New York Photo Review
from the NYPR Archives

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

Of Being and Beauty
Peter McGough and Paul McDonough
Of Being and Beauty
R. Wayne Parsons
McDermott and McGough , Whether You Remain 1955 2010

David McDermott and Peter McGough made their name in photographic circles two decades or so ago by retreating to the nineteenth century. They mimicked the life of the time, wearing top hats, frock coats, detachable collars, and the like, aliving without modern appliances and reading by candlelight. Apparently this was not a stunt, but a protest against the banality of modern life. (Never mind that one doesn’t have to scratch very far beneath the surface of the Victorian era to find ample examples of banality.)

Their photography mirrored their choice of a lifestyle (no doubt they will cringe at the use of this unattractive and overused word so popular for the last few decades,) using nineteenth century photographic processes now practiced solely by enthusiasts, such as palladium printing and cyanotype. Generally speaking, their early images were quite lovely and, occasionally, witty. One beautiful 1993 image of two rolls of toilet tissue was titled “The Property of Her Majesty the Queen”. It’s not likely, however, that Her Majesty would publicly have acknowledged either this photo or the objects depicted therein.

The duo is apparently working its way forward in time. The latest series, vaguely titled “Of Being and Beauty” and now on display at Cheim and Reid, jumps a half century or so to 1955 or thereabouts. The look of these photographs is very much that of advertising and magazine illustrations of the 1940s and 50s, an effect achieved through careful choice of décor, makeup, hair styles, clothing, props, lighting and so forth. Prints are made using the obsolete tricolor carbon printing process which was popular in advertising photography of this period.

 by unidentified photographer.
McDermott and McGough, Always Reminding Me that we are Apart, 1955 2010

These images are interesting by virtue of their sociological and critical content rather than their visual appeal. Too many of the images on display are run-of-the-mill nudes, advertising still lifes, and the like, while the inclusion of several not very interesting images of covers of magazines of the period underscores the emphasis on the feel of the era’s advertising and print photography.

Perhaps the most successful work in the series shows a woman’s gloved hand holding a compact mirror that reveals part of her reflected face. Titled “Always Reminding Me That We’re Apart”, the image can be interpreted as a woman’s musing on her absent lover. Or is the meaning deeper, a comment on the loss of the authentic self brought about by a consumer society?

All things considered, this show suggests that McDermott and McGough are more at home in the nineteenth century than the twentieth or twenty-first.

Peter McGough and Paul McDonough
Of Being and Beauty


Cheim & Read
547 W 25th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 242 7727
cheimread.com

Friday, January 7 to
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 to 6
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery