Sunday, February 27, 2011

Edward Steichen

"Every ten years a man should give himself a good kick in the pants."

"Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things."

"Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man."

Flat Iron Building, New York City

Loretta Young

Gloria Swanson

Edward Steichen Biography based on the catalogue from the Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective curated by Barbara Haskell (quoted from Cosmopolis Magazine):

Since Edward Steichen's (1879-1973) death, prohibitions against reproducing his works have discouraged scholars from undertaking a broad-based analysis of his career and work. The exhibition by curator Barbara Haskell at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the first comprehensive survey since 1961. By permission of Joanna Steichen, sixteen photographs of her late husband could be reproduced in the exhibition catalogue.

Edward Steichen is considered one of the outstanding photographers of the 20th century. He was born in Luxembourg in 1879 to Marie Kemp and Jean-Pierre Steichen. A year later, his father sailed to America and settled in Chicago. When he stopped writing home, Marie followed him with Eduard - his name was later anglicized to Edward. She found her husband in poor health and nearly penniless. In 1881, the family moved to Hancock, Michigan, where Jean-Pierre worked in the copper mines and Marie opened a shop. Two years later, Edward's sister Lillian, later known as Paula, was born. In 1888, Edward boarded at Pio Nonno College and Catholic Normal School near Milwaukee. The following year, the family moved to the city of Milwaukee. In 1894, Edward graduated from eighth grade in Milwaukee's public school.

The same year, he began a four-year apprenticeship at the American Fine Art Company, a Milwaukee lithographic firm. In 1895, he obtained his first camera and supplemented his wages by taking photographic portraits. In 1896, he organized the Milwaukee Art Student's league and became its president. Edward studied painting and drawing under Robert Schade and Richard Lorenz. A year later, he exhibited his paintings at Gimbel's department store in Milwaukee. In 1899, he had three photographs in a juried exhibition at the Second Philadelphia Salon. In 1900, with another three photographs, he participated at the first Chicago Photographic Salon. He received mention in several reviews.

By 1899, Steichen had become a Pictorialist photographer who created soft focus, dreamlike, mysterious and evocative images. Until the First World War, he favored mystery over precision and reverie over reason. This spiritual and intuitive approach responded to the turn of the century taste with its warnings against the dangers of materialism and rationality.

In spring 1900, he resigned from the American Fine Art Company and, on the way to Paris to study art, stopped in New York City where he met Alfred Stieglitz, who purchased three photographs. In July, he sailed to Paris with artist friend Carl Björncrantz. In autumn, he exhibited 21 photographs at The Royal Photographic Society in London. In 1901, a version of the exhibition with 35 Steichen photographs opened in Paris.

In 1901, Edward exhibited his painting Portrait of F. Holland Day in the annual juried Salon des Champs de Mars. In the autumn, he began to attend the Saturday gatherings of the sculptor Auguste Rodin in the Paris suburb of Meudon. In November, some of Edward's landscape photographs featured in Charles Caffin's book Photography as a Fine Art.

In 1902, Steichen helped to establish the Photo-Secession, a group of photographers led by Alfred Stieglitz committed to advancing photography's status as a fine art. Edward designed the cover and typography of Camera Work, a new quarterly photography magazine edited by Stieglitz. In March, the jury of the Salon the Champs de Mars removed ten photographs by Steichen from the exhibition when they discovered that they were not engravings as declared by Edward.

In the summer, Steichen returned to New York where he opened a commercial photography studio on Fifth Avenue. In 1903, Camera Work dedicated its second issue to Steichen's photographs. In October, Edward married Clara E. Smith. In 1904, their first daughter, Marry, was born. The same year, Steichen experimented with color photography. In 1905, he had a successful exhibition of paintings at Eugene Glaenzer and Co. Galleries in New York. At the end of the year, he designed the galleries and installation of The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue, soon known as "291".

Steichen was a master of female nudes lost in innocent reverie and portraits of the era's eminent men of arts and letters. He worked with unmanipulated and manipulated printing techniques. He introduced color in his finished prints to intensify, thin out, shade or remove portions of the image with a brush or scraping tool. It lent his works the appearance of drawings or lithographs. Together with his soft and mysterious touch, it made Steichen the enfant terrible for purists among photographers and critics.

