The advent of aerial photography has changed the way people see their world more than any other development since Eadweard Muybridge’s seminal images of moving animals in the second half of the nineteenth century. The impact is immediately visible in Leaning Out, the new solo show by Jeffrey Milstein at Benrubi Gallery, his second at the gallery. Milstein’s overhead images of ports, train yards, airports, parking lots, and cityscapes, shot from small planes and helicopters, reveal harmonious symmetries invisible during daily life, yet are still somehow familiar. It’s as if we’ve seen these views before, or constructed them with an idea of what they would look like from 2,000 feet above the ground.
The geometric mosaics in many images jump out immediately, with shipping containers, train cars, and automobiles slotted together in checkered patterns like gigantic tesserae. Milstein’s bird’s-eye view flattens three dimensions to two and his shutter shrinks several square miles down to the size of a tapestry. The signs of use disappear, the wear and tear, the small distinguishing details, leaving behind bold blocks of color that could as easily be a child’s stacked toys as a massive freight yard or automobile dealership. Ground is transformed to wall, and the underlying (literally) and surprisingly playful pictorial aesthetic that determined the arrangement is revealed.
One can almost lose sight of the fact that these are also industrial images—of transit rather than manufacturing, dissemination rather than creation. The ordered patterns, undulating over topographical variations, initially supersede one’s sense of activity, but gradually it returns in a familiar and ultimately calming, or reassuring, manner. The images suggest that however chaotic or inscrutable modern life might appear, it is the product of age-old patterns that move us in ways we may not consciously perceive, but which nevertheless guide us through our daily routines.