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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



"More Than the Rainbow": Street Photographer Matt Weber Gets His Close-Up

There are eight million stories in the naked city, and street photographer Matt Weber has captured thousands of them. His own story is the focus of Dan Wechsler's engaging documentary More Than the Rainbow. Weber became smitten with street scenes sometime during his 12 years as a New York cab driver. In 1990 his then wife, Laurie Weber, convinced him to jettison the Medallion and chase his dream of becoming the Henri Cartier-Bresson of Gotham.

"You're photographing things that you can never conjure again," Weber quotes his French idol on the lure and challenge of being at the right place at the right instant. "You can go years without taking a perfect shot," muses Weber, adding that there are "so many intangibles; everything happens so quickly." He still kicks himself for having missed the perfect shot of the Empire State building--"better than William Klein's iconic one"--because he didn't have the requisite pennies' worth of film on hand.

Hardly the portrait of an esthete, the fast-talking native New Yorker wears his baseball cap as street cred, along with his scruffy facial hair and girth that may have seen a few hotdogs. If anything, you'd expect this guy to rhapsodize about beer, not about that poetic moment when two lovers are about to kiss, yet he has an entire series chronicling such amorous gestures, including, most evocatively, in the subway. Leave the beer chug to Eric Kroll, one of the dozen or so fellow shutterbugs who reflect on Weber's work and more broadly on the discipline of photography.

Kroll's encounter with fermented brew culminates his dramatic shoot involving an upside-down woman tricked out in gold bodywear and balancing the beer glass on her crotch. It's among a sprinkling of racy interludes with the San Francisco-based fetish photographer and editor that showcase his charisma and pulse, and allow him to steal Weber's thunder. Not only does Kroll appear more focused and colorful, the same could be said of his work. As much as you may warm to Weber's cruised finds, you half-wish the documentary were about Kroll.

That, perhaps, is Wechsler's point: he isn't out to make a hagiography about a photography legend. Weschler assumes that you may not have heard of Matt Weber any more than Matt Weber has heard of what his childhood friend calls "the bums, hobos, prostitutes and real, forgotten people of the City" he so serendipitously photographs. Weber's lack of pretension is couched in his acknowledgement that the camera saved him "from a boring life" of merely generating money. If, as Laurie reveals, the self-taught photographer entertains doubts about his merits, he's not the only one. Examining a shot of a Van Gogh lookalike passed out under posters of the bearded painter, Kroll critiques Weber's tendency of "overly connecting the image to something opposite in the photograph," and blurts, "It kinda makes me want to barf." Fine art photographer and online art dealer Dave Beckerman recounts a failed attempt to sell Weber's work on the grounds that it was too "edgy."

Todd Oldham has a different take. The celebrated fashion, book and interior designer reports the "nutty bidding war" that ensued at a recent auction where far more famous names generated markedly less activity. Oldham himself is an admirer, and one of the threads of the film tracks him creating the first book exclusively dedicated to Weber's photography. Another index of the cult photographer's rising star is an exhibition at Harper Levine's East Hamptons bookshop and art gallery. Levine considers Weber a "great" photographer with an eye for symmetry and a knack for capturing "the particular moment where all the stars are aligned to get the best shot." Of the examples Wechler provides to illustrate Levine's point is a particularly mesmerising one of four decidedly un-rockstar men, three bearing coffee cups, crossing a street in Abbey Road-style formation.

"Each man on the street becomes his own archaeologist," fine art photographer Ralph Gibson generalizes about the urban photographer's calling. Each also studies the chards dug up by fellow archaeologists, as Wechsler asks you to note. Such a collegial approach adds depth of field to the lens on Weber and widens the film's angle to give an appreciation of the profession. Joining Kroll, Gibson and Beckerman in insightful discussion are fellow photographers including Jeff Mermelstein and Magnum's Philadelphia-based Zoe Krauss. They weigh in on a carousel of pertinent themes, from the virtues of film versus digital to the need for solitude vs love to the ethics of exploiting strangers for art.

With the recent release of Finding Vivian Maier, it's easy to think that street photography is getting its moment in the limelight. Is all the attention bordering on excess? Is freeze-framing a chance encounter with humanity being overdone? Per Gibson, that'd be like saying "planet earth has been overdone."

More Than the Rainbow is a compelling entry in cinema's romance of the medium. Anyone with a camera will soak up the shoptalk while viewers in it for the storytelling are apt to embrace Weber's moving saga of transcending his father's ordeal and finding his own passion and purpose. Early on, Weber complains that today's New York is "kind of plastic and boring." Set to jazzy Thelonius Monk greats and awash in City nostalgia, Wechsler's feature-length debut is anything but.

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