“There is a common perception in photography that to create a successful series of images, an unusual or quirky subject must be employed. Occasionally, this quest for topics leads to the creation of sublime portfolios; more often than not, it ends in the ridiculous. Photographic subject matter doesn’t have to be exotic or esoteric. In fact, these qualities can detract from a desired impact. Images that are visually sustaining—that continue to hold the viewers interest over a long period of time—tend to be subtle, both in subject matter and technique. Photographers who have produced powerful, coherent portfolios have, as a rule, worked with familiar topics, usually with a subject they know on intimate terms…
A man working in Philadelphia has for many years been working on his own variation of traditional street photography. Harvey Finkle has added his won methodology to this school of thought. By capturing scenes of people reading, he has created a portfolio of pictures centered around a commonplace subject. Choosing a subject that is ordinary and constantly occurring, and by approaching it with a whimsical sense of composition, Finkle has created a fine series of images.
The locations and circumstances wherein people choose to read can be remarkable, particular in an urban environment. The humor inherent in these situations has been cleverly caught by Finkle’s camera. In one particular photograph, a man sits crossed legged on the floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, oblivious to the painting of a gorilla reading over his shoulder. Finkle has developed a finely honed sense of timing and is quite adroit at combining this with a clear sense of the ludicrous that abounds in the modern world. He is also quite skilled at putting these moments on film.
But while some of his images have a certain indigenous humor, much of the reading series conveys a strong sadness—a lone woman reads her book as a subway train flashes by literally in front of her face, a tension heightened by the woman’s obvious disdain for the danger of her stance; on a corner, a man reads from the bible, sadly as the man seems destined to be ignored, despite his obvious passion; a photo of an elderly man sitting alone in a hotel lobby quietly reading his paper emits a strong sense of melancholy.
Harvey Finkle has focused on a happenstance so commonplace that most people are inured to the sight and has created a series of images that demonstrate how a quiet, ordinary subject can be very compelling. The reading series displays a fine eye and sure compositional sense. This collection also illustrates something often missing in modern photography, a sense of sympathy and humor. “
Camera and Darkroom Magazine