Posts Tagged ‘Danny Lyon

14
Feb
21

Exhibition: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409
From ‘New art from wall to wall’ ongoing

 

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

As you can imagine, with the tragic situation of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic around the world at the moment, there are few photography exhibitions on view.

This selection of images comes from the collection 1940s-1970s at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in an ongoing display. Please note that not all Gordon Parks photographs shown here are on display, but I include them to give the viewer an overview, a greater understanding of the breadth of photographs included in Parks’ cinematic photo-essay.

Can you imagine the fortitude of this man: “born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant labourer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself and becoming a photographer. He evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer.” “The first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture (Shaft) for a major Hollywood studio.” As a photographer he learnt his craft shooting dresses for department stores, taking portraits of society women in Chicago, and studying “the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange”. Before joining them as a member of the FSA.

This body of work is remarkable for its non-judgemental gaze, a felt response to a subject which was an assignment for LIFE magazine: an objective reporter with a subjective heart as Parks proclaimed, one who had a certain kind of empathy, “expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” Park’s photographic strategy was to use colour (rare and expensive in those days), and to close in on detail. Rarely if at all are there any mid to long shots in the photo-essay, placing the photograph in a particular location, the exception being the Untitled street scene under the Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”) rapid transit system and the night-time shot of an illuminated Alcatraz Island – remote, forbidding, isolated.

Photographed with candour – using low depth of field, silhouette, chiaroscuro, natural light, low light, night photography, no blur, little flash and challenging perspective, aesthetically a mixture of Dorothea Lange, Weegee and the colour images of Saul Leiter – other intimate images in the series create an “atmosphere” of everyday life on the streets and in the prisons, capturing how the disenfranchised, the desperate and the destitute are controlled and processed by force. “Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.” In Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois (1957) we see two detectives of Italian descent raiding a dingy run-down tenement, busting the door open unannounced, guns drawn. In the photograph underneath in the posting, taken inside the oh so red room with floral curtains, one of the detectives questions a black suspect smoking a cigarette, while on the table covered with newspapers sits a burning candle probably providing the only illumination. Cowering in the shadows is a black women, almost unnoticed until you really look at the photograph. This is what abject poverty looks like. In another photograph, Untitled, New York, New York (1957), black and white men emerge from a police van – about the only time black and white men would have sat together in the segregated society of the time (other than being in prison). Can you imagine the atmosphere inside the paddy wagon, the looks, the conversation or lack of it?

Parks’ beautiful photographs, for they are that, include challenging depictions of death, drug use and nonchalantly displayed items such as guns and knuckledusters. Violence and the outcomes of it are an ever present theme in Parks’ documentation of the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities. The photographs are frequently heartbreaking, such as the scars on the legs of a Black American; or devastating, such as the photograph Knifing Victim I (1957). Park’s compresses the space of the action, attacking the nitty gritty of the mise en scène but with no rush to judgement, just telling it how it is. As Sebastian Smee so eloquently observes, “If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy [of slavery, of lynching]. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.”

And so it goes, both for the marginalised in America and for Indigenous Australians. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 Black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%” (Wikipedia) while the percentage of US population that is black is 14%. “As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.” (Wikipedia)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs are used for the purposes of education and research under fair use conditions.

 

 

In 1957, Life staff photographer Gordon Parks traversed New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco capturing crime scenes, police precincts, and prisons for “The Atmosphere of Crime,” as his photo essay was titled when it appeared in the magazine. Rather than identify or label “the criminal,” Parks – a fierce advocate for civil rights and a firm believer in photography as a catalyst for change – documented the policing and criminalisation of marginalised people and communities.

Here, Parks’s series is presented in relation to a long history of picturing criminality. In the nineteenth century, mug shots relied on photography’s supposed objectivity as the basis of their value for identification and surveillance. In the twentieth, more sensational images of victims, raids, and arrests circulated in newspapers and tabloids. In contrast, Parks urges us to look beyond individual people and events, to consider the forces of state and police power that are inextricable from any history of crime – a lesson as essential now as ever.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

“I’m an objective reporter with a subjective heart,” proclaimed Gordon Parks. “I can’t help but have a certain kind of empathy… It’s more or less expressing things for people who can’t speak for themselves… the underdogs… in that way I speak for myself.” For over half a century, from the 1940s to the 2000s, Gordon Parks captured American life with his powerful photographs. After getting his first camera at the age of 25, he used this “weapon of choice” to attack issues including racism, poverty, urban life, and injustice. He became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine – an immensely influential platform in the golden age of photo-illustrated magazines that not only allowed his art to be seen by many but also brought a critical, nuanced and, importantly, a Black perspective to the stories and depictions that he shared. For a 1957 assignment, he crisscrossed the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, producing vivid colour images addressing the perceived rise in crime in the US. This series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” challenged stereotypical images of delinquency, drug use, and corruption.

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Text from the Gordon Parks Foundation website

 

“I don’t know that there is any one thing called “the Black experience,” but the way ‘Life magazine’ used Gordon Parks’ photographs for me actually reinscribed some of those notions of Black pathology, such as a story about a gang member (who was actually a pretty normal young man) or extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. Parks was a much more complex photographer than that, as we came to fully know after his death, but that’s how we came to know him through ‘Life magazine’.”

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Dawoud Bey quoted in Gail O’Neill. “Q&A: How Dawoud Bey uses photography to amplify his voice in the world,” on the ‘ARTS ATL’ website November 6, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

 

 

Sarah Meister, curator in the Department of Photography, looks at images from Gordon Parks’s 1957 photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” (1957) and is moved by the power (and, sadly, continued relevance) of his ability to confront “the great social evils of his time” with an “incredible artistic sensibility.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Closing in on a known criminal on Chicago’s South Side, police in a scout car check tensely by radio with headquarters. City lights rainbow the storm-splattered windshield as the car approaches the hideout.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 46.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957 (detail)

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (detail)
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
13 3/4 × 21″ (35 × 53.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
San Quentin, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled (Alcatraz Island), San Francisco, California
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957

Gordon Parks’ ethically complex depictions of crime in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with previously unseen photographs.

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in colour. The resulting eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.

Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and afforded a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life‘s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

Anonymous. “Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957,” on the Exibart Street website [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
11 7/8 × 17 15/16″ (30.1 × 45.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Checking In Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A sidewalk puddle reflects a common tragedy. A police van drives up to a Chicago hospital’s emergency door with a knifing victim. Tired attendants, once compassionate, sit idly by.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
21 × 13 3/4″ (53.3 × 35cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, New York, New York' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, New York, New York
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

A prowl car halts in a New York street, a youth comes nervously to its side. “You clean?” the cop asks. “We’re watching you.”

Text from “The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, San Quentin, California' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, San Quentin, California [Pre-execution report]
1957
Pigmented inkjet print, printed 2019
17 15/16 × 11 7/8″ (45.6 × 30.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1957

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1957
Pigmented inkjet print
16 × 20″ (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The left hand of a man who knows the ropes nonchalantly dangles a cigaret through the bars of a Chicago prison. But the man’s right hand, grasping the bars below, betrays him: he is frustrated and locked in.

Text from LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

 

MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime

The photographs will go on view in the New York museum’s permanent collection galleries in May, along with a selection of works by other artists and a clip from the classic 1971 film Shaft

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has acquired a full set of photographs by Gordon Parks from The Atmosphere of Crime series, a photographic essay examining crime in America he created on assignment with Life magazine in 1957. Along with 55 modern colour inkjet prints created from Parks’s transparencies, selected and bought in consultation with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the foundation has gifted a vintage gelatin silver print that matches a work already in MoMA’s collection, given by the photographer in 1993. Around 15 pieces from the series will go on view in a dedicated gallery on the fourth floor in May, along with an excerpt from his classic 1971 film Shaft and works by other artists from the collection, as part of the next reinstallation of the permanent galleries.

