Tag Archives: MoMA

Taking His Time: A Look Back at 50 Years of Joel Meyerowitz’s Photographs

The 1939 edition of Robert Frost’s Collected Poems contained an introductory essay that wasn’t in the first edition. In that article, entitled “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Frost wrote, “Like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere.”

Though he didn’t know it at the time, acclaimed photographer Joel Meyerowitz began hurling his own experiences ahead of him in 1962. While working as an art director at an advertising agency, Meyerowitz met photographer Robert Frank who was shooting a clothing brochure. Meyerowitz watched Frank move while he photographed, and he had an incredible epiphany. On the way back to the office, Meyerowitz walked the streets of New York for more than an hour. “I felt like I was reading the text of the street in a way that I never had before,” he says.

When he returned to the office, Meyerowitz told his boss, Harry Gordon, that he was quitting. He wanted to be a photographer. Gordon then asked him a crucial question: did he have a camera? The answer was no, so Gordon lent him a 35mm camera and Meyerowitz embarked on the great journey of his life.

Over the next 50 years Meyerowitz exhibited at the MoMA, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, published books and taught photography at Cooper Union. But there was always one place where you had a chance to run into him and become immortalized in his gargantuan body of work. Meyerowitz is, first and foremost, a street photographer. Though he has shot street scenes in France, Germany, Atlanta, Ohio and dozens of places in between, the chaotic streets of New York City make up his favorite studio. “Fifth Avenue is my boulevard,” he says. “No street in the world, and I’ve traveled a lot, has for me the kind of sexy, improvisatory collisions between elegance and lowness. You can see bike messengers and models, billionaires and hustlers, and it’s all out there every day.”

That first day with Robert Frank served as more than just a catalytic inspiration; it laid the foundation for how Meyerowitz would record street life. He bobs and weaves through the throngs of people, searching for that serendipitous moment that becomes a great photograph. “The way someone makes a gesture on the street or the way couples react to each other or the simultaneity of two things happening at the same time and the relationship between them,” are some of the elements he looks for. “It was the wonder of human nature and this incredible capacity for things to keep showing themselves to me,” he says.

Image: Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time (Phaidon Press, November 2012)

Phaidon Press

Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time (Phaidon Press. Limited Edition including signed print, November 2012)

When he is shooting on the street, there isn’t much time to contemplate each moment. “Photography takes place in a fraction of a second,” Meyerowitz says. “There isn’t a lot of time to think about things. You have to hone your instinct. You learn to hone that skill and timing so you’re in the right place at the right time.” Although he has made images that have moved audiences for decades, that has never been his true motivation. “I’m not out there to make another ‘great picture,’” he says. “I’m really out there to feel what it feels like to be alive and conscious in that moment. In a sense, the record of my photographs is a record of moments of consciousness and awareness that have come to me in my life.”

This year, the 50th anniversary of when he first took up the camera, Meyerowitz compiled hundreds of his favorite images for the two-volume collection, Joel Meyerowitz: Taking My Time (Phaidon Press). The project isn’t just a greatest hits collection. “It’s easy to make a book of your very best things and not necessarily have a narrative arc,” he says. “I wanted to stick strictly to the chronology as precisely as I could and show my own development.” The result is a visual biography of an artist who for half a century has snapped moments–fractions of seconds–and preserved them forever. Each tells a unique story that Meyerowitz has used to pave his life. Through the images of people and places and tiny moments in time, one can see a remarkable line of purpose he has created, one that runs fluidly across the experience of his life.

Joel Meyerowitz is a New York City-based photographer. Beginning Nov. 2, his work will be displayed in a two-part solo show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York.

LightBox previously featured Meyerowitz’s photographs of the destruction and reconstruction at Ground Zero.

MoMA’s New Photography 2012

Since it was established in 1985, the annual New Photography exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art has sought to showcase emerging photographers who are experimenting with techniques, subject matter and presentation that challenge the very definition of the medium itself. That goal has only gotten more difficult each year, as advances in technology and social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have bombarded viewers with a proliferation of images; the New York Times predicts that more than 380 billion photographs were taken in 2011 alone. That saturated environment serves as the backdrop of this year’s show, which opens Oct. 3 and runs through Feb. 4. And while it’s a reoccurring theme among this year’s five featured photographers (Michele Abeles, Shirana Shahbazi, Zoe Crosher, Anne Collier and the collective Birdhead, composed of Shanghai natives Ji Weiyu and Song Tao), the artists’ different approach to image saturation nods to the wide breath of work that New Photography hopes to survey each year.

