Thursday, October 03, 2013

LDN2 by Antony Cairns


My review of Antony Cairn's LDN2 (Archive of Modern Conflict, 2013) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.
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Walking around the city, any city, it's easy to be distracted and not see the buildings, especially at night. The lights shimmer and divert our attention. The ghostly afterglow of neon signs, forelornly lit office buildings and the endless strips of flourescent. They demarcate the night. Antony Cairn's LDN2 is an odd architectural record. A metallic hallucinatory fever dream of London at night. Gone are the romantically lit city streets. Instead, light, fog and chemical drips become architectural forces – imposing themselves in from all sides, overriding the buildings and industrial alleyways. The lamposts and lit signs reveal and conceal a new city of diaphanous concrete and plate glass. The odd inversions and solarized lights sculpt the night, surrounding buildings, partially blocking them from sight while also offering a glimpse of a little seen city, a city glanced over and quickly forgotten when the street lamps come on. 

All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013

Previously self-published, LDN2 has been republished and redesigned by the Archive of Modern Conflict in a larger deluxe edition. Initially shot on transparency film and mounted on aluminum, Cairns subjects his film and prints to a myriad of chemical abuses resulting in solarized and metallic images that glisten and pulsate behind a curtain of drips, drops and pours. The tonal inversions and chemical stains simultaneously act as a knife and veil – penetrating and obscuring the night and city, as well as any romantic notions we may have of the city at night. Of course, there is also the danger and romance of chemical degradation – a beauty that can easily devolve into cliché or gimmick. Seen in isolation that may be the case for these images, but as a whole they gain strength and take on another meaning, a sort of brutalist tone poem by John Zorn and Takuma Nakahira.  

All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013
All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013

As an object, the book is beautifully designed and printed. The unbound pages alternate between horizontal images that rest in the top of page, larger vertical images or full-bleed images. The pacing and the rhythmic tension between the image sizes and orientation fit the book's furtive and anxious nocturnal theme. The center of the book has a short essay by Ian Jeffrey that's bookended by vellum. Translucent images on the vellum blend with white shapes bellow to form two of Cairn's photographs. The essay and layered images provide a brief pause in the book. 

 All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013
All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013 

Cairns' work is a stubbornly personal, yet also dispassionately distant. Forgoing landmarks, LDN2 is an unrecognizable vision of London. It's a peripatetic journey through an anonymous urban landscape, a labyrinth of streets, corridors and concrete stairwells. Moving quickly, Cairns points his camera to the lights, the concrete and glass buildings and then moves on. However, the frenzied pace and aggressively casual manner of the shots doesn't indicate a disregard for the subject rather it's an acknowledgement that each image is merely a fragment or note of a larger whole. 

All images © Antony Cairns and AMC, 2013

At the turn of the 20th century, there was an upswing of films about cities – epic city symphonies that offered modernist takes on a particular metropolis. The so called "city symphony" films focused on the people within the city as much as the actual space. The teeming masses moving energetically through urban spaces. Utopic in tone, they offered a hopeful vision of the city made whole and animated by its populace. The London of LDN2 is stripped bare of people, yet not wholly pessimistic. Only the omnipotent lights suggest a human presence. Filtered through Cairns' eyes, and a haze of solarization and chemical chance, London emerges as a strange and foreign city brought to life and transformed

Please note: This review was published on photo-eye on September 30th, 2013. You can get the book here.

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