Over the past year, a number of visual artists, writers and musicians have explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives. The artists reflect not only how the pandemic has impacted globally, but also on a personal level.
In the exhibition, Available light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner, at Eat Paint Studio, we have a personal vision of the pandemic through the images of Steiner. On display are 21 black and white prints that document daily life in Chicago as well as images from Steiner’s visit to Monterey, Mexico, in June of this year.
Steiner’s photos are a tale that gives us a nuanced look at how much the pandemic has shaped our lives. While many of her photos tell of feelings of isolation and hopelessness, there are also images that show a sense of resilience in her subjects. A good example of this is a photo of a woman making masks at a tailoring store in the Uptown neighborhood. In another shot, the owner of a liquor store is seen, who wears a face mask and latex gloves, determined to keep his store open as it is considered an essential business. As he stands in the middle of an aisle with shelves full of alcohol bottles behind him, it reminds us of how alcohol consumption increased during the early stages of the pandemic.
There are also pictures of commuters on the red line on their way to and from work. As the faces of commuters are covered in masks, all we see are their eyes as we catch sight of the weariness of having to take public transport during this time.
There are also haunting shots of deserted streets that prevailed in most areas of the city during the lockdown. It reminds us once again how much once bustling neighborhoods looked like abandoned neighborhoods. There is a ghostly look at the city as we look at photos of vacant streets in Uptown and Wrigleyville.
While his photos of Chicago produce a bewildering effect, Steiner creates a contrast to his photos taken in Monterrey, Mexico, which he visited during the summer. Although the pandemic has gripped Monterrey as it has elsewhere in the world, Steiner has chosen to focus on the region’s natural beauty.
“The pandemic was in full force in Mexico, but I felt more psychologically alive there than in Chicago,” says Steiner. “I saw a part of the world that I had never seen before. The whole experience of seeing the mountains and the desert was therapeutic for me because my life, like everyone else’s, had shrunk – for over a year my days were just going to work and spend a lot of time at home. I felt lucky to get away from it all and be energized by a new environment.
His photos taken in Mexico have a magical element as he captures vast skies, sunlight illuminating large clouds and majestic mountain views. There is a sensory aspect to these photos where the viewer can feel the arid heat of its desert scenes or the sound of the wind as we see branches bending under a gust of hot air. Steiner also creates visual impact by capturing the elusive quality of light and shadow in various natural environments. The interplay of highlights and shadows not only reveals the structure of the landscape, but also lends a moody quality to his work.
There is also a meditative feel in her photos taken in Mexico. Steiner captures subtle scenes such as an empty Coke bottle resting on a sidewalk while leaning against a pole and also a photo of a wooden sculpture of an owl that sits high on a pole but sits tilting in the same direction as a nearby windswept tree. These two photos, along with others, show Steiner’s sense of mindfulness – that he is aware of his surroundings and is always sensing what is going on around him.
Available light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner, is a dynamic exhibition because Steiner not only shows us the challenges of experiencing a pandemic, but also the importance of trying to find meaning and beauty in these times. He photographs scenes most of us take for granted while also documenting those elusive moments we often miss because we don’t take the time to truly observe what is around us.
Emily Rapport, owner of Eat Paint Studio, said: “He has a strong intuitive sense for looking at simple scenes of everyday life in a different way through his use of angles and light. Her work shows her personal vision, but like all good art, her work transcends the personal and communicates a larger story about humanity.
Steiner’s work has been published in PDN News Online, Burn Magazine, Commonweal Magazine and other online journals. You can also see his work on his website.
Available light: Photographs by Andrew Steiner, will be on display until December 11 at the Eat Paint Studio, 5036 N. Lincoln Ave. Opening hours: Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday by appointment. For more information, go online or call 773-878-8737.