Between the the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and his commission as a first lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps in July, Edward abandoned the Pictorialist style and technique in favor of strong light-dark contrasts and sharply focused effects. When he resumed photography after the war, he pursued this new direction. He began to create monumental images and photographed organic, natural forms; only occasionally did he turn to architectural forms of the city.

In 1922, Steichen divorced from Clara and returned from France to New York where, in 1923, he married Dana Desboro Glover. Steichen became the chief photographer for Condé Nast (1923-38). He produced monthly celebrity portraits for Vanity Fair and fashion spreads for Vogue. Edward was considered the most glamorous name in photography - and the best paid. But his merger of commerce and high art made him a controversial figure. His celebrity images. . .are unsurpassed. By 1927, he relied on artificial illumination for dramatic oppositions of light and dark. It lent them a look of modernity and elegance, in accordance with Hollywood glamour and the streamlined art deco design aesthetic of the late 1920s and 1930s. At Vogue, Steichen redefined fashion photography and proposed a new prototype of the confident, bold and independent female beauty. He refused to distinguish between commercial and high art. Therefore, many colleagues, including Alfred Stieglitz, chastised him for forsaking the ideals of art for money. In 1930, he published, together with his daughter Mary, The First Picture Book: Everyday Things for Babies.

In the last decades of his career, Steichen shifted his aesthetic preference again as he came to consider photography as a force not of commerce, but of social awareness. During the Second World War he implemented this belief in socially responsive art as commander of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. After the war, he created a new form of photographic exhibition intended to transform public consciousness through words and sequenced pictures. 1955's exhibition The Family of Men was the most celebrated one, a photographic argument for the oneness of humanity and the universality of everyday experience. The 503 photographs by 273 artists from 68 countries was arranged around 37 themes, such as marriage, childbirth, work, religion and death. The exhibition drew record crowds and circulated around the United States and to 84 foreign venues over the next decade.

In 1947, Steichen was appointed Director of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Only after 1955 did he commit himself again to photography, working exclusively with color film. His only subject was a shadblow tree which he could see from the windows of his home in West Redding. Steichen photographed it in all seasons and hours of the day in order to evoke life's cycles of change and growth. In 1959, he began filming the shadblow tree with a movie camera. Two years later, ill health forced him to abandon the project. In 1957, his second wife Dana died. In 1960, he married Joanna Taub. Two years later, he retired form the MoMA, where, in 1964, he opened the Edward Steichen Photography Center. In 1973, Steichen died at the age of 94.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gertrude Kasebier

"My children and their children have been my closest thought, but from the first days of dawning individuality, I have longed unceasingly to make pictures of make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality." --Gertrude Käsebier

Gertrude Käsebier's portrait of Miss Minnie Ashley was one of a set of six photogravures published by Alfred Stieglitz in the magazine, Camera Work in 1905. Stieglitz praised Käsebier as 'the leading portrait photographer' in America and marvelled the artistic feeling and harmony of her broad pictures. He even went as far as saying that 'their strength never betrays a woman'. (From The National Galleries of Scotland collection.)

Sioux Male by Gertrude Kasebier from Smithsonian Images

Portrait of Evelyn Nesbit

Ater the photographer F. Holland Day introduced Käsebier to Francis Watts Lee, an amateur Boston photographer and printer, Käsebier made this portrait of Lee's wife Agnes and their daughter Peggy, almost certainly at their stylish Boston home. An exquisite description of the Victorian ideals of femininity and motherhood, reinforced by the biblical title and the print of the Annunciation on the wall behind the figures, the photograph also evokes the idyllic domesticity of the Arts and Crafts movement. Stieglitz published the photograph in Camera Notes (July 1900) and also in the first issue of Camera Work (January 1903). In 1906, he included this print in an exhibition of the work of Käsebier and Clarence White at his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which had opened the previous year. (From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection Date Base.)

Gertrude Käsebier (1852–1934) was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her evocative images of motherhood, her powerful portraits of Native Americans and her promotion of photography as a career for women.

Käsebier was born Gertrude Stanton on 18 May 1852 in Fort Des Moines (now Des Moines, Iowa). Her father, John W. Stanton, transported a saw mill to Golden, Colorado at the start of the Pike's Peak Gold Rush of 1859, and he prospered from the building boom that followed. In 1860 eight-year-old Stanton traveled with her mother and younger brother to join her father in Colorado. That same year her father was elected the first mayor of Golden, which was then the capital of the Colorado Territory.[1]

After the sudden death of her father in 1864, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where her mother, Muncy Boone Stanton, opened a boarding house to support the family.[2] From 1866-70 Stanton lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with her maternal grandmother and attended the Bethlehem Female Seminary (later called Moravian College). Little else is known about her early years.

