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Our Tiny Town

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You are not looking at toys or models, built with tweezers in some guy’s basement. In fact, the image you see here is from a series of actual photos of our actual city, taken by the Modena artist Olivo Barbieri and on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery through May 28. He works with a six-by-eight view camera—one of those big old beasts with a bellows—and adjusts the film plane slightly out of true, mimicking the look of an extreme close-up at tabletop scale. Tilt-shift photography (as it’s called) is an old way of correcting for distortion when shooting a tall building from below. Here, says Barbieri, “I use it the wrong way”; seen downward, New York looks more like the Queens Museum’s Panorama, but bristling with color and life.

These are not easy pictures to make. Barbieri works from a helicopter, producing a lot of shaky, unusable frames of film. “I had to shoot 6,000 to get sixteen that look good,” he says. They turn familiar places like Times Square (seen at right) into something uncanny and new that evokes childhood play. I can’t resist asking him: Did you by any chance have a model train as a child? “Yes!” he says. “Like every boy!”


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