Portals of public transportation, lobbies of skyscrapers, grand stone stairways, parks and city sidewalks are places of transition. In his photographs Doug Muir has described these public places as final destinations fixed on an axis where the lines of curiosity and invention meet.
By design and sometimes by accident, the democracy of public spaces can celebrate our dignity or swallow our individuality. Along that edge of distinction between reward and restriction, Muir finds small gifts of visual excitement that he uses to soften even the most intimidating designs or to celebrate the best intentions of municipal benevolence.
In the center spread of this catalogue is a photograph Muir made in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, New York. Muir grew up in Syracuse and his familiarity with Columbus Circle spans several decades dating from an unruly adolescence in the Pioneer Housing Projects a few blocks from the Circle to his sporadic journeys back home to visit with his family. On a visit in 1985 the years of familiarity with Columbus Circle came together as he clicked his camera from the east side of the Circle looking west through the fountain toward the steps of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Partially obscured by the spray of the fountain but still radiant in their bright starched uniforms, several nurses stood lined up posing for a group portrait.
This photograph fulfills and transcends Muir’s intimate history with the Circle. It is as if he had created that precise moment in time for the nurses to embellish the visual dynamics of the Circle and satisfy it’s design as a gathering place and landmark.
Muir carries his sense of intimate observation to many settings designed for public interaction. In choosing the settings, Muir must be precise. Like building a house of cards, one jarring angle, one ambiguous moment or one wrong color and the familiar settings would be rendered as mundane as they often are in casual snapshots. Muir finds precision in his photographs by patiently observing and embracing the visual rhythm of life moving at it’s own pace. Long after the moment has passed his images direct us to consider the delight of the visual choreography of our environment and our place in it. Doug Muir lives in Berkeley, California where he works as a Union Steamfitter for the University of California. Muir participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in 1981 and 2002.