Teju Cole was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1975, raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and educated in England and America, where he earned a degree in art history. The author of three well-received books (two fiction and one collection of essays), he is the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine. By any measure, he is a major figure in American arts and letters. However, in a world full of swaggering braggers, Cole does something very different and it shows in his work: he keeps a low profile and remains humble. ... He does one thing in his fiction and essays, and another in his photographs, which are being exhibited in his first solo show, Teju Cole: Blind Spot and Black Paper at Steven Kasher Gallery (June 15 – August 11, 2017).
The exhibition is in celebration of his fourth book, Blind Spot, published this year by Random House with a foreword by Siri Hustvedt. Blind Spot contains more than 150 color photographs, each paired with a text by the Cole. Together, they form a travel diary, as the photographs were taken in different cities and places throughout the world: Mexico City, Wannsee, Qadisha Valley, Lagos, Beirut, Nairobi, Old Goa, Seoul, Ubud (Indonesia), and Auckland.
Cole recognizes that in the postmodern world, the possibilities for the flâneur have changed radically: Can he or she still become one flesh with the crowd or even with another individual?
This is what I meant when I wrote earlier that Cole keeps a low profile and remains humble. As a photographer, you feel that he recognizes invisibility does not give you permission to be invasive. Most of the photographs in the exhibition have no people in them. For those that do, except for one photograph of a boy taken in Brazzaville, which we see two versions of, nearly everyone we do see has his or her back to the camera.
These photographs, most of which were taken in New York City, echo a well-known viewpoint taken by many photographers, from Rudy Burckhardt and Lee Friedlander to Vivian Maier. The question (or challenge) for Cole, who no doubt knows all of their work, was this: What can I bring to this view, given my awareness of who and what has preceded me?