Mexican-born, British-American photographer Sze Tsung Leong photographs vast, spare landscapes from around the world in his ongoing series, Horizons, on view at Yossi Milo Gallery. The arrangement of photos hops from place to place while remaining visually cohesive due to the shots’ shared composition: The horizon line bisects the image at the same point in each photograph, producing the perception of a single line unrolling along the walls of the gallery. The resulting composite panorama gives us a unified view of a disparate world, allowing us to see similarities among varied landscapes by forming visual relationships between them.
Though no two images in the exhibition are the same, they are all rendered equivalent, to a degree, by Leong’s compositional device. Whether looking at chalky red earth dotted with feeding animals, a group of anonymous suburban houses nestled in a sandy, unfinished development, or the gray skyscrapers that sprout from the shores of Chicago’s Lake Michigan, the viewer’s eye is constantly drawn to the bifurcating line that divides sky and land. In programming the field of vision in this way, Sze Tsung Leong strips the world down to top and bottom, making it seem smaller. This quality is accentuated by the images’ uniform palette of muted colors. Any given photograph is likely to depict woolly cloud cover hanging over Velcro-textured tan grass or silky gray ocean, regardless of the continent on which it was taken. As the exotic coalesces with the recognizable in continuous landscape, foreign places become more familiar. Continents connect as ancient terrains blend into modern cities.
The horizon stands as a paradox in these images, marking a point both approachable and unattainable—something that can be seen but not reached. As Leong told Philip Gefter at the New York Times, the horizon symbolizes “the limit of experience.” The structure of the series echoes this sense of the horizon as an obstruction to understanding distant reaches of the globe. Often, the locations depicted in adjacent photographs are starkly incongruous. The exhibition’s quick shifts are jarring: The viewer goes from a photograph of feeding zebra and buffalo to one of humans walking across a shallow lake, then moves again to a lonely landscape empty of signs of life. Sometimes location is nondescript; at other times it is revealed by a well-known cultural symbol like the Eiffel Tower. In the latter case, the images become heavy with history and the weights of culture, and they depart from the other photographs in the series. Yet even as the locales mystify and contrast each other, the continuity of vantage point becomes a source of comforting familiarity. In this way, Horizons serves to reveal the ways that disparate terrains both converge and diverge.
Several series by Leong have focused on the ways our environment grows and changes. While Horizons looks at this topic through the lens of comparative geographies and cityscapes, an earlier series, History Images, examines it by showing changes in a single environment over time. In particular, History Images documents the endless cycle of creation and destruction occurring in China in the name of economic development, revealing how luxury housing and shopping centers swallow the country’s traditional architecture and therefore its history. Though visually similar, the tones of the two series are markedly different. History Images effectively decries a destructive expression of power compelled by capitalism. Horizons, on the other hand, zooms out, offering a broader view of the world that weaves together new and old, foreign and familiar, in a far less critical way. Horizons seems less concerned with commentary than with simply presenting rich pictures of the world and challenging the viewer to absorb them.
Horizons runs through July 11 at Yossi Milo Gallery.