Symposium: Police Work @Museum of the City of New York

On March 13, 2012 the Museum of the City of New York hosted a symposium on Police Work – a conversation about crime photography. Currently,two exhibitions exploring the subject of crime photography are on view in New York City: ‘Weegee: Murder Is My Business’ through September 2, 2012 at ICP and ‘Police Work: Photographs by Leonard Freed, 1972-1979’ until May 6, 2012 at the Museum of the City of New York. The ICP Chief Curator, Brian Wallis called this fact ‘fantastic coincidence’.

The discussion was moderated by Sean Corcoran, Curator of Prints and Photographs for the Museum of the City of New York. He is the curator of the exhibition Police Work: Photographs by Leonard Freed, 1972-1979 that features photographs of the New York City police, including a recent gift to the Museum of the City of New York by the photographer’s widow, Bridgette Freed. On April 21, 2012, Sean Corcoran will give a tour of the exhibition.

Curator and author, Gail Buckland presented a collection of crime photographs from her book Shots in the Dark: True Crime Pictures (Bulfinch, 2001). She spoke about history of the crime photography and how it influenced the public perception of crimes and criminals. Crime photography made public to know the people behind the stories, sometimes even making a criminal into a superstar. The author emphasized that the book features photographs from police archives including shocking photographs of victims which are a bit hard to take. Gail Buckland mentioned photography as a part of the crime when a murderer would photograph a victim. She also spoke about the growing amount of images of violence that could be found on internet today.

Brian Wallis, International Center of Photography Chief Curator and curator of Weegee: Murder is My Business, spoke on the crime photography of Weegee (born Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968). Working as a freelancer, Weegee documented about five thousands murders. He focused on showing human interest in crime scenes and police work more than on documenting crimes themselves and victims’ bodies (in contrast with police photographers). The first show of Weegee’s photographs called Murder is My Business was opened in 1941 in Photo League. The work was not presented on the walls, Weegee created magazine-like spreads with his b&w photographs and added some colored blood to them. The first book of Weegee’s photographs called Naked City was published in 1945 and became a cult item for collectors. See Jörg Colberg’s presentation of Weegee’s Naked City. Brian Wallis mentioned that Weegee’s photographs can be found at the exhibition The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 on view at the Jewish Museum through March 25, 2012. Leonard Freed’s contact sheet is featured at the exhibition Magnum Contact Sheets on view at ICP through May 6, 2012.

Paul M. Farber, visual/popular culture critic and Leonard Freed scholar from University of Michigan, gave an overview of Leonard Freed’s photographic career. See books featuring Leonard Freed’s photography here. Leonard Freed viewed the police officers as members of the city’s working class and co-citizens. His intent was bit to judge the police activities but rather to show how the officers do their job. The photographer approached his subjects with humanity and at the same time with a critical distance. The work produced by Freed changed the negative public opinion of police of the 1970th. His book, Police Work published in 1980 provided a great insight to the life and work of the police officers seeing them as collaborators for building community and safeguarding democracy. See some spreads of the book Police Work here.

The discussion revealed some important questions about modern society: How police are represented in numbers of popular TV series and what their role is in forming public opinion? How does the police use photography and surveillance cameras and how does that effect our life?  What role does the beautification of crime and violence play in modern society?

Artist Talk: David LaChapelle @SVA

Last night at the SVA Theater photographer, David LaChapelle, discussed his work with writer and curator, Lyle Rexer. The conversation lasted for over two hours and covered David’s career as a fashion/portrait photographer and as a fine artist. This event was presented in conjunction with David LaChapelle’s current exhibition, Earth Laughs in Flowers on view through March 24th at Fred Torres Collaborations.

David LaChapelle uses esthetics and personages of pop culture to discuss and criticize the morality of Western society. The themes that continue to emerge throughout his career are: richness and ownship, church and religion, the circle of birth and death, Africa, and climate changes. He became known as a fashion photographer and tried to push the limits of the medium by incorporating wider ideas, including criticism, into fashion and editorial photography. In 2006, he decided to minimize his participation in commercial photography, re-entered the art world, which earned him more creative freedom.

One of his last series published in the magazine, Vogue Homme, was Recollections In America. David called it ‘Drunk Americans’. It is a deeply critical series inspired by found photographs from family albums.  And, it was still a fashion shoot though it doesn’t to look like it. David LaChappelle stated that even he was amazed that this series got published.

In this advertising campaign produced for German luxury car manufacturer LaChapelle incorporated the idea of climate changes that is partly caused by use of cars:


His project Negative Currency is a critique of money institution:


References to Ancient and Renaissance art can be found in many of David’s works, the photographer likes to use images of Jesus, Madonna, angels, female and male nudes, often in a quite challenging ways. The photograph from Heaven to Hell directly refers us to the Michelangelo’s sculpture the Pietà where Mary is ‘played’ by Courtney Love and Jesus looks like Kurt Cobain…


David LaChapelle’s new series Earth Laughs in Flowers includes ten large-scale still life photographs. It is currently on view at Fred Torres Collaborations being shown for the first time in the United States. All photographs from the exhibition can be seen here.

‘Somewhere to Disappear’, Documentary Film w/Alec Soth @Sean Kelly Gallery

‘Somewhere to Disappear’ is a movie documenting Alec Soth’s travels in 2008-2009, during the time he was working on the project/book ‘Broken Manual’. The 57 minutes film is made by two young European directors, Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove.

By the words of the filmmakers, the goal was ‘in no way to take a voyeuristic snapshot of someone who himself observes a subject, but rather to follow a character who fantasizes about his subject and gradually merges with it’.

‘They followed me for a couple of years, driving around America, and they’ve become family, I feel very close to them, which doesn’t mean I thought their film was going to be any good. I thought this could be a disaster. But it turns out to be a wonderful movie, focused on the subjects I photographed’ – said Alec Soth.

The documentary gives a nice opportunity to get an inside view on how the photographer works on a project. We know that this project, as well as the movie, is about a dream to disappear. But it’s also about a photographer’s dream to get on the road with a big (or small) camera, looking for the subjects, to experience moments of meeting something or somebody incredible, to have the feeling (once in a while) that you’ve taken a good picture today. Undoubtedly, together with an exhibition and a book, the movie adds another layer to Alec Soth’s project. But, it also portrays a photographer in general, just a guy who wanders around with a camera, going to places and meeting people that we could hardly believe exist. And in the end, a photographer helps us to understand ourselves better through the discovery of ‘another’, uncommon ways of living.

The movie is a part of Alec Soth’s exhibition, Broken Manual that closes this weekend at the Sean Kelly Gallery.

More about ‘Somewhere to Disappear’

Alec Soth: Broken Manual
February 3 – March 11, 2012
Sean Kelly Gallery (528 West 29th Street)