Roy Colmer, in Memoriam
The staff of the Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs were saddened to learn of the passing of Roy Colmer last week. Stephen C. Pinson, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Assistant Director for Art, Prints and Photographs, and The Robert B. Menschel Curator of Photography, provided the following remembrance of Colmer's life and work:
Roy Colmer (painter, graphic designer, video and film artist, and photographer), creator of the seminal 1976 project Doors, NYC, died at his home in Los Angeles on January 24, 2014.
From November 1975 to September 1976, Colmer photographed more than 3,000 doors, inclusive and in sequence, on 120 intersections and streets of Manhattan from Wall Street to Fort Washington. The project, although documentary in nature, was essentially conceptual to Colmer, for whom Doors, NYC was as much an exploration of the serial possibilities of photography as of its ability to capture a place. Rather than approaching the task in a predetermined order, Colmer instead photographed the city as he moved through it on a daily basis, often by subway, from one neighborhood to another, and from one block to the next. He recorded his itinerary in a twelve-volume index, which maps the photographs by intersection, block, and side of the street (even or odd numbers). The physical collection is organized according to these indexes.
Colmer’s project complements the Library’s New York City photographs by Percy Loomis Sperr and Dylan Stone, although it diverges in intent. Whereas each of those projects was specifically documentary and archival, albeit in different ways, Colmer’s project has more to do with the individual creation of urban space over time, and the presentation of that space through photography. In this way, it might be thought of as a visual precursor to Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1980), which theorized the ways that consumers become producers of the urban spaces they inhabit. In this sense, it is also very much a product of its time and, as an individual testament of the city from a specific moment in history, the project now inevitably evokes a nostalgic vision of New York in the 1970s.
About Roy Colmer
Born in London, England, in 1935, Roy Colmer received his artistic training at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg and immigrated to New York in 1966. He worked first as a painter before turning to film and photography in the 1970s. In 1982, he studied photography with Lisette Model at the New School, where he later taught a course entitled “Intuitive and Conceptual Approaches to Photography.” He also taught painting at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Iowa and worked as a graphic designer for CBS Records, Grove Press and Carroll & Graff Publishers. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988 and a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc., in 1990.
Colmer participated early on in conceptual art, often in collaboration with other artists, notably Hanne Darboven, whom he met as a student in Hamburg. Portions of Doors, NYC were incorporated and shown in Darboven’s work Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983 (Cultural History 1880–1983), 1980–83. Portions of the project also were exhibited at Franklin Furnace in 1976, P.S. 1 in 1978, and at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1991 as part of Sol LeWitt’s private collection. The New York Public Library is the only institution with a complete set of Doors, NYC. The Library also holds many of his artist’s books, book cover designs, and one film.