Sunday, July 6, 2008

The man through the window

It's Only Natural restaurant in the Main Street Market is also a gallery, displaying and selling the work of local artists.  The striking photographs framed in old windows that have graced the walls for the past few months are by a Middletown resident, Anthony Valerio.  I spoke with Anthony about his work, his life, and Middletown.
Anthony was born in Manhattan, raised in Brooklyn, and spent the 1960s through the 1990s working and living the New York literary scene.  About 13 years ago, love lured him from Manhattan to Middletown, and in the years since, Middletown has gone from being a place of frequent visits to his home. What he enjoys most about Middletown is being part of a community--getting waffles at O'Rourkes, eggs from a local farmer, seeing people on a regular basis, going to It's Only Natural for lunch. He continues to write, most recently publishing two short books, Toni Cade Bambara's One Sicilian Night, a memoir and The Little Sailor (perhaps to be reviewed at another time).  I was most interested in his photography, which he says was partly an outcome of the loneliness of the writer's life.  For him, writing is a morning activity, and by early afternoon he finds himself looking for something else to do. While living in Bologna for a year, he spent those afternoons with a camera on the streets, taking pictures. Back in Middletown, he is working with these photographs, putting pictures in a new setting by framing them in discarded windows.  
Anthony says photography has a refreshing spontaneity that writing does not. Perhaps the lack of total control in street photography is liberating to someone who as a writer has total control over the words he puts on paper. However, Anthony's photographs are highly structured and composed. 
My favorite piece is the photograph of the advertisement on the side of a bus in Rome.  It presents contradictory images.  On the one hand it is a black and white picture of a cobble-stoned street, in front of a brick and marble building, with people strolling by and a man reading the newspaper on a city bus.  It is framed in a white window frame from an old house. These features make it a Rome through which Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck could be romancing.  On the other hand, a supersized advertisement for lingerie is printed on the side of the bus showing a beautiful woman with her legs seductively draped on either side of the bus' rear tire.  The framing by a window works especially well for this photograph. I feel like a  voyeur, peeking through the window of somebody's house, leering at a woman in her lingerie.  But beyond, through the (bus) window behind the woman, is a man completely oblivious to me, reading his paper. Though my voyeuristic eyes were originally drawn to the woman in the lingerie, ultimately I feel more guilty for looking at the man privately reading his paper. It is his privacy that I have invaded, not hers.  The composition makes the dominant figure in this photograph (a nearly naked woman!) little more than one of the frames around him.  
There are many great reasons to have a meal at It's Only Natural. The opportunity to view Anthony Valerio's window framed photographs is one of them.  

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