Ryan Findley
Review

Street Seen photography show at MAM

By - Feb 4th, 2010 07:44 pm
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A photograph doesn’t have to tell the truth.
William Klein, Christmas Shopping, Macy’s New York, 1954. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 13 7/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1989 (1989.1037.1). ©William Klein

William Klein, Christmas Shopping, Macy’s New York, 1954. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 13 7/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1989 (1989.1037.1). ©William Klein

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.
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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.

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These trends can be viewed as direct consequences of the aftermath of World War II, as artists confronted the war, the Holocaust and then the Cold War. In such a charged environment, full of fear and uncertainty, any image that did not convey the feelings of the subject, the artist, the photographer and the population at large couldn’t be the truth.
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In this show, the impact of the horrors of World War II on the art of photography appears in the many juxtapositions of violence and innocence. Images of concentration camps and the D-day Allied landing are still disturbing. Young children playing with and being threatened by guns (toy, real?) is a common theme. Among the supporting pictures in this exhibition is Longshoreman & Chinese Torture. Two men stand on a New York City on the left side of the frame. On the right, a Chinese man held in a cage tilts his head at an odd angle. All three men wear completely bland expressions.
Ted Croner, New York, 1947. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 13 7/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer ©Ted Croner Estate. Digital Image ©The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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.

Lisette Model, Running Legs, New York, 1940. Gelatin silver print, 39 3/4 32 in. International Center of Photography, Gift of Lisette Model Foundation in memory of Joseph G. Blum, 1993. ©The Lisette Model Foundation, Inc. (1983).

Lisette Model, Running Legs, New York, 1940. Gelatin silver print, 39 3/4 32 in. International Center of Photography, Gift of Lisette Model Foundation in memory of Joseph G. Blum, 1993. ©The Lisette Model Foundation, Inc. (1983).

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.
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Street Seen positions the act of taking a picture not merely as an act of recording, but as an “act of living.” Lisa Hostettler, curator of photographs at the Milwaukee Art Museum, has done a remarkable job of assembling those pieces that draw you into the scene and force you to participate, as the photographer participated in the creation of the piece. This exhibition chronicles the birth of photography as an active art form, one in which comment and interpretation are more important than fact and truth and the photographer is as important as the subject.
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Street Scene runs through April 25 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Categories: A/C Feature 1, Art

0 thoughts on “Review: Street Seen photography show at MAM”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very nice, Ryan. An excellent perspective on not just what is the exhibit, but why and how.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have a Klein photograph I purchased from Jensen Gallery a few years ago. Klein, by the way, is alive and well and living in Paris where he recently had a major retrospective. Anyway, my image is of corpulent ladies posing in a steam bath somewhere in Paris. Some of the ladies look straight out of Fellini….

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