Open Shutter by Michael Wesely

When I first heard about Michael Wesely’s project to photograph the entire construction of the Museum of Modern Art as single three year exposures I was amazed and intrigued. The concept of making a three year exposure is quite bold and daring; Wesely was able to achieve spectacular results. Unfortunately, my technical curiosity on how it was accomplished was not answered. I suppose he needs to keep his secretes.

Open Shutter by Michael Wesely is a photo book chronicling the Museum of Modern Art three year renovation and expansion in 2001. They invited German photographer Michael Wesely to bring his unique vision to this significant change. Wesely setup his custom made cameras in four locations around the museum construction site. Unfortunately, he had some issues and had to take a few cameras down prior to their finish; as his images show with the passage of time, things change.

Aug 2001 to June 2004. © Michael Wesely
Aug 2001 to June 2004. © Michael Wesely

I saw the Open Shutter exhibit at the MoMA, the exhibit was three wall sized photographs each showing an amazing detail and the intricacy of change. The photos contain the ghosts of the buildings as it is constructed; streaks of the sun throughout the sky; and hundreds of little nicks, trails and instances that elude to something happening during the long exposure. The surrounding buildings stand solid and unchanged, a constant presence in the otherwise changing environment.

“All photography is always about understanding or realizing certain things, and for that reason it has always been appreciated. It delivers information that gives you another vision or perspective.”

The Open Shutter book does a good job of presenting the photos from the exhibit, and even has blown up portions to see the detail in the photos. Not quite the same thing as the original, but nice otherwise. The book also includes an essay by Sarah Hermanson Meister which goes into the history of Wesely as a photographer and how he got into long exposures and discusses his other work and projects; plus an interview with the artist.

July 1996 to July 1997. © Michael Wesely
July 1996 to July 1997. © Michael Wesely

The book includes several other shots by Wesely besides the Museum of Modern Art. Here are a few of my favorite other shots:

  • Office of Helmut Friedel, 1996-7 (above) — One of his early year long exposures, this image captures a year in the office. It shows the human interaction with the office by the blurs of the desk and chair; and the solidity of the architecture with the building being crisp in focus and unchanging.
  • Sunrise at Zabriskie, 1999 — Probably one of the shortest exposures in the book, this picture is just a beautiful display of colors. It consists of three primary bands of colors: dark foreground; yellow/orange sunrise; blue sky. The colors successfully capture the essence of the sunrise.
  • Central Park, New York — Another color shot, a gorgeous photograph of a year long exposure at Central Park. The streaks of the sun across the sky has an amazing difference in colors throughout the year. Plus The Park’s spring green dominates over the gloomier barren winter.

I look forward to seeing more of Michael Wesely’s work in the future. He talks of ten, twenty and even forty year exposures; definitely bold and daring.