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

LIFE: As It Was

75 Years of LIFE
Ed Barnas
Drum Major, University of Michigan by Alfred Eisenstadt. Source: en.leica-camera.com/culture/galleries/gallery_new_york/
Alfred Eisenstadt, "Drum Major, University of Michigan" 1950

The current show at Leica Gallery coincides with the publication of LIFE 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE. “To see and to show” life in its various manifestations defined the mission of LIFE Magazine when Henry Luce bought the name in 1936 from a humor magazine and recreated it as a “the show-book of the world”. As a weekly, it set the standard for picture magazines, emphasizing photography over text. Spawning a number of competitors (Look, Picture Post, etc,) it survived until 1972. Though it continued to appear as special issues, and then had a stint as a monthly magazine (1978-2000), it is now primarily a book imprint, mining a vast archive of images.

While most students of photography remember LIFE for its photojournalism, it is important to recall that it was a general interest magazine covering entertainment and sports as well as “hard” news. The images on display reflect this divide, being split fairly evenly between the serious and the not so serious. The photographs are sequenced chronologically, starting with Eisenstadt’s demonic photo of Goebbels and a group of Bourke-White’s Depression era images. What follows is a mix of celebrity and hard news images from the WW II era, then more complacent work from the 50’s and 60’s. Despite the turmoil of those two decades this period is dominated lifestyle and celebrity photography rather than photojournalism.

Prisoners at Buchenwald by Margaret Bourke-White. Source: masters-of-photography.com
Margaret Bourke-White, "Prisoners at Buchenwald" 1945

This chronological approach results in a distinct bias toward the black and white work that dominated LIFE’s reportage for most of its existence as a weekly. (There are no images from LIFE’s special issues or its monthly incarnation.) Only five of the forty-seven images on display are in color, despite its growing use in the 60’s. Choosing the best images from an archive as immense and diverse as LIFE’s is a daunting task. What “worked” memorably on the printed page when first published in a photo essay does not always stand the test of time, nor work well isolated on a gallery wall. (A fact given tacit recognition on the LIFE website by links to two sets of cover images – one displaying the seventy-five best covers and the other showcasing twenty of the “worst” ones.) Personally, I would have liked to see some of the other photographs the LIFE website features as their 75 best – images by Robert Capa, Gene Smith, and alternate images by Bourke-White, Eisenstaedt and others. Certainly one of these could have replaced the publicity still of Jane Fonda as Barbarella or backstage photos at the Academy Awards without skewing the mix of hard and soft news too much.

However, despite my qualms about the selection of images, I did appreciate the opportunity for a close look at so many gelatin silver prints of familiar images usually seen only in reproduction. The starkness of Bourke-White’s Buchenwald photo is still chilling––as is Bill Ray’s photo of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to JFK at Madison square Garden, the harsh backlight pinpointing incipient signs of age.


75 Years of LIFE


Leica
670 Broadway 5th Fl
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 777 3051
en.leica-camera.com/culture/galleries/gallery_new_york/

Friday, November 11 to
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat, 12 to 6
Share

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