One could argue that Richard Finkelstein’s work is as much about modeling as it is about photography. In this exhibition of 18 medium-format prints on view at Robert Mann Gallery through January 30, Finkelstein draws us into his miniature, cinematic world, bringing villages, streets, houses, and movie theaters to life. In order to reproduce this environment and explore the experience of film, the subject of the series, Finkelstein conjures a dark, intriguing atmosphere. Movie screens, which are sometimes contemplated by his imaginary characters, are a constant presence in the images, either literally or by implication. The figures and scenes in these photographs are so delicately fabricated that they are endowed with an intangible sense of reality.
These scenes take place in various locations – inside movie theaters, outdoors, in houses and on the streets – sometimes with a single main character who wanders off, possibly prey to a tragic event, or perhaps a romantic tryst. That would seem to be one of Finkelstein’s objectives: to call forth our imagination, so that each photograph suggests the prelude to a film. With only cursory clues, he encourages us to imagine ourselves as these little strangers.
Finkelstein draws inspiration from the movies and painting, especially Hitchcock and Hopper, and he shares his meticulous aesthetic and sense of mis-en-scene with a number of contemporary photographers, including Paolo Ventura, Alex Prager, Julie Blackmon, and Holly Andres. If his series is not particularly revolutionary, it creates a certain enchantment around this Lilliputian world and the mastery required to create it. In particular, we are drawn to the model exhibited alongside the photographs, in a large box in the middle of the room, which recalls the personal universe created by children with the blocks and figurines at hand.