Carl Rubino Portfolio Contest Winner

Words: George Slade

Carl Rubino is, perhaps unwittingly, into synaesthesia. That is, he is willing and able to understand one sensory arena through the terms of another. Specifically, one might perceive the music of an image, the taste of a color or the sound of a smell. The skill is one of hybrid translation, and it can lead to some intriguing creative cross-pollination. In Rubino’s case, the medium mixing began early in his life; his mother encouraged him to “see” classical music when she played it for him.

As Rubino puts it, experiencing music in this way as a young person “freed my creative imagination…and instilled in me the ability to interpret in my own creative or unique way so much of what I see before me, rather than recording it literally.” Certainly, his adult photographs appear to be anything but literal—superimposed clusters of symbols jostle and meld in surprising, spontaneous ways.

What sound does a mailbox make? How about billboards? Street signs? Concrete? Sunglasses? It’s fairly commonplace to refer to the sonic “city symphony”—taxi horns, construction noise, sirens, loud voices, truck brakes, boom boxes, etc. But who besides a synaesthete translates that noise into imagery? One could look at Rubino’s photographs as visual symphonies, congregations of various optical instruments voicing their unique timbres. (Rubino is a musician and sometimes composer in addition to his passion for photography.) Just which contemporary composer might be equated to Rubino’s images remains an open question.

It’s imperative that the source material be rich enough to generate the symphony. The photographs Rubino would make out in the ocean, or on a mountaintop, would have a very different presence than the ones here, from New York City. It is also important to remember that there is no direct correspondence between the visual and the aural. Rubino’s images reflect artistic license, not strict adherence to a code of equivalents.

New York City, in the photographs reproduced here, beckoned Rubino as a potentially rich place for photography. “I wanted to shoot a series of in-camera multiple exposures involving people on a trip to NYC and began wandering around in various parts of the city to find what ‘spoke’ to me in that regard. In Times Square I became intensely aware of the pulse of the crowds, heard the sounds and movement of the traffic, sensed the background of buildings, felt the flow amongst all of them and, most particularly, had the feeling that as crowded as the streets were, people were at the same time working hard to keep themselves distant from each other (though sometimes only inches apart). Yet at the same time an occasional face ‘reached out’ to have visual contact with another passerby, or more significantly with me as the camera.”

This experience is what Rubino has come to understand as “multidimensionality,” which may be another way of thinking about synaesthesia through adding the notion of many impressions happening simultaneously. Look closely and you will see certain forms come to life; a person looking, or reaching, out to you as a viewer may also appear disconnected, no longer engaged with the camera’s eye. There is a flow, an unintentional, intuitive choreography, in these images.

The facts of these photographs are fairly simple: Rubino stood on a bench and watched the passing crowds, snapping pictures at random intervals, spontaneously and intuitively recording the scene. What appear to be tremendously complex optical tapestries have a truth about them that transcends the visual and embodies the jostling, multi-sensory reality of a busy urban square.

“Whether I’m shooting multiple exposure or single images, and whether it’s landscape, nude, abstract or urban, something resonates, usually in some emotional way, about the scene before me. I feel something inside that says ‘this is it.’ Sometimes it literally brings me to tears. And, at the very least, it quickens my heart rate and gives me a feeling of joy.”

It is hard to imagine a better way to approach one’s engagement with the world or prompt one to make a visual interpretation of it.

Fact File
Carl Rubino
Wilmington, NY

12 × 18 inch prints are available in limited editions of 30. Contact the photographer for prices and other sizes

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Faces in the Crowd #15