Leading Lines

Review of Emmanuel Panagiotakis' New Black and White Photography Exhibit

By Robyn Engel, AIA Posted on July 22, 2018

Stepping down from the street, Emmanuel Panagiotakis’s gallery feels like a cool cavern away from the hot breath of the city behind you. Upon entering the space, one is immediately bombarded with the deep saturations and bold, sweeping lines that often characterize post-card images of Pittsburgh and other souvenir-worthy destinations.

Amidst the showy, prototypical images that speckle the gallery, Leading Lines is an oasis of thoughtful, balanced photography. Panagiotakis capably explores themes of texture, rhythm, and void space within this black and white exhibit that is magnetic and unique in a way that other gallery pieces struggle to achieve.

Examining Ceiling Detail, Full View (above), and Ceiling Detail, the observer is first aware of the many textures of the image, made visceral by the physical scale of presentation. These large pieces possess a degree of intimacy and mindfulness that defines their purpose. Both are mandala-like in their rhythms, weaving an intricate tale of metal filigree, weighty brick, and ephemeral glass at the center. From an architectural detail perspective, these are admirable, even if they do capitalize on the oft-captured Penn Station rotunda. Printed on aluminum sheets like most of the gallery, these works project an almost internal metallic light that complements their textural appeal.

Perhaps the most abstract of Panagiotakis’s imagery, Cubism (above) and Playing with Light (top) express rhythm in a refined and measured way. The diamond texture of the latter would be at home in any architect’s living room or office and brings a calm repetition that is not redundant. The balance of glass with mechanical louvers in the diamond formation is satisfying. Cubism perfectly aligns every datum and presents palpable volume within its borders. While each composition illustrates different forms and materials, both yield a gratifying sense of alignment and order.

Moving to Urban Giants (below) and Kaufmann’s Clock (above), the viewer experiences the palpable void of calm inside the looming towers. The ominous tension captured in these images is ever-present and the bolt of abstracted sky dashing between the jagged building volumes feels like a force all its own. In Kaufmann’s Clock, the intensity of the sky is offset by the organic curvature of the timepiece, which softens the sternness of the shapes depicted. The harsh contrast of these images pushes the compositions closer to abstraction than realism, giving them strength and a unique voice.

The above selections are by far the most successful pieces in the collection. The less memorable images possess nebulous intent and lack tension in composition, unfortunately relying on archetypal Pittsburgh scenery instead of nuance or narrative. In application of void, rhythm, and texture, however, the selected pieces above excel. Through holistic observation of the gallery, it is evident that Panagiotakis’s photography appeals emotionally to a broad audience, but heightened sophistication is revealed in Leading Lines. There is a degree of precision that is cultivated in several of these images, giving them defined presence. Exploration of this exhibit is a must if you find yourself wandering 7th Street and seeking a contemplative respite from the downtown heat.

All photographs courtesy Emmanuel Panagiotakis Fine Art Photography Gallery.

Robyn Engel, AIA is a project architect at IKM, Incorporated.

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