New York

Beat Streuli

Murray Guy

In his photographs of people on the street, Beat Streuli has since the early ’90s straddled the line between portraying anonymity and individuality. More recently, his videos of transient urban life have expanded his repertoire, and the viewer’s patient consideration is rewarded as scenes gradually unfold with rows of people passing through the frame, imparting the sensation of long temporal flows. Streuli’s latest projects explore international city streets in four two-channel videos, which were installed on a rotating basis in projections. In The Pallasades 05-01-01, 2001, shot in Birmingham, England, a dense crowd of people moves in slow motion, seen from an almost perfectly frontal perspective. Marching toward the camera in waves of fabric and flesh, the pedestrians give an initial impression of mass alienation and withdrawal. But there is a great deal of physical detail, from body types to skin tones to clothing brands, which provides the viewer with flashes of recognition. The sheer quantity of information on display is generous, as social convention does not normally grant such unfettered visual access to complete strangers. Streuli gives license to stare.

Two pieces were shot in New York, including 8th Avenue/35th Street 06-02, 2002, in which the camera is positioned on the sidewalk so that passersby occasionally step directly in front of the lens and block the view for a moment. Urbanites seem sandwiched between the viewfinder and the delivery trucks passing behind them, packed into a stretch of Manhattan. By contrast, NYC 01/NYC 02, 2002, comes closer to individual portraiture: Streuli catches subway riders emerging from below ground at Astor Place into bright sunlight. Presented in a series of stills dissolving one into the other, each person seemed isolated within his or her own thoughts, perhaps prompting a stronger degree of personal identification from the audience.

The voyeuristic impulse is most evident in two works that catch subtleties of gesture and facial expression on hot days. In George Street Bus Stop 01-23-01, 2001–2002, slowed-down footage of Sydney, Australia, concentrates on people’s resigned patience and irritated grimaces as they wait for a bus to arrive. Observed at close range, one young woman carefully wipes the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her colorful patterned shirt. Ambient street sounds add social atmosphere when a group of unseen Hare Krishna devotees walks by chanting and clanging bells. BKK Siam Square 03-12/13- 02, 2002, shows Bangkok locals sitting in a public square, hardly moving as they cope with intense heat: What appear to be slowly morphing stills actually depict people going about their business in real time.

The degree of Streuli’s control over his animated street photography is tough to pin down. Though the figures aren’t artificially lit as with some of Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s deer-in-the-headlights pedestrians, one becomes aware of a careful editing process, despite the role of procedural chance. Henri Cartier-Bresson is widely recognized for codifying the “decisive moment,” the accumulation of experience and intuition that enables a photographer to click the shutter at the instant when all factors (composition, lighting, subject, etc.) coalesce to form the perfect image. With his videos, Streuli complicates Cartier- Bresson’s claim by partly shifting responsibility for this moment’s determination to the viewer. From an ever changing sea of bodies and faces, the audience is assigned the task of locating multiple money shots.

Gregory Williams