Tag Archives: Slums

The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League

A game of hopscotch. A toothpaste ad. Filthy slums. This, for better or worse, was New York life in the 1930s. Many looked but few saw until the Photo League—a pioneering group of young, idealistic documentary photographers—captured that life with cameras.

The Manhattan-based League, which incorporated a school, darkroom, gallery and salon, was the first institution of its kind when it was founded in 1936 says Mason Klein, curator of fine arts at The Jewish Museum, which is currently presenting “The Radical Camera,” an exhibition in collaboration with the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. “There was nothing like the Photo League, where people could exhibit their work, students alongside their mentors, be taught a kind of history of photography and start understanding what the meaning of the photograph might be.”

Many of its founding members, including Sid Grossman, Sol Libsohn and Aaron Siskind, were first-generation Jewish immigrants with progressive, left-wing sensibilities. “They were very conscious of neighborhoods and communities,” says Klein. “I think it was very natural for Jews to form an egalitarian group and understand that the ordinary citizen of the urban scene was as much a valid subject as any for photography.”

The League thrived for fifteen years, generating projects like the Harlem Document, a collaborative effort by ten photographers to document the living conditions in poor black neighborhoods. It also fostered the careers of notable photographers such as Lisette Model, Weegee and Rosalie Gwathmey.

Despite its progressive agenda, the League’s mission was far from simplistic. Founder Grossman, who was just 23 when the group started, encouraged its members to look beyond documentary and question their relationship with the image. “Sid taught people to challenge their habitual ways of seeing the world,” says Klein. “A more poetic and metaphoric expression of how one saw the world was what Sid wanted from his students.” Under Grossman’s guidance, the League’s young muckrakers became artists.

By the 1940s, the League had turned away from its narrow political focus, capturing the squalor and splendor of everyday New York. The country was moving in the other direction, however, zeroing in on those suspected of harboring leftist sympathies. On December 5, 1947, the U.S. Attorney General blacklisted the League as “totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive.” In 1951, it closed its doors forever.

The League’s reputation has never truly recovered, says Klein. “They were condemned to a kind of ideological shelving and, I think, unfairly treated by history. We’re trying to rectify that with this show, because they really were always about pushing the photograph and understanding it as art.”

The Radical Camera is on display at The Jewish Museum in New York through March 25. 

Sonia van Gilder Cooke is a reporter in TIME’s London Bureau. Follow her on Twitter at @svangildercooke.

Agata Madejska – Contact

I first saw Contact by Agata Madejska back in 2009 as part of the exhibit Menos Tiempo que Lugar, which brought together German and South American artists making work that in some way had to do with the wave of bicentennials being celebrated across the continent. I remember at the time she didn’t have a site. For some reason I thought the work the other day and, lo-and-behold, the work is online. Contact shows photos of ruins in coastal, desert Peru as well as humble, present-day constructions which often look quite similar.

Agata Madejska – Puruchuco, Peru

Agata Madejska – Trujillo, Peru

I like the emphasis of the continuity between something that is celebrated [ruins, ancient culture] and something which is not [present day slums].

Agata Madejska – Contact

I first saw Contact by Agata Madejska back in 2009 as part of the exhibit Menos Tiempo que Lugar, which brought together German and South American artists making work that in some way had to do with the wave of bicentennials being celebrated across the continent. I remember at the time she didn’t have a site. For some reason I thought the work the other day and, lo-and-behold, the work is online. Contact shows photos of ruins in coastal, desert Peru as well as humble, present-day constructions which often look quite similar.

Agata Madejska – Puruchuco, Peru

Agata Madejska – Trujillo, Peru

I like the emphasis of the continuity between something that is celebrated [ruins, ancient culture] and something which is not [present day slums].

Photographer #398: Jason Larkin

Jason Larkin, United Kingdom, 1979, is a documentary photographer who was originally trained as a photojournalist. He concentrates on developing larger bodies of work that engage and reflect on current affairs. He focuses on the less reported aspects of the Middle East and Africa, trying to achieve a “more comprehensive viewpoint of an often misunderstood and ignored reality”. In his series Cairo Divided he photographed the construction sites in the deserts outside of Cairo. The city has grown at a fast pase, and even though it’s growth was bounded by the narrow strip of fertile land, irrigated by the Nile, the elite class of the city is starting to move to new urban centers in the desert in an attempt to escape the chaos and growing amount of slums. Mistake of Nature is a series photographed in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan. While being a region that has suffered one of the worst environmental disasters, the disapearance of the Aral Sea, which in turn has caused a collapse of its industry and economy, the people are slowly demanding their independance. The people that wish not to have an independent state are largely leaving the region. In recent years Jason has exhibited his work in several European cities as well as Boston, Toronto, Dubai and Cairo. The following images come from the series Cairo Divided, Mistake of Nature and In the Footsteps of the King.

Website: www.jasonlarkin.co.uk

Gabriel Diaz – Formas de Vida

There’s a really interesting show by photographer Gabriel Diaz called Formas de Vida [or Forms of Life] at the Fotogaleria at Teatro San Martin. The series takes a dry look at social and economic inequality in Buenos Aires as manifested through the built environment.

© Gabriel Diaz

© Gabriel Diaz

© Gabriel Diaz

© Gabriel Diaz

The series functions as a inventory of living arrangements sorted by social class; homeless encampments, shanty-towns, working class suburbs, housing projects, middle class suburbs, heavily-guarded mansions, and a five-star hotel. One exception missing from the series are photos of gated communities [barrios cerrados], which dot the suburbs of Buenos Aires [and which I wrote a little about in my post Slums and Gated Communities].

The images above were taken from the website of Revista Crisis, which is currently featuring a number of photos from this same body of work. The issue is titled malas raices and is all about problems with real estate development and urbanism. The term for real estate in Spanish is bienes raices, or literally, good roots. The title of the magazine is a pun; malas raices, bad roots. Here’s a picture of the cover with another of Diaz’s photographs:

Cover of the current issue of Crisis

This is the sixth issue of the 2nd incarnation of Crisis magazine. The first appeared for three brief years in the 1970s between military dictatorships and featured writing by some of the most important novelists and intellectuals of the era. It was shut down shortly after the coup in 1976 and it was considered dangerous even owning a copy [more info].

Back to the exhibit, here’s a few photos of the installation at Fotogaleria San Martin, which is located on Avenida Corrientes 1530. The show is up until October 2, 2011.

Fotogaleria at Teatro San Martin

Fotogaleria at Teatro San Martin

The prints look great, although the space itself is a little depressing; dark and stuck in a far corner of the ground floor. It used to be a shortcut to an adjacent street, which at least guaranteed a little foot traffic, but it’s been closed off for years now. Nevertheless, the Fotogaleria is the oldest space in Buenos Aires dedicated to showing photography, having started up shortly after the return to democracy in 1983, and one of the most important. It’s run by Juan Travnik, a grosso of Argentine photography, and the director of an ongoing workshop through which a number of the photographers I’ve featured on this blog have passed.

As for Gabriel Diaz, he doesn’t appear to have a website. It doesn’t help that his name isn’t very Google-friendly. In fact, there are three photographers and one illustrator who all share his name [and have websites]. The website La Pulseada features an interview with Diaz [in Spanish] where he talks about this and another work of pictures of street children. Diaz is also the director of the Coleccíon de Fotógrafos Argentinos, a series of individual monographs by Argentine photographers. I’ve previously written about one, Geovanny No Quiere Ser Rambo by Alfredo Srur.

Photographer #272: Veejay Villafranca

Vicente Jaime Villafranca, 1982, better known as Veejay, is a photojournalist from the Republic of the Philippines. His work focuses primarily on youth culture and its progression and/or regression, on Filipino faith practices and fanaticism and on the concept of reserved space for ethnic tribes. With his story Marked he became the first Asian to receive the Ian Parry Scholarship grant in 2008. Marked tells the story of gang members in Manila who made a living with drugs, pickpocketing and theft. He follows the members in their attempt to find a life outside of crime, violence and drugs that have become a part of life in Baseco, one of the biggest slums in Manila. His work has been exhibited in various places in Europe and Asia. Veejay is represented by Getty Global Assignments. The following images come from the stories Marked, A Race Divided and Creatures of Habit.


Website: www.veejayvillafranca.com

Fresh garbage. ‘Matter out of place’ and filthy reality at the Wellcome’s new show

The Wellcome Collection’s new show is all about ‘Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life’, writes Rosie Walters. The science, the sociology, the history and the horror of waste forms the basis of this free London exhibition. It is not based on the science of dirt, but on the context in which it is found, and our attitudes towards it over the years.

The Wellcome has a history of putting on exhibitions that blur the lines where science, communication and art all meet, and making it accessible not just to scientists, but to anyone who’s interested.

L0068416 Last barge of garbage to Fresh Kills

Above: Last barge of garbage to Fresh Kills, 2001. Courtesy of the City of New York

Loosely split into six different sections, the exhibition guides you from the microscopes of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (below) and immaculate houses in seventeenth-century Delft, to the squalid reality of life in the slums of New Delhi and the growing crisis of waste disposal in New York’s Staten Island (above).

Ant eggs and maggots etc.

Above: Ant eggs and maggots etc., by Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, 1807. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

Each section explores social and political attitudes to the many different types of dirt. From human to industrial, it seeks to examine anthropologist Mary Douglas’ view that dirt is just ‘matter out of place’.

A young Venetian woman, aged 23

Above: A young Venetian woman, aged 23, depicted before and after contracting cholera. Coloured stipple engraving. Courtesy: Wellcome Collection.

Despite being a topic that does not naturally associate itself with beauty, the exhibition is incredibly visually striking: there is a clear progression from section to section and a good mix of media. Videos, specially commissioned artwork, photos and explanatory panels are nicely balanced, giving visitors enough information to appreciate the exhibits without them getting overloaded by facts and figures.

Raw Material Washing Hands

Above: Raw Material Washing Hands, 1996, by Bruce Nauman, Video installation. Courtesy ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008.

The strongest area by far is the one focusing on the Deutsche Hygiene Museum, which covers everything from 1960s animations showing the viewer how important washing fruit is (‘be like Snow White and wash your fruit before you eat it!’) to the disquieting ‘racial hygiene’ Nazi posters, and an illustration in Der Stürmer [The Attacker] from 1943 showing the Star of David and the Soviet hammer and sickle as ‘germs’ and ‘microbes’ in the view of a microscope. It also shows promotional posters for, and images from the first international Hygiene exhibition in Dresden in 1911, including Franz von Stuck’s giant eye poster (top).

V0013642 King's Cross, London: the Great Dust-Hea

Above: King’s Cross, London: the Great Dust-Heap, next to Battle Bridge and the Smallpox Hospital. Watercolour painting by E. H. Dixon, 1837. Courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

‘Dirt’ may not be the ideal choice for the more squeamish – the scratch-and-sniff cards accompanied by anti-bacterial hand wash and giant ‘anthropometric modules’ (bricks) made of human faeces were a little nauseating. But it certainly is a fascinating insight into mankind’s morbid relationship with waste.

Rosie Walters is a UCL student and science editor of Pi.

Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life
24 March > 31 August 2011
Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK
+44 (0)20 7611 2222
Admission free.

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