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)

Exhibition ‘The Art of Small Books’ by Aperture Foundation @Soho Photo Gallery

Exhibition: The Art of Small Books organized by Aperture Foundation, hosted in the Soho Photo Gallery was a rare opportunity to look through sixteen books in journal-sized format, mostly published by Aperture over a period of years.

The title of the exhibition brought some confusion – I expected to see artist’s books with unique design in a really small scale.

The only book in the exhibition that fits this description was Christian Marclay’s ‘Shuffle’.

In this book, Christian Marclay has photographed the appearances of musical notation throughout the world. Each of the 75 color images is presented on an individual oversized card, and the entire deck is enclosed in a package that intended to be used as a spontaneous musical score. Have a look at pianist Anthony Coleman’s performance of Christian Marclay’s ‘Shuffle’:

The book that I had heard much about but never got a chance to look at before, was ‘Black Passport’ by Stanley Greene.

Outstanding concept and design of the book are the work of Teun van der Heijden, a designer from Netherlands. The book looks like a travel document with passport-like round edges and cover material. It is a personal memoir of war photographer Stanley Greene compiled out of excerpts from over two years of interviews conducted by Teun van der Heijden together with Stanley Greene’s images from Paris, Moscow, Rwanda, Iraq, Lebanon, San Francisco and many other locations. Watch this book’s trailer:

Another book with a modern magazine-like design was ‘Silent Exodus’ by Kabul-born, Switzerland-based photographer Zalmai. The book chronicles the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon; over the course of several trips in 2007.  He interviewed them, collected their individual stories and photographed them in their homes.

I am personally  fond of Japanese photography, and Takashi Homma’s book exploring every day life in Tokyo was one of my favorites in the show. The book compiles selections from the artist’s six previously published titles about the city. This is the first of Homma’s monographs published outside Japan.

Among classic photobooks presented in the show, were three books from the Aperture Masters of Photography series. The series was created in the 1970s in collaboration with the French publisher Robert Delpire and intended to make affordable photography books for wider public. The exhibition featured books on Eugène AtgetHenri Cartier-Bresson, and Wynn Bullock.

Another favorite of mine in the show was Robert Adams’ book ‘Summer Nights, Walking’. It is a re-edited edition of ‘Summer Nights’ published by Aperture in 1985. The book has very nice classic design and contains photographs of night landscapes that Robert Adams began making in the mid-1970s near his former home in Longmont, Colorado.

‘Travelers’ by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz is a book of constructed images of miniatures – toy figures in  snowbound environments.

This exhibition also presented two volumes of MP3: Midwest Photographers Publication Project, a series of books intending to introduce emerging photographers from the Midwest. Each volume contains three books of three photographers:  Kelli Connell, Justin Newhall and Brian Ulrich in Volume I, and Curtis Mann, John Opera, and Stacia Yeapanis in Volume II. These books have a modern, colorful, Blurb-like design.

I went to the exhibition on Friday afternoon when the space wasn’t crowded and got a chance to carefully look through all the books picking up some favorites that hopefully will become a part of my collection. It was a nice opportunity to look through this collection of old and new Aperture books.

The Art of Small Books
February 8 – March 3, 2012
Soho Photo Gallery (15 White Street)

Photography Exhibitions @Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

This month I happened to be in Kansas City, and having heard so much about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I couldn’t miss a chance to visit it.

After the acquisition of the famed Hallmark Photographic Collection in December 2005, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art became one of the premier museums in the world for photography. Since then the photography collection of the museum has extended to over 8,000 prints covering the medium’s entire history and primarily contains works of American artists with some international representation.

Two thirds of the Photography gallery is devoted to a historical survey of photography. The exhibition of works from the museum’s permanent collection is on view at all times, with new installations presented about three times a year (due to preservation reasons). The photographs are shown chronologically in five sections.

19th Century Daguerreotypes
Invented in 1839 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, the daguerreotype process, widely used in 1840-1860, produces a one-of-a-kind direct positive image characterized by extraordinary detail. Nearly every facet of American society from this period was recorded in daguerreotype: important events, occupational portraits, outdoor and city views, artistic and sometimes comedic subjects.

Gold Miners with Sluice, ca. 1850
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

– 19th Century Paper Photography
Negative/positive process on paper, introduced in the 1850s, made photography even more widely popular and useful than before. It became a truly amateur activity in the 1880s with the introduction of dry-plate negatives and handheld cameras like the Kodak.

