Our client, Matthew Pillsbury, was recently featured in the New Yorker Magazine for his work documenting the reopening of New York City. Using Phase One medium format solutions, Matthew captured several long-exposure scenes across the city representing the return of New York. We interviewed Matthew to learn more and discuss his creative approach for this project.
Describe your creative approach to photography. What fuels your passion and where do you draw inspiration from?
I grew up in Paris and I think that the life on the street, the passion for cinema, and the centuries of art that surrounded me inspired me from an early age. When I got to Yale I took an intro photography class and at the end of that first semester when my teacher Lois Conner brought in her work made with a 7×17 Large format camera I knew that I wanted to learn how to capture the world in a similar way. I started making work with an 8×10 which remained my only camera until I tried Phase One. I have been mostly inspired by other photographers that were using a large format camera particularly the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Abelardo Morell.
Tell us more about your recent project, featured in The New Yorker. How did you get involved in capturing the re-opening of New York?
Since 2004 I have been making long exposure photographs capturing the movement of people in various cities with an emphasis on NYC where I live. Most of us spent 2020 in relative isolation and I was eager to get back into the world as soon as I was vaccinated. It quickly became apparent that this summer would have a different energy to it. There was the release of pent-up energy- and eagerness to getting together and celebrating life.
There is also some unease–about the safety of what we are doing and the difficult recovery both for the city and for so many of its residents. As I started working on the images, I realized that I was capturing something special and I wanted to work with the New Yorker on a portfolio. We started collaborating on ideas for the locations to include and how to go about getting permissions to come into these spaces just as they were reopening.
Describe your experience with the Phase One IQ4 150MP for this project. How did it help enable you to achieve your creative vision?
This project would have been nearly impossible with any other camera I have used in the past. Many of the settings were very crowded and I needed to be able to set myself up quickly. Also, the Phase One IQ4 has done away with the acquiring time so I’m able to take another exposure immediately rather than wait for the camera to “process” the first image.
Finally, I made use of the new frame averaging feature in addition to the neutral density filters I had been using. With longer exposures the result can be nearly identical but in these quicker exposures the frame averaging takes on a multi-exposure appearance that reminds me of Muybridge’s studies of motion. In pictures like Deeno’s wonder wheel, the staccato movement effect of the frame averaging creates a very different feel than the softer neutral density does.
Tell us about one of your favorite photos from the project.
One of my favorites from the project didn’t make the final edit for the magazine- it was taken on the floor of 3 Dollar Bill during the Pride Playground party. I was in a moving sea of people and wanted to capture their energy as they danced and celebrated. I kept playing around with the length of my exposure as I wanted to capture the movement of the people while leaving some of the bodies more recognizable than in some of my other images. Again, the speed and ease with which the camera can be set up and the settings adjusted were paramount in capturing this scene.
Learn More About Matthew’s Work