The acquisition comes through years of conversations with the Gordon Parks Foundation, which has been organising in-depth exhibitions of the photographer’s work at major museums since his death in 2006. “When Sarah Meister [MoMA’s curator of photography] and I began speaking a few years ago about how the museum could make a major acquisition, it was about what body of work would really have the most impact to what’s going on in the current world,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the foundation’s executive director. “And we both felt that The Atmosphere of Crime was so relevant, not only because so much hasn’t changed today in our criminal justice system and with police brutality and violence, but also because the work is in colour.”

Colour photography was prohibitively expensive to produce outside of commercial projects at the time Parks first shot the series, Meister explains, and only a selection of images from the series were printed in colour in Life. “The transparencies that Gordon Parks made have been held back for a number of years for the right institution to thoughtfully put together an exhibition and book,” Kunhardt adds. The catalogue, published by Steidl with essays by Meister, Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and the art historian Nicole Fleetwood, who also wrote Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, includes all the images from the acquisition.

Extract from Helen Stoilas. “MoMA acquires historic Gordon Parks series The Atmosphere of Crime,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 February 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: 'Gordon Parks and "The Atmosphere of Crime"' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the Collection 1940s-1970s, Room 409: Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

None of these images is crude or cliched. A few, it’s true, are brutally direct, in the spirit of Robert Lowell (“Yet why not say what happened?”) or Walker Evans (“If the thing is there, why there it is.”). But others are oddly – and arrestingly – tentative. They’re optically blurred, obscured by visual impediments, as if filtered through the artist’s melancholy, his pity, his black-of-night bewilderment. Looking at them, you feel that something others might rush to – judgment, sentencing, finality – has been deliberately withheld. …

The presence of the word “atmosphere” in the title is apt. It captures both the cumulative impact of the imagery and the complexity of crime’s causes and effects. Park’s use of blur, his unexpected vantage points and his embrace of pooling darkness all elevate his feeling for complication and suffering over the usual simplistic story lines that crowd to the subject of crime. …

Between 1880 and 1950, lynchings were committed in open defiance of the law, terrorising a Black population that proceeded to escape to the ghettos of the North in massive numbers.

If all of this were mere history – a series of episodes confined to the past – it would be one thing. But Parks’s photographs are alive to the many ways in which crime in the 1950s was a continuation of this legacy. Sixty years after he took these photographs, it’s difficult to deny the conclusion that today’s crime-related inequities, from mass incarceration to police brutality, are likewise an extension of this racist legacy.

Big-city street crime has been in steady decline for three decades now. And yet the complexities and inequities of American crime still hinge on race and are still crudely narrated in the media.

Extract from Sebastian Smee. “With his camera, Gordon Parks humanized the Black people others saw as simply criminals,” on The Washington Post website August 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 07/02/2021

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957 front cover

 

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47.

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 46-47. Photograph by Gordon Parks.

 

LIFE magazine 'Crime in the U.S.'

Robert Wallace. "Crime in the U.S." LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957. Photographs by Gordon Parks.

 

 

Robert Wallace. “Crime in the U.S.” LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 68-69.

 

 

“BANDIT’S ROOST” in New York’s Mulberry Street in 1890s housed Italians who, like most economically exploited immigrant groups, had a high incidence of crime. As Sellin explains, this dropped as they prospered.

Unattributed photograph by Jacob Riis (see below).

 

Jacob Riis (Danish-American, 1849-1914) 'Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street' 1888

 

Jacob Riis (American, born Denmark 1849-1914)
Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street
1888
From How the Other Half Lives

 

This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

 

 

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914) was a Danish-American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist and social documentary photographer. He contributed significantly to the cause of urban reform in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He is known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City; those impoverished New Yorkers were the subject of most of his prolific writings and photography. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller. Additionally, as one of the most famous proponents of the newly practicable casual photography, he is considered one of the fathers of photography due to his very early adoption of flash in photography.

While living in New York, Riis experienced poverty and became a police reporter writing about the quality of life in the slums. He attempted to alleviate the bad living conditions of poor people by exposing their living conditions to the middle and upper classes. …

 

Photography

Bandit’s Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit’s Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City. Riis had for some time been wondering how to show the squalor of which he wrote more vividly than his words could express. He tried sketching, but was incompetent at this. Camera lenses of the 1880s were slow as was the emulsion of photographic plates; photography thus did not seem to be of any use for reporting about conditions of life in dark interiors. In early 1887, however, Riis was startled to read that “a way had been discovered to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way.” The German innovation, by Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke, flash powder was a mixture of magnesium with potassium chlorate and some antimony sulfide for added stability; the powder was used in a pistol-like device that fired cartridges. This was the introduction of flash photography.

Recognising the potential of the flash, Riis informed a friend, Dr. John Nagle, chief of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the City Health Department who was also a keen amateur photographer. Nagle found two more photographer friends, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, and the four of them began to photograph the slums. Their first report was published in the New York newspaper The Sun on February 12, 1888; it was an unsigned article by Riis which described its author as “an energetic gentleman, who combines in his person, though not in practice, the two dignities of deacon in a Long Island church and a police reporter in New York”. The “pictures of Gotham’s crime and misery by night and day” are described as “a foundation for a lecture called ‘The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York.’ to give at church and Sunday school exhibitions, and the like.” The article was illustrated by twelve line drawings based on the photographs.

Riis and his photographers were among the first Americans to use flash photography. Pistol lamps were dangerous and looked threatening, and would soon be replaced by another method for which Riis lit magnesium powder on a frying pan. The process involved removing the lens cap, igniting the flash powder and replacing the lens cap; the time taken to ignite the flash powder sometimes allowed a visible image blurring created by the flash.

Riis’s first team soon tired of the late hours, and Riis had to find other help. Both his assistants were lazy and one was dishonest, selling plates for which Riis had paid. Riis sued him in court successfully. Nagle suggested that Riis should become self-sufficient, so in January 1888 Riis paid $25 for a 4×5 box camera, plate holders, a tripod and equipment for developing and printing. He took the equipment to the potter’s field cemetery on Hart Island to practice, making two exposures. The result was seriously overexposed but successful.

For three years, Riis combined his own photographs with others commissioned of professionals, donations by amateurs and purchased lantern slides, all of which formed the basis for his photographic archive.

Because of the nighttime work, he was able to photograph the worst elements of the New York slums, the dark streets, tenement apartments, and “stale-beer” dives, and documented the hardships faced by the poor and criminal, especially in the vicinity of notorious Mulberry Street. …

 

Social attitudes

Riis’s concern for the poor and destitute often caused people to assume he disliked the rich. However, Riis showed no sign of discomfort among the affluent, often asking them for their support. Although seldom involved with party politics, Riis was sufficiently disgusted by the corruption of Tammany Hall to change from being an endorser of the Democratic Party to endorse the Republican Party. The period just before the Spanish-American War was difficult for Riis. He was approached by liberals who suspected that protests of alleged Spanish mistreatment of the Cubans was merely a ruse intended to provide a pretext for US expansionism; perhaps to avoid offending his friend Roosevelt, Riis refused the offer of good payment to investigate this and made nationalist statements.

Riis emphatically supported the spread of wealth to lower classes through improved social programs and philanthropy, but his personal opinion of the natural causes for poor immigrants’ situations tended to display the trappings of a racist ideology. Several chapters of How the Other Half Lives, for example, open with Riis’ observations of the economic and social situations of different ethnic and racial groups via indictments of their perceived natural flaws; often prejudices that may well have been informed by scientific racism.

