Friday, October 7, 2011

Stanley Greenberg: City as Organism, Only Some of it Visible

Stanley Greenberg’s photography explores hidden systems, infrastructures and technologies, both state-of-the-art and antiquated. New York City’s unseen workings, the region’s complex water systems, architecture mid-construction, physics labs, telescopes and a decommissioned dam have all been the subject of Greenberg’s careful eye. Though his projects range in location and scale, his curiosity about how things work and his enthusiasm for sharing the concealed with his audience is constant. Part urban exploration, part “Unseen Machine,” part historical document, his art offers an uncommon view of the built environment and encourages us to look at our surroundings in a new way. Greenberg has published three books: Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City; Waterworks: A Photographic Journey through New York’s Hidden Water System; and Architecture Under Construction; and is currently raising funds on Kickstarter for the printing of Time Machines. Starting November 11, you can see Greenberg’s photographs of the Culver Viaduct on view in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Artist and Artifact: Re|Visioning Brooklyn, an exhibition of works created in response to items in the BHS archives. And keep an eye out for an exhibition of his work at Gitterman Gallery in the fall of 2011. But first, read on as Stanley Greenberg talks to us about issues of access and security, the role of the photographer in inspiring transformation, and the public’s right to know. -V.S.

When did you start photographing and why?
I started photographing when I was very young. My father was a high school art teacher and we had a darkroom in the basement bathroom. I try not to think about how bad the ventilation was down there. I was interested in all kinds of things, from politics to science. I was an art history major in college and took a couple of photo classes then, but the professor told me to find another career. In graduate school I studied public administration; I had been an intern in Congress and helped run an election campaign, so I thought I would work in government. But while I was in Syracuse, I ended up spending all of my time in a local community darkroom (Light Work). I wasn’t interested in commercial photography, so I never expected to make a living as a photographer. I took a series of jobs as an analyst and assistant to commissioners in city government and kept moving up as my bosses got promoted. I was an assistant commissioner at the Department of Cultural Affairs when I left in 1988 to pursue photography full-time.

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