Watching intently

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, The Hamptons, 2008

Philip-Lorcia diCorcia, The Hamptons, 2008

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is one of those people whose work I may not always like – although I often – but will always make the time to go and see. If I’m honest though, the press release for East of Eden, which I saw at David Zwirner in Mayfair in the summer, didn’t really excite me. DiCorcia was quoted as saying that the series, started in 2008 as the sub-prime mortgage crisis caused the economy to fail, was “provoked by the collapse of everything, which seems to me a loss of innocence. People thought they could have anything. And then it just blew up in their faces. I’m using the Book of Genesis as a start.”

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Strangers in the evening light

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Brent Booth; 21 years old; Des Moines, Iowa; $30, 1990-92

If Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads series tells us little of real substance about the people in the pictures then perhaps his Hollywood series tells us too much, though these are pictures that straddle that blurry line between fact and fiction. In Hollywood, as in Hollywood, anything is possible. The series – also known as The Hustlers – was made on a part Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood with a significant population of drug addicts and male prostitutes; for each picture, diCorcia prepared the scene including positioning camera and lights before looking for a suitable subject for the image. Those who agreed to be photographed were asked their name, age and where they came from and these details, along with how much diCorcia paid them to pose, became the titles for the pictures.

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Seeking serendipity as a day job

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Head #10, 2001

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Head #10, 2001

A more recent approach to photographing strangers without permission – albeit a rather less surreptitious one – is that taken by Philip-Lorca diCorcia for his series Heads. This series was made in Times Square, one of the busiest places in New York City and a place where bright lights and tourist cameras go with the territory. DiCorcia rigged up lights, using portable flash synced to his camera which was focused on the area he was lighting, and stood twenty feet  or so away with a telephoto lens on his camera. When someone he wanted to photograph came into his zone of light and focus he pressed the shutter and recorded the head of his subject. Simple.

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