The talented Chicago photographer John Neff is back in New York. And this time he’s bringing his A-game to Little Italy with a new collection of photographs that centers on his immediate environment, meant to capture the beauty of contemporary life. The exhibition, which opened September 5 at the Golden Gallery on 120 Elizabeth Street and runs until the end of October, promises to be one of the freshest photography shows in New York.

The collection—compiled over the past 18 months using a hodgepodge of equipment, like consumer-grade cameras and early 20th-century large- and medium-format cameras—represents a shift from his expansion of multimedia abstract projects and toward a more discrete conclusion in terms of his style. Neff’s photos recall the straight photography of the great American Modernism movement, and they provide insights into intimate social encounters in the vein of a painter and his subjects.

The chosen devices, purposefully dated, capture images using slow linear scanning instead of full-field sensors, making the images hostages to sometimes-capricious mechanical and optical irregularities. But despite the technical obstacle course through which Neff had to maneuver, these photographs are aesthetically stunning, revealing life in the 21st century through the anachronistic lenses of 20th century devices.

Further complicating Neff’s artistic process was that the cameras lacked a range and view-finder, forcing him to make compositional adjustments between, rather than before, he took the shots. Because the framing work and exposure process was so time-consuming, the project required extensive subject cooperation or else the photographs would have just been a big blur.

Yet, these images are the furthest thing from blurs. In fact, they are beautiful. And learning about Neff’s techniques further underscores the images’ splendour. The camera’s half-a-minute shutter speed, for example, forced Neff to create images that are neither spontaneous nor staged, giving them a rather original quality in a field currently defined by the instant gratification of rapid-fire shutters.

This exhibit will captivate anyone who has ever picked up a camera—whether film or digital, old or new—and has all the qualities of a great show.

—Ryan Holmes, an Englishman in New York. holmesfromthecrypt.wordpress.com

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