 

Criticism

Riis’s sincerity for social reform has seldom been questioned, but critics have questioned his right to interfere with the lives and choices of others. His audience comprised middle-class reformers, and critics say that he had no love for the traditional lifestyles of the people he portrayed. Stange (1989) argues that Riis “recoiled from workers and working-class culture” and appealed primarily to the anxieties and fears of his middle-class audience. Swienty (2008) says, “Riis was quite impatient with most of his fellow immigrants; he was quick to judge and condemn those who failed to assimilate, and he did not refrain from expressing his contempt.” Gurock (1981) says Riis was insensitive to the needs and fears of East European Jewish immigrants who flooded into New York at this time.

Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell (2001) argues that immigrants during Riis’s time were typically willing to live in cramped, unpleasant circumstances as a deliberate short-term strategy that allowed them to save more than half their earnings to help family members come to America, with every intention of relocating to more comfortable lodgings eventually. Many tenement renters physically resisted the well-intentioned relocation efforts of reformers like Riis, states Sowell, because other lodgings were too costly to allow for the high rate of savings possible in the tenements. Moreover, according to Sowell, Riis’s own personal experiences were the rule rather than the exception during his era: like most immigrants and low-income persons, he lived in the tenements only temporarily before gradually earning more income and relocating to different lodgings.

Riis’s depictions of various ethnic groups can be harsh. In Riis’s books, according to some historians, “The Jews are nervous and inquisitive, the Orientals are sinister, the Italians are unsanitary.”

Riis was also criticised for his depiction of African Americans. He was said to portray them as falsely happy with their lives in the “slums” of New York City. This criticism didn’t come until much later after Riis had died. His writing was overlooked because his photography was so revolutionary in his early books.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

“The Atmosphere of Crime” photographed for LIFE by Gordon Parks. LIFE magazine, September 9, 1957, p. 50.

 

Gordon Parks' photo essay 'The Atmosphere of Crime' in 'Life Magazine', September 9, 1957

 

Gordon Parks’ photo essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” in Life Magazine, September 9, 1957, pp. 58-59.

 

 

Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking 1971 film, “Shaft”; because two fine shows of his pioneering photojournalism are on view at the Jack Shainman galleries in Chelsea; because a suite from his influential 1957 series, “The Atmosphere of Crime,” is a highlight of “In and Around Harlem,” on view at the Museum of Modern Art; and because, somehow, despite the long shadow cast by a man widely considered the preeminent Black American photographer of the 20th century, he is too little known, the time seems right to revisit some elements of the remarkable life, style and undimmed relevance of Gordon Parks.

 

Last born of 15 children, he made a career of firsts

Born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in Fort Scott, Kansas, on Nov. 30, 1912, he attended segregated schools where he was prohibited from playing sports and was advised not to aim for college because higher education was pointless for people destined to be porters and maids.

Once, he was beaten up for walking with a light-skinned cousin. Once, he was tossed into the Marmaton River by three white boys fully aware that he could not swim. Once, he was thrown out of a brother-in-law’s house where he was sent to live after his mother’s death. This was in St. Paul, at Christmas. He rode a trolley all night to keep warm.

 

The road to fame had plenty of detours

At various points in his early years, Parks played the piano in a brothel, was a janitor in a flophouse and was a dining car waiter on the cross-country railroad. He survived these travails to become, following a route that was anything but direct, the first Black member of the Farm Security Administration’s storied photo corps; the first Black photographer for the U.S. Office of War Information; the first Black photographer for Vogue; the first Black staff photographer at the weekly magazine Life; and, years later, the first Black filmmaker to direct a motion picture for a major Hollywood studio. By the standards of a Jim Crow era, Parks’ perseverance rose to the level of the biblical.

 

He got his break shooting dresses

As passengers have done everywhere and always, those on the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle tossed their onboard reading when they were done. Parks scavenged the well-thumbed magazines and, taking them home, discovered both the Depression-era images of photographers like Dorothea Lange and the exotic spheres depicted in Vogue.

He bought his first camera at a pawnshop in Seattle in 1937 and taught himself how to use it. Returning to the Minneapolis area where he had lived for a time, he scouted work shooting for local department stores. All except one rebuffed him.

This, as it happened, was Frank Murphy, the most fashionable boutique in the city, a shop with a running fountain, a resident parrot and a clientele that ran to women from the Pillsbury, Ordway and Dayton dynasties and who relied on the buyers there to supply them with things like “telephone dresses,” for those who considered it unseemly to take calls in dishabille.

By legend, it was the owner’s wife, Madeleine, who insisted that her husband hire the fledgling photographer despite his inexperience, for reasons never made clear. The bet paid off, though, since the images Parks produced promptly resulted in more work, a local exhibition and a telephone call from Marva Louis, then the wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, who encouraged him to relocate to Chicago, where he began taking portraits of society women. It was a career transit compressed in a sequence of events so implausible as to seem cinematic. Yet, for Parks, it was just a beginning.

“From the start, Parks knew how to make a beautiful picture,” photography critic Vince Aletti said. And it is true that, long after Parks established his reputation with unflinching photographic series on the civil rights movement, Harlem gangs, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, he continued to move easily between photojournalism and the fashion work for which he maintained a lifelong regard – and which, along with his access to elements of Black life largely invisible to white readers, was among the reasons he was hired in the first place by Life.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)' 1870s-80s

 

Unknown photographer
Untitled (Pages from an album of mugshots)
1870s-80s
Albumen silver prints
Each 9 1/8 × 4 7/16″ (23.2 × 11.2cm)

 

Times Wide World Photos. "Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today" April 1927

 

Times Wide World Photos
“Ms. Ruth Snyder as She Looks Today”
April 1927
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 × 7 1/2″ (25.1 × 19.1cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Times Wide World Photos

 

 

Ruth Brown Snyder (March 27, 1895 – January 12, 1928) was an American murderer. Her execution in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder, was recorded in a well-publicised photograph.

 

Associated Press. "Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching" 1934

 

Associated Press
“Mob Foiled in Attempted Lynching”
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 3/8″ (16.5 × 21.3cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' 1942

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
1942
Gelatin silver print
10 5/16 × 13 3/16″ (26.2 × 33.5cm)
The Family of Man Fund
© 2021 Weegee/ICP/Getty Images

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins. 'Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York' March 29, 1951

 

Associated Press, Roger Higgins
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on Their Way to Jail in New York
March 29, 1951
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 7/16″ (16.5 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 Associated Press

 

 

Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. The couple was accused of providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs; at that time the United States was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed by the federal government of the United States in 1953 in the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer that penalty during peacetime.

Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working in Los Alamos, was convicted in the United Kingdom.

For decades, the Rosenbergs’ sons (Michael and Robert Meeropol) and many other defenders maintained that Julius and Ethel were innocent of spying on their country and were victims of Cold War paranoia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, much information concerning them was declassified, including a trove of decoded Soviet cables (code-name: Venona), which detailed Julius’s role as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets. Ethel’s role was as an accessory who helped recruit her brother David into the spy ring and she worked in a secretarial manner typing up documents for her husband that were given to the Soviets. In 2008, the National Archives of the United States published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Black Maria, Oakland' 1957

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Black Maria, Oakland
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 15/16 × 9 13/16″ (27.9 × 24.9cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times. 'Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber's Chair' October 25, 1957

 

Meyer Liebowitz (American, 1906-1976) / The New York Times
Umberto (Albert) Anastasia Shot to Death in Barber’s Chair
October 25, 1957
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 8 7/16″ (19.4 × 21.4cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 The New York Times

 

 

Umberto “Albert” Anastasia (1902-1957) was an Italian-American mobster, hitman, and crime boss. One of the founders of the modern American Mafia and a co-founder and later boss of the Murder, Inc. criminal collective, Anastasia eventually rose to the position of boss in what became the modern Gambino crime family. He was also in control of the New York waterfront for most of his criminal career, including the dockworker unions. He was murdered on October 25, 1957, on the orders of Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino; Gambino subsequently became boss of the family.

