Artist photographs what is left behind

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Artist photographs what is left behind


The hollow, isolated buildings and their interiors in the large, 57 by 71 inch photographs by Brian McKee have a sense of timelessness and a modern approach to the remains of history, in their minimal lines and broken down silhouettes hinting at just an idea of a place, without blurting out its full history.
The exhibition, titled “Urbanus,” ― of or pertaining to the confines of a city ― is the last in the artist’s three-part series titled “Detritus.” For the “Detritus” series, made up of “Detritus,” “Re-build-ings” and “Urbanus,” the artist traveled through Afghanistan (Detritus), Uzbekistan (Re-build-ings) and India (Urbanus) to photograph deserted buildings looking for detritus, or what we have left behind.
All of the buildings represent cities and societies that were “once vibrant and monumental,” McKee said. “I wanted to create a visual image of collapse and rebuilding, and how we can interpret this process to reflect on ourselves.”
Of 26 photographs from “Urbanus,” 12 are shown in The Columns Art Center for Visual and Performing Arts in the Cheongdam district of southern Seoul. The photographs are of ancient buildings in India that were used as “metaphors for the inevitable collapse of societies,” noted the artist.
The 29-year-old photographer, who currently lives and works in New York City, started taking pictures when he was 15 but decided to go to Bard College to study poetry under John Ashbery. During his time in university however, he also studied photography under Stephen Shore, who introduced him to the 8 by 10 inch format camera McKee has used exclusively since. “I realized that I was better at portraying my poetry through photographs rather than writing poetry,” he recalled. Since then, he has shown in galleries in New York, Austria, Germany and elsewhere, including at the 2004 Brussels International Art Expo, “25 Under 25” at the Tisch gallery in New York City the same year, and at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York City.
Walking through the photographs, one is left feeling that there is a meticulous and straightforward eye lurking behind the camera. Mckee said, “Before I go to a place to travel and take photographs, I usually study about and do research on the region for around six months. I don’t like randomly going to a place with just an idea to take photographs there.”
Mckee’s dislike of randomness in his work also reflects the way he photographs buildings. “I use only natural light. I spend many hours sometimes waiting for the right light to hit the buildings,” he explained, adding, “There are, also, no human figures or decorative objects in the photographs.”
However, the artist says his work is not rigidly calculated, saying, “Wholeness is important but my images are not perfectly centered, whether it is the focal point or the main object.”

by Cho Jae-eun

“Urbanus” will be showing through June 24 at The Columns Art Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. The nearest subway is Cheongdam station, line No. 7, exit 9. Opening hours are Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday (Closed on Sundays). For more information, call (02) 3442-6301 or visit
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