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Like Weegee, Only Better
Stan Douglas
Stan Douglas: Midcentury Studio
Reviewer #1
Hockey Fight, 1951 by Stan Douglas. Source: davidzwirner.com
Stan Douglas, "Hockey Fight, 1951" 2010

Do the high prices that some contemporary photographers get for their new work influence the art they produce? Not surprisingly the answer is yes! Case in point is the “Midcentury Studio” show by the filmmaker, installation artist and photographer Stan Douglas.

This series of 28 large scale prints is an homage to mid 20th century newspaper photographers (think Weegee) produced (mostly) in an elaborate studio with impeccable attention to period detail. The lighting in these scenes is superbly modulated and the prints themselves flawless. (They are described as ‘digital fibre prints’ although nobody at the gallery seemed to know exactly what that meant.) More to the point, they are priced from $30,000 to $50,000, in editions of 5. Now, let’s say they average out at $40,000 x 28 x 5, minus the normal 10 to 15% discount and then divided evenly between the gallery and photographer. Hmm, potentially more than $2M. Yes! – let’s build those sets and hire the models (and make sure that every hat and wristwatch is authentic,) and also the makeup girl and the lighting guys, not to mention the post production crew. We’re still going to come out ahead!

 by unidentified photographer.
Stan Douglas, “Suspect, 1950,” 2010

Oh, and what about the pictures? Well, did I mentioned that they all had very high production values? And, the photographer and crew probably had a great time accumulating all that great 1940’s vintage gear? And that the sets have the look and feel of the real thing? And that the lighting was expertly controlled, and that the prints are 21st-century perfect? And yes, there are some nice pictures.

Two of my favorites were “Hockey Fight, 1951”, and “Suspect, 1950” both shown here. “Hockey Fight, 1951” is probably the most elaborate picture in the show, with at least 12 models. At the center is an older guy, in a really nice dockworker sweater and workingman’s cap, in a scuffle with a younger man dressed in a wool checked sports jacket. The scene is set in the stands of a hockey rink (one of the onlookers is carrying a scorecard with hockey players on it.) The two principal models are appropriately emotive in their fight, and one wonders what they do in real life.

But, this is where you start to play the authenticity game. Since accuracy is set out as one of the key features of the pictures, you start to notice things that are not really that important, but that are certainly anachronistic. First there is the lighting, better than at any hockey rink I can remember (and I’ve been to two.) Second the costumes, everyone’s clothes are spotlessly dry-cleaned, even the men rolling around on the floor are immaculate. Thirdly, just look at that floor. There is some popcorn strewn about, but where are the cigarette butts and the beer? And the smoke for that matter? One onlooker has a cigar, but it’s strangely unlit – was there a smoking ban in Douglas’s studio? The same types of thoughts come to mind with “Suspect, 1950.” Here it is mainly the lighting, Weegee could only have dreamed of having someone doing fill-lighting like this.

Photographers have been staging costume dramas for well over a century, and invariably over time the real interest in the pictures is not in the costumes or the scenes, but rather how the unnoticed assumptions of the photographer start to come to the forefront. The photograph becomes more important in understanding the year it was created, rather than the year it represents. I suspect these pictures will age similarly. In the meantime, especially if this month’s photo buying budget is tight, you know you can still pick up a real Weegee for less than the price of one of these homages

Stan Douglas
Stan Douglas: Midcentury Studio


David Zwirner
525 W 19th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 727 2070
davidzwirner.com

Wednesday, March 23 to
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 to 6
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