New York

Leo Rubinfien

Castelli Graphics

Last, and perhaps least, is Leo Rubinfien. He definitely deserves to be in the company of the other young photographers I’ve praised, though I do have some reservations about the approach he’s been taking to color. The scenes in Rubinfien’s best photographs are smitten by light, felled at a blow before his camera. The effect is of a world that is picturesque, yet vaguely troubling. The light is at the same time both beautiful and queer. In Rubinfien’s case, however, the larger selection of pictures in the gallery show made him look a weaker photographer than he seemed in “The New Color.” Maybe Eauclaire just has a better eye for his work than he himself does.

The difficulty I had at the gallery, where only one of the pictures from “The New Color” was duplicated, resulted from Rubinfien’s sense of subject matter. When the subject matter is simply the light, he’s usually all right. But the rest of the time, traveling all around the world, he behaves too much like a tourist. He often goes only where other travelers are, thus putting himself in a position where his subjects are sitting ducks—people who fall too easily into the listless, oblivious, peculiar postures that the fatigue of travel and a strange environment bring on. The black children lie asleep on the seat of the train. Two girls slump limply at the foot of a Roman fountain. Gawkers on tour boats or busy streets line up, as if on command, to have their pictures snapped by Rubinfien. Even when he gets away from other tourists, he seems to pick on people who are either helpless or too tired to resist—a baby being held up by its father in a tropical village somewhere, a woman staring blankly out a window on the Paris Métro.

In photography, your sense of light might be said to be your sense of art itself. But the subject matter you choose depends upon your sense of life. More than in any other medium, the two latter senses remain equally important in photography. Rubinfien’s feel for the esthetics of the camera is more than adequate. He can expand his work now only by enlarging his idea of what he might take pictures of.

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.