In the Iris Cafe, a cozy booknook found in the hubbub of north Main Street OTR, one can enjoy savory menu, an assembly of used and collectable books and the visual experience of a photography exhibition. The current feature “Seven Cities” is the work of the engaging self-taught eye of Casey LeClair, whose urban street photography, something he has been doing for fewer than ten years, has found its way into National Geographic and The Daily Beast among other notable venues.

LeClair grew up in Cincinnati, the son of a literature professor at the University of Cincinnati. He has been California-based until returning to Cincinnati in 2020. The Iris Book Cafe and Gallery presentation is his first solo exhibition of his work, curated by William Messer.

Athens, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, San Francisco are the seven cities that have caught LeClair’s attention. Being a savvy combination of flâneur and savant, LeClair describes his work process as urban-wandering: streets, general byways and public buildings, capturing the momentary gestures and fleeting patterns of the quotidian environment.

I met the spare restless man in the Iris for a tasty cup of soup. We toured the walls of work exhibited throughout the warren halls of the cafe, the book-lined reading room and the unisex restroom. (Definitely view the images here.)

LeClair by his own account, measures each day by the ventured accumulation of images.

In his own words: “For me, street photography can be portraiture, landscape photography, a documentary, a focal study of architecture, or a piece of social criticism. It can be absurd, abstract, conceptual, realistic, whimsical, political or voyeuristic…Or it could be all of the above, even in a single image.”

The perceptive viewer can be at once surprised and mystified by the flow of timeless elements that are captured forever in one fleeting moment and the click of the camera.

“The Meeting, the Bowery at Five O’Clock” is one example of his subtle sensibilities.

On the left, a single female figure consults her phone as she waits on the corner of a windowless warehouse facade of corrugated metal. A transient tagger has left his mark on the metal exteriors floating over the cracked sidewalks of the Bowery. Two possible companions approach from the right. LeClair weds contemporary elements into a spare composition that succeeds by elevating the mindless graffiti tag into a connective energy, speaking to the visual subtext while not denying the preponderance of the unremarkable.

The arrival of the social set, herding downward on a cascading entryway, presents the moment for “The Mysterious Guest of Honor”. LeClair’s cross-shot captures an abstracted assembly of partial features assigned to no whole visage. The tilting brim of the stylish hat worn by the woman unconsciously close to the lens, slices upward into the dark pictorial space pivoting like the rings of Saturn.

In Self Portrait, LeClair captures his own silhouette in a geometric montage of exterior architectural paneling and street posts. His partial figure, aligned with the dark interior, is strategically underscored with refracted light bounce that brings the window-view geometry into a complete overall interior pattern. The partial silhouette of an on street passerby and an oversized lingerie advertisement both anonymizes and subsumes the human factor.

The imagery of Seven Cities documents LeClair practicing the art of improvisation as he experiences and invents it for himself. His undeterred unblinking eye composes both intentionally and serendipitously, merging into visual language the ephemeral urban environment.

Casey LeClair is currently working on several projects featuring work from California and Sweden. Seven Cities is on view through the end of 2021.

Iris BookCafe and Gallery, 1331 Main Street OTR, Cincinnati Ohio

–Marlene Steele

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