On her twenty-second birthday, in 1874, she married twenty-eight year old Eduard Käsebier, a financially comfortable and socially well-placed businessman in Brooklyn.[1]The couple soon had three children, Frederick William (1875-?), Gertrude Elizabeth (1878-?) and Hermine Mathilde (1880-?). In 1884 they moved to a farm in New Durham, New Jersey, in order to provide a healthier place to raise their children.

Käsebier later wrote that she was miserable throughout most of her marriage. She said, "If my husband has gone to Heaven, I want to go to Hell. He was terrible…Nothing was ever good enough for him.”[1] At that time divorce was considered scandalous, and the two remained married while living separate lives after 1880. This unhappy situation would later serve as an inspiration for one of her most strikingly titled photographs – two constrained oxen, entitled Yoked and Muzzled – Marriage (c1915).

In spite of their differences, her husband supported her financially when she began to attend art school at the age of thirty-seven, a time when most women of her day were well-settled in their social positions. Käsebier never indicated what motivated her to study art, but she devoted herself to it wholeheartedly. Over the objections of her husband in 1889 she moved the family back to Brooklyn in order to attend the newly established Pratt Institute of Art and Design full-time. One of her teachers there was Arthur Wesley Dow, a highly influential artist and art educator. He would later help promote her career by writing about her work and by introducing her to other photographers and patrons.

She formally studied drawing and painting, but she quickly became obsessed with photography. Like many art students of that time, Käsebier decided to travel to Europe in order to further her education. She began 1894 by spending several weeks studying the chemistry of photography in Germany, where she was also able to leave her daughters with in-laws in Wiesbaden. She spent the rest of the year in France, studying with American painter Frank DuMond.[1]

In 1895 she returned to Brooklyn. In part because her husband was now quite ill and her family's finances were strained, she determined to become a professional photographer. A year later she became an assistant to Brooklyn portrait photographer Samuel H. Lifshey, where she learned how to run a studio and expand her knowledge of printing techniques. It is clear, however, that by this time she already had an extensive mastery of photography. Just one year later she exhibited 150 photographs, an enormous number for an individual artist at that time, at the Boston Camera Club. These same photos were shown in February 1897 at the Pratt Institute.[1]

The success of these shows led to another at the Photographic Society of Philadelphia in 1897. She also lectured on her work there and encouraged other women to take up photography as a career, saying, "I earnestly advise women of artistic tastes to train for the unworked field of modern photography. It seems to be especially adapted to them, and the few who have entered it are meeting a gratifying and profitable success."[1]

In the late 1890s Käsebier heard about a theatrical performance of cowboys, Indians and other American West characters called Buffalo Bill's Wild West". The show was performing in New York and had temporarily set up an "Indian village" in Brooklyn. Recalling her early days in Colorado, Käsebier went to the show and became enthralled with the faces of the Native Americans. She began taking portraits of them and soon became sympathetic to their plight. Over the next decade she would take dozens of photographs of the Indians in the show, some of which would become her most famous images.

Unlike her contemporary Edward Curtis, Käsebier focused more on the expression and individuality of the person than the costumes and customs. While Curtis is known to have added elements to his photographs to emphasize his personal vision, Käsebier did the opposite, sometimes removing genuine ceremonial articles from a sitter in order to concentrate on the face or stature of the person.[1]

In July 1899 Alfred Stieglitz published five of Käsebier's photographs in Camera Notes, declaring her “beyond dispute, the leading artistic portrait photographer of the day.”[3] Her rapid rise to fame was noted by photographer and critic Joseph Keiley, who wrote "a year ago Käsebier's name was practically unknown in the photographic world...Today that names stands first and unrivaled...".[4] That same year her print of "The Manger" sold for $100, the most ever paid for a photograph at that time.[5]

In 1900 Käsebier continued to gather accolades and professional praise. In the catalog for the Newark (Ohio) Photography Salon, she was called "the foremost professional photographer in the United States."[5] In recognition of her artistic accomplishments and her stature, later that year Käsebier was one of the first two women elected to Britain's Linked Ring (the other was British pictorialist Carine Cadby).

