But this particular box drew some attention when photographer John Chiara and his assistant pointed it at the nearby Frank Gehry-designed building and began making photographs.
DAMN°: Where did you get the idea to use a big camera?
DAMN°: Your photos from San Francisco seemed almost normal. But something was different; it was like seeing through alien eyes, clear but colour tinged, with a strange light.
DAMN°: And the idea to shoot one-of-a-kind negatives on paper?
JC: There was something about the negative, especially in certain urban settings, that allowed me to give the subliminal ideals a voice. To bring them out. For example, in Oakland I photographed a modernist sculpture that was rusty and covered with graffiti. Nobody looks at it anymore; it’s a relic but it won’t be taken down. It struck me as representative of a whole set of modernist ideals that still operate in the midst of this devastated landscape. Shooting in the negative seemed to emphasise the ideal character of this old aspiration.
DAMN°: Was it that modernist optimism, now so compromised, that brought you to New York?
JC: The idea of modernist purity and perfection is gone from art but it is still claimed by architecture, so yes. But it was more that New York was a challenge I knew I had to take on. I mean, do people actually photograph seriously there anymore? You could photograph a gutter and everyone would know that it’s New York. I did not want to hide behind irony. I wanted to avoid clichés and make the series truly about New York. What I found was that the ordinary became transformed in the large negative images. That process draws things out. Gradations of light become geometric forms and start to glow. The pho- tos are electric but without the obvious noise and bustle of the city. They convey the energy.
DAMN°: What about security? These days, any- one photographing on the street is suspect. Frank Gehry’s IAC headquarters is a wonderful sight, but shooting it is just the sort of thing to get you noticed.
JC: Actually, it’s probably a little easier to photograph in a big city with a giant camera because we look like guys moving equipment. With the Gehry building, we made the mistake of leaning our backs against the glass, which goes all the way to the ground. It spoiled the building’s perfection. The security people said to us: “Don’t ever-ever do that.”
DAMN°: It’s interesting that you’ve focused on unconventional buildings, like apartment buildings in Brooklyn. Are you consciously avoiding the big- ticket items, the greatest hits?
JC: I stay away from iconic structures until I have something to bring to them. In Los Angeles, I couldn’t do the ocean until I had the realisation that it was a kind of desert. I tried to shoot at Ground Zero, but the security there is so intense that even if they didn’t know what I was doing, the need for a long exposure guaranteed that I would be confront- ed. I tried to get 40 seconds, but with no luck, and then one of the officers came over and said: “These are the rules, but I have some discretion here. Take your picture.” It’s possible that at some point I may do the Flatiron building. But I’m not ready yet.