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It is a gloomy and rather skeptical view of New York that Groebli portrays in New York 1978. The sensuousness and levity of his earlier (and later) works here give way to a melancholic-introverted view of a tough and extroverted metropolis. Here, loneliness looks through the camera’s viewfinder at an apparently impenetrable unknown. And almost threateningly it looks back at us. Keep Off!
And yet, it is autumn when in 1978 René Groebli comes to New York to explore the city just for himself, unencumbered by the usual tight schedules. It should have been a season when a summer-heated New York finally cools down, the city collectively breathes easier and the autumnal light makes the changing leaves glow.
René Groebli’s images, however, tell of grey days and bleak nights, of rain-soaked streets and seemingly deserted urban canyons. Keep Off! Perhaps the reason was that New York was in a deep crisis at the time, marked by decay, neglect and brutalisation.The city was deeply unsettled and irritated. As a photographer it must be hard to shirk this, even if René Groebli mentioned that, in fact, he had always started out “bright and happy” with the Nikon in his hand. He experienced fantastic things during his wanderings in the streets of New York, he says.
Everything seems melancholically, even apocalyptically charged. And yet, other images are rather playful, with a twinkle in the eye, for instance when he literally recruits toys as some of the elements he inserts into the New York scenes, like Donald Duck before the Saurien sculpture by Alexander Calder, or the red fire engine careening through the nocturnal streets, or Barbie on Times Square. This is the New York as René Groebli must have felt it in his guts. But what unites Groebli’s sombre city views with these laconic-ironic image montages is his perceived distance to the city and his subsequent soul-searching. “Keep Off” had been sprayed on a house that already seems quite uninviting. Groebli understood correctly: It was not an expression of refractory hospitality, but rather an invitation to produce images.
With an essay by Daniel Blochwitz
first limited edition 2017
64 pages, 30 cm x 29 cm, hardcover, german/english
Sturm & Drang publishers 2017