UrbanMegaEye: an eyephoneography show in Canada featuring Bénichou, Koci, Preston, and Ricoy

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A few months ago, the organizers of the Mégapixels Photography Festival in Shawinigan (Canada) contacted us to commission what will be the first thematic exhibition designed by eyephoneography completely from scratch for an external cultural organization interested in mobile photography.
The result of that opportunity is UrbanMegaEye, an exhibition around the theme of urbanism that includes the work of four international mobile photographers: Nadine Bénichou, Richard “Koci” Hernandez, Graham Preston and Rafael Ricoy. We were already very familiar with the urban nature of the work of two of the photographers selected for this show, while the other two caught our attention during the evaluation phase of eyephoneography #3.

We have the pleasure of presenting hereafter the explanatory text that will be displayed in the exhibition space at the Shawinigan Cultural Center during the month of October. We would like to thank the four photographers for their enthusiasm and support to make this exhibition come true, and all of you for your being there.

We hope that you enjoy reading it now and visiting the show when it opens on October 6th!

UrbanMegaEye: Mobile Photographers and the Art of Chronicling the City

Chroniclers of urban life have existed since the first town settlements and they have accompanied the development of cities as silent witnesses. In many cases, their work contributed to the transformation of their object of documentation itself. The term “chronicler”, however, appeared only in the Middle Ages and it was related with a rigor, a systematic manner of recording urban events and news about firstly, the wealthier groups and, later on, everyday citizens. Their accounts usually took a written format and were always fraught with details and facts. Before the advent of photography, these chroniclers used their own drawings, or those from more talented painters, to visually support their chronicles.

The arrival of photography changed it all and the utopia of documenting everything took hold of the imaginary of citizens and public administrators alike. In this context, large projects were launched from local municipalities to perform visual census of cities and their dwellers. What began as a technical reproduction of reality slowly transformed into personal recreations of that reality. This process happened in parallel to the long held debate of photography as a perfect reproduction device or rather as a tool for creating art in the sense of personal accounts supported on a specific aesthetic language, tradition, and intention. Photographers such as Lewis Hine or the pioneers of “street photography” (Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Gutmann, or the more recently uncovered, Vivian Maier) played crucial roles in transforming the perception of photography from a technical to an artistic medium as cameras became portable.

The industrial and technological revolutions were the backdrop for the transformation of how humans organized their living together in a limited space. The urban revolution that took place in the 20th century created a huge potential for development, transforming cities into laboratories for creation and experimentation but also for inequality, isolation, and gentrification. After decades of urban decay, an increasingly significant phenomenon seems to be taking roots in our days: ‘re-localism’. In this context and from an artistic standpoint, the urban space is reframed as a locus where communities come together, exchange, and grow together in sustainable and participatory ways.

The exhibition presented here, UrbanMegaEye, was conceived and produced by eyephoneography, an international Spain-based initiative supporting the potential of mobile photography as a promising expression of contemporary art. UrbanMegaEye presents the work of four international mobile photographers: Nadine Bénichou, Richard “Koci” Hernandez, Rafael Ricoy, and Graham Preston. All the photographs included in UrbanMegaEye have been shot, edited and shared using smartphones and they bare witness to the peak in creativity and originality that mobile photography is currently experiencing. With their images, these four photographers not only record everyday objects, people, and settings but they also create new meanings in a brilliant combination of artistic traditions and experimental attempts.

Arbitrary Scale © Nadine Benichou

Nadine Benichou, “Nad” (France) presents the series called eSCALES inspired by her readings of Italian author Umberto Eco and by her preference for a cubist, depurated, dissected photography. The saturation of colors, the dominating red and black tones evoke a city that, while being vibrant and alive, also hides the repetition of geometric shapes. If the endless reproduction of the art object was supposed to prevent it from having a soul, there is a vital concern in Nad’s work that translates into an aesthetic compromise to prevent annihilation from happening.

Untitled © Richard “Koci” Hernandez

Richard “Koci” Hernandez (USA) masters the spirit of the city. The urban landscape, traditionally portrayed as alienating, becomes the scene where a given personage appears with stubborn recurrence. This faceless and colorless man in the hat becomes a central graphic element surrounded by the city: he could be alienated if it were not for his crucial visual and narrative relevance. Impossible viewpoints and perspectives; lines ending in angles and highlighted by shadows; and figures all too familiar to our eyes already used to the language of cinema, all contribute to creating an unsettling but equally attractive atmosphere.

Hunslet Carr 5 © Graham Preston

Graham Preston (United Kingdom) looks at the city of Leeds, one of the cities with the heaviest industrial past in the country, with a compassionate eye. Once flourishing agglomerations with armies of mill and mine workers, the city – a symbol for many other cities in the locomotive country of the industrial revolution – is now struggling to stand, to prevail. Nevertheless, the viewer perceives in Preston’s images a re-legitimation of the urban space that emanates not from conscious urban planning strategies but from the very soul of crumbling buildings and decaying factories. The alignment of the photographer’s eye with the suffering and the dignity of these urban remains suggest a powerful image of the agony that increasing groups of urban inhabitants are experiencing as a result of growing socio-economic inequalities.

Geometry © Rafael Ricoy

Rafael Ricoy (Spain) updates the figure of the flâneur endlessly celebrated by Modern artists and translates it into an “image fisherman”. Ricoy lives his passion as a true exercise of coming together of the eye of this “image fisherman” and his catches. His portrays of truly ‘found sculptures’ speaks of Ricoy’s humble look: it is as if the photographer only had to pass on a meaning that already exists while evoking a list of objects that we cross everyday in the street without even stopping to look… The legs of an old piece of furniture, a table perhaps, are reminiscent of the bicycle handlebar transformed into a bull’s horns by another famous Spaniard… Bags full of trash that become terrified faces in the rain. In all, a tribute to the meeting of the right look with the right object in the streets of our cities, with talent being the glue that holds both of them together.

The aim of this text is to present some joint reflections around the creation of the fours photographers included in UrbanMegaEye against the background of the transversal theme of Mégapixels 2012, the urban. A priori, their work is not connected and they were never brought together until now despite the clear common red thread that they share via intimate chronicles of the urban space.

Urbanism thinker, H. Lefebvre, hypothesized that “a urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future.” While we ignore what he meant exactly by “future”, nowadays there abound citizens who have experienced the world only as a completely urbanized ecosystem, a repetition of urban landscapes. Series of images like the ones included here offer a refreshing and personal look into existing and possible faces of the endless cities that we dwell.

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