Anastasia was one of the most ruthless and feared organised crime figures in American history; his reputation earned him the nicknames “The One-Man Army”, “Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner”. …

 

Assassination

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving him unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber’s chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia reportedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing until Anastasia finally fell dead on the floor.

The Anastasia homicide generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high-profile police investigation. Per The New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory”. However, no one was charged in the case. Speculation on who killed Anastasia has centred on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers within the Gambino family. Initially, the NYPD concluded that Anastasia’s homicide had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino and that it was carried out by a crew led by Gallo. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit, “You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet”. Elsewhere, Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives. It is marked “Anastasio”. In 1958, his family emigrated to Canada, and changed the name to “Anisio”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas' 1967-69

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dominoes, Walls Unit, Texas
1967-69
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14″ (28 × 35.6cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James Hunter
© 2021 Danny Lyon

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company. "Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts" July 19, 1969

 

John Hubbard / Black Star Publishing Company
“Kennedy Car off Bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts”
July 19, 1969
Gelatin silver print
6 13/16 × 9 15/16″ (17.3 × 25.2cm)
The New York Times Collection
© 2021 John Hubbard/Black Star Publishing Co.

 

 

The Chappaquiddick incident (popularly known as Chappaquiddick) was a single-vehicle car crash that occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts some time around midnight between Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, 1969. The crash was caused by Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy’s negligence and resulted in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside the vehicle.

Kennedy left a party on Chappaquiddick at 11:15 p.m. Friday, with Kopechne. He maintained his intent was to immediately take Kopechne to a ferry landing and return to Edgartown, but that he accidentally made a wrong turn onto a dirt road leading to a one-lane bridge. After his car skidded off the bridge into Poucha Pond, Kennedy swam free, and maintained he tried to rescue Kopechne from the submerged car, but he could not. Kopechne’s death could have happened any time between about 11:30 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, as an off-duty deputy sheriff maintained he saw a car matching Kennedy’s at 12:40 a.m. Kennedy left the scene and did not report the crash to police until after 10 a.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, a diver recovered Kopechne’s body from Kennedy’s car shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday.

At a July 25, 1969, court hearing, Kennedy pled guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended jail sentence. In a televised statement that same evening, he said his conduct immediately after the crash “made no sense to me at all”, and that he regarded his failure to report the crash immediately as “indefensible”. A January 5, 1970, judicial inquest concluded Kennedy and Kopechne did not intend to take the ferry, and that Kennedy intentionally turned toward the bridge, operating his vehicle negligently, if not recklessly, at too high a rate of speed for the hazard which the bridge posed in the dark. The judge stopped short of recommending charges, and a grand jury convened on April 6, 1970, returning no indictments. On May 27, 1970, a Registry of Motor Vehicles hearing resulted in Kennedy’s driver’s license being suspended for a total of sixteen months after the crash.

The Chappaquiddick incident became national news that influenced Kennedy’s decision not to run for President in 1972 and 1976, and it was said to have undermined his chances of ever becoming President. Kennedy ultimately decided to enter the 1980 Democratic Party presidential primaries, but earned only 37.6% of the vote and lost the nomination to incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment' 1972

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
New York: Woman killed by her boyfriend at her place of employment
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 23 9/16″ (39.7 × 59.8cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.
© 2021 Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos

 

 

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16
Aug
19

Exhibition: ‘Among Others: Photography and the Group’ at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 18th August 2019

 

Bob Adelman (1930-2016) 'People Wall, World's Fair, New York' 1965

 

Bob Adelman (1930-2016)
People Wall, World’s Fair, New York
1965
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Nancy and Burton Staniar
© Bob Adelman Estate

 

 

Love Mike Mandel’s classic Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards (1975, below)

Some of my favourite group photographs:

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the The Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Photographer Unidentified. 'Untitled (women in aprons pose among trees)' 1913

 

Photographer Unidentified
Untitled (women in aprons pose among trees)
1913
Commercially processed gelatin silver print; postcard
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Photographer Unidentified. 'Untitled (women in aprons pose among trees)' 1913 (detail)

 

Photographer Unidentified
Untitled (women in aprons pose among trees) (detail)
1913
Commercially processed gelatin silver print; postcard
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Myers Cope Co. Atlantic City. 'Photo-multigraph of unidentified girl (Woman in trick photo-booth)' c. 1920s

 

Myers Cope Co. Atlantic City
Photo-multigraph of unidentified girl (Woman in trick photo-booth)
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print with postcard back
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Studio Retrato-Escultura Victor. 'Fotoescultura' with eight subjects c. 1940s

 

Studio Retrato-Escultura Victor
Fotoescultura with eight subjects
c. 1940s
Carved, painted, and assembled wood with hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Photographer Unidentified. 'Group at the Main Building, Moscow State University' after 1953

 

Photographer Unidentified
Group at the Main Building, Moscow State University
after 1953
Gelatin silver print and mixed media
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Photographer Unidentified (American) 'Untitled (seventeen women in swimsuits hold magazines up on a low stage on a lawn)' 20th century (c. 1950s)

 

Photographer Unidentified (American)
Untitled (seventeen women in swimsuits hold magazines up on a low stage on a lawn)
20th century (c. 1950s)
Commercially processed gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, b. 1924)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Harry M. Callahan (American, 1912-1999) 'Collage, Chicago' 1957

 

Harry M. Callahan (American, 1912-1999)
Collage, Chicago
1957
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel
© The Estate of Harry Callahan; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Art Kane (American, 1925-1995) 'Harlem' 1958

 

Art Kane (American, 1925-1995)
Harlem
1958
In “The Golden Age of Jazz,” Esquire, January 1959
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on funds given by Peter J. Cohen, Ronald R. Kass, and Elaine Goldman
Photograph by Art Kane for Esquire, a publication of the Hearst Communications, Inc.,
Art Kane Courtesy © The Art Kane Archive

 

Jean-Pierre Ducatez (French, b. 1941) 'Beatle Lips: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr' 1965

Jean-Pierre Ducatez (French, b. 1941) 'Beatle Lips: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr' 1965

Jean-Pierre Ducatez (French, b. 1941) 'Beatle Lips: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr' 1965

Jean-Pierre Ducatez (French, b. 1941) 'Beatle Lips: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr' 1965

 

Jean-Pierre Ducatez (French, b. 1941)
Beatle Lips: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr
1965
Gelatin silver prints
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Allen Adler
© Jean-Pierre Ducatez

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'The dressing room, Fryeburg, Maine, USA, 1975' 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
The dressing room, Fryeburg, Maine, USA, 1975 (Before the show)
1975
From the series Carnival Strippers
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund
© Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

 

Amy Arbus (b. 1954) 'The Clash, NYC' 1981

 

Amy Arbus (b. 1954)
The Clash, NYC
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Amy Arbus
© Amy Arbus

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942) 'Haitian women praying in the market, HAITI, March 1986' 1986

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Haitian women praying in the market, HAITI, March 1986
1986
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Ronald R. Kass
© Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum presents a new exhibition about photography’s unique capacity to represent the bonds that unite people. From posed group portraits and candid street scenes to collages, constructions, and serial imagery, photographers have used many methods to place people in a shared frame of reference. Opening May 31, 2019, Among Others: Photography and the Group brings together more than sixty exceptional works spanning the 1860s to the present to explore the complexity of a type of image that is often taken for granted. Drawn primarily from the Morgan’s collection, the works in the exhibition include images by Amy Arbus, Eve Arnold, Robert Frank, Peter Hujar, and August Sander.

