On The Streets
by Eric Zapata
Philip-Lorca diCorcia's work at downtown's Lawing Gallery is comprised of three bodies of work, all in color that explore society but with drastically different approaches and results. The first series, Hustlers, shows a fringe world of street people and male prostitutes marginalized by society. The second, Street-work, are street scenes taken in major cities throughout the world, and the third are from the Friends and Family series.
In Hustlers, photographed from 1990 to 1992 in Hollywood, diCorcia paid male prostitutes and others a fee to take theirpictures. His titles, such as Major Tom, Los Angeles $20, raise issues about this fringe society and treatment of these men as commodities with product name, place of origin and their fee. Using his talents and skills, diCorcia's portrayal of these men contradicts this view by humanizing them. The artist creates beautiful images that belie the life and situation of thesemen.
In the more recent Streetwork, diCorcia makes street photography fresh and exciting. diCorcia's approach is to set up his camera and lighting. Then over a two-hour period, he photographs the scene as characters enter and exit this stage. diCorcia's use of selective focus and lighting give the images a staged feel, as if these were movie stills rather than documentary street scenes.
In the image, London, the artist uses lighting, focus and placement to bring attention to a businessman reading anewspaper, and away from the other suits in view. The position of the figures adds to the scripted feel, as if they are onmarks. diCorcia's choices of film and printing also heighten this feeling. The colors in the prints are very saturated, making the images more vibrant than in reality. His most important innovation is the use of a stationary camera. Rather than searching for an image, diCorcia finds a backdrop and then lets the images unfold, catching the characters off guard.
diCorcia's creative approaches have produced intriguing work — one that addresses a societal subculture and another runs counter to the conventions of a photographic style, reinvigorating it and his audience. •
Eric Zapata is a MFA candidate in photography at the University of Houston.