New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 17 April 17 to 23, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Before Instagram
Thomas Michael Alleman
Sunshine & Noir
Ed Barnas
San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, 2011 by Thomas Michael Alleman. Source:
Thomas Michael Alleman, "San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, 2011"

Thomas Michael Alleman is a working photojournalist familiar with the latest gear. However, to execute his artistic vision he has chosen to use a simple camera, the Holga, and work within its limitations. The result is a dreamlike feeling in the eighteen black & white prints from his Sunshine & Noir series currently on view at the Robin Rice Gallery. The series commenced over a decade ago. In the softness of the Holga optics Alleman found the perfect tool to capture his vision of the urban landscape, the lack of detail alluding and suggesting more than the excess of detail produced by modern optics. Since then he has documented various cities with various models. Most of the photos in this exhibit were taken in LA, NYC, and (most recently) Paris, the majority square and uncropped though a few are panoramic.

The square format tends to hold the viewers’ attention within the frame, an effect further enhanced by the sharper center and vignetted corners of the Holga negative. However, these images are rarely static. Diagonals run through, both balancing the various elements of the image and providing a visual tension that gives them their dynamism. The invitational image of a parked van in San Fernando is a prime example: An old van, its roof covered with a beehive of bicycles, is seen at an angle in the oncoming traffic lane, the front wheel turned toward the viewer. The clouds above burst outward from that mound of bikes. The building behind offers the converging lines of traditional perspective drawing. It feels like that van is speeding – but closer inspection reveals it is actually parked at the curb. Alleman often uses diagonals to balance the foreground and background elements, particularly in the Parisian images of Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and the Seine. While somewhat static, a diagonal line of skulls in the catacombs creates a feeling of depth in the image (and the only one of the Parisian photos that has an Atget feel to it).

Subway Station, New York City, 2010  by Thomas Michael Alleman. Source:
Thomas Michael Alleman, "Subway Station, New York City, 2010 "

But traditional symmetry is not ignored. Vertical symmetry is used well: a tree foregrounding the Arc de Triomphe, the LA City Hall backgrounding a streaking streetcar. The subway station image, built on the vertical symmetry of “Y”, initially calls to mind Salgado’s migration series, but in place of a single time exposure, Alleman’s is a multiple exposure. Made as the crowd flowed down the stairs, the multiple shadows of the same figures call to mind Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

The four panoramic images were created by undercranking the manual film advance of the Holga so that the edges of succeeding frames overlap. The California theatre marquee has a DIY typographic appeal and the symmetry the Dodger Stadium is nicely done, but I have become jaded from seeing a number of stadium panoramas of late. The panorama of Montmartre works best: views down a number of streets stitched together over the buildings, clouds and lines coming together to create the impression of buildings as multiple locomotives, some rounding the bend while others come straight at the viewer.

Edward Steichen has said, “No photographer is as good as the simplest camera.” In Sunshine & Noir Thomas Michael Alleman has effectively demonstrated what a good photographer can do with a such simple camera.

Thomas Michael Alleman
Sunshine & Noir

Robin Rice Gallery
325 W 11th St.
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 366 6660

Wednesday, March 13 to
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Hours: Weds-Sun, 12 to 7

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat