British photographer Chris Dorley-Brown has photographed the borough of Hackney, in London’s East End, for more than 30 years. The microcosms reflected on the street corners suggest the neighborhood’s broader culture, informed by memories both personal and collective.
His photographs, on view at Robert Koch Gallery through March 2, summon a bit of the wry humor of Martin Parr’s portraits of blue-collar English families at New Brighton (a run-down but lively resort town). But the humor in Dorley-Brown’s images stems from the strangeness of figures on the same street corner, yet so disengaged from each other, the result of the multiple exposures that form each image. He sets up a camera, sometimes for up to an hour, to record multiple moments in time, then layers the images to suggest a single scene. One photograph features two Hasidic subjects, a woman and a man, both pushing prams – one is crossing the street, the other is poised on the corner. The partly demolished building in the background, separated from street traffic by a green fence, might suggest neighborhood gentrification or unnamed war zones.
Dorley-Brown’s photos contain deep specificity – in one image, a pedestrian in a hat under a movie marquee advertising Looking for Eric looks lost himself; a man nearby bends to pick up coins, and in the background a hijab-wearing woman seems removed from the rest of the scene. But these photographs are also everyman’s version of any man’s corner, with people performing idiosyncratic yet pedestrian activities and errands.
Dorley-Brown has talked about wanting to challenge Henri Cartier-Bresson’s maxim of the decisive moment. His own photographs seem antithetical to the single decisive moment, given that they are conscious compilations of many moments, spliced encapsulations of our contemporary lives, peopled by various perspectives . The dateline specificity of the image titles –Palatine Road, Stoke Newington Road, 13:09pm – 13:21pm, 16th July 2014, for example – refers to this process: A split second stretches into a longer instant, minutes containing multiple memories – the many accumulations of what a street corner, in a city, remembers.