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Of disappearing humans: Matthew Pillsbury

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Tags: photographytheory of photographyartLoïc FelMatthew Pillsburyvisual analysis

Matthew Pillsbury is an American photographer (born on 25th of November 1973), which I stumbled upon in an exhibition in Lyon. Pillsbury won the "Prix de la Fondation pour la Photographie HSBC" in 2007, together with Julia Fullerton-Batten.

Pillsbury published a range of his work with "Time Frame" in 2007. The basic topic: long-time exposures in black and white during night, only illuminated by the pale light of monitors and TVs. However, you always see humans, even if you can only guess they exist. It is not possible to recognize faces in the pale light, and the exposures of about an hour turns their movements to schemas.

In his (French!) analysis of Pillsbury's publication, Loïc Fel did away with superficial analyses: the current view of his photos being about photography and its inability to capture the vitality of movements seems too mundane. First, it is possible to show movements in photography without turning it into schemas; and second, a lot of Pillsbury's photos show activities which are not really praised for being vital. Concentrated working on a computer is a frequent topic, which is often critized because of its lack of movement.

Fel's alternative analysis is part of a long tradition of metaphors of death. While there is an emphasis on the objects, all living beings turn into transparent epiphanies. His work with fossils are particularly interesting in this regard.

Although I consider Fel's analyses very interesting, I miss the aspect of the glowing screens. Why should Pillsbury use artificial lightening as the connecting element in a whole series ("Screen Lives"), if he only wanted to show death using pale light? The screens are the brightest areas of his photographs, immediately capturing attention, even in a crowded kitchen. They seem to be the real protagonists of the photographs: humans turn into transparent epiphanies, while the screen glow out of the dark, even being overexposed from time to time. They, the screens, are the most important element, they are omnipresent. Even a loving couple is put into the background. Or, does the focus on screens put emphasis on the humans, as you see that they exist, even if they are somehow… missing?