This Week In Photography Books: Lynn Saville

by Jonathan Blaustein

I’m sitting in a silent room, over-looking a lilting snowman.

Is there anything more beautiful than a snow-covered field? The sunlight reflects into your eyes, and the blue sky looms above, like an approving grandma.

Perfect.

It’s odd to feel tranquil and safe, in this week when illusions of such phenomena were shattered like the outer layer a frozen puddle, when you crunch it with your boot.

Paris.
Such horror.

As this is an opinion column, it’s hard not to comment on the miserable situation that played out on Friday, November 13. (OMG, I’m only now realizing those assholes did it on Friday the 13th. Sick bastards.)

But what do you say? How can I add anything to the discussion that hasn’t been said already, or isn’t so blindingly obvious that it need not be said?

I will say this: my heart goes out to all the innocent people who lost their lives. To their loved ones, whose time on Earth will never be the same. To the residents of all the cities out there who now feel so threatened. Who grapple with an underlying level of fear and anxiety that will not go away any time soon.

But I also think about all the people, tens of millions really, who live that way already. Who reside in places like Iraq, Syria, Mali, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Israel, Ukraine, etc.

There are so many who live in situations where bombings, assassinations, destruction and mayhem are a part of daily life. Yet we collectively lose our minds when it happens in a place like Paris. In the West. With all the beauty and historic architecture.

I may not be a real journalist, (the jury’s out,) but I did write in this very column, not too long ago, about the banlieues in Paris. We looked at “Dédale,” by Laurent Chardon, and how he implied that the bleak, miserable surroundings in the Parisian suburbs must be wreaking havoc on the mentality of their inhabitants.

We are humans, and therefore flawed. Society, made up of humans on a mass scale, is therefore flawed as well. Should our species survive as long into the future as it has into the past, it will never lack for violence and misery.

But when chaos hits close to home, it feels that much worse. That’s how terrorism works. And lest you think I’m excusing anyone, I’ve already written on multiple occasions that ISIS are **the worst people on Earth**.

But the appeal of their recruitment pitch is not hard to discern.

They find young men, troublemakers already, who are of the lowest status in their home (or adopted) countries. They have no girlfriend, no job prospects, no future to speak of. These men most often live in the kind of miserable neighborhoods you might see in a Dardenne brothers film. (Brussels anyone?)

To these young men, they offer the chance to be heroes, to a certain audience.

Legends.

These recruits will get to play war, cops and robbers, spy vs spy, whatever clichéd story-book narrative you’d like to use. They will be famous, lauded by a crowd of social media well-wishers. And then, when it all goes wrong, as it always does, they won’t have to spend their lives in jail, tortured daily, nor confined to the hell of solitary confinement.

No, they will not.

Instead of facing decades of potential rape behind bars, with the push of a button, these sociopaths get to go to heaven, attended by 72 virgins. Permanent blowjobs, forever.

Which is to say that as long as there are oppressed, disturbed, and under-employed young men in the world, (and occasionally women) then this message will find fertile soil.

These ISIS killers don’t respect life, so it’s easy for them to take it from others. I may hope we wipe them all from the face of the Earth, but the ideas that motivate them are much harder to eradicate. (See Neal Stephenson’s seminal “Snow Crash,” for the best prediction on the power of viral information.)

It takes books and medical care and job opportunities to defeat that sort of nihilism.

Not bombs.

Because you can’t explode an idea.

In so many cities, here in the US, after 9/11, people did live in fear. Always looking over their shoulders. Is that backpack sitting by itself? Does that Muslim guy look shifty to you? If you see something, say something.

Eventually, those fears receded.

Cities without people feel scary. Emptiness, devoid of light, takes on a type of menace with which most of us are familiar. That’s why these assholes attacked social gatherings. They want to scare people away from drinking and fun. (Remember: no booze under Sharia law.)

Empty cities project a palpable energy, and the camera loves nothing so much as a cinematic scene. Which is why people have been so receptive to “Dark Cities, Urban America at Night,” a project by Lynn Saville, just released in book form by Damiani.

(Even today, I managed to make it back around to a photo-book.)

I have to admit, I like, but don’t really love these pictures. I’ve seen so many of them before, and I’ve even made some myself. (Haven’t we all?) But as a collection, it makes for a very attractive publication.

The pictures are moody without being outright scary. Taken at dawn and dusk, (dubbed the magic hours for a reason,) the images resonate calm and quiet, rather than “a bomb is about to go off” anxiety. As the artist is a New Yorker, I not-surprisingly appreciated the pictures taken out of town, when her discovery-meter was dialed up a little higher.

Upon second viewing, I became more aware of the construction metaphor. People are building, always building, whether it’s a pyramid or a skyscraper. And the empty storefronts, turning over, being re-energized, gives a temporal marker of American cities coming back after the wreckage of the Great Recession.

There’s one picture with a mural in it that says, “This is happening in your city right now.” I considered opening today’s column with that very quote, as Parisians, Londoners, Berliners, New Yorkers and Madrilenos are all worried more today than they were before. (The end notes credit Michael Conlin and William Butler for the Albany mural.)

Unless you’re reading this in Aleppo, or Mosul, or Donetsk, your city is likely safe enough to explore. You can go out for a coffee, and likely not have to worry about getting killed. So in this time of global sadness, let’s remember to appreciate the freedoms we often take for granted.

Bottom Line: Beautiful photos of American cities at night

To Purchase “Dark Cities, Urban America at Night” Visit Photo-Eye

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Jonathan Blaustein

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