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Review: Richard Kraft photographs anonymous souls on London Tube

December 27, 2012|By Leah Ollman
  • Richard Kraft's "Stamp Edition" photographs of subway riders at Charlie James.
Richard Kraft's "Stamp Edition" photographs of subway… (Charlie James Gallery )

His camera hidden beneath his coat, Walker Evans was, in his own words, a "penitent spy and ... apologetic voyeur" when making a series of portraits in the New York subway from 1938-41. Richard Kraft's new photographs at Charlie James were inspired by Evans' work and have a similar power, flirting at once with the psychological, the sociological and the philosophical.

Kraft, raised in London and based in L.A., made his pictures by surreptitiously shooting video on the London Tube, then photographing chosen stills. Where Evans retained some of the subway setting's flavor, even after cropping the pictures for publication, Kraft eliminates all context, rendering each tightly-framed face a pure taxonomic study straddling particularity and anonymity.

In the main gallery, Kraft shows large black-and-white prints (44-by-58 1/2 inches) of subjects gazing absently or inwardly, or appearing to meet the photographer's eye. Paradoxically, the images are more potent when small and installed in greater numbers, as in the basement gallery, where 100 "Stamp Edition" pictures hang in a grid.

Most of the subjects appear multiple times and the effect is filmic. The effort suggests some sort of humanistic surveillance project that doesn't reduce each citizen to the status of inconsequential unit but instead consecrates them all as  representative faces of the nation.

The relationship between part and whole also factors into another series on display, in which Kraft cuts the pages of James Joyce's "Ulysses" and another book into constituent bits and reassembles each text as a single, illegible collage, a continuous field of discontinuous fragments.

Both novels are transformed from tales that elapse over time into images that occupy space. Whether coherent narratives or patterned abstractions, they are made, interestingly, of the very same stuff.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, (213) 687-0844, through Feb. 2. Closed Sunday through Tuesday. www.cjamesgallery.com

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