Trained as an architect, photographer Jeffrey Milstein started shooting cityscapes from above as a young pilot in his native Los Angeles, and his large-scale aerial photographs reflect his sense of mechanized urban order. As implied by the title of his series shot in and around New York City — Leaning Out, on view at Manhattan’s Benrubi Gallery through March 17 — Milstein often shoots with his upper torso hanging out of the open hatch of a small plane, or more often (due to city restrictions) a helicopter (as in his above photograph “NYC Fifth Ave, 2016″).
Shouldn’t try this at home, folks. Yet many have been here before: We’ve seen powerful aerial projects including Vincent Laforet’s luminous nighttime cityscapes in his series and monograph AIR, Garth Lenz’s overviews of Canadian oil-industry destruction in The True Cost of Oil, Benjamin Grant’s satellite studies using Google Earth views in Overview, Edward Burtynsky’s ongoing ecological revelations from the air, and the grand master of all, Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s iconic studies of Earth From Above.
What’s special about Milstein? For one thing, he gets in as close as possible. His early small-plane views of New York were “like a mile and a half up, which gets you a different kind of picture, which is also very cool. It looks like a computer board or something,” Milstein told blogger Hannah Frishberg in a Q&A on 6sqft.com. But in a helicopter, “you can take the door off, get in close to places I couldn’t do with the plane.” As seen this overhead shot of a cargo ship in New York Harbor, Milstein’s digital images render overhead detail from a novel viewpoint.
Milstein also has an uncanny gift for composition, as in these shots of planes in Newark and replica cars in Long Beach, CA. His 2017 book LA NY: Aerial Photographs of Los Angeles and New York chronicles views of America’s two largest cities, both anarchic behemoths in their own ways, as if they contain preordained aesthetic patterns. Even leaning out from above, Milstein manages to render huge cityscapes as orderly abstractions, colorful renderings of unintended art.