Walking into the relatively new Artland gallery, a small, personal and welcoming space, I did not expect to leave so moved.
Jan Chlebik’s photographs are stunning. Black and white prints that capture the emotion and beauty of urban cityscapes. Towers and office blocks become grids, patterns. Car filled streets are abstracted into blurred silhouettes. These are images familiar and alien. Surprising and poignant.
Chlebik’s images express the experience of city life. Of being lost, insignificant, within a sea of people, buildings and production, and of simultaneously being empowered as an individual. Surrounded by opportunity and activity.
This might sound odd as the photographs present a distinct absence of people. Moments of solitude are snapped by Chlebik’s camera lens. Early mornings, quiet evenings. His cities are still, empty and in wait.
Yet in Chlebik’s photographs it is the people in the indistinguishable cars, and behind the many windows and doors that are presented. It is what we cannot see, what the buildings contain. Voices articulated by the city landscapes. Manchester and New York stand side by side. The line of difference between the two cities becomes undefined. The order of the photographs jumbled. Buildings are shown to be the universal motif of human assertions. They express our collective ambition and also our individual routines. They are evidence of our existence. As Chlebik states, buildings and rooftops are ‘a snapshot of life going on, continuous and all encompassing’.
Either sharp, starkly contrasted, blurred or grainy the photographs of Manchester and New York present unexpected and alternative angles on familiar destinations. These different techniques show the versatility of our urban landscapes. In hazy backgrounds, the buildings rise through the mist like phantoms. In some, the solid buildings slice into far reaching skies. Modern Towers of Babel. Roads that carry solitary cars into harsh white distances feature heavily: journeys being made, beginning or ending, images of potential, independence and freedom. Clocks are also prominent. Time is shown frozen, but suggests it’s passing, evokes the visibility of change. Old churches next to glass towers: the collage and layering of historical architecture visible when walking through our streets.
The blurred images, highly contrasted, turn churches and skyscrapers into dark shadows. X-ray skeletons of daily urban existence. Chlebik’s use of light is wonderful. It shines from above, floats or sears ethereal on window pains and streets. In some, the lines are so sharp the buildings are almost returned to architectural graphics. Routine layered by the many streets and tiled by repetitive windows. Home is made surreal.
There is a sense of nostalgia. The Great Gatsby. Romance. Sadness. Hope. Glamour. Loss. Past and future. All are invoked when standing before Chlebik’s photographs.
They are beautiful and absorbing images. Jan Chlebik’s work makes the minute and huge elements of the city graceful and bold. They articulate a sense of memory. Narrate the possibility present in Manchester, New York, and any urban space. Go and have a look.LINK: http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/Culture/Architecture/Manchester-and-New-York-visit-this-exhibition
PDF:Jan Chlebik, Manchester Confidential, 2nd December 2008