Book Review: "LA NY" by Jeffrey Milstein
By Frances Molina
The first time I held Jeffrey Milstein’s book of high-definition aerial photographs LA NY in my hands, the sensation of vertigo was so strong I had to set the book down. When my nausea subsided, my curiosity took over and I was able to appreciate Milstein’s love letter to the two cities that raised him, Los Angeles and New York City.
It’s hard to determine which is more impressive: the incredible scope of the landscapes Milstein captures or the lengths - or rather the heights - he goes to take a fantastic photograph. Milstein, who learned to fly as a child in Los Angeles, managed to combine his passion for aviation and photography with his newest series. By mounting his camera to a stabilizing gyro and leaning precariously out of helicopters, the artist grants his audience a new and exciting vision of the neighborhoods, parks, and cityscapes we thought we knew.
But these are more than just dazzling pictures from an adventurous photographer; LA NY is a smart, detail-oriented study of the cultural landscapes that emerge out of our ever-expanding topography, cultural landscapes that can only be seen and studied from Milstein’s bird’s eye view. The sprawling mass of identical houses and neatly cut lawns of suburbia in LA is physical evidence of the social phenomenon “white flight”, as homeowners flex the exclusivity of their wealth and their status by monopolizing space. Railroad style houses fit together like yellowing teeth in a set of dentures, the only pop of color found in the community pool stuck up in the corner of the shot.
The patterns in these photographs, while visually stimulating, are also intentionally thought provoking, forcing you to consider not just the structures but the lives they contain. And this is what elevates Milstein’s work from amusing to amazing. While the artist captures cities, neighborhoods, and commercial and industrial centers on an immense scale, he still manages to keep people at the center of his work. Once you settle into the initially overwhelming grandeur of Milstein’s photographs, your eye is immediately drawn to the miniscule figures hidden in the shadows and shades of towering architecture. You look for familiar shapes, for familiar city streets and geographical landmarks. As I peer into the page to spot the miniscule bodies dotting the New York City streets, I crane my neck to see if they are the same blocks I walk, if the gray stripes of sidewalk are at all familiar.
The photograph I loved most was Milstein’s capture of Times Square, the five most frustrating blocks in Manhattan that I half-lovingly refer to as “the heart of darkness”. But in LA NY, the massive intersection of light and sound and moving bodies, dubbed the “crossroads of the world”, appears so much smaller and almost insignificant. Milstein’s shot of Disneyland in California creates a similar effect: a sense of dizzying wonder, that such immense structures and architectural triumphs can be reduced to a colored speck in a photograph, a humbling perspective that Milsten delivers with grace and style.