Among Others presents the seemingly endless possibilities of the group photograph, placing historically important portraits alongside records of significant cultural moments and experiments that helped reinvent the genre. In representations of the group, artist, subjects, and circumstances come together to create an image that might call to mind a loving family, a chance encounter among strangers, an embodiment of the democratic spirit, or a photographer’s ability to read and respond to a crowd. The photographs in the exhibition come in many formats: not just exhibition prints, snapshots, and posters, but also photo books, painted wooden sculpture, collages, baseball cards, and even a wastepaper basket featuring Richard M. Nixon. In their range and ingenuity, the works pose questions about family, diversity, democracy, representation, and the varieties of visual delight.

One section of the exhibition features candid scenes from public life, such as Robert Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans (1955), seen in a large-scale print the artist made around the time it graced the cover of his landmark book, The Americans (1959). Also on view are photographs of collective actions that came to define significant cultural moments, such as Eve Arnold’s 1960 photograph of a training school for Black sit-ins and Danny Lyon’s image of Haitian women praying in the month after the collapse of the corrupt regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Photographers took a wide range of approaches to representing the group beyond the arranged sittings of families or civic organisations. Bob Adelman’s People Wall, World’s Fair, New York exploits the way IBM’s 1965 attraction cast a spotlight on the social and ethnic diversity of fair attendees. For a 1970 recruitment poster for the Gay Liberation Front, Peter Hujar asked the group’s members to run exuberantly toward him on the street, enacting their slogan, “Come Out!!” Camera artists have often embedded themselves in the action they portray, as Susan Meiselas did when mingling with carnival strippers, first to capture them behind the scenes and then to photograph their audience from a performer’s perspective.

When the subjects are beloved celebrities, the portrait seals a relationship of shared admiration between maker and viewer. In 1965, press photographer Jean-Pierre Ducatez made four images that zeroed in on the lips of each of the Beatles, creating likenesses that appealed directly to dedicated fans. In 1981, Amy Arbus happened to snap a photo of a photogenic group hanging out near Times Square, and only later learned they were members of the Clash and their entourage.

The exhibition features items of “pop photographica” that play radically with the conventions of camera representation. In these pieces, individual portraits are mixed and matched to suit the purposes of board games, collectibles such as cigarette cards, and even psychological tests.

“The Morgan’s photography collection has grown and evolved in many directions since its founding in 2012, always with a dual emphasis on the camera’s creative possibilities and its role in shaping modern sensibilities,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director. “We are excited to present this wide-ranging selection of works, most of which are recent acquisitions and have never been exhibited before at the Morgan.”

Joel Smith, the Morgan’s Richard L. Menschel Curator and Department Head, said, “The group is a subject we’re so accustomed to seeing in photographs, it’s easy to forget that the conventions around it had to be invented, and that they shape our picture of reality. This exhibition invites viewers to explore the many ways images have defined – since long before the selfie – how it looks to belong to a group and what it means to be represented.”

Press release from The Morgan Library & Museum [Online] Cited 21/07/2019

 

Powell & Co. 'Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment Picture' 1865

 

Powell & Co.
Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment Picture
1865
Albumen print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

Powell & Co. 'Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment Picture' 1865 (detail)

 

Powell & Co.
Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment Picture (detail)
1865
Albumen print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

Eugene Omar Goldbeck (American, 1892-1986) 'Indoctrination Division, Air Training Command, Lackland Air Base, San Antonio, Texas, July 19, 1947' 1947

 

Eugene Omar Goldbeck (American, 1892-1986)
Indoctrination Division, Air Training Command, Lackland Air Base, San Antonio, Texas, July 19, 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on funds given by members of the Photography Collectors Committee

 

Eugene Omar Goldbeck (American, 1892-1986) 'Indoctrination Division, Air Training Command, Lackland Air Base, San Antonio, Texas, July 19, 1947' 1947 (detail)

 

Eugene Omar Goldbeck (American, 1892-1986)
Indoctrination Division, Air Training Command, Lackland Air Base, San Antonio, Texas, July 19, 1947 (detail)
1947
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on funds given by members of the Photography Collectors Committee

 

Photographer Unidentified (American) 'Untitled (human pyramid: fifty-six boys in white uniforms arranged in eight levels in a gymnasium)' 20th century

 

Photographer Unidentified (American)
Untitled (human pyramid: fifty-six boys in white uniforms arranged in eight levels in a gymnasium)
20th century
Commercially processed gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Photographer Unidentified (American) 'Untitled (human pyramid: fifty-six boys in white uniforms arranged in eight levels in a gymnasium)' 20th century (detail)

 

Photographer Unidentified (American)
Untitled (human pyramid: fifty-six boys in white uniforms arranged in eight levels in a gymnasium) (detail)
20th century
Commercially processed gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Eve Arnold (American, 1912-2012) 'A training school for Black sit-ins. They are harassed but taught not to hit back when harassed by Whites, Virginia, USA' 1960

 

Eve Arnold (American, 1912-2012)
A training school for Black sit-ins. They are harassed but taught not to hit back when harassed by Whites, Virginia, USA
1960
From the series Non-Violence
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased on the Photography Collectors Committee Fund
© Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot' 1969 or 1970

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot
1969 or 1970
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Peter Hujar Collection
Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot' (detail) 1969 or 1970

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot (detail)
1969 or 1970
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Peter Hujar Collection
Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot' (detail) 1969 or 1970

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Contact sheet: Gay Liberation Front poster image shoot (detail)
1969 or 1970
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Peter Hujar Collection
Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC
Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950) 'Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards' (front and verso) 1975

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950) 'Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards' (front and verso) 1975

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950)
Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards (front and verso)
1975
Photo-offset lithography on cards
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Jane P. Watkins
© Mike Mandel
Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950) 'Imogen Cunningham Baseball-Photographer Trading Card' 1975

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950)
Imogen Cunningham Baseball-Photographer Trading Card
1975
Photo-offset lithography on card
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Jane P. Watkins
© Mike Mandel
Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950) 'Duane Michals Baseball-Photographer Trading Card' 1975

 

Mike Mandel (American, b. 1950)
Duane Michals Baseball-Photographer Trading Card
1975
Photo-offset lithography on card
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of Jane P. Watkins
© Mike Mandel
Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY
Phone: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

The Morgan Library & Museum website

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23
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Danny Lyon: Message to the Future’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 25th September 2016

Curator: Julian Cox

 

 

This man is a living legend. What a strong body of socially conscious work he has produced over a long period of time. Each series proposes further insight into the human condition – and adds ‘value’ to series that have gone before. It is a though the artist possesses the intuition for a good story and the imagination to photograph it to best advantage, building the story over multiple encounters and contexts to form a thematic whole.

In a press release for a currently showing parallel exhibition titled Journey at Edwynn Houk Gallery the text states, “Continuing in the tradition of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Lyon forged a new style of realistic photography, described as “New Journalism,” where the photographer immerses himself in his subject’s world.” This reference to immersion is reinforced by the second quotation below, where “the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents.”

While the observation is correct that the artist immerses himself in the cultures and communities he documents, this is different to the tradition of Robert Frank and to a lesser extent, Walker Evans. Frank was a Swiss man who imaged his impressions of America on a road trip across the country. His “photographs were notable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society” which pictured the culture as both alienating and strange, “skeptical of contemporary values and evocative of ubiquitous loneliness”. This is why The Americans had so much power and caused so much consternation when it was first released in 1959 in America, for it held up a mirror to an insular society, one not used to looking at itself especially from the position of an “outsider” – where the tone of the book was perceived as derogatory to national ideals – and it didn’t like what it saw. The American Walker Evans was also an outsider photographing outsiders, journeying through disparate towns and communities documenting his impressions how I can I say, subjectively with an objective focus, at one and the same time. He never immersed himself in the culture but was an active observer and documenter, never an insider.

