...And speaking, as we were, of street photography...sometimes I crash and burn. There are things I want to do, and that I absolutely should do, that I just don't. For whatever reason.
This is one. I really should have written a review of this show, which originated in my backyard at the Milwaukee Art Museum (and was a treat—I'd never seen real Lisette Models, for starters, and they're much better than I thought they'd be). And I certainly should have mentioned this book before now.
I even began an interview with the curator, Lisa Hostetler. But she was busy, I was busy, and I failed to persist. Say what you will about its felicities, the piecework demands of running a daily blog do tend to obstruct the kind of concentration and commitment needed to write more thoughtful pieces of greater length.
Maybe one problem is that I fear I'll fail to do justice to such a complex subject. This book is a largely original thesis: it looks at a certain subset of mid-20th-century photography in the context of culture, relating what was emerging in expressive photography at the time to other currents in the arts, including abstract expressionism (the book reproduces a few paintings, which is unusual), Beat poetry, film noir, and "New Journalism." The photographers in the exhibition, in alphabetical order, are Margaret Bourke-White, Alexey Brodovitch, Rudy Burckhardt, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Ted Croner, Don Donaghy, Evans, Louis Faurer, Frank, Sid Grossman, John Gutmann, Dave Heath, Klein, Saul Leiter, Leon Levinstein, Levitt, Roger Mayne, Model, Marvin Newman, Frank Paulin, Smith, David Vestal, and Weegee. The work is abstract, elliptical, adventurous—personal impressions, many related to interpretations of direct experience.
The catalog is a beautiful book: the layout is near-ideal, the reproduction quality extremely good, the essay excellent. I really like the picture choices: just enough familiar chestnuts to ground the less familiar work, and many pictures, including some gems, that I have nowhere else in my library. And many by some quite little-known photographers.
Recommended for anyone with a bent to American photo history, photographs of cities, or who is interested in the antecedents of the art photography of the 'sixties and 'seventies; strongly recommended to anyone with any commitment to street photography.
P.S. The blurb write-ups stress that the book covers only six photographers, but that's not really the case. The texts concentrate on Croner, Faurer, Model, Frank (and H. C.-B., evidently not counted among the six), Klein, and Leiter, but the reproductions do a pretty good job of covering all the photographers and of representing the entire show.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by JackM: "Glad Mike finally got to this one.
"Lisa is a gem, and this book has gotten her even more attention as a star of photography curating. The exhibit was extremely well done, and should have gone on tour. Alas, the economy made that more difficult, but the book travels very well.
"If you care at all about street photography this will inspire you to shoot even more."