New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 31 October 3 to 9, 2012

Men at Work
Brian Finke
Ed Barnas
Untitled (Construction #37) by Brian Finke. Source:
Brian Finke, "Untitled (Construction #37)"

Concentrating on individuals or small groups, Brian Finke has used his camera over the years to study flight attendants, body builders, cheerleaders and football players. The current series focuses on construction workers. Two dozen 20x20 color photos are on display at ClampArt. Begun in 2008, he had hoped to capture the frenzy of construction during a booming real estate market. Instead, the market collapsed and work on many building sites halted or ground to a slow pace.

As in his previous series, these prints are square format, each image appearing to be self-contained. By concentrating on individuals in eerily under-populated worksites, a sense of isolation––as well as the palpable stasis reinforced by the format itself––is present in much of this work. Workers generally appear alone, sometimes with another individual in the background. They appear absorbed in the task at hand or lost in thought, never looking at the camera. The weather is bright and sunny, the sky blue, the subjects anonymous, the images untitled.

Although taken on-site at building locations, these images are not “fly-on-the-wall” documents; the photographer’s presence evident in well-placed fill lighting used to reduce the harsh contrast of bright daylight. Such a lighting setup implies more than a casual interaction between photographer and subject. In several images I felt that the worker was directed rather than spontaneous––an approach I generally do not find compelling.

Untitled (Construction #44) by Brian Finke. Source:
Brian Finke, "Untitled (Construction #44)"

Not all of these photos were portraits of the construction workers. Some provide the broader context of the work site, showing stacked supplies or mountains of shifted dirt. While I generally found the human subjects more interesting, two of these latter images had elements that were particularly intriguing graphically: a close-up of welder’s mask covered in woodland camouflage and a colorful pin-up sticker; graffiti transforming two knots and a nail head in a sheet of plywood into a demure female figure study.

Despite my reservations, several images, among them a worker centered in a symmetric grid work of high iron, the use of space in a bisected frame portrait, and the dynamic swirl of high cirrus clouds over a worker in another bisected frame, had a formal graphic simplicity that stayed with me.

Brian Finke

521 W 25th St. Ground Fl
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Thursday, September 6 to
Saturday, October 13, 2012
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