April 25, 2009

Garry Winogrand: Public Relations

Garry Winogrand, Peace Demonstration, Central Park, New York, 1970

The name Garry Winogrand is synonymous with “street photography.” Winogrand began his career as a commercial photographer, capturing the movement and force of sports, dances, and other events in his photographs - a pattern that later resurfaced in his book Public Relations. Upon receiving a second Guggenheim Fellowship in 1969 Winogrand decided to pursue his own projects, and would go on to publish The Animals, Women Are Beautiful, and Public Relations in the 1960s and 70s. Although the core theme of Public Relations is what Winogrand described “the effect of the media on events,” the significant presence of the Vietnam War and other historic events make the collection just as much about the turmoil and change of American life in the 1960s. The pictures recall press conferences, gallery parties, events surrounding Apollo 11, and student demonstrations, all of which share the common theme of being public events held for both the benefit of the media and for the pleasure and ritual derived from their participants. Every photograph captures not only a piece of American history and culture, but also the presence and influence of media at these events.

Garry Winogrand, Kent State Demonstration, Washington, D.C., 1970

The photographs in Public Relations are driven by the energy of the events they captured - tilted frames and agitated, beaten faces distill the emotion and movement of the moment. Furthermore, the closeness of the camera to the subjects, as in Kent State Demonstration, serves to place the audience and the photographer in the middle of the action. This specific photograph, with its downward angle and opposition to the flow of the crowd, makes the viewer to fall into the action of the demonstration as its participants flee from its violent conclusion.

Garry Winogrand, Apollo 11 Moon Shot, Cape Kennedy, Florida, 1969

Apollo 11 Moon Shot captures a public spectacle and the hype surrounding this landmark event in American history. It also illustrates the use and role of media, specifically the camera, in the everyday American life. The focus is given to the central figure - a woman photographing not Apollo 11, but Winogrand and those behind him. It seems like a standoff between the two types of photographers at this time - the photographer Winogrand was, that is commercial, and the photographer he became. The woman and the photograph of the woman represent this duality. Furthermore, The John F. Kennedy Space Center signage and the professional attire of those in the photograph, as well as the woman’s two cameras and the tag around her neck, highlight the presence and professionalism of the media at this landmark event.

Garry Winogrand, Elliot Richardson Press Conference, Austin, 1973

Garry Winogrand, Hard-Hat Rally, New York, 1969

The overwhelming presence of microphones and telephones in the book's cover image, Elliot Richardson Press Conference, parallels these objects overwhelming presence in society. In the 1960s, these machines of the media were revolutionizing how people communicate in order to gain attention and support in order to influence policy or cause. Hard-Hat Rally captures media involvement in publicizing the protests of the 1960s. The protester in the center of the image, mouth wide in anger as the reporter shoves a microphone in his face, emphasizes the media’s presence in and the overall mood of the rally. Winogrand’s Public Relations, through its photographs of various events of the 1960s and 1970s, captures the interaction between the media and the people in an effort to communicate the occurrence of events and the spread of ideas.

--Stephanie Stefanski

April 24, 2009

Lee Friedlander: Self Portrait

Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1966

Self Portrait is a collection of photographs all featuring Lee Friedlander himself in various locations, in reflection, in shadow, and occasionally, in full view. What is particularly interesting about the production of these images is that this was not a project that he set out to create. Rather, these self-portraits accumulated over time, simultaneous to other work.

Lee Friedlander, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1965

Lee Friedlander, Buffalo, New York, 1968

These photographs are interesting in that they show Friedlander in an objective light. Often, when artists create self-portraits, they are not creating an image of themselves but rather an image of the person as they would like to be seen. Friedlander, however, does not make himself appear more attractive, interesting, or intelligent than he is. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he shows himself wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. The photo is direct and unforgiving, not glamorous. He takes an outside view and thus creates photographs that are true to life. Still, Friedlander cannot remain completely objective. He decides where he will place himself in the world. It is not by accident that in photograph he appears perfectly within the confines of the hanging frames in Buffalo, New York. He is a still figure within the chaos of the frames at various angles and heights. Every photographer must decide from which angle he will be photographing and what the subject matter will be. The pictures, according to John Szarkowski, should be seen “not exactly as portraits but as sketches of tentative identities being tried out to see if they fit, in which case they might be adopted as more of less permanent roles and obligations”. Friedlander does not create a stable image of himself through this collection of photographs, but rather a mutable one that adapts to it's surroundings.

