Each Unhappy in its Own Way: Matthew Clowney Photographs the Family

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As I walked through Matthew Clowney's  Families exhibition at the [Allen Gallery], I was struck by the eerie stillness of these suburban family portraits. While many of the photos have moments of frozen motion, there's a more subtle but affecting emotional stillness that pervades all of the images. No one seems to be relating to one another properly. Fathers and mothers stare through their children with uncomprehending gazes. Longing and passion are suspended. The families are posed and caught in exquisite ice

Clowney has created small fictions about a particular class of suburban life. The photos on display have the air of film stills. The studied poses are elegant, the emotional tone pitch-perfect. I found myself impressed by both the artistic and the emotional composition of Clowney’s work.

Though usually somewhat suspicious of digitally manipulated fine art photography, I found that these photos transcend the cliché to expose rather than manipulate.  His world is sturdily middle class, materially comfortable and deeply, desperately lonely. There is no violence, no confrontation, just chilly moments in suburban time. These arresting and powerful photographs pay the viewer back with their sheer beauty. And you can see them without ever having to visit the suburbs.

Continues through Nov. 7 at 547 W. 27th St. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), 5th fl., 917-202-3206

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