“We often think about variety and diversity, so that each artistwhatever ideas they’re exploringwill stand apart from one another,” says associate curator Eva Respini. “It’s in the mix of the artists that you can get a sense of the diversity of what’s happening in contemporary photography today.” Among this year’s mix: Abeles (American, b. 1977), whose collage-like work juxtaposes male nudes against common objects like wine bottles; Shahbazi (German, b. Iran 1974), who disseminates her images in various creative ways, such as a photo rug with help from weavers in her native Tehran; Crosher (American, b. 1975), who re-purposes and re-photographs Michelle Dubois’s existing archive of self portraits; Collier (American, b. 1970), who combines found objects in her reflection of mass media and pop culture; and Birdhead, (Ji Weiyu, Chinese, b. 1980, and Song Tao, Chinese, b. directory submission . 1979), whose black-and-white snapshots of daily Shanghai life are installed in grid format, without ever identifying the author of an individual image. “The fact that they don’t really distinguish who takes what pictures speaks to what their work is about,” says Respini. “It’s a reflection of a Facebook generationa generation that’s used to thinking about multiple images and an accumulation of images instead of discrete images that are elevated to a fine art status.” Four of the five artists are women, a trend Respini says would be “great to continue.”

Even the installation of the show itself reflects photography’s changing nature. Visitors will see traditional modes of presentationsuch as framed photographs on a wallbut also more sculptural elements, such as lithographic wallpaper fromShahbazi and a site-specific configuration from Birdhead. This, combined with the diverse output from the photographers themselves, willas MoMa surely hopes, anywayelevate New Photography 2012 from the mass of photography exhibitions.

New Photography opens October 3, and runs through February 4, 2013. Learn more about the show here.

‘American Photographs’ by Walker Evans

Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.

But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.

MOMA

Cover

As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.

But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.

And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.

This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)

As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.

The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest  way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.

Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.

The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.

The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.

These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.

‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • Find May Day photos from around the world at Boston’s The Big Picture Show, New York TimesLensBlog, and LA TimesFramework. Time‘s LightBox also offers “Resources for Photographers Covering Protests,” a bit of a distillation of what the ACLU has up on their website. In addition this week, the National Press Photographers Association and other press groups “call on Justice Department to protect right to record,” pointing out that more than 70 people have been arrested documenting Occupy protests since last September.
  • The New Yorker‘s PhotoBooth shares brilliant photos from the eight night performance run of electronic music and Krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk at MoMA last week– those shows that sold out in a blink of an eye, crashing ticket servers. The featured photos were taken not by concert photographers, but audience members with their cell phones who shared on Instagram, Facebook and Flickr, including one by their pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, who wrote for the magazine this week on the band’s legacy.
  • Daidō Moriyama, who is interviewed by Ivan Vartanian in Aperture issue 203, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award during ICP’s Infinity Award 2012 ceremony this past Wednesday, La Lettre De La Photographie reports, posting a gallery of his images. Be sure to check out the Daidō Moriyama pop-up library, on display at the ICP Library until May 23, 2012, and watch videos from Moriyama’s 2011 PRINTING SHOW–TKY at Aperture, a recreation of his 1974 ad hoc photobook-making performance of the same title. Moriyama also has his first solo museum exhibition, Fracture: Daido Moriyama, on view at LACMA through July 31, 2012, LA Times‘ Framework reports.
  • Ben Lowy, the “Hipstamatic Journalist,” an ardent defender of cell phone photography according to a New York Times profile and Q&A on LensBlog, also won an Infinity Award this week for his work in photojournalism. Soon, the Times reports, Hipstamatic will release a Ben Lowy Lens filter. This week, software developer jag.gr also released the 645 Pro camera app for the iPhone, Rob Galbraith reports, which appeals to advanced photographers and can capture TIFF images, features real-time shutter speed and aperture readouts, a live histogram, a choice of spot or multi-zone metering, as well as focus, exposure, and white balance lock. PhotoShelter Blog shares a lengthy post on “Why Instagram is Terrible for Photographers, and Why You Should Use It,” while APhotoEditor explores some of the many licensing issues with the social media sites through which these images are shared.
  • Read about the long strange saga of student photojournalist Andy Duann’s ‘bear falling out of a tree‘ photo which was went viral last week according to Poytner, eventually being picked up by the Associated Press (we first noticed it on WSJ‘s Photo Journal).  Duann had been considering legal action against his school, the University of Colorado, for distributing the photo without compensating him, until they acknowledged that he retained the copyright and announced they would no longer demand copyright from their students in the future.
  • MediaStorm share two videos this week that live up to their column titled, “Worth Watching.” First, watch Ian Ruhter’s SILVER & LIGHT clip about his–literally–truck-sized traveling camera. Then watch Jeff Harris’ sometimes-heart-wrenching video on his project collecting 4,748 daily self-portraits–and counting. MediaStorm also draws our attention to Aday, “a unique photographic event,” scheduled for May 15, 2012, in which countless people from all different backgrounds use any camera they can get access to and submit photos to create a massive historical document–”A Day in the World,” which will be published as a book in October 2012. Sign up today.
  • Andy Adam’s Flak Photo is teaming up with Tom Griggs’ fototazo next week to host an online community conversation focused on essays from Gerry Badger’s recently published The Pleasures of Good Photographs (Aperture 2010). We’re looking forward to Monday, May 7, 2012, which is when the discussion kicks off with the essay, “Literate, Authoritative, Transcendent: Walker Evans’s American Photographs.”

A slideshow and talk by Diane Arbus @MoMA, New York





“About this time everyone suddenly decided I was meant to be an artist and I was given art lessons and a big box of oils and encouragement and everything. I painted and drew every once in a while for about four years with a teacher without admitting to anyone that I didn’t like to paint or draw at all and i didn’t know what I was doing. I used to pray and wish often to be a “great artist and all the while I hated it and I didn’t realise that I didn’t want to be an artist at all. The horrible thing was that all the encouragement I got made me think that really I wanted to be an artist and made me keep pretending that I liked it and made me like it less and less until I hated it because it wasn’t me that was being an artist; everybody was lifting me high up and crowning me and congratulating me and I was smiling — and really I hated it and I hadn’t done one single good piece of work. It was the craziest pretense in the world but even though i was pretending i believed in it, for about four years I had visions of being a great sad artist and I turned all my energies toward it when I wasn’t an artist at all.

Diane Arbus1940 autobiography, senior class assignment, Fieldston School


It was a good thing she gave painting and drawing!

For those in New York this weekend, MoMA is screening A Slide Show and Talk By Diane ArbusThe 40-minute film was compiled by Neil Selkirk, Doon Arbus, and Adam Shott from an original 1970 recording of a slide presentation given one year before the photographer’s death. It has been shown less than a dozen times publicly and offers us the rare opportunity to hear the photographer lecture on her images. Nearly 40 years after publication, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph which features 80 of those images, remains one of our most popular photobooks.

Following the screening, novelist and president of PEN American Center, Francine Prose along with Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham, and Doon Arbus discuss how the photographer’s “precise use of language” illuminates her pictures. They will also read from the recently released book, Diane Arbus: A Chronology, which was primarily composed of exerpts from her letters, notebooks, writings, and journals. Through her own words, they explore the nature of her observation. 1000 Words recently acquired a copy, and have been drunk on it ever since.

Taryn Simon: ‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII’

If Taryn Simon hadn’t become a photographer, she could have made a fortune in sales, because she has persuasive powers that the rest of us can only dream of. For her 2007 exhibition and book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, she got herself admitted to dozens of places where outsiders with cameras aren’t usually allowed, including a nuclear-waste storage facility and a reconstructed crime scene at a forensic research center, complete with a rotting corpse. For another project, Contraband, she persuaded the wary authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport to let her photograph every item seized by customs over a five-day period, from counterfeit Viagra to cow-dung toothpaste. Despite a personal manner that’s the last word in low-key, she has a way of getting what she wants. “If somebody closes the door,” she says, “I have to find another way to get in.”

Simon, 37, had to find a lot of ways in for her new show, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, which is on view through Sept. 3 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City before moving to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The organizing principle for this project is what she calls bloodlines: all the living descendants, plus any living forebears, of a single man or woman who sets a story in motion. Traveling to 25 countries, Simon tracked down hundreds of family members bound together by not just genealogy but often some curious or painful fate.

Read more about Taryn Simon in this week’s issue of TIME: There Will Be Bloodlines

Doon Arbus, Francine Prose, and Michael Cunningham on Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus, 1970 (c) Steven Frank

How might the verbal atmosphere artists create around their work affect or complicate our understanding of it? Would our perception of Diane Arbus’ photographs change were we to hear what she had to say about them?

This Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 5:00pm, as part of the PEN World Voices Festival (now through May 6, 2012), MoMA is screening A Slide Show and Talk By Diane Arbus. The 40-minute film was compiled by Neil Selkirk, Doon Arbus, and Adam Shott from an original 1970 recording of a slide presentation given one year before the photographer’s death. It has been shown less than a dozen times publicly and offers us the rare opportunity to hear the photographer lecture on her images. Nearly 40 years after publication, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph which features 80 of those images, remains one of our most popular photobooks.

Following the screening, novelist and president of PEN American Center, Francine Prose along with Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham, and Doon Arbus discuss how the photographer’s “precise use of language” illuminates her pictures. They will also read from the recently released book, Diane Arbus: A Chronology, which was primarily composed of exerpts from her letters, notebooks, writings, and journals. Through her own words, they explore the nature of her observation.

In the film, according to Yale Daily News, which reviewed a screening at Yale University Art Gallery last month, Arbus said on that topic: “I do it because I think there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”

Untitled (6), 1970-71; from Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (c) Diane Arbus

Screening:
Saturday, May 5, 2012
5:00–6:30 pm

Film ticket: $12, $10 seniors, $8 students. MoMA members free but a screening ticket is required. Tickets are released one week in advance starting at 9:30 am at MoMA’s main lobby information desk. Please view MoMA’s ticketing policy here.

Museum of Modern Art
Theater 1
11 West 53rd Street
New York, New York
(212) 708-9400

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • LightBox presents an essay written by Tim Hetherington, who was featured in Aperture issue 204, from the new book Photographs Not Taken, one year after the photographer’s death in Libya. The collection, compiled by Will Steacy (one of Aperture’s Green Cart Commissioned photographers), also features essays by Roger Ballen, Ed Kashi, Mary Ellen MarkAlec SothPeter van Agtmael and more. Additionally, PDN features an 8 image retrospective by Hetherington, whose work is now on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York (through May 12, 2012).
  • This week in commentary: LPV Magazine  digests Instagram articles by Om Malik, the New Yorker’s Ian Crouch and New York Magazine’s Paul Ford, finds out, “Facebook Buys Instagram, Some Photographers Sad.” APhotoEditor reads Paul Melcher‘s poignant article on La Lettre de La Photographie alongside Marc Andreessen‘s WSJ piece “Software Will Eat The World,” and explores “how a company with 13 employees and no profits [Instagram] can replace a now bankrupt company [Kodak] that once employed over 120,000 people with annual sales of $10 billion as the ‘manufacturer’ of a device to bring photography to the masses.” In related news, NPPA opens a mobile phone photo contest, calling for entries through Sunday, April 22, 2012, while Magnum Photos has deployed another team to Rochester to document the once-vibrant home of Kodak as part of their Postcards From America series.
  • Poynter investigates the controversy over the Pentagon delaying the LA Times from publishing photographs of US soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan corpses, a story which has since elicited over 2000 comments on the Times’ website.
  • Sophie Calle, featured in Aperture issues 191 and 142, talks to the Guardian about her best shot from the series Voir La Mer, in which she “took 15 people of all ages, from kids to one man in his 80s, to see [the sea] for the first time.” She photographed them from behind so as to not obstruct their initial encounter, and she captured the entire process, including their reactions, on video. Her current exhibition, Historias de Pared (at Museo de Arte Moderno Medellín through June 3, 2012) is reviewed on Fototazo.
  • In honor of Albert Hoffman’s infamous Bicycle Day (April 19), LIFE Magazine shares a number of never-before-published dream-like photographs that were to accompany an original 1966 article titled, “New Experience That Bombards the Senses: LSD Art.”
  • American Suburb X shares journal entries from William Gedney on “Kentucky, Sex and Diane Arbus,” alongside scans of the archival material culled from the Duke University Rare Books and Manuscript Library.  Speaking of rare books, ICP Library profiles some of the innovative and experimental photobooks they found and photographed at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair last week.
  • Time Magazine releases their annual list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World,” alongside a portrait gallery of 24 of the honorees.  Included this year is artist Christian Marclay, of the monumental video installation recently purchased by MoMA, The Clock, and the 2007 Aperture monograph Shuffle, which takes the form of a deck of cards. The Clock will be shown for free this summer from the middle of July to mid-August at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium. Stake out your places now!