Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Matt Mikulla's Nashville Postcards

Matt Mikulla is showing his best series of photos so far. Matt, for anyone not familiar with him, has workspace and spacious gallery for his own work in the Arcade. He opened up in that big round of new activity last summer.

Sometimes Matt seems overly caught up in the technical process of his photogrpahy (a lot of what he does is interesting) and the aesthetics are not taken as far as I’d like. But the current series has plenty going on.

These are color shots of Nashville scenes—some landmarks like the Country Music Hall of Fame, others more anonymous streetscapes. He manipulates them in Photoshop, and that’s where things get interesting. First of all, the focus on the images is handled so that a few details come out in sharp definition, with the rest fairly blurred. He’s also manipulated the colors so they don’t look quite real—the green leaves of trees look like the lichen used in model railroads. The combination of these elements, and also the lighting/exposure, make it look like he has photographed miniatures. The palette is also similar to old postcards with their colored black and white photos. (BTW, these are not postcard sized prints, but normal sizes for photo prints.)

A photo like this one, of the Country Music Hall of Fame, could be a postcard image, almost, except for the odd effect of the Hall of Fame standing out clearly and background elements like the crane on the apartment building fading into a blur. The grass in the foreground seems a little too yellow, like a color print that has faded (although taken at the right time of the year, this might have been close to the actual tone).

In this one, the Customs House seems to have a flat exterior surface with details painted on, and the light seems artificial, somehow too even or too white.

He also finds unlikely landmarks, like this metal scrapyard. But the same thing, the mid-ground building and the pile of metal in focus, the rest not.

In this shot of the intersection at 5th and Commerce, taken from high in one of the buildings on Church Street, the cars look like nothing so much as toys.

Things seen from a height often seem like toys, so try this one from Broadway with street-level perspective, especially the trolley and the frontloader.

I don't know if the sensation of these as miniatures comes out over the web, but the effect is very strong in the gallery.

On one level these photos are Matt’s entry into the scenes of Nashville photography market, with a nice twist to differentiate them from the many other versions of some of these scenes. Commercially, it's a good idea to have something like this to offer people who walk into his gallery. But his twist turns the images into imagined ersatz versions of the landmarks and streetscapes. And that suggests the idea that downtown Nashville, like any place that caters to tourists, has become a sort of Disneyland recreation of a place where music is produced and performed, empty facades and too obviously mass produced surfarces. And in the context where the urban downtown becomes the scene for spectacle, which both celebrates consumption and itself becomes an object of consumption, even the gritty, “real” places like metal recycling plants get swept up into this spectacle landscape, somehow playing into the overall drama of consumption that is the purpose of these spaces in the contemporary socio-economic order. (Thank you Guy Debord)

It makes these photos right odd as momentos of downtown, with their subtle reference to the artificiality of spatial relationships mediated through a speculative and spectacular economy to such an extreme degree that the living city seems replaced by a brittle representation of the city.


  • These photos are amazing! It's hard to believe they are pictures of real things, not miniatures. The most original perspective I've seen in ages.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:18 AM  

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