Lee Friedlander, Route 9W, New York, 1965

Lee Friedlander, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1967

Throughout the pictures it becomes clear that, however hard one tries, a person cannot distance themselves from the scene around them. The artist becomes part of the picture. Every person becomes a part of the scene they step into. One's surroundings also have an effect on who a person is. In different settings, people will inhabit different roles. They will portray different personas. Self Portrait shows those different sides of people, the effect that people have on their environment, and the effect that the environment has on them.

--Emily Kolf

April 23, 2009

Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Giving subjects respect and acting with humanism, Bruce Davidson has captured the small details of urban life. His book East 100th Street depicts the often harsh reality of the American dream. Beginning as an outsider in East Harlem, after two years spent on the street, Davidson became part of their world. Growing up in a single-parent, factory working home and often left alone, Davidson used photography to achieve freedom and detachment from his family. His childhood experience gives him the ability to expose the hardships and brutal reality of the less fortunate with a certain sensitivity and understanding.

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

With no individual picture names and only a title to the collection, Bruce Davidson attempts to convey what it must be like to be part of this ghetto. As John Szarkowski notes, Davidson “has shown us true and specific people, photographed in those private moments of suspended action in which the complexity and ambiguity of lives triumphs over abstraction.” He illustrates the struggles of becoming free in a free world. Beginning the book with a picture of a broken sidewalk along an almost empty street, he seems like an outsider. He depicts himself looking at the people of East 100th street from a far initially, as shown by the picture of the fa├žade of a building looking down at the street level activity.

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Before long he begins to delve into the struggling lives, as we see apparent in the picture of the little boy resting on a cot amidst tons of rubble. If you fail to look closely, the little boy gets grouped into the trash, making you question if the city views the lives of these people as disposable. As we continue to turn the pages, there are numerous photos of a family inside their home. Davidson fostered relationships of trust and a degree of acceptance with these people who allowed him to enter into their home, a space that is sacred to most families.

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

Bruce Davidson, East 100th Street, 1970

East 100th Street
is filled with faces of somewhat broken lives and yet the beauty and sense of hope in those same lives jumps off the pages. Davidson shows a mother and son peering out from a window with bars almost as if they are trapped in a cage, trying to achieve the freedom they believed America would hold. Amongst all of these hardships you see two pictures of children flying kites. The kite soaring to the sky might represent the new heights that the young generation may be able to reach during their time.

--Jessica Sarter

April 22, 2009

Robert Frank: The Americans

Robert Frank, Belle Isle, Detroit, 1955/6

Robert Frank’s photographs in The Americans were taken during the 1950’s. The Swiss-born photographer took a road trip across America and captured anything that caught his trained eye. As touched upon in Jack Kerouac’s introduction, America is a very unique place. As a country, it has always contained an extremely varied culture due to its cultural, religious and economic freedoms along with the tensions that come from the unique circumstances this boiling pot creates. What Robert Frank has done so remarkably in The Americans is explore virtually all of America, the good, the bad and the ugly in a consistently visually stunning manner. One way he did this was to capture the dichotomy of American culture, especially the undertones of its different races, with those who experience it day in and day out.

Robert Frank, Yale Commencement - New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut, 1955/6

Robert Frank, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1955/6

Often, Frank photographs people separated in groups or facing in opposing directions to heighten their implied differences. This occurs in Yale Commencement where a man gazes opposite multitudes of graduates. It makes one wonder what differentiates him so much-his age, experiences, memories perhaps. It is also evident in his photo from St. Petersburg, Florida of five elders who sit together yet look out in different directions.

Robert Frank, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1955/6

Robert Frank, U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1955/6

Frank frequently depicts the loner, such as a singular black woman in Beaufort, South Carolina or my personal favorite–one melancholy car moving down U.S. 285, New Mexico. His method of capturing those in their own element brings honesty to his effort of photographing America.

