‘What Is That?’ Seeing the City as Abstract Art

‘What Is That?’ Seeing the City as Abstract Art


The color red, Gretchen Grace said, is catnip for street photographers. “It’s just low-hanging fruit,” she said. “It’s like the default alert. It’s the strongest color, the one that gets your attention.”

New York’s colors are like the city’s architecture: random, cacophonous, equal parts ego and vision, ornaments for a city that throbs in black and white.

Amid the chromatic din, red makes a statement.

“The afternoon light just makes it electric,” Ms. Grace said. “When you see something red, it’s hard to pass up.”

Ms. Grace, 56, who lives in Brooklyn and works mostly in New York, calls these images street abstractions, a nod to her background in sculpture and design. They’re not photographs of things so much as photographs of light on things. Which means that even though they are immobile objects, the moment they capture is as fleeting as that of a sports photograph. Snap now and the light takes one form; wait a minute and the light is different.

There’s that instant just before sundown when the light bathes everything like a “pink cloud,” she said. “It’s so fast, and you try to capture it and maybe you don’t. It’s so fast that it’s possible to think we didn’t really see that, or, How can that be real?

“You get a moment of satisfaction, and then you’ve got to do another one to prove to yourself that it’s really out there.”

Ms. Grace shoots with a cellphone and includes enough in the frame to convey something about the scene without letting the setting take over the image. Her image of a blue truck dusted with snow (below) does not look like it is going anywhere.

The question she asks is, “How much needs to be there in order to still tell a story?”

For Ms. Grace, the season’s lengthening days and this weekend’s change to Daylight Saving Time are good news. They mean longer afternoons, which means more afternoon light.

“Late-afternoon light is the most sherbety and fun light,” she said. “So, go, light.”



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