Lyon was one of the first “embedded” social documentary photographers of the American street photography movement of the 1960s who had the free will and the social conscience to tell it like it is. His self-proclaimed “advocacy journalism” is much more than just advocacy / journalism. It is a vitality of being, of spirit, an inquiry of the mind that allows the artist to get close, both physically and emotionally, to the problems of others through becoming one with them – and then to picture that so that others can see their story, so that he can “change history and preserve humanity.” But, we must acknowledge, that humanity is mainly (good looking) males: outlaw motorcycle clubs, mainly male prisons, mainly male civil rights, tattoo shops, and male Uptown, Chicago. Women are seemingly reduced to bit-players at best, singular portraits or standing in the background at funerals. This is a man’s world and you better not forget it…

Having said that, can you imagine living the life, spending four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. How exhilarating, how enmeshed with the culture you would become – the people, the travel, the ups and downs, the life, the danger – and then when you get photographs like Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee (1966, below) with the manic look in Funny Sonny’s eyes, how your heart would sing. If I had to nominate one image that is for me the epitome of America in the 1960s it would be this: Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below): all Easy Rider (an 1969 American road movie) encapsulated in one image. The structure and modernism / of the two bridges frames / the speeding / wicked bike / helmet lodged over the headlight; the man / wearing a skull and crossbones emblazoned jacket / helmet-less / head turned / behind / hair flying in the wind / not looking where / he is going / as though his destiny: unknown.

Danny Lyon IS one of the great artists working in photography today. He is a rebel with his own cause. Through his vital and engaging images his message to the future is this: everyone has their own story, their own trials and tribulations, each deserving of empathy, compassion, and non-judgemental acceptance. Prejudice has no voice here, a lesson never more pertinent than for America today as it decides who to elect – a woman who has fought every inch of the way or a narcissistic megalomaniac who preaches hate to minorities.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Whitney Museum of American Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Closeness, both physical and emotional, is a recurring theme throughout the 175 works in “Message to the Future,” Lyon’s Whitney Museum retrospective, a quietly brilliant affair curated with panache by Julian Cox. (Later this year, the show will travel to the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, which organized it; Elisabeth Sussman oversaw the Whitney installation.) We see here a photographer who was witness to a changing America and, occasionally, other places in the world. Since the early ’60s, Lyon has been infiltrating outsider groups – talking to and photographing bikers, Texas prison inmates, and hippies, and learning from them by becoming close with them. It’s as if Lyon has no sense of personal space. That, as this revelatory show proves, is his greatest attribute…

Lyon is a deft stylist who cares deeply about his subjects, to the point of exchanging letters with them for years after taking their pictures. What results is something more intimate, more political, and, in some ways, better than traditional photojournalism – a fuller portrait of America since the ’60s.”

.
Alex Greenberger on the ArtNews website

 

“Self-taught, and driven by his twin passions for social change and the medium of photography, the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents. This was evident early on in his series ‘Bikeriders’ (1968; reissued in 2003 by Chronicle Books), which evolved from four years spent as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. And ‘Conversations with the Dead’ derived from his close study of the Texas prison system; it also revealed Lyon’s novel and distinctive approach to the photobook, which often sees him splicing images with texts drawn from various sources, including interviews, letters, and even fiction.”

.
Text from the Edwynn Houk Gallery website

 

 

In his 1981 book, “Danny Lyon: Pictures From the New World,” he wrote of starting out in the early ’60s. “Photography then seemed new and exciting, and all America, which I regarded with mystery and reverence, lay before me.”

That sense of newness and excitement fills the show. What we’re discovering now, Lyon was discovering then – not just seeing or observing, but discovering, with the sense of revelation that brings. Mystery and reverence are here, too, but complicatedly. Framing them – debating with them? – are the clarity of precision the camera affords and a skepticism born of a forthrightly ’60s sensibility. Several photographs of the Occupy movement attest to how vigorous that sensibility remains…

He was working as a documentarian but not a photojournalist. That’s an important distinction. These images are implicitly polemical – inevitably polemical, too. Rarely in our nation’s history has the distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong been as clear cut. Yet then as now, people matter more to Lyon than any ideological stance. Outsiders attract Lyon and populate the show: civil rights demonstrators, transgender people (in Galveston, Texas, of all places), lower Manhattan demolition crews, inmates, undocumented workers, Indians, Appalachian whites transplanted to Chicago, motorcycle gangs…

Enclosure and entrapment are not for Lyon – nor, for that matter, is the absence of people (a very rare condition in his work). A larger restlessness in Lyon’s career reflects the energy so often evident within the frame – within the frame being another form of enclosure and entrapment. The South, Chicago, lower Manhattan, Texas, New Mexico, China, Haiti, Latin America share space in the show. Even so, sense of place doesn’t signify as much for Lyon as a sense of a place’s inhabitants. More likely he’d say that the two are indistinguishable. Looking at his pictures, you can see why he’d think so.”

Mark Feeney. “Outsiders fill compelling Danny Lyon photography show,” on the Boston Globe website 8th July 2016 [Online] Cited 10/09/2016

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-portrait, Chicago' 1965/1995

 

Danny Lyon
Self-portrait, Chicago
1965/1995
Gelatin silver print montage
Image 31.2 x 27.8 cm (12 1/4 x 10 15/16 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait, New Orleans 1964' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait, New Orleans, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 12.2 cm (7 3/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuts at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016. The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker. The presentation also includes a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums. A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice.

Photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon (b. 1942) has over the past five decades presented a charged alternative to the sanitized vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the standard detached humanism of the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history but helped to shape it.

Lyon committed intensively to photography from the beginning. In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, he hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the civil rights movement. He went on to photograph biker subcultures, explore the lives of the incarcerated, and document the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. He has traveled to Latin America and China, and has lived for years in New Mexico; the work he has made throughout these journeys demonstrates his respect for the people he photographs on the social and cultural margins.

Message to the Future, shaped in collaboration with the artist, incorporates seldom-exhibited materials from Lyon’s archive, including rare vintage prints, previously unseen 16mm film footage made inside the Texas prisons, his personal photo albums, and related documents and ephemera. In his roles as a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Lyon has reinvented the expectations for how the still photographic image can be woven together with journalism, books, films, and collage to present a diverse record of social customs and human behavior. His work, which he continues to make today, reveals a restless idealist, digging deep into his own life and those of his subjects to uncover the political in the personal and the personal in the political.”

Text from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Civil rights

In the summer of 1962, Lyon hitchhiked to Cairo, Illinois, to witness demonstrations and a speech by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organizations driving the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Inspired to see the making of history firsthand, Lyon then headed to the South to participate in and photograph the civil rights movement. There, SNCC executive director James Forman recruited Lyon to be the organization’s first official photographer, based out of its Atlanta headquarters. Traveling throughout the South with SNCC, Lyon documented sit-ins, marches, funerals, and violent clashes with the police, often developing his negatives quickly in makeshift darkrooms.

Lyon’s photographs were used in political posters, brochures, and leaflets produced by SNCC to raise money and recruit workers to the movement. Julian Bond, the communications director of SNCC, wrote of Lyon’s pictures, “They put faces on the movement, put courage in the fearful, shone light on darkness, and helped make the movement move.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia' 1962

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image 22 x 31.7 cm (8 5/8 x 12 1/2 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 24 cm (6 3/8 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.5 x 26 cm (6 7/8 x 10 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.3 x 26.8 cm (7 3/16 x 10 9/16 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image 18.4 x 27 cm (7 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4 cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland' 1964

 

Danny Lyon
Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland
1964
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.5 x 22.2 cm (6 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; purchase with funds from Joan N. Whitcomb

 

Danny Lyon. 'Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 1/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The March on Washington' August 28, 1963

 

Danny Lyon
The March on Washington
August 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 20.8 cm (11 3/4 x 8 3/16 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Anne Ehrenkranz

 

Galveston

Danny Lyon. 'Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.8 x 16.1 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Prisons

In 1967, Lyon applied to the Texas Department of Corrections for access to the state prisons. Dr. George Beto, then director of the prisons, granted Lyon the right to move freely among the various prison units, which he photographed and filmed extensively over a fourteen-month period. The result is a searing record of the Texas penal system and, symbolically, of incarceration everywhere.

Lyon’s aim was to “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.” This meant riding out to the fields to follow prisoners toiling in the sun, as well as visiting the Wynne Treatment Centre, which housed primarily convicts with mental disabilities. He befriended many of the prisoners, listening to their stories and finding the humanity in their experiences, and still maintains contact with some of them.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.4 x 33.2 cm (8 7/8 x 13 1/16 in.); sheet 27.7 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.4 x 32 cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.3 x 17.5 cm (9 9/16 x 6 3/4 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16 x 24 cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.2 x 23.8 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 31.3 cm (8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; purchase

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 17 x 24.2 cm (6 5/8 x 9 9/16 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.8 x 24 cm (6 5/8 x 9 91/6 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The destruction of Lower Manhattan

In late 1966 and into the summer of 1967, starting from his loft at the corner of Beekman and William Streets near City Hall Park, Lyon documented the demolition of some sixty acres of predominantly nineteenth-century buildings below Canal Street in lower Manhattan. With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, he photographed most of the buildings that would be torn down to make way for the World Trade Center. Lyon recalled later: “I wanted to inhabit [the buildings] with feelings and give them and their demise a meaning.”

Moving from the outside of the buildings to their deserted interiors, Lyon also took pictures of the workers involved in the demolition. The photographs, together with Lyon’s journal entries, became a book, published by Macmillan in 1969 and dedicated to his close friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero. The volume’s significance lies in part in its depiction of a city – and, more broadly, a culture – cannibalizing its own architectural history for the sake of development.

 

Danny Lyon. 'View South from 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
View South from 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 18.2 cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 18.2 cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 23.4 cm (9 5/16 x 10 7/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

 

The Bikeriders

Lyon purchased his first motorcycle – a 1953 Triumph TR6 – in 1962, after spending weekends watching college friend and motorcycle racer Frank Jenner compete at informal dirt track races across the Midwest. When he returned to Chicago in 1965 after leaving SNCC, Lyon joined the hard-riding, hard-drinking Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club and began making photographs with a goal to “record and glorify the life of the American bike rider.” With clubs like the Hells Angels making headlines for their criminal and vigilante activities at the time, bikeriders were simultaneously feared for their anarchism and romanticized for their independence.

Riding with the Outlaws, Lyon attempted to capture their way of life from the inside out. Their unapologetic pursuit of freedom and libertine pleasures compelled him to get close to them as people. Lyon’s images are intimate and familiar, whether taken during rides or at clubhouse meetings. He also used a tape recorder to document the bikers speaking for themselves, unobtrusively capturing their collective voice. The resulting photographs were gathered into the now classic book of the same name, published in 1968, combining his pictures with an edited transcription of the interviews.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Racer, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Racer, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 20.3 cm (5 1/2 x 8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 31.8 cm (8 x 12 1/2 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Route 12, Wisconsin' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Route 12, Wisconsin
1963
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.1 x 23.9 cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Renegade's funeral, Detroit' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Renegade’s funeral, Detroit
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon Funny Sonny. 'Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Chicago' 1965 (printed 1966)

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Chicago
1965 (printed 1966)
Gelatin silver print, printed 1966
25.8 x 25.5 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois' 1966 (printed 2003)

 

Danny Lyon
Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois
1966 (printed 2003)
Cibachrome print
Image 22.8 x 32.5 cm (9 x 13 1/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cowboy, Rogue's Picnic, Chicago' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Cowboy, Rogue’s Picnic, Chicago
1966
Gelatin silver print
23.5 x 15.9 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/4 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.5 x 17.2 cm (9 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

New Mexico and the West

Lyon headed west from New York in 1969. Tired of the hectic pace of the big city and in search of new surroundings, he settled in Sandoval County, New Mexico. He developed a great admiration for the region’s close knit communities of Native Americans and Chicanos. Lyon’s photographs and, increasingly, his films reflected his growing understanding of the cross-cultural flow between these disparate groups and how they interacted with the geography of the Southwest.

With the help of his good friend, a migrant laborer named Eduardo Rivera Marquez, Lyon built a traditional adobe home for his family in Bernalillo, in the Rio Grande Valley just north of Albuquerque. As Lyon’s family grew, his children also became a frequent subject, often depicted against the dramatic Western landscape. Though Lyon moved back to New York in 1980, New Mexico would remain a center of gravity for the artist, who returned every summer with his family to photograph and make films.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Eddie, New Mexico' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Eddie, New Mexico
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 23 x 34.5 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico' 1971

 

Danny Lyon
Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.3 x 33.8 cm (9 1/8 x 13 5/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Maricopa County, Arizona' 1977

 

Danny Lyon
Maricopa County, Arizona
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image 22.8 x 33.5 cm (9 x 13 3/16 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico' 1969/1975

 

Danny Lyon
Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico
1969/1975
Gelatin silver print (decorated)
Image 16.7 x 25 cm (6 9/16 x 9 3/4 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 27.9 x 40.6 cm (11 x 16 in.); sheet 33 x 45.7 cm (13 x 18 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975

 

Danny Lyon
El Paso, Texas
1975

 

 

Films and montages

Lyon started making 16mm films in earnest in the 1970s, focusing on marginalized communities and injustice as he had in his photographs. His subjects included Colombian street kids in Los Niños Abandonados (1975) and undocumented workers from Mexico in El Mojado (1974) and El Otro Lado (1978). Lyon has explained that after leaving the Texas prisons he struggled to move forward, feeling that there were “no more worlds to conquer” in creating photography books. Filmmaking became the means by which he could continue to make sense of the beauty and inequality he saw in the world around him.

Lyon did not give up photography completely, however. He turned to assembling family albums and creating collaged works that he describes as montages, referencing the filmmaking practice of juxtaposing disparate images to form a continuous whole. Lyon’s montages combine multiple images and materials sourced from his archives. Initially meant as vehicles for reflection and, in the case of the albums, as family heirlooms, these deeply personal works bridge past generations of his family with his present.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Los Niños Abandonados
1975

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Mojado
1974
New Mexico, color, 14 minutes [The Wetback]
English and Spanish with subtitles
Aportrait of a hard-working undocumented laborer from Mexico produced by J.J. Meeker

 

 

Danny Lyon
El Otro Lado
1978
Mexico and Arizona, color, 60 minutes [The Other Side]
Spanish with English subtitles
An honest film infused with poignant beauty, without political rhetoric

 

 

Danny Lyon
Dear Mark
1981, New York and France, color and b&w, 15 minutes
A comedy in which the artist’s voice has been replaced by Gene Autry’s
Lyon’s homage to his friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero, from footage shot in 1965 and 1975.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Soc Sci 127
1969
Houston, color and b&w, 21 minutes
A comedy – Danny Lyon’s first film with the late great Bill Sanders and his “painless” tattoo shop.

