Matt Siber

Peter Miller Gallery

Matt Siber’s “The Untitled Project,” begun in 2002, chops its way through the forest of signs. Siber photographs urban environments, usually fairly humdrum downtown sites in the US or Europe, then scans his images into a computer and removes every trace of the letters and numbers that are inevitably embedded therein. He then presents that textually denuded cityscape next to (and in one case here, atop) an image of the same size wherein he carefully re-creates to scale every bit of the text he removed from the original photograph, leaving the paper otherwise blank. It’s an act of isolation that makes his cityscapes seem oddly bereft, almost naked.

It is not signs in the literal sense that Siber excludes; their empty frames—the billboards, posters, wall ads, traffic markers, licenses, etc., as well as their graphic design and abstract logos—remain in his photographs. But they now read as mute fields, frames for a communication that is disrupted and silenced. There’s a lot of scripted information on and in our streets, a glut of advertisements and instructions, license-plate and telephone numbers. There are bits of stray text too, fragments of graffiti and obscure municipal-code letters stenciled on walls and pavements. And this agglomeration amounts to a forest of fonts: Siber’s project reveals a vast range of typefaces in every size, with the cacophonous urban environment privileging boldface and capitalization in almost every instance. His photographs and their textual shadows propose that looking is rarely independent of reading, that text and image are, in our cities at least, always uneasily intertwined. The images in this exhibition were shot by Siber in Europe in the summer of 2005, but the ubiquity of English, whether in the streets of Paris or of Tarnów, is less of a surprise than the dreary universality of promotion, the repetitive blazoning of brand names, the ceaseless promises of the likes of Burger King and McDonald’s—a numbing visual muzak.

While in Paris Siber took on a second project, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” He photographed twenty-two street environments in which there were kiosks bearing larger-than-life posters of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie advertising their new movie. A year in advance of the frenzied mass spectacle of Brangelina, Siber’s juxtaposition of these posters—Pitt shown standing with his gun placed near his groin, Jolie with her smaller pistol tucked into her garter—and the pedestrians of Paris is both funny and pathetic. The posters are almost universally ignored by the passersby, just more visual static easy to overlook, with the patently constructed allure of these overscale celebrities making them appear all the more lifeless next to real people going about their business.

With an attentive eye for urban genre, Siber is a real street photographer, apparently spontaneous but never arbitrary. Whether selectively editing his images or presenting them relatively straight, he always has an agenda, and sees the street as contested territory, and as a sedimentary site that tells subtle tales of the vernacular.

James Yood