Jeffrey Milstein, Coney Island, 2015

Jeffrey Milstein, Coney Island, 2015, archival pigment print. Middlebury College Museum of Art.

Trained as an architect, Jeffrey Milstein has a special sensitivity to the built environment, manifested in his aerial photographs of densely built areas. Geometry and symmetry inform his work, as he finds beauty in the chaos of the urban landscape. Milstein observes, “As an architect, I spent a lot of time drawing plan views and working with geometry and symmetry. I like seeing everything from a bird’s eye view. It lets you see how things relate to each other. Sometimes when I am flying across the country, I look out the window at the cities and roads and try to figure out why and how a particular city and its roads grew where it did based on the geography.”1

Milstein’s Coney Island departs from the emphasis on roads and large buildings seen in his aerial portraits of New York, Los Angeles, London and other cities. Instead, he focuses on the lights and patterns of the amusement park, drawing our attention to the Wonder Wheel and Luna Park. A place we can imagine filled with the sounds of fairground rides and the smells of street food becomes a quiet study in shape and color. Part of Milstein’s series titled “Parks and Recreation,” Coney Island is an example of his desire to photograph places where humans gather. As Milstein observes, “From earliest times people gathered in public spaces for community events, sharing of information, and sporting competition. Italian towns formed around public piazzas. The Greeks had the agora, the Acropolis, and outdoor theaters. Great cities like London and New York have devoted valuable land to public parks.”2

Marilyn Bridges, Geometries, Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, 1987, gelatin silver print. Middlebury College Museum of Art, gift of an anonymous donor. 2014.060

Photographing while leaning out of a helicopter, Milstein provides dizzying views of public spaces. As is the case in the work of Marilyn Bridges and Jamey Stillings, the aerial view leads to abstraction by drawing our attention to geometric elements arrayed on the flat surface of the earth.