New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 34 October 24 to 30, 2012

Turbulent times
Benedict J. Fernandez
A Life’s Work
Pro-Vietnam Demonstration by Benedict J. Fernandez. Source:
Benedict J. Fernandez

This relatively modest retrospective of 41 black and white images belies the fact that no single exhibition or photo gallery for that matter could be large enough to fully display or show a proper appreciation of Ben Fernandez’s life’s work. Then again, Fernandez is not the typical photojournalist with a humanistic eye. He’s also had a distinguished career as an educator; he established the Photography Departments at the New School and Parsons School of Design in the 1970s and inspired many emerging photographers with his unique philosophy of vision. He’s also received numerous awards including Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships.

Throughout his career, Fernandez chose to photograph self-assigned projects – those that he deemed socially significant. He never worked for a photo agency or on assignment for print media because he didn’t want the usual deadline pressures interfering with a project. Still, Fernandez’s talent and commitment were such that he captured some of the iconic images of the 1960s and 1970s. That’s the basis of “A Life‘s Work” – highlights from a series of nine photo essays or “portfolios” that include Protest ; Countdown to Eternity (Martin Luther King); Newark (the riots); Bikers (Daytona Beach); Mental Poverty; Ghosts of Ellis Island; Speaker’s Corner; Puerto Rico; and Russia and China.

His Protest portfolio includes 13 images, or about one-third of this exhibition.

Allen Ginsberg by Benedict J. Fernandez. Source:
Benedict J. Fernandez, "Allen Ginsberg"

Many of the iconic images – the draft card burnings, the Wall Street demonstrations, Allen Ginsberg holding the sign “Pot is Fun,” and several others – are part of Protest and that may account for its disproportionate share of the show. No matter. These images do not disappoint. They are powerful, memorable and bring a turbulent part of American history to life. The same is true of Countdown to Eternity; the four images range from King’s march to the United Nations in 1967 to his children viewing his body lying in state one year later. The few pictures displayed have a certain intimacy that probably could not have been achieved without the benefit of the photographer’s friendship with King and his personal admiration for the black leader’s beliefs. The images from the aftermath of the 1967 Newark riots are revealing; one shows several National Guard troops, looking like the citizen soldiers they are, sitting in front of a ransacked store, with broken mannequins lying on the sidewalk.

Fernandez’s skills as a printer are also on display—the deep, rich blacks in these vintage silver gelatin prints are the work of a master. In retrospect, the size and scope of this exhibition of a renowned photographer and educator does not overwhelm the viewer and makes it even more enjoyable.

Benedict J. Fernandez
A Life’s Work

Robert Anderson Gallery
24 W 57th St. 5th Fl
Midtown         Map

646 455 0393

Thursday, September 6 to
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat 11 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat