New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 7 February 29 to March 6, 2012

Mark Chester
Ed Barnas
detail from Gunslinger Actors California, 1982 and Shriners, California - 1983 by Mark Chester. Source:
Mark Chester, Detail from “Gunslinger Actors California, 1982 and Shriners, California - 1983"

Photographs are usually presented on the gallery wall as discrete objects, each within its own singular frame and displayed for individual consideration. In the case of Mark Chester’s current show at OK Harris, all the images are presented as pairs of 12x18 inch prints. Drawn from over four decades of shooting, the individual images vary in time, space, and concept. But presented as pairs within the same frame, they challenge the viewer to puzzle out a relationship.

In many cases the relationship is fairly easy to determine and falls into the category of visual humor: a wall stenciled “Post No bills” opposite a couple seated in front of a storefront plastered with handbills, or an image of Japanese archers opposite a photo of Steve Martin wearing his 70’s signature joke store arrow through his head. The humor in these pairings reminds me a bit of several recent shows where the humor is encapsulated within a single frame (Elliot Erwitt at ICP, Misha Erwitt and Craig Semetko at Leica Gallery).

U.S. Capitol, Wash.D.C.  by Mark Chester. Source:
Mark Chester, "U.S. Capitol, Wash.D.C. " 1977

Thankfully, a number of the pairings move beyond the level of simple visual punning into the realm of visual alliteration. Some are read by the viewer within the classic “contrast and compare” mode, as in the photo of three actors in western garb opposite three be-fezed Shriners, both shot from the same low angle. However, some of these pairings (e.g., the optician set) offer deeper levels of visual interest with internal pairings within one of the pair. At their best, these less humorous pairings offer more to digest visually, coming close to the level of visual haiku - best exemplified by two snowy images: a stand of fir trees, tops covered in cloth, and a group of women bundled against the cold waiting at a bus stop.

The photos more than fill the back room at OK Harris and continue around the corner into the office area. On the whole this is a nice, relaxing display - worth visiting for a bit of fun and relaxation. The people pictured are generally treated kindly, and there are enough substantive pairings to engage the visual cortex (but without too much stress). An appetizers rather than a full meal, this is a traveling show with a companion book that includes many more image pairs.

Mark Chester

O.K. Harris Works of Art
383 W Broadway
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 431 3600

Saturday, January 28 to
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6