--Billy Blumberg

April 21, 2009

Irving Penn

Irving Penn, Mrs. Armory Carhart, New York, 1947

Irving Penn began his photographic career in 1943 as an assistant for the art director of Vogue and shot his first cover for the magazine that same year. His work is characterized by simplicity, careful composition and the impeccable arrangement of his subjects in the photograph. In Irving Penn, John Szarkowski writes “Penn has never changed his first idea of portraiture; he has merely simplified what at first seemed almost irreducibly simple.” Penn was one of the first photographers to set his subjects against a plain white or grey background. According to Szarkowski, Penn claimed “the simplicity of his approach to fashion was inspired by ignorance. He did not know which sideboard or candelabra or period wallpaper to use with which dress, and therefore discovered by necessity the beauties of the seamless-paper background.” In addition to using basic backdrops, Penn also constructed upright backdrops that formed a severe angle in which the subject of his photograph would be placed. By wedging his subjects in such tight and unconventional spaces Penn increases the photograph’ sense of drama and draws extra focus to the subject and their expression.

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, New York, 1948

Irving Penn’s portrait of Truman Capote, composed in New York in 1948, perfectly illustrates Penn’s signature use of space and simplicity. Capote appears shoved in a corner without enough room to properly sit on the chair provided for him. Penn’s positioning of Capote invokes two images of the writer; a frightened boy dressed up in his father’s too-large overcoat, or an introverted patient of an insane asylum. Penn allows the viewer to see the truth that lies in either of these perspectives. Additionally, the lines sealing the backdrop to the floor move at converging diagonal lines towards Capote’s face. Penn increases the focus on Capote and his quizzical expression through the use of line, background and limited visual distractions.

Irving Penn, Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell), New York, 1949

Irving Penn, Tambul Warrior, New Guinea, 1970

Penn’s artistic taste varies from the haute couture of Vogue to the cultural tastes of indigenous tribes; however, his fascination with dress and style remain consistent despite his choice of subject. For instance Szarkowski writes in regards to Penn’s photographs of native New Guineans that “Penn shows us nothing of the circumstances of the New Guinea tribesman, and nothing of their world beyond their sense of style.” Though the subjects of his photos change from models and celebrities to village elders and hippies, Penn remains consistent with his use of simple backdrops and natural light. This consistency grants his more cultural subjects the same air of importance and celebrity as his high fashion models.

Irving Penn, Three Village Elders, Khenifra, Morocco, 1971

Penn’s cultural photographs, like his fashion work, emphasize not only the model’s clothes, but the person beneath the clothing. His photograph of Three Village Elders shot in Khenifra, Morocco in 1971 demonstrates this idea. Despite the similarity in wardrobe, Penn uses careful positioning to differentiate each subject from his neighbor and to exhibit each subject’s personality. Irving Penn is one of the most influential photographers of our time, not only in fashion, but in the world of art. His work is defined by simplicity and the use of plain, yet harshly angled backdrops. Penn captures the essence of his models in each photograph and as a result, his work remains a standard of excellence.

--Grace Flanders

Wright Morris: Origin of a Species

Wright Morris, Light Pole and Grain Elevator, Eastern Nebraska, 1947

Wright Morris, photographer and writer, was born in Nebraska in 1910. He and his father traveled from place to place, including Chicago and California, as well as Mexico, but as he grew older, his works turned toward his original home place. In these photographs, taken around the country through the 1930’s and 40’s, he focused on the everyday life and the rural places and people of the time. Morris portrayed the simplicity of life in those times, the uncluttered life. There’s a place for everything, and everything should be put back in its place. Coats hang on their nails on a plain wooden wall, silverware lies lined up by type, forks with the forks and knives all together, in their own drawer. Even little bits and pieces that don’t have anywhere else to go-things such as a box of bullets, pill box, and other odds and ends-even these have their own drawer where everything is laid out and easily accessible.

