C Magazine
Reports: Luis Mallo at Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Review by Scott Walden, 1998

In his homage to Walker Evans, Luis Mallo candidly photographs not the faces but the hands of passengers on the New York City subway. There are approximately fifty black-and-white images, each similar in composition: a vertical rectangle with the hands typically occupying the bottom third and the top edge arriving just at the base of the neck. All the subjects are seated, dressed in winter garb, with their hands – the only flesh visible – variously occupied: clutching objects or simply folded in the lap.
Any one of these images could stand on its own. Each is deftly printed so that the clothing forms a ground for the hands – a high-key ground for black skin and the reverse for white. Such contrasts convey a sense of ambient far richer than the flat utilitarian illumination associated with the subway, and one is left with the impression that the subjects are somewhere special – church perhaps, or even a funeral parlour. The overall effect is to convey a sense of dignity and quietness, no mean feat given the actual setting.
The images are invariably presented in groups, either in horizontal rows or in larger grids. In one such row, the sequence of images conveys a sense of the passage of time, as a single pair of hands is repeatedly photographed in the process of knitting. But such looking beyond Evans to Muybridge’s time-and-motion studies is the exception and timelessness is in fact what is best conveyed by Mallo’s grouped images.
Indeed such is the timelessness of these images that they could be cropped portions of Evan’s own negatives. And it is this way that Mallo quietly, thoughtfully, powerfully and with due reverence to Evans, makes the case that we are the same people today, down there riding the trains, as Evans found in his own time.

 
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