The next year Charles H. Caffin published his landmark book Photography as a Fine Art and devoted an entire chapter to the work of Käsebier ("Gertrude Käsebier and the Artistic Commercial Portrait").[6] Due to demand for her artistic opinions in Europe, Käsebier spent most of the year in Britain and France visiting with F. Holland Day and Edward Steichen.

In 1902 Stieglitz included Käsebier as a founding member of the Photo-Secession. The following year Stieglitz published six of her images in the first issue of Camera Work, along with highly complementary articles by Charles Caffin and Frances Benjamin Johnston.[7] In 1905 six more of her images were published in Camera Work, and the following year Stieglitz gave her an exhibition (along with Clarence H. White) at his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession.

The strain of balancing her professional life with her personal one began to take a toll on Käsebier about this time. The stress was exacerbated by her husband's decision to move to Oceanside, Long Island, which had the effect of distancing her from the New York's artistic center. To counter his action, she returned to Europe, where, through Steichen's connections, she was able to photograph the reclusive Auguste Rodin.

When Käsebier came back to New York, she found herself in an unexpected personality clash with Stieglitz. Käsebier's strong interests in the commercial side of photography, driven by her need to support her husband and family, were directly at odds with Stieglitz's idealistic and anti-materialistic nature. The more Käsebier enjoyed commercial success, the more Stieglitz felt she was a going against what he felt a true artist should emulate.[1] In May 1906 Käsebier joined the Professional Photographers of New York, a newly formed organization that Stieglitz saw as standing for everything he disliked – commercialism and selling photographs for money rather than love of the art. After this he began distancing himself from Käsebier, and their relationship never regained its previous status of mutual artistic admiration.

Eduard Käsebier died in 1910, finally leaving his wife free to pursue her interests as she saw fit. She continued to take a separate course from Stieglitz by helping to establish the Women's Professional Photographers Association of America. In turn, Stieglitz began to publicly speak against her work, although he still thought enough of her earlier images to include twenty-two of them in the landmark exhibition of pictorialists at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery later that year.

The next year Käsebier was shocked by a highly critical attack by her former admirer Joseph T. Keiley, published in Stieglitz's Camera Work. It's unknown why Keiley suddenly changed his opinion of her, but Käsebier suspected that Stieglitz had put him up to it.[1]

Part of Käsebier's alienation from Stieglitz was due to his stubborn resistance to the idea of gaining financial success from artistic photography. He often sold original prints by Käsebier and others at far less than their market value if he felt a buyer truly appreciated the art, and when he did sell prints he took many months to finally pay the photographer in question. After several years of protesting these practices, in 1912 Käsebier became the first member to resign from the Photo-Secession.

In 1916 Käsebier helped Clarence H. White found the group Pictorial Photographers of America,[8] which was seen by Stieglitz as a direct challenge to his artistic leadership. By this time, Stieglitz's tactics had offended many of his former friends, including White and Robert Demachy, and a year later he was forced to disband the Photo-Secession.

During this time many young women starting out in photography sought out Käsebier, both for her photography artistry and inspiration as an independent woman. Among those who were inspired by Käsebier and who went on to have successful careers of their own were Clara Sipprell, Consuelo Kanaga and Laura Gilpin.

Throughout the late 1910s and most of the 1920s Käsebier continued to expand her portrait business, taking photos of many important people of the time including Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Arthur B. Davies, Mabel Dodge and Stanford White. In 1924 her daughter Hermine Turner joined her in her portrait business.

In 1929 Käsebier gave up photography altogether and liquidated the contents of her studio. That same year she was given a major one-person exhibition at the Booklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Käsebier died on 12 October 1934 at the home of her daughter, Hermione Turner.

A major collection of her work is held by the University of Delaware.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arthur Tress

Arthur Tress Biography from

Arthur Tress was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY on November 24, 1940. He took his first photographs while still in elementary school in 1952.

He attended Bard College where he studied art and art history, world culture and philosophy under Heinrich Bluecher. While studying, he continued to photograph and began making short films. He graduated in 1962 with a B.F.A.

After graduation from Bard, Tress moved to Paris to attend film school, but soon left. After traveling through Europe, Egypt, Japan, India and Mexico, he settled in Stockholm, Sweden and worked as a photographer at the Stockholm Ethnographic Museum.

