Leo Rubinfien

November 8 — December 22, 2001


Leo Rubinfien is one of photography's great travelers, and his pictures are rich with the beauty of life on the road. These images are less about exotic, faraway places and more about the shared landscapes of in-between places: the railway compartment, the aircraft cabin, the airport terminal, tourists at a celebrated monument, or the luminous mixture of sun, water and air that a passenger glimpses through an airplane window. Included in the exhibition are a series of the artist's most recent photographs, some of which are published in Blind Spot #19. In these images of billboards and signs we sense his fascination with their combination of ugliness and beauty and the dreams of youth, wealth and love that they convey.

In The New York Times, Charles Hagen explains that the strength of Rubinfien's photographs "lies in their ability to evoke discovery and surprise, alienation and introspection, that for many people characterizes the experience of travel. For many people this uneasy blend of emotions includes homesickness and melancholy, a yearning to be no longer the outsider. This feeling comes through strongly in Mr. Rubinfien's lonely, elegant pictures." Maria Morris Hambourg, curator of photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes his book, A Map of the East "as vivid and aching as brands on the heart."

Leo Rubinfien was born in Chicago in 1953. He has photographed in more than 40 countries across the world. Among other prestigious awards, he has received the Guggenheim Fellowship. His photographs have been exhibited widely at major museums in the United States, Europe and Japan, and are included in many collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran Gallery and the Cleveland and Seattle Art Museums.

Art In America
March 2002

At first glance, there is little to recommend Leo Rubinfien's photograph of a sleek glass wall that fills the frame, both sections of a double glass door angled out onto an ordinary day. The photographer excepted, no one seems to care about the mountains of no obvious distinction in the background, or the swath of anonymous urban growth running to a strip of shoreline and a bay. This is something seen in passing, the unintended by-product of the day — no postcard for a tourist, no iconic view. But this scenic nullity is A View From The Sugar Loaf (2000), showing what from most other conceivable points of view is one of the most memorable sites in the world. And it is among Rubinfien's choices for an exhibition of chromogenic dye coupler prints that speaks of the alienation and introspection of travel, from the point of view of one who knows about these things.

One category within his genre of forgotten time en route is "windows." Businessmen gesture from the windows of a corner suite in In The Tokyo City Hall (1992), the metropolis stretching outbeyond, reflected in the glass that makes the men seem transparent. A vaulted ceiling rises above a glass-walled balcony ringed with spectators in At The Tokyo Stock Exchange (1996), recalling Andrea Gursky's 1990 view of the same location (different subject, altogether different point of view). A traveler smokes a cigarette and looks away from the window of a moving train. A girl in Reeboks, khakis and an oxford shirt, seated next to an airplane window, dozes over a magazine article headlined "How To Get Time On Your Side." A tousle-haired young man sits by a window at a table littered with a coffee cup, two glasses, two cans of Coke and a pack of cigarettes, reading the English language, China Daily, passing time in Peking (Rubinfien consistently uses the city's former name). An older man stands by a bulkhead, addressing an unseen fellow passenger. Shot through a window, with no one else in sight, Over Lake Michigan, Leaving Chicago (1994), conveys the sense of time suspended in passage and the solitary romance of the traveler who endures.

The images followed one another cheek by jowl with mild variations on a chilling and familiar theme, the place between places. A detail of a billboard in Prague showed a variation of a reclining traveler resting by a window, in an outfit that recalled the 1940s, the image an assembly of dots in faded green and yellow. The exhibition concluded with an examination of a placard advertisement in a Peking store, a close-in frame of a consumer holding a cellular phone. He presses the 'connect' button, as though engaging a video conferencing capacity. A woman's face appears on the monitor before him, seemingly summoned by his call. This most recent photograph in Rubinfien's exhibition is emblematic of his subjects' suppressed desire to reach out and touch, implicit in his representation of their isolation.

The New Yorker
November 26, 2001

When most photographers have their cameras packed away in overhead compartments, Rubinfien is taking pictures — of the sunrise from an airplane window, partially obscured by the wing; a fellow passenger curled in a window seat, viewed from the aisle; a family stranded on a layover. With a tender eye, he observes the spaced-out zone his fellow travellers retreat into, half-asleep even when awake. Some of the images convey a mood of vague excitement, others a dystopia of rootlessness.