Wright Morris, Front Door, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Drawer with Silverware, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Clothing on Hooks, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Dresser Drawer, Ed's Place, 1947

These photographs are all full of simple forms, clean lines and common shapes, which accentuate the simplicity so prevalent in Wright Morris’ work. In the photograph Drawer with Silverware, there is nothing extravagant about the forks and knives pictured. They are simple pieces, arrayed in a straight line, side by side. Clothing on Hooks shows a couple of tattered coats and a hat hung on a wall, but they are simple work coats, and there is absolutely nothing about the wall, with its plain white paint and straight grey crosspiece, to detract from the main subject. It even helps to focus attention on the no-frills style of life revealed by the worn out clothing. Even Dresser Drawer, with its comparatively more complex subject matter, is simple in form, mostly square boxes with a few circular objects added in. Everything about these and other Wright Morris photographs suggests an un-adorned life, from the simplicity of the complete work to the uncomplicated shapes and lines contained within the works.

Wright Morris, Rocker, Home Place, 1947

Morris photographed the standard homes and main streets of the country, of the simple but hardworking people who live without the frills and material things that so many of us tend to collect but never need. It’s the things used by the typical family everyday that are the subjects of a great many of Morris’ works, such as the rocking chair that many a mother and grandmother has used to rock a young child to sleep. Wright Morris’ photographs show that there is beauty in the simplicity and order of these everyday scenes.

--Talia Dibbell

April 20, 2009

Clarence John Laughlin: Ghosts Along the Mississippi


Clarence John Laughlin, Magnificent Avenue, Rosedown Plantation (1835), 1946/7

Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi is a compilation of 100 photographs of Louisiana plantation houses. He has attributed his allure for these houses to two main reasons. The first is the “historico-architectural” value of these houses and the second is the “poetic value”. Historically these houses are interesting because they were nearly self-sufficient, and were designed architecturally with the climate and materials of the surrounding area in mind. Poetically, these houses seem alive, each possessing its own character or life force. They are anthropomorphic in their aging as well as in their character. Their walls crack and fade with time, just as the skin of a weathered face, their once strong walls and pillars begin to droop just as the worked muscles of an old man. Laughlin speaks of the interrelation of light and time and how these two elements are mainly responsible for the beauty of many of the houses.

Clarence John Laughlin, Elegy for an Old House, Woodlawn Plantation (1835-1839), 1946/7

Woodlawn seems to be a relatively simple plantation home. It is pleasingly symmetrical with two wings that protrude towards the camera. The tree to the left of the house adds much more weight to that side of the frame, however, it is somewhat counterbalanced by the surplus of hay flowing from the hollowed-out windows on the right. The two windows on the top floor are boarded shut, with the cross boards level with one another. The Spanish moss hanging from the tree seems to echo the hay herniating the windows. The scraps of corrugated metal atop the left portion of the roof emphasize the lack of a chimney on that side. The shadow being cast from the right wing of the house is due to the fact that this photo was taken “in an ethereal glowing sunset”. The presence of the tree and the hay in the windows coupled with the deserted background suggests that this house has been reclaimed by nature. The natural materials combined to produce this house finally allowed to return to their original forms after having been immured within. The cracks beginning to the left of the center of the house suggest a tremendous outward force, perhaps this force of nature’s imprisoned products breaking free of their man induced restraints.

The name of this photograph is Elegy for an Old House which seems to imply a note of melancholy. This implied note does not seem to be present in the aforementioned interpretation of this photo (one would assume the reverting of manmade products to their natural state to be a positive thing). Why is this an elegy? Perhaps because, although these materials are free to become “wild again” there is no one there to see this transformation take place. The photo preserves but a second of this transformation, yet it continues for long after the photo has been processed and printed for us to see and is probably still occurring as I sit writing. The picture is conspicuously devoid of any human life (not even a commonplace tire swing to be seen!). The wilderness behind the house is cut out of the frame and can scarcely be seen, it seems strangled off somehow by the house’s decaying frame.

