On the way back to Portland, I stopped in New York City for two nights so that I could take in three photography exhibitions. It’s still part of the trip, so I guess I can discuss the work.
While I was in Peru a friend sent me a review of the Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris exhibition at the Met. He was a late 19th-Century French photographer best known for his documentation of the transformation of Paris under Haussman’s direction when the older parts of the city with the narrow streets and twisty alleys were razed to make room for the grand boulevards we know of today’s Paris.
In adjoining rooms was one of the most well selected small survey exhibitions I think I’ve ever seen: Paris as Muse: Photography, 1840s to 1930s. Only 43 photos, but they ranged from 1840s salted paper prints from paper negative images Fox Talbot did of Paris street scenes to Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï small camera images done in the 1930s. Twelve images were by Atget, one of my all-time favorite photographers, who worked during the first 25 years of the 20th Century.
What has always attracted me to Atget’s work is how he began as a “documentary” photographer—a term he actually used, making images that were good records of what was in front of the camera—but had transformed by the ’20s to a much more lyrical or poetic photographer who was creating metaphors for his world view.
While the two images above seem similar on the surface, Marville’s records the facts of the reconstruction, while for me Atget’s reflects through the darkness of the Romanesque church on the left the bloody massacre of priest and nuns hundreds of years before, and the more enlightened symbol of the Pantheon in the rear. I also like this photo since a photographer friend lives just outside the frame, to the right.
But the exhibition I really stopped to see was the Jerome Liebling: Matter of Life and Death exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. Jerry was my grad school mentor who passed away a few years ago after a long and productive life both as an image maker and teacher. Starting just after his service in WWII, he worked with the members of the Photo League in NYC, went on to start the film and photography program at the University of Minnesota, where I studied with him, then started the photo and film department at Hampshire College.
This large exhibition contained black and white work from his earliest days in the city to later color work. The photographs were selected by his daughter Rachel Liebling, a good documentary filmmaker, and contained many personal favorites that I’ve known since my grad school days to some, especially color work, that I had not seen before. Rachel’s strong editing showed the diversity of subject matter over the years, but the underlying passion for and connection with his subjects was visible in each and every photograph.
Three excellent exhibitions. If you’re in NYC, check ’em out.