmed in on one side by an expanse of dark, fire escape-clad buildings and a long row of parked cars on the other. The air, hanging heavily as if it were about to rain, is punctuated by glowing streetlights. In the foreground, just out of focus, a man walks unsuspectingly toward the camera. Captured here in his 1970s stroll, he doesn’t know that the landscape behind him will one day be famously changed. There, almost invisible thanks to dusk’s diffuse light and a smog-smeared urban sky, lurk the newly completed twin towers of the World Trade Center. Their presence feels like ghostly foreshadowing–looming large in the background, yet almost invisible at first glance. In fact, it’s the hazy sky that makes this image so eerie–an unintentional precursor to the endless New York street scenes we saw in the post-attack days, the skies thickened with dust and debris. This photograph’s power lies in what’s revealed after prolonged looking. A cursory glance divulges just the superficial streetscape–the fog-clad towers announce themselves only after you’ve allowed your gaze to linger over the sidewalk, taking in the vehicles and streetlights and pedestrians. Baxter&’s skillful composition leads the eye more deeply into the image, compelling us to find what counts.
Indeed, Baxter&’s gift as a photographer is in this ability to have us reconsider what appears at first glance to be mostly ordinary. Whether he’s capturing a highway in northern California, a scene at the Pacific National Exhibition or a generic hotel room, Baxter&’s images ask us to be with him in the moment. The reward–like twin towers out of the fog–comes after deliberate looking. There is also, we soon find, humour in his compositions, quirkiness too, along with unabashed style, a deliberate use of colour and a skillful ability to have us look upon the everyday with fresh eyes …
See Issue 111 to read the entire review!