New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 19 April 30 to May 6, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

On the Road, Again
Paul McDonough
America in the 70s
Ed Barnas

Photo by Paul McDonough . Source: sashawolf.com
Paul McDonough, "Talent Show, State Fair, New York" 1982.

Paul McDonough is known as a street photographer and a teacher. His last show at Sasha Wolf featured his New York City photographs from 1968 to 1972. With the current exhibit, Sight Seeing, we get to see images from the various road trips he took in the 70’s and early 80’s.

The terrain McDonough covers is not the dark moody heartland documented by Robert Frank in the 50’s (and revisited by Thomas Hoepker in the 60’s in the recent exhibit at Leica Gallery). Rather, what we see are bright, sun drenched images taken mainly on the coasts, both East and West. As befits a street shooter, the “sights” are not the standard ones listed in the guidebooks but rather the people, at leisure or in transit, observed along the way.

Photo by Paul McDonough . Source: sashawolf.com
Paul McDonough, "Florida" 1979.

Cars, beaches, and restaurants provide many of the locales. The eighteen silver gelatin prints are well composed and balanced, and, at 16x20, large enough to be easily read by the viewer but not so big as to be overwhelming. Even those such as the camper on Santa Monica Beach or the roller skate rental stand, which at first glance seem a bit busy and disjointed, on closer inspection reveal a structure that keeps the eye moving within the frame.

Photo by Paul McDonough . Source: sashawolf.com
Paul McDonough, "Burger King, Portland, Oregon" 1973.

The majority of those pictured are young, ranging from pre- to post-adolescent, and call to mind the joys and pains of growing up. There is innocence in the photos of kids on a playground slide, the Oregon beach, and a man with three kids walking from the beach.

But emotions arise as the subjects grow older. See the boy with the pup and the talent show contestants. Adolescent angst is visible in images of a boy standing awkwardly on the left in a Portland Burger King while a group of girls celebrate at a table on the right and another of a boy on a tour boat staring out between two young women.

Photo by Paul McDonough . Source: sashawolf.com
Paul McDonough, "California, Two Men and a Woman" 1979.

There is a voyeuristic feel to the image of a young couple kissing in Florida 1979. Ignored by a man on the left, they are watched intently by a young woman touching her hair in the center - and three unseen others whose long shadows fill the foreground. And sexual tension is evident in the two photos of two men talking to a swimsuit-ed woman by a car in the 1979 image from California. Her face, in particular, is turned towards them but her body appears poised to flee.

Any look back can only offer a partial glimpse at the past. The view offered in this selection is light and easy, evoking a simpler time of youth and leisure. While the 70’s and early 80’s were more complex than that, one can still enjoy the McDonough’s likable perspective.

Paul McDonough
America in the 70s


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