New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 1 January 10 to 16, 2012

Critic’s Picks 2011

Fred by Bruce Wrighton. Source: laurencemillergallery.com
Bruce Wrighton, "Fred"

It’s pretty easy to tell from my “five best” that my tastes are more vintage than contemporary. Not that there’s anything wrong with a 40 x 40 print of rocks and grass, but mostly I prefer street photography and its permutations. This past year there was a lot of great work to see in New York’s galleries and museums. And the work wasn’t always from the usual pantheon of photographic icons. Far from it.

For example, there was the Bruce Wrighton show, Going Home at Laurence Miller. It was unfortunate that Wrighton was virtually unknown when he died in 1988 at age 38. He was a talented color photographer who documented life in his hometown, Binghamton, New York and deserved recognition. I liked his simple, direct approach of photographing his subjects with an 8 x 10 view camera. He connected with his subjects and captured their personalities; he also captured a time and place—a different way of life in America—that may have well all but vanished by now.

The Radical Camera, New York’s Photo League, at the Jewish Museum, was nothing short of splendid, with the fascinating history of the Photo League—a dedicated group of New York mostly Jewish social activists who really knew how to use a camera – an integral part of the show. It was documented with wall texts and photo captions that added a vital perspective. Of course, the photographs are what mattered most and they did not disappoint. Alongside work from iconic names that included W. Eugene Smith, Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott, Ruth Orkin and Weegee were many compelling images from other League members, such as Louis Stettner, Dan Weiner, Larry Silver, Rebecca Lepkoff. It was a feast for fans of street photography–– even more so since these were New York streets. They captured signs of protest, they photographed the underprivileged, the disenfranchised—and created powerful social commentary with a click of the shutter. Wow!

Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York by Joe Schwartz. Source: thejewishmuseum.org
Joe Schwartz, "Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York" 1936

One of the more pleasant surprises last year was Beyond Words: Photography in the New Yorker. Even though I’m a regular reader (or try to be), I enjoyed being reminded of the depth and breadth of fine photography that appear in its pages. When Tina Brown took over as editorial director in 1992, she began using photographs to illustrate articles. In fact, a 1963 photograph of Malcolm X became the first Avedon to be published in the magazine – an event that must have pleased Richard Avedon immensely since he was the only staff photographer at the time. In 1996, Mary Ellen Mark, Gilles Peress, and Martin Schoeller were added to the photo staff and their work was well represented. And seeing work from William Klein, Irving Penn and Duane Michals, among others, was definitely beyond words.

Nudes are not my usual cup of tea¬–at least not in photography shows–but

Sophie Delaporte’s “Nudes” at Sous Les Etoiles proved to be an exception. Delaporte, a young French fashion photographer, added a refreshing perspective to the naked female body. Her “Nudes” were anything but. The viewer’s attention was often diverted by the model’s spontaneity and grace, though sometimes the model wore nothing but a seductive look. Delaporte demonstrated what is possible when movement is combined with color, graphics, a backdrop and a model who brings a sense of playfulness to her work.

Finally, there was Elliott Erwitt’s Personal Best at ICP. This major retrospective of a photographer who has done it all captured the highlights of an amazing career in both the commercial and photojournalistic worlds. What lets Erwitt stand alone, of course, is his offbeat sense of humor and his unmatched ability to see and capture the moment or gesture that produces smiles. There was much of that on display here. As Erwitt said, “To me, photography is an art of observation.” “It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

by Norman Borden

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