Thursday Spotlight: Ever Present With George Underwood, Photographer
Many artists’ studios feel like a cluttered curation, and sometimes they can be intimidatingly bohemian, but George Underwood’s creative haven in Greenpoint is surprisingly tidy and welcoming. The large prints on the walls and huge projector screen above, accompanied by a few audience seated chairs below compliments the fact that he is a devoted and driven photographer who is passionate about his work. Underwood, 30, views photography as more than just a hobby, but as a way to document modern day interactions in a fast-paced society. Being an only child of a single mother, he spent his alone time quietly observing places and people in his town, which sparked a love of photography through stilling those moments in time as an outside observer. From George’s own lens, literally and figuratively speaking, he captures how people interact with a space and with each other, surrounded by the technology ever so present in their lives.
Using a 4 x 5 field camera, Underwood depicts a contemporary lifestyle of people, places, and landscapes by taking 4 x 8 shots, which he then develops into bigger images. Living in this digital era where we are now more connected than ever, and with technology evolving at a more rapid rate, Underwood also documents current society’s disconnection from the present moment. His observations on people being more immersed in their technology versus their surroundings are prevalent themes for an upcoming video art project in addition to his photos. “We’re constantly connected to everyone we’ve ever met in our entire lives, but we’re not really focusing on anything,” Underwood says. “I don’t think a lot of people understand or know that’s happening to them, they just see it as everyday life… and I feel like people are becoming lonelier.”
Social media and smartphones take a prominent seat in our everyday lives; it’s rare nowadays to go without them. And as technology becomes more widespread globally, it makes it that much more difficult to take it entirely out of our culture. “You’re just taking a photo to be scrolled by, and you’re not experiencing the moment that you’re in, and then you’re also not creating something… that people care about,” he says.
Underwood uses 4 x 5 film to create large-scale printed images for people to take their time with and explore—versus scrolling by or glancing quickly at on a screen. He hopes that people can be fully present with his photos and truly experience the moment, which can be more easily achieved through the larger images he portrays. In his newest project involving video, he shoots “grandiose scenes with a lot of people in them.” He shows me some footage on his projector screen—scenes of people moving around in public places, and how they interact in and embody a space. In one shot, a little girl rides an escalator with her father and then disappears from sight, but her father keeps walking up the stairs. Did she fall? Why did he keep walking? He then points out to me in another shot: people bobbing their heads to music, and a random cop in the distance that is in “such an odd shape for a person,” and a little girl at a train station staring intently at a message board.
It was remarkable noticing the little details in his video footage that you normally wouldn’t pick up or observe when you’re actually out walking around in public. You have to fully focus in order to see the more memorable or interesting moments on screen, which I realized made me more observant and more present– which is probably the whole idea to begin with. Another scene flashed on the screen of people having difficulty entering and exiting an elevator. “It’s definitely trying to see people as people, everyone is the same and everyone is weird and everyone has their little quirks,” says Underwood. The last scene flashes of a daughter and father at a park and the girl is holding two phones whilst eating ice cream—all with a blank stare. “I just really like to see just how weird people can be,” he remarks. Underwood plans on continuing his art through using both film and video as mediums, and continuing to capture scenes of his subjects– freezing moments in time of everyday interactions while exploring how the human connection affects the human condition.