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This Photographer Captures The Strange Beauty Of Booming Cities

“I’m particularly drawn to cities with a lot of neutral, nondescript architecture,” Daniel Everett says.

Over the decades, cities develop fingerprints through their architecture–the triumphant Beaux Arts boulevards of Paris, the pastel Victorians of San Francisco, the suffocatingly dense high-rises of Hong Kong–and these built emblems come to define the images of a city that circulate. (How many friends’ vacation photos of the Painted Ladies have clogged your Instagram?) But photographer Daniel Everett isn’t drawn to the distinct side of cities; he’s in search of the sublime beauty of the mundane and nondescript.

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[Photo: Daniel Everett]
In his photographs of cities, you’ll spy the concrete bones of buildings, the repetitive grids of glass building facades and acoustic ceiling tiles, the dissonance of crosswalk hatch marks painted askew, the secret language of construction workers’ fluorescent spray paint on asphalt. These motifs could be from any contemporary city in development mode.

“I’m interested in order, perfection, and a pursuit of meaning in anonymous space–but in a conflicted and ambivalent way,” Everett tells Co.Design in an email. “I’m interested in the promise of utopian ideals as well as their inherent shortcomings. I’m also interested in blandness as a subject matter–the kind of mundane physical reality that contrasts the lofty language of progress.”

Everett–who received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is now a professor of New Genre Art Practices at Brigham Young University–is often drawn to the transitory spaces we pass through in our daily lives. These places–airports, parking lots, hotels–are so basic, they guarantee familiarity, which helps us navigate them. He first fell in love with them while he was living in New York and found himself alone in a subway station late at night.

[Photo: Daniel Everett]
“It was overwhelming and felt beautiful and terrifying and mundane all at the same time,” he says. “I was drawn to the order and the scale of the space. There is something about the pared-down aesthetics of functional architecture that has always captivated me. I went back later and tried to make a photograph, but I didn’t know how to make an image that did justice to the way the space felt. At that point I just didn’t have the technical ability to do it. I think a big part of me pursuing art and photography was about trying to bridge that gap.”

In his work, Everett searches for the sublime, a term 19th-century landscape painters used to describe the awe-inducing effect of beholding a natural landscape. But instead of finding that effect in a wide-angle frame, Everett often zooms in on a detail, imparting an expansive feeling on something small. The way he looks at urban landscapes might inspire you to rediscover your own.

“Once you get to know a place too well, all of the strangeness of the place slowly becomes invisible to you and you end up inoculated,” he says. For more visit Everett’s website and Tumblr.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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