Daniel Arnold: New York Life @New York Life Gallery

JTF (just the facts): A total of 33 color photographs, framed in white and matted, and hung against white painted brick walls in the main gallery space. (Installation shots below.)

The following works are included in the show:

  • 4 chromogenic prints, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2023, 45×30 inches, in editions of 3+2AP
  • 11 chromogenic prints, 2014, 2015, 2019, 2022, 21×14 inches, in editions of 7+2AP
  • 18 chromogenic prints, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022, 2023, 12×8 inches, in editions of 10+2AP

Comments/Context: Because so much of what we might call “classic” street photography was made decades ago, an undercurrent of nostalgia now permeates the serendipitous juxtapositions found in those images. As we marvel at the “decisive moment” fortuitousness that put an unlikely situation into a single photographic frame, we also revel in the subtle differences in fashions, poses, signage, and architecture that take us back to a different time. As the pictures age, the momentary strangeness or humor they capture is further amplified by this time traveling, making the scenes that much more rich and singularly unexpected.

But when we look at contemporary street photography, our familiarity with the current surfaces and fashions found in the city alters this dynamic – we are in a sense present for these visual discoveries, so the photographer’s findings somehow feel more intimate and connected to our daily existence. They document variations of scenes we have seen ourselves passing through the streets, and their eccentricities and found oddities help define the rhythms of the city at this particular moment. It is this recognizable immediacy that gives the pictures some of their vitality, like a time capsule in the making.

Over the past decade, Daniel Arnold has quietly cemented his position as a new voice worth following in contemporary street photography by consistently doing what street photographers must do – get out in the streets and uncover the visual moments that make us look again. This gallery show builds on his successful 2021 photobook Pickpocket (reviewed here) and another gallery show of roughly that same material in 2022 (reviewed here), mixing brand new images made in the last year or two with a selection of pictures drawn from his archives. It’s another notable step forward in solidifying his reputation, with plenty of standout images.

Understated visual humor is a staple of street photography, and Arnold finds plenty in his urban wanderings. Relatively simple setups capture the edge of a man’s coat caught in the closed door of his car and a girl with her head stuck in a bodega freezer. In other images, Arnold matches passersby with nearby signage, seeing an Atomic Wings entrance above a man with very large ears and placing a Polar Bear of New York truck behind the grizzled white head of an older man. And two older images from Arnold’s archive add to the wry comedy, with a woman bent over fixing her high heeled shoe as a death skeleton at a Coney Island attraction appears to notice her and a bored young boy caught in a Times Square crowd with a single middle finger seemingly raised to communicate with the photographer.

Part of the talent of any street photographer also lies in his or her ability to quickly arrange the available space to capture the seeming interaction of various individuals, and many of the images included in this show feature Arnold’s framing talents. He finds a way to elegantly arrange no less than six supporting figures surrounding a bride outside a downtown courthouse, creating echoes between different hues of blue and white. He finds similar magic in four girls waiting outside a food truck in Soho, the invisible wind blowing their hair in the same direction. Other pictures use layering of inside and outside to create interaction, with the flattening of the space adding to the apparent proximity in the compositions. Arnold connects a woman washing the glass of a storefront window (from the inside) with a man looking in from the sidewalk, a man working inside a hot dog cart with his customer outside, and a woman who sees herself in her pocket mirror while taking in a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the East River ferry.

Couples have often been a promising subject for street photographers, as their interest in each other can sometimes make them unaware of what’s going on around them. Arnold starts with simple examples, like a couple tenderly touching foreheads in Central Park and another pair kissing in the fountain in Washington Square park. He then adds an edge of the absurd in two other images, one with a couple embracing while watching the work of firefighters in Chinatown, while the other seemingly documents the moment before disaster, as a young woman encourages her boyfriend to venture out onto the frozen surface of the Central Park duck pond for a quick photo.

Still other images included in this show turn on the momentary discovery of something altogether surprising. Arnold shows us the menacingly swarming gulls at the Coney Island beach (with the Parachute Jump tower framed perfectly in the distance), the incongruous face of a Black woman with smiling white mouth COVID mask, a “Live, Love, Laugh” tattoo (along with other feel good messages) on a middle aged man’s stomach, and another woman wearing a dermatology face mask as she walks down the street blithely looking at her phone. In each case, we as viewers perform a bit of a double take, with the unlikely strangeness of the situation taking a few moments to register.

As seen in his past few gallery shows and photobooks, Arnold’s career-to-date has been methodically building momentum by sticking to the basics and honing his craft. While the arrival rate of great moments to photograph in the streets is inherently unpredictable, Arnold’s hit rate seems to be increasing, with more and more strong compositions being pulled out of the everyday chaos of the urban environment. The learning seems to be that there will always be vibrant street photography in a place like New York city, particularly when there are enough committed and talented photographers like Arnold to keep chasing its elusive treasures.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The large 45×30 inch prints are $8000 each; the mid sized 21×14 inch are $3000 each; and the small 12×8 inch prints are $1200 each. Arnold’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Send this article to a friend

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Anselm Kiefer, Punctum @Gagosian

Anselm Kiefer, Punctum @Gagosian

JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 photographic works, generally framed in steel and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. The following works ... Read on.

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter