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Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) was an american photographer. She became well-known with her photographs of New York City in the 1930s, which were presented as a serie called “Changing New York (1935-1939)”

The serie conrresponds to the grand project she received to document New York City with the Federal Art Project (FAP), a depression-era government program for unemployed artists and workers in related fields such as advertising, graphic design, illustration, photofinishing, and publishing. In 1939, 97 of the 302 photographs she took were presented in a book in advance of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow NY.

Since February the 21th, a retrospective is on display in the Jeu de Paume in Paris.

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Children playing in ruins or in clunkers, in a part of New York City that looks like an european distric after the World War II… This is the work of Martha Cooper in her serie called “Street Play”.

M. Cooper - Street Play serie

Since the 1970s, Martha Cooper has documented children playing in the Lower Eastside which, at the time, was a wasteland full of vacant lots. Many of her photographs were taken in the Alphabet City area, (between the Avenues A, B, C and D) where children found perfect playgrounds with plenty of open spaces and raw materials, like others have fun in the wood…
While depicting the creativity and innocence of children making the best of their environment, “Street Play” also gives an account of a promiscuous city which has been quickly forgotten after the distric became trendy and beloved by artists. Here some of the pictures I found on the web:

Martha Cooper’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian and Natural History Magazines. Born in the 1940s in Baltimore, she lives and works in NYC.

John C.H. Grabill was a commercial photographer who set up a studio in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 1866. From 1887 to 1892, he documented the Western Frontier Life; here some of the pictures he made from the Native Americans, depicting their contact with U.S. military and government agents:

Red Cloud and American Horses 1891

Sources: John C. H. Grabill Collection, Library of Congress

In 1969, when awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship made to photograph “the effect of media on events“, Garry Winogrand started what he called later the “Public Relations” serie, an outcome of his fascination for rituals of a society eager for publicity.

Election campaigns, press conferences, rallies and strikes, museum openings, receptions in New York City: his pictures depicte every aspect of public or private events created to be documented, capturing with a wide-angle lens camera as much “informations” as possible. This aesthetical approach made him belong to experimental photography of the 60’s-70’s, forgetting about the frame and close-ups as if one single picture could sum up the whole event itself.

With this serie, the photographer documented the emerging hype of a society celebrating itself by the presence of the medias, phenomenon that was soon going to increase. But since then, the reports of public celebrations may have lost this initial excitement, aesthetic and narrative potential that Winogrand managed to capture in the 1970s on his 28mm films.

The “Public Relations” serie was first published to accompany a 1977 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with an essay by Tod Papageorge. Garry Winogrand, born in 1928 in NYC, died in in 1984 in Mexico.

Bill Owens, which made his reputation shooting in suburbias, took part from July of 1979 to June of 1980 to one of biggest survey ever made about Los Angeles.

Bill Owens - Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980
Bill Owens – Pool, from the Los Angeles Documentary Project, Ektachrome print on paper image, 1980

The Los Angeles Documentary Project was an ambitious one. Organised by the federal agency for culture (the National Endowment for the Arts – the NEA), it was announced as “a visual examination of the sociological and topographical diversity of one of the most dynamic and unusual cities in the world”. The survey was made to study the social impact of growth and change on the city and also its significance in postmodernist urban theory.
It included 8 photographers familiar with L.A and known for works already accomplished in California : Bill Owen, Gusmano Cesaretti, Joe Deal, Robbert Flick, Douglas Hill, John Humble, Susan Ressler, and Max Yavno.

While other photographers chose to document L.A with black&white films, Owens took pictures in color. He also obviously chose to focus on clichés: as he did for his “Suburbia” portfolios from 1972, his L.A photos stress on common stereotypes, which can include, for example, a swimming pool, pretty ladies snorting drugs, a sushi bar, huge free ways or else artists in their loft. All those scenes, which look like having been set up, call attention to the artificiality of the city. Critics pointed out that those pictures look eventually closer to magazines portfolios than to survey material, having a level of artifice that doesn’t match with the mission the photographers were given. But they nevertheless give an account of the visual diversity that the city presented and balance the approaches of the 7 others photographers. Showing all the city facets, the survey included different approaches and styles; thus Owens’ vision and appropriation of media images completes the tableau with an aspect that definitely belongs to L.A’s identity: artificiality.
The complete survey was presented in 1981 with the exhibition “Year 200: New Views of Los Angeles,” first shown at Mount St. Mary’s College and then at Grossmont College.

Here some the grand-format camera photographs ownd by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, of Owen’s portfolio:


Credits: Bill Owens / Smithsonian American Art Museum, all rights reserved.

D. Rickard - #39.177833, Baltimore, MD. 2008, 2011

D. Rickard - #39.177833, Baltimore, MD. 2008, 2011

When you first look at those photos come diretly in mind the works of two of the most important american photographers: Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. Frank, for the documentary part, the vacuity of an American dream, and Shore for the aesthetic, with the same cars, buildings and colors we see in his series from the 70s. But with a closer look you’ll notice that we are confronted with an other kind of photographs, a bit out of focus or even “pixelised”. There are indeed digitale and made with an unconventional camera: the one from googlemaps.

Namely: google street view. For his serie called “New American Pictures”, the american Doug Rickard navigated the most destitute areas of the country with the 360°street-level imagery tool from google. Chicago’s ghettos, Detroit’s neglected neighborhoods, untended streets in the Bronx… when Robert Frank’s pictures communicated the segregation and aggression in the american society in the 50s, Rickard’s work depicte a contemporary version of this dissolution of the American Dream throught images saved in the search engine.

As a result of Rickard’s selection, those pictures appear at the same time incredibly modern and very close to the classical iconography of color photography from the 70s, mixing today street scenes with timeless elements of the american culture, as old Pontiacs, wood houses or painted advertisments. With the low resolution and blurred faces, those photographs manage in the end to symbolize our capacity to ignore the reality of racial inequality issues, of America’s abandoned, “invisible” communities, until presented in a beautiful and familiar way.

The work of Doug Rickard has been featured as part of the “New Photography 2011” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) last september. It will be presented at the Yossi Milo Gallery in Spring 2012.

Doug Rickard was born in 1968 in San Jose, California. He is the founder and chief editor of the American Suburb X website. He currently lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Credits: Yossi Milo Gallery, all rights reserved.

William Eggleston stands, with Stephen Shore, as one of the first photographer who found a way to museums with color photographs. This month, Steidl celebrate the master by presenting unseen color pictures with a 3 volumes new book tracing every steps in Eggleston’s carrier.

William Eggleston - Untitled
William Eggleston – Untitled

In the mid-seventies, to organise the very first exhibition of color photographs from Eggleston at the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the curator J. Szarkowski made a selection of 48 pictures in the artist’s archive. The selected photographs became famous (not to say legendary) with their publication in the catalogue titled “William Eggleston’s Guide”. But few people knew that they were part of a big archive which remained, untill today, unpublished.

Unlike the colour negative film-pictures which were for example published in the book Los Alamos (in 2003), those 5,000 transparencies remaind indeed unseen and stocked in a safe. From 1969 to 1974, Eggleston had worked with transparency stock, like Kodachrome, Ektachrome or Agfachrome and, after the exhibition at the MoMA, he let the rest of his archive remaind at the Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis, Tennessee. Chromes presents 364 of those “never-seen” photographs, from the early Memphis imagery, colour tests and compositional strategies, and the development towards the ‘poetic snapshot’. From Agfa to Koda, all this chromes put together unable to trace the gradual steps by which the photographer transformed from an unknown into a leading artist.

“Chromes” by Steidl, 3 volumes, 728 pages, 364 colour plates, €248.00

More about J. Szarkowski and William Eggleston on Wayne Ford’s blog

Credits: William Eggleston / Steidl – All rights reserved.

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