--Jean-Luc Delafontaine


Clarence John Laughlin, Elegy for Moss Land, 1946/7

Ghosts along the Mississippi presents Laughlin's vision of traditional Louisiana plantation culture as it has evolved over changing times. The former grandeur of the massive, ornate, antebellum and neoclassical-style plantation houses is contrasted with their decaying facades. The once magnificent plantation lifestyle is only evident as a ghost within a dilapidated shell. The lighting is bright and the dark, dreamy Spanish moss seems to overtake the crumbling structures. Lichens and mold overcome weatherworn sculptures in overgrown gardens and against rotting walls. Darkly dressed, specter-like figures drift among the testament to a now-dead lifestyle, their shadows stark against the crumbling exterior. The constant struggle during life between natural species and manmade architectural forms concludes with the death of the plantation. Plant forms finally are able to grow, untamed, and in turn dominate the abandoned landscape.

Clarence John Laughlin, The Apparition, Woodlawn Plantation (1835-1839), 1946/7

Clarence John Laughlin, The Moss Weeps, Woodlawn Plantation (1835-1839), 1946/7

Elegy for Moss Land presents an amalgam of all of these elements. The double exposure of the decaying plantation house and the swampy landscape deliberately present the struggle between manmade and natural. The lone, Spanish moss-covered tree appears to even lift the house into the air in victory. The dark ghost of a woman underneath the tree appears to be diving off into the swampy abyss. Her head is bowed-even she realizes the grand, old plantation lifestyle is now only evident in the decay of its monuments. The way that Laughlin composes his scenes of growth and decay evoke a feeling of calmness and emptiness, even when there is much detail in front of the lens. The viewer does not feel like an outsider intruding upon someone’s livelihood, but as a part of the landscape: a natural witness to the almost unbelievable compositions of wood, stone and leaves. For a lifestyle that brought so much pain and injustice through the atrocities of slavery, Clarence John Laughlin presents the idea that the decay of such a way of life can give birth to an explosion of beauty.

--Amanda Greenstein

April 19, 2009

Walker Evans: American Photographs

Walker Evans, Roadside View, Alabama Coal Area Company Town, 1936

Walker Evans' photographs, commissioned under the New Deal, are a prime example of the documentary ability of photographs. In American Photographs, a collection published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1938, Evans’ photographs are presented in two sections. First, we are shown the American people and second, their places. These two sections combine to create a collection that looks inward at the ideals of the American people along the Eastern seaboard in an age of prosperity and progress, on the brink of catastrophe.

Walker Evans, Torn Movie Poster, 1930

Walker Evans, Sidewalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936

In Looking at Photographs, John Szarkowski says of Evans' work that it is “the antithesis of art: economical, precisely measured, frontal, unemotional, dryly textured, factual.” Szarkowski also points to Evans' capacity to show a decisively American tradition of subject matter while expressing it as a question of what Americans thought of themselves at the time. The quintessential example of Evans' tendency to question American values and thought is Torn Movie Poster, 1930. In this image, Evans' contrasts the materialism of mainstream culture as represented in the movie poster against the reality of the society from which it comes, as it is ripped apart. Evans also does not shy away from a photo packed with visual information, like in Sidewalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936 in which the African American position in society is shown through the placement of the figures in the photograph as juxtaposed with that of the white man. The white man sits contained in his automobile, protected from the street, staring straight ahead as if he is the only one there. The Camel cigarette sign and the three men sitting in front of the store embody Evans' comparison of reality to American cultural iconography. The camel sign could also be taken as a reference to American consumerism. Once again, Evans looks at Americana and turns it on itself to question the values that lie beneath.

Walker Evans, New Orleans Houses, 1935

In the second section of American Photographs, American architecture is featured, again documenting the ideals of the people of the era. Evans' masters the portrayal of architecture in photograph such as, New Orleans Houses, 1935 where he depicts architecture as art. Lincoln Kirstein has pointed out in the book's accompanying essay, "Photographs of America: Walker Evans," that American architecture appealed to genres past as a testament to the desire for “the prestige of the past in a new land.” Thus, Evans shows the social monuments of the era as they revealed the inner desires of the American people to establish themselves. Also in this photograph, Evan’s confronts the image straight on and tightly bundles the three frame houses in one image. Kirstein suggests this head on view, characteristic of Evans' work, is a frank perspective showing both the purity of his vision and the cynical attitude that lie beneath.

--Amy Palumbo