New York Photo Review
Volume 2 Issue 45 December 20 to January 3, 2012

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

Other Places
Peter Sekaer
Signs of Life
A Sign Business Shop, New York by Peter Sekaer. Source: icp.org
Peter Sekaer, "A Sign Business Shop, New York" 1935

Peter Sekaer is probably one of those photographers you never heard of. After viewing this engaging new exhibition at ICP, you may wonder why he wasn’t recognized earlier. One simple, if not tragic, answer—he died at age 49 of a heart attack before he could make a name for himself in the fine art world. You may also wonder, after viewing the first few images in “Signs of Life,” if it was actually Walker Evans behind the camera as their photographs often looked very similar. In fact, Evans could have been standing alongside him since they worked closely together on Depression-era photographic projects for government agencies such as the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and the US Housing Authority. (USHA)

Sekaer, who was born in Denmark, immigrated to the U.S. in 1918 at the age of 17, ran a successful sign painting and printing business in New York City, and then in 1929 enrolled in the Art Students League to study painting. After meeting Walker Evans and Ben Shahn there and studying with Berenice Abbott, the rest, as they say, is history.

Farmer, Dalton, GA by Peter Sekaer. Source: icp.org
Peter Sekaer, "Farmer, Dalton, GA" c. 1935

Sekaer traveled around the rural South with Evans and spent several years documenting the effects of the Depression. Much of the work in “Signs of Life” demonstrates how his photographs combined a strong graphic sense with his liberal political leanings. While he took pictures of power lines and housing projects for his employers, Sekaer also photographed the people affected by the economic chaos with a real sense of humanity. These pictures reveal the differences between Sekaer and Evans; Sekaer’s style was more intimate, some of his photographs displaying more spirit. In the image of a group of black children playing in Charleston, S.C, for example, Sekaer was able to interact with them and capture a candid moment. His photograph of a farmer in Dalton, GA, on the other hand, shows the man staring at the camera, looking tired, worn-out, and ready to snarl. I also liked the image of the Navajo Indians in front of the sign for the Tuba Trading Post. It’s just a very casual, candid photograph. In “Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1936.” Sekaer captures three black men walking out of a “Café,” (more like a lunch counter.) The signs in the window say, “Hamburger, 5 cents,” “Regular meals” –a slice of life and a bit of history Sekaer made sure wouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Signs of Life” is the first exhibition of Sekaer’s work at a major museum. It’s a fitting tribute to a virtually unknown photographer who helped put a human face on a dark period in American history. This exhibition, along with ICP’s Harper’s Bazaar show in the gallery next door, may also be viewed as a bit of respite from the many haunting images of 9-11 in the ICP galleries downstairs.

Peter Sekaer
Signs of Life
Curators: Julian Cox and Kristen Lubben

International Center of Photography
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Friday, September 9 to
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Hours: Tues - Sun, 10 to 6; Fri to 8
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery