Street Seen photography show at MAM
Yes, you take a camera and point it at something in the real world, and you capture an image in one way or another. But that doesn’t mean the image expresses an unchanging, objective Truth. You have captured a moment in time, viewed through a specific lens, not only the lens of the camera but also the lens of your own understanding. The image might be the truth, but it might be more subjective and transient than truth.
Street Seen, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, brings together images by photographers who worked at the forefront of this sort of thinking. They moved photography away from strict documentation and toward interpretation. The six featured artists all had work published in news journals, but none worked within the confines of photojournalism. They embraced the artistic trends of the time by experimenting with motion, emotion, abstraction and spontaneity.
Street Seen features Ted Croner, one of the more interesting technical photographers of the 1940s. Croner once said that he did “not take pictures of people, but pictures of feelings.” In order to give freer rein to the emotive content of his photographs, he experimented heavily with the exposure process and various developing chemicals, some of them altogether new to the field. He was an active participant in the photographic process. He did not merely snap a shot and then put it on paper. He changed the image between capture and print. His interpretation and his emotional state influenced the final product.
An undercurrent of eroticism runs through the work of Lisette Model, who emigrated from France at the end of the war and worked in New York. She mostly photographed women; women walking, standing, sitting. She produced a whole series of photographs of people walking the streets of the city, with striking images of hose and pumps, of calves peeping out beneath the hems of their coats as women hurry on their way. The legs are impossible to miss and undeniably sensual against a backdrop of concrete streets and men’s shoes.