In 1968 he moved back to New York with a commitment to becoming a professional photographer. He had his first one-person exhibition that year, "Appalachia--People and Places", which was held at the Smithsonian Institute and the Sierra Gallery (New York City). He then worked as a documentary photographer for V.I.S.T.A. from 1969-1970.

Arthur Tress was one of the first artists in the 1970s to break way from street photography and develop a more personal vision, which included manipulating that realty in front of him instead of being just a passive observer.

As writer/curator Richard Lorenz has written, "Arthur Tress distills multiple viewpoints in his unique and ever evolving style of photography. The cultural and historical inquiry of the ethnographer, the psycho-social guidance and thought-seeding of the stage director, and the calculating, sometimes improvisational, imagination and creativity of the artist all coalesce in Tress the photographer. He is one of America's most prodigious and diversified photographers, one whose documentary reportage can be so subjective or fabricated that it subverts the genre, whose manufacture of visual Eros can present seemingly incongruous dualities of beauty and violence, and whose creation of an individual mythology in a universe of kitsch can make sense of the meaning of life, death, and the hereafter."

Tress exhibited his series "Open Space in the Inner City" at the same Sierra Gallery in 1970 and received a New York State Council on the Arts grant for the series the next year. In 1972 he got a National Endowment for the Arts grant for his "Dream Collector" series. In 1976 he received a second New York State Council on the Arts grant for his "Theater of the Mind" series.

In 1980 he published a book on the male nude called, "Arthur Tress: Facing Up, A 12-Year Survey", which also was exhibited the Robert Samuel Gallery in New York. The same year he began to create his "Teapot Opera" photographs.

His major retrospective "Talisman" traveled from 1986-1988, opening at the Photography Gallery in London and then moving to the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, U.K., Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfort, Germany and the Musee de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium.

In 1992 Tress moved to Cambria, CA.

In 1995 the Center for Creative Photography exhibited " Arthur Tress: The Wurlitzer Trilogy", which in early 2002 traveled to the College of Santa Fe.

He has been published numerous times, including in the monographs, "Arthur Tress: The Dream Collector", "Shadow: A Novel in Photographs", "Theatre of the Mind", "Reeves" and "Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage: Photographs 1956-2000".
His work is in the collection of numerous museums and institutions, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the George Eastman House, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Stedelijk Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

In 2001, the Corcoran Gallery of Art featured a retrospective of his work entitled "Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage: Photographs 1956-2000" which took an intimate look at his long and varied career.

He is listed in the 1982, 1988 and 1995 editions of "Contemporary Photographers", in the International Center of Photography Encyclopedia of Photography, and in the Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists & Innovators. He is listed in the Auer & Auer and George Eastman House databases.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Perry Dilbeck

Perry Dilbeck, a native of McDonough, Georgia, became interested in photography at the early age of fifteen. Throughout his college years, he earned an Associate of Arts degree from The Art Institute of Atlanta, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Georgia State University, and a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design - all in photography. He has spent several years as a freelance commercial photographer with many large corporate clients in the metropolitan Atlanta area. For nearly twelve years now, Dilbeck has been a photography instructor at The Art Institute of Atlanta. His major expertise is black and white printing, and he has a very lavish darkroom in his house where he is able to do his own film processing and print developing.

For the past ten years Dilbeck has worked on a series of black and white images entitled - The Last Harvest-Truck Farmers in the Deep South which tells the story of the fading lifestyle of Southern truck farmers. Photographed primarily with simple plastic cameras called Holgas, this work has been published worldwide in many photo magazines. Images from this series have been collected nationally and exhibited in galleries throughout the United States.

In November 2006, the University of Georgia Press in association with Center For American Places published - The Last Harvest-Truck Farmers in the Deep South as a monograph. Look for it at your local bookstores or favorite online bookseller.

Perry Dilbeck has achieved much recognition for his work and was most recently awarded Georgia Author of the year for The Last Harvest-Truck Farmers in the Deep South. He also received an artist sponsorship from Blue Earth Alliance in Seattle, WA. In addition to this, in 2006 the National Geographic Society-All Roads Project nominated The Last Harvest project honorable mention. The Texas Photographic Society awarded Dilbeck a fellowship in 2004 and he was also named a Vision 2003 Award Winner from the Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts. In addition, Perry was awarded sabbaticals from The Art Institute of Atlanta for Summer 2003 and Spring 2010.

Perry Dilbeck Artist's Statement for his "Last Harvest" project:

Much of the farmland around my home is vanishing rapidly due to the