For his current exhibition, D.C.-area photographer Michael A. Lang decided to slow down. Lang, who uses leg braces and crutches due to a bout with childhood polio, wanted to take a “more intense observation of his surroundings” as he made his way around the streets of New York City.
It’s not that Lang’s past subjects have been fast and furious; he’s previously mounted D.C. exhibits on an old-timey Baltimore pool hall, poor residents of Mississippi, and drag performers getting ready in their dressing rooms. Still, his current set of offerings give off a more relaxed vibe.
Perhaps half of Lang’s images are on the wrong side of mundane: non-working payphones; a worker preparing a shop window; doors and walls bearing painted messages; disembodied pedestrians’ legs; assorted people with their bikes. A trio of images of transit passengers can’t approach the famed subway-rider series by Walker Evans.
But other works are more inspired, like the three-part panorama of a New York City park bustling with oblivious visitors, or the bracing, highly detailed image of a newsstand rendered in a style that bridges the photorealistic paintings of Richard Estes and the large-scale documentary work of Edward Burtynsky.
However, the place where Lang really finds his groove is the Museum of Modern Art. In one smartly conceived 6 x 6 matrix of color images, Lang records the comings and goings of visitors surveying a Jackson Pollock drip painting, nicely timing and editing his exposures so that figures drift in and out of the frames in a surprisingly orderly fashion.
Lang’s finest work captures figures standing on a distant balcony, seemingly cut off mid-torso by a bright red, translucent barrier much closer to the camera’s lens; visible through that lower barrier is a smattering of people one floor below who have been turned almost devilish by the red overlay. Lang isn’t the first person to mine the museum experience for fine art—-James Osher produced a series that cleverly documented tourists’ distracted visits to famous works of art—-but seeing the success of Lang’s museum efforts, it’s hard not to wonder why we haven’t seen more.
Through April 26 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW (202) 547-2787. Wed-Fri 11-6, Sat-Sun 12-5.