Carleton E. Watkins, North America, 1829-1916
View from Camp Grove, Yosemite, 1861
Albumen print
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

My personal discovery here was French photographer Eugene Cuvelier, 1837-1900. The only albumen print of his, titled Fampoux, 1860, that was on view at this time immediately caught my eye and encouraged me to research more on his work. Many of Cuvelier’s images were made at the Forest of Fontainebleau near Barbizon in north-central France. Simple in composition, soft and delicate in tone range, his landscapes are calm and meditative. The work causes a viewer to spend more time in front of the print.

– 20th Century Early Movements
This part of the exhibition covers a period from 1900 until World War II, when different styles and approaches evolved, such as pictorialism, straight photography, modernist and social documentary movements.

The pictorialist movement is represented with the work of Clarence H. White, one of the leading figure of this style at the turn-of-the-century. There is also a stunning work of William Fraser, who made one of the earliest artistic night images using effects of snow and rain in New York City.

William A. Fraser, American, ca. 1840-1925
A Wet Night, Columbus Circle, ca. 1897-1898
Gelatin silver print
 © The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

The work of Edward Weston represents a purist style and an interest in form. Formal research continues in abstract work of László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray. Modernist investigation of structures and geometric forms is shown in works of André Kertész, Charles Sheeler and Kurt Baasch.

Another personal discovery was Charles Sheeler, with his 1927 series at the Ford Motor Company plant outside Detroit – a study of fascinating forms of industrial architecture,…

Charles Sheeler, American, 1883-1965
Criss-Crossed Conveyors–Ford Plant, 1927
Gelatin silver print
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

…and an interesting work of Kurt Baasch who explored simple forms of New York City.

Kurt Baasch – Repetition, 1912

At this part of the exhibition, I also discovered Francis Blake, a scientist and an innovator in high-speed photography who designed a shutter that allowed him to take photographs with exposure times of 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second. Read more.

The documentary movement of this period is illustrated with works of Lisette Model and Dorothea Lange.

– 20th Century Post-War Movements
This is a period in the history when ‘the photograph was understood as a metaphor for internal truth rather then a simple document of the external ones’ and photography started to receive the institutional acceptance as an art form. The period is presented with works of Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.

– 20th/21thst Century Contemporary
The photography of this era is extremely diverse in techniques and approaches. The contemporary art world was transformed by photography and photography was influenced and became a part of the art world. This part of the exhibition is located in a larger room with a number of artists presented. I will mention the names of the artists whose work attracted me, even with only one photograph displayed.

Emmet Gowin’s photographs of his own family and natural landscapes immediately made me one of his fans. The subject matter and style perfectly fit my some of my latest interests in photography.

Emmet Gowin – Edith, 1971

I was also attracted to the work of Mike Sinclair, who documents ‘familiar places’ (landscapes of Kansas City area) and studies modern American mid-class social traditions.

The work of Sze Tsung Leong from the series Cities depicts urban areas – new kind of landscapes, ‘decaying and self renewing’.

And of course, I was happy to see the print of Alec Soth from his famous series Sleeping by the Mississippi. By the way, Alec Soth will speak about his work in a free public lecture sponsored by the Photography Society of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on March 3, 2012. I envy those of you who will be there!

Alec Soth – Herman’s bed, Kenner, Louisiana 2002

The Photographs of Brett Weston

The last room of the Photography gallery is devoted to small scale shows that change every three to four months. Currently the exhibition consists of Brett Weston’s photographs. The show contains thirty seven, rarely seen before works of Brett Weston.

Brett Weston, a son of the famous photographer Edward Weston, adopted the purist manner of his father. His photographs of water, paint, plants, rock walls, landscapes, buildings, trees and structures of the city celebrate ‘the beauty of abstraction’. The images, made with 8×10 inch and 11×14 inch cameras, have great detail. The quality of the prints is significant. The exhibition is on display through March 25, 2012 and definitely worth seeing! Read more.

All exhibitions in the Photography gallery are beautifully presented. The prints have interesting and informative descriptions and are very carefully lit. I could say the same about the entire museum from my brief excursion after my visit to the Photography gallery. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was a great discovery during my trip to Kansas City, and I highly recommend it to everyone!

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website