The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

A Short 57th Street WalkAbout

Photo by Edmond Teske . Source:
Edmond Teske, "Mono Lake" 1971

We invaded the little 57th street gallery en masse. All six of us.

For the first sortie in a series of ICP outings intended to explore the photo scene in NY, I had chosen two galleries showing solarized work, and one that featured vintage black and white photojournalism.

Solarization has been around for a long time, but it’s popularity, along with that of the photogram, peaked in the 30’s and 40’s. For some of us it was the first serious exposure to any extended use of this technique, whose partial reversal of tones renders an exceptionally lush, silky surface possessing a sensual beauty often banned elsewhere.

While the major photographic players of the era were resolutely involved in realism, the experimentalists toyed with materials, especially photochemistry. Along with the photogram, solarization appealed to painterly types who found hands on inventiveness both pleasurable and satisfying. Man Ray, for one, rarely if ever ventured out with his camera. Surrealists in general found these approaches replete with ‘the marvelous,’ their term for the fantastic, unrealistic, poetic image whose dream-like qualities they deliberately sought and admired.

Photo by Maurice Tabard . Source: Nailya Alexander
Maurice Tabard, "Photogramme" c.1930-40

Photographers like Maurice Tabard regularly solarized their work, often super-imposing layers in montage as well, thereby increasing both the image’s complexity and its unreality. In one exquisite image on display at Naiyla Alexander, he solarized a photogram, skillfully using soft and hard focus to add depth and mystery.

Other important names from the period included Blumenfield, famous for his fashion photography, Herbert Matter, and Pierre Boucher. To its credit, the show included work by later photographers, such as Edmund Teske, (whose full scale show at the Gitterman was our next stop,) and Alexey Titarenko.

Photo by Alexey Titarenko  . Source:
Alexey Titarenko , "Subway Entrance Kupchino, St. Petersburg" 1993

Possessing both experimental and realistic approaches, Titarenko’s work has an emotional depth generally lacking in solarized imagery whose impact often rests heavily on its esthetic qualities alone. Represented here by some of his famous street scenes, he combined solarization with long exposure and other techniques to form his idiosyncratic style.

Photo by Edmund Teske . Source:
Edmund Teske, "John Saxon, Los Angeles" c. 1958

We just caught the tail end of the Teske show at Gitterman whose run was about to end. Operating out of Los Angeles Edmund Teske was a maverick who made a living out of portraiture while devoting himself privately to experimental, unabashedly romantic work often of an erotic nature. A photographer who has recently been ‘rediscovered’, he is credited with inventing the duotone solarization technique, one that produces beautiful rust brown tones along with the usual black, white, and silvery ones.

Photo by Leonard McCombe . Source:
Leonard McCombe, "Former servicemen living on unemployment gather in drugstore, Long Island, New York" 1941. Copyright the artist and Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

By the time we left the Gitterman we were all ready for the solid dose of down to earth realism happily provided by the archival show at Howard Greenberg. A fitting tribute to the glories of the Greenberg archive, it was the kind of show that features gems by lesser-known photographers. Hung alongside more ethereal and varied work, rich black and white prints by photographers such as Dave Heath and Leonard McCombe offered us a visual feast from another era.

Photo by Dave Heath . Source:
Dave Heath, "7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City" 1959. Image copyright the artist, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

Treasure hunting seemed to be the theme of the day both in the forgotten fields of experimentalism and in those of photojournalism. F was enthralled by rooms filled with black and white photographs, rich in tone and in anecdote; M settled on one large print she declared, “Perfect”. Several of us were equally impressed by Titarenko’s ability to create a poetry of slow motion that used special effects to mythologize the ‘people’. Re-emerging into the cold, snowy air of 57th street, we each found something, confirming once more, photography’s ability to stimulate, intrigue and inspire.

A Short 57th Street WalkAbout by Barbara Confino

Artist and writer Barbara Confino’s new series, Walkabout: The City As Image, explores urban life as a visual experience. Functioning as both cameraman and editor, the walker sees the physical and human environment as if it were a film in the making with its connections, contradictions, collage-like juxtapositions, and unexpected harmonies

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