Mixing sharp-focus images of architectural details with out of focus “portraits” of businessmen in suits, Carlos Chavarría’s series “Façade” offers an atmospheric portrait of the buzzing, yet strangely anonymous, financial districts of the United States’ major cities.
The series was first inspired by a set of 8x10 black and white prints that Chavarría discovered in an antique shop in San Francisco one afternoon: in the photographs, groups of men in suits shake hands, smiling. “I was instantly blown away by the images,” Chavarría says. “There was just something about them that I found so compelling: they looked perfect and fake at the same time. The people in the photographs looked so similar to each other, almost like clones…everything had an artificial quality to it.”
Chavarría picks up on this artificiality in “Facade.” Certain elements within his photographs—shiny black leather dress shoes; the almost impossibly smooth surface of a building, shades of grey alternating with deep, inky-blue windows—have a distinctly synthetic air. The patterns are both tranquil in their regularity and unsettling in their perfection. They look like images from a movie set, constructed for this moment and soon to be destroyed.
Interspersed among these strangely absorbing architectural photographs are soft-focus images of businessmen on the street. Too many of these and the series would lose some of its interest, but the occasional blurred-out figure adds a degree of impersonality that gels with the overall dispassion that dominates these spaces. None of the images in the series show a fully recognizable face—slices of light offer glimpses of vices and private interludes, but the viewer has no other details to ground these humanizing moments. Instead, the people in Chavarría’s images lump together into a pile: suit-wearing figures in a vast, concrete landscape.
Chavarría utilizes these motifs intentionally. “Taking the skyscraper and the ‘man in a suit’ as symbols,” his series presents a visual study of the business world from the perspective of an outsider, delving into the anonymity of the city and the camera’s ability to reveal the strange impersonality of these numbing, built environments.
Although Chavarría did not make the comparison himself, his silhouetted forms bear a striking resemblance to Paul Strand’s famous depiction of Wall Street, from 1915.