In 2002, Pillsbury began photographing friends in parks, rooftops, and fire escapes. “Television,” he has said, was “my favored way of taking a break from reality, and that is what led to my series Screen Lives and the technique of long exposures.” For more than a decade, Pillsbury has been adapting this technique to a wide variety of environments and social situations as he explores the relationship between monuments and gestures, permanence and ephemera, and the photographic habit of slicing into time without actually impeding its forward momentum.
With Sanctuary, Pillsbury returns to the idea of respite, but this time in a more urgent context. “Many of our cities,” Pillsbury writes, act as a “line of defense against an administration whose policies directly threaten rights” he had taken for granted. What had before seemed merely social or recreational has suddenly taken a political context, as some of our most quotidian yet essential activities—of assembly and expression, or simply just being here—have suddenly been revealed as contingent rather than inalienable. That many people turn to these activities and these spaces as a respite from the political is only another lay of irony, and underscores their precariousness.
Sanctuary shows a wide variety of urban environments, from museums and galas to parades and protests and public plazas and beaches. Some are anonymous, as of high-rise views of the skyline, while others are intimate, as in a woman pausing to read the anti-Trump messages written on a wall of Post-Its in the Union Square subway station. Scenes from the Women’s March on Washington convey both the urgency of the crisis as well as the number of people it affects, whereas images of beachgoers lounging before a luminescent movie screen or wading into the water remind us of the transient nature of congregation. What emerges is a communal portrait of our shared spaces and the way they—literally as well as culturally—bring us together.
Matthew Pillsbury was born in 1973 in Neuilly, France. He received his B.A. in Fine Arts (Cum laude with distinction) in 1995 from Yale University and his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2004. His work has been widely shown and is in the permanent collections of numerous American and international institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Tate Modern, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Yale University Art Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is the recipient of the 2014 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the 2007 Fondation HSBC prix pour la Photographie. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Matthew Pillsbury was born in Neuilly, France, 1973, received his B.A. in 1995 from Yale University, and his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2004. He currently lives in New York.
Pillsbury specializes in long-exposure photographs made only with available light. Across several series and in many cities, he has focused on the passage of time and people within spaces both public and private. His work has addressed the growing role that technology is playing in our lives and the sense of modern seclusion that can seem at odds with the constant connectivity being offered by our smartphones and tablets.
In Screen Lives, Pillsbury photographed people watching television and working at their computers. With the room’s inhabitants somewhat physically absent, the photographs edge toward the voyeuristic; the viewer enters private spaces and can linger over the smallest details of these very specific interior landscapes. The photographs not only document these spaces, but also allow viewers to address a conundrum that technology has interjected into our lives; at the same time that we have been given the possibility of instant global communication, we find ourselves increasingly isolated from each other physically.
In Tokyo, Pillsbury photographs the world’s most populous city, where technology has latched itself onto everything from modern-day cell phone-obsessed geisha women to the ultra-hip neighborhood of Shinjuku, whose themed clubs and bars now include high-tech robotics as a featured part of the entertainment. To capture this shifting energy and some of the surreal scenes he encountered, Pillsbury has started making color photographs and using much shorter exposures, documenting a city where sacred and traditional sites share cultural importance with modern Manga robots and Disney castles.
Pillsbury’s work is regularly featured in the New York Times, among other publications, and is part of more than twenty-five permanent collections throughout the US, Canada and Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Musée du Louvre in Paris, France; and the Tate Modern in London, England. He is the recipient of the 2014 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the 2007 Fondation HSBC prix pour la Photographie. He currently resides in New York City.