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

Recapping 2011

Ed Barnas
Exiled Republicans being marched down the beach to an internment camp, Le Barcares, France by Robert Capa. Source:
Robert Capa, "Exiled Republicans being marched down the beach to an internment camp, Le Barcares, France" March, 1939

Choosing notable shows that I have seen over the past year is a daunting task. I did not get to see all the shows I wanted to review and learned of others of interest only after they had closed. Some shows stand out for a particular image, others in their entirety, and still others for presentation or concept. The following list is, of course, in no particular order:

The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro show at ICP started off the year for me quite nicely. An opportunity to see seminal work by these three photojournalists along with copies of the contact sheets showing the images before and after was engrossing. (And seeing the rolls of processed film wound tightly in the box reminded me of how my father stored his film in the 1950’s.) As a photographer I like to see contact sheets in an exhibition; it gives me an idea of how the published image came to be and how the photographer “worked” around a subject while refining his or her vision, especially if the familiar image is in the middle of the alternatives rather than the first or last in the sequence. I was heartened to see contact sheets included in several other shows in 2011 and look forward to the upcoming show of Magnum contact sheets at ICP.

As a stylistic counterpoint, I appreciated the photographs of Wang Qingsong in When Worlds Collide also at ICP. These large scale color photographs, carefully orchestrated with a large cast of characters, fall at the opposite end of the spectrum from classical photojournalism. However, his re-imagining of classical Eastern (and some Western) art motifs provided a pointed (and effective) commentary on present Chinese society.

Further in this conceptual vein, was Cornelia Hediger’s Doppleganger II exhibit at Klompching Gallery. Using herself as the model for the multiple persona appearing in her narrative images, I was reminded a bit of Claude Cahun but with a more limited wardrobe. The combination of fragments to create the final image with a grid overlay created a slightly voyeuristic feel to the narrative, as if looking through a window.

Moving into the area of presentation, Zev Jonas’ Passage at LZ Project Space abandoned the traditional presentation of photos at “standard eye height” to place the images in small groups at various levels on the wall. It has been done before but it is refreshing to see it done well.

Shifting into landscape, Valdir Cruz’ Raizes Bonitas at Throckmorton Fine Art offered a catalog of Sao Paolo’s trees mixed with land and waterscapes of the Bonito region. This was a show in which one image really sticks out in my memory above all others: a low angle view of a Pau-mulato tree that looked as if it would walk off like an Ent in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Jean Cocteau and the Sphinx by Lucien Clergue. Source:
Lucien Clergue, "Jean Cocteau and the Sphinx" 1959

Another image glimpsed at the AIPAD show stood out for a more somber reason: In the Scott Nicholls booth there was a 1940 print of Ansel Adams’ “Jeffrey Pine, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite” paired with Mark Klett & Byron Wolfe’s image of the same tree “Jeffrey Pine, killed by drought, 2002.” Further in the vein of diminished landscape was the overview of Edward Burtynsky’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, in particular the Pentimento portfolio of prints of the “distressed” Polaroid proof shots of shipbreaking in Bangladesh.

Before leaving landscape I must mention Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lake Superior waterscapes at the Pace/MacGill Gallery. Deceptively simple yet elegant in their symmetry, these seascapes offer a focal point for quiet reflection. Moving back to photojournalism, Ed Kashi’s Eye Contact at VII examined images that would normally have been rejected in editing because the subject was looking directly into the camera, making the observer into the observed as well. Other notable exhibits of reportage included the humanism of Misha Erwitt’s Street Smart at Leica Gallery and the quietly understated Meet Me in the Green Glenby Maureen Drennan at The Wild Project. More documentary than journalistic was Lucien Clergue’s Jean Cocteau: Testament of Orpheus, 1959at the Westwood Gallery, which featured another of my favorite images – Jean Cocteau with the wings of the Sphinx coming out of his back.

As one might expect, the ‘Masters of Photography’ were well represented this past year but I was only able to catch a few of those shows. Self Reflections: The Expressionist Origins of Lisette Model at Bruce Silverstein was an excellent refresher course in the breadth of her work as well as some of the influences that informed her vision. And viewing The Last Printing of Edward Steichen negatives by George Tice at Danziger Projects, with his dramatic use of light, was pure comfort food for my eyes.

Two areas that have caught my notice over the past year will deserve watching on the coming months. The first is the penetration of the cellphone camera into art photography and journalism. The quality of these cameras continues to improve (the Soho Photo Gallery now limits which ones can be used for submissions to their annual “Krappy Kamera” competition). Not just “citizen journalists” but professional photojournalists have adopted them as a tool of choice in conflict zones as noted in a recent article in PDN. And the quality and diversity of “seeing” is very good, as evidenced by the two hundred plus small-scale prints in the Social Photography II at Carriage Trade. What would be the best medium to display of these images – as traditional prints or on a video screen (as in the recent IPhoneology show at Soho Digital Arts)?

The other area might be termed outsider art: the growing number of “pop-up” exhibits whose curators gain the short-term use of a space to put up a show anywhere from one night to a couple of weeks. Since notice of these shows usually circulates by e-mail lists and FaceBook invites, they generally fall under the radar of more traditional gallery listings. If a review appears, it is generally after the fact. While many of these shows present a DIY aesthetic, some are professionally curated and show interesting work. How to properly note them is the issue of concern.

by Ed Barnas