 

 

Danny Lyon
Willie
1985
New Mexico, color, b&w, 82 minutes
Willie is a realistic film made in Bernalillo, home of Willie Jaramillo and filmmakers Danny and Nancy Weiss Lyon
Defiantly individual and implaccable in the face of authority, Willie is repeatedly thrown into jail for relatively minor offenses. The filmmakers gain access to jail cells, day rooms, lunatic wards, and the worst cellblock in the penitentiary where Willie is locked up next to his childhood friend and convicted murderer, Michael Guzman.

 

Knoxville

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville, Tennessee' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Knoxville, Tennessee
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Leslie, Downtown Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon
Leslie, Downtown Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image 28.7 x 19.1 cm (11 1/4 x 7 1/2 in.); mount 56.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/8 x 18 in.)
Art Institute of Chicago; gift of Mr. Danny Lyon

 

Tattoo

Danny Lyon. 'Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon
Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image 20.7 x 20.7 cm (8 3/16 x 8 3/16 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)

Collection of the artist

 

Chicago

Danny Lyon. 'Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners' 1974

 

Danny Lyon
Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners
1974

 

Danny Lyon. 'Children at an apartment entrance' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Children at an apartment entrance
1965
From series Uptown, Chicago
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Kathy, Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.1 x 23.9 cm (9 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 16.4 x 16.4 cm (6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.); mount 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

New York

Danny Lyon. 'Subway, New York' 1966 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon
Subway, New York
1966 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 23.7 x 24.1 cm (9 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet 28.8 x 29.2 cm (11 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York' 1969

 

Danny Lyon
Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image 15.6 x 23.5 cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/4 in.); sheet 20.3 x 25.2 cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanna Leonhardt Casullo, Niko Elmaleh, Lauren DePalo, Julia Macklowe, and Fern Kaye Tessler

 

Danny Lyon. 'John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York' 1969 (printed c. 2005)

 

Danny Lyon
John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York
1969 (printed c. 2005)
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Image 22.3 x 33.3 cm (8 13/16 x 13 1/8 in.); sheet 27.6 x 35.4 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon
Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 23.9 x 16.2 cm (9 3/8 x 6 3/8 in.); sheet 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Colombia

Danny Lyon. 'Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia' 1972

 

Danny Lyon
Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 17.1 x 25.3 cm (6 3/4 x 10 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia' 1966 (printed 2008)

 

Danny Lyon
Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia
1966 (printed 2008)
Cibachrome print
Image 25.7 x 25.7 cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.); sheet 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

“The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuted at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016.

The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker as well as a photographer. The presentation also includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums.

A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has presented a charged alternative to the vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the traditional documentary approach in favor of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history, but helped to shape it.

“We are delighted to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Since the early 1960s, Lyon’s photographs and films have upturned conventional notions of American life. The Whitney has long championed Lyon’s work and we are thrilled to present this retrospective, which encompasses more than half a century of important work.”

In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, Lyon hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the Civil Rights movement. His other projects have included photographing biker subcultures, exploring the lives of individuals in prison, and documenting the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. Lyon has lived for years in New Mexico, and his commitment to personal adventure has taken him to Mexico and other countries in Latin America, China, and the less-traveled parts of the American West.

“Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working in photography today,” said Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. “Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations sets him apart from many of his peers.”

Press release from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Ongoing activism

Lyon’s first encounter with Latin America was through a trip to Colombia in February 1966, during which he photographed extensively in and around Cartagena. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lyon’s self-described “advocacy journalism” took him to Bolivia, where he captured the hard lives of rural miners; Mexico, where he photographed undocumented workers moving back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border; back to Colombia, where he made the film Los Niños Abandonados, chronicling the lives of street children; and to Haiti, where he witnessed firsthand the violent revolution overthrowing Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.

More recently, Lyon made six trips between 2005 and 2009 to Shanxi province in northeast China. Aided by a guide, he photographed the people living in this highly polluted coal-producing region. As in his work in the civil rights movement and the Texas prisons, Lyon’s photographs from his travels are examples of his advocacy journalism, part of his effort to “change history and preserve humanity.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti' February 7, 1986

 

Danny Lyon
Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
February 7, 1986
Gelatin silver print
Image 21.3 x 32.1 cm (8 3/8 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Occupy

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles
2011
Inkjet print
Image 24.5 x 32.9 cm (9 5/8 x 12 15/16 in.); sheet 32.7 x 40 cm (13 x 15 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland' 2011

 

Danny Lyon
Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 24.6 x 33 cm (9 3/4 x 13 in.); sheet 27.3 x 38 cm (10 3/4 x 15 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Friday and Saturdays: 10.30 am – 10 pm

Whitney Museum of American Art website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

 

 

Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

 

Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

.
Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

 

 

American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

 

Larry Sultan. 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy
© 1988, Larry Sultan

 

 

In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

 

Eugene Richards. 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

 

Eugene Richards (American, b. 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5cm)
Sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1974, Eugene Richards

 

Mark Cohen. 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow
© 1972, Mark Cohen

 

 

In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

 

Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

 

Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2cm)
Sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro

 

Mathew B. Brady. 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823-1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment

 

Kevin Bubriski. 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

 

Kevin Bubriski (American, b. 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

 

 

In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

 

Deborah Luster. '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

 

Deborah Luster (American, b. 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
© 2010, Deborah Luster

 

 

This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

 

Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

 

Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Anthony Barboza. '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl
© 1981, Anthony Barboza

 

Edward S. Curtis. 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

 

Edward S. Curtis (American, 1868-1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice

 

 

Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artefacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

 

Oliver H. Willard. 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

 

Oliver H. Willard (American, active 1850s-70s, died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

 

 

Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavour. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolised American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs

 

 

Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Robert Adams. 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

Robert Adams (American, b. 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1973, Robert Adams

 

 

As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

 

Charles L. Weed. 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

 

Charles L. Weed (American, 1824-1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs

 

 

Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognised the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

 

Ansel Adams. 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasise the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

 

John Pfahl. 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

 

John Pfahl (American, 1939-2020)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

 

 

John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic colour palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates colour and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

 

 

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerised Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organised around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolised American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialisation and urbanisation through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organised by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

Connecting online

A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

 

 

America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1981, Helen Levitt

 

 

Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighbourhoods.

 

Louis Faurer. 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase
© Estate of Louis Faurer

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne
Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery

 

William Eggleston. 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

 

William Eggleston (American, b. 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein

 

 

An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful colour photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighbourhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with colour photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of colour.

 

Tina Barney. 'Marina's Room' 1987

 

Tina Barney (American, b. 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery
© 1940, Aaron Siskind

 

 

In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

 

Walker Evans. 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander

 

 

During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

 

Judy Fiskin. 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

 

Judy Fiskin (American, b. 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1980, Judy Fiskin

 

 

For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration

 

 

Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

 

Robert Disraeli. 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

 

Robert Disraeli (American, 1905-1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan
© 1932, Robert Disraeli

 

 

Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

 

Sonya Noskowiak. 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American, born Germany 1900-1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

 

Ray K. Metzker (American, 1931-2014)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1966, Ray K. Metzker

 

 

Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

 

Irving Penn. 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist

 

 

Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

 

Edward Weston. 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro

 

Ellen Carey. 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

 

Ellen Carey (American, b. 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick
© 2012, Ellen Carey

 

 

Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary colour filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a colour enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

 

 

Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

 

Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901)
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck

 

 

1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

 

Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

 

Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied colour
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

 

Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

 

Julian Vannerson (American, 1827-1875)
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

 

Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

 

Egbert Guy Fowx (American, 1821-1889)
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

.

Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan  (American, born Ireland, 1840-1882)
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

 

Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

 

Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1829-1902)
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1973, Brett Weston

 

 

1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

 

Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

 

Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942)
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

 

 

Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30am – 7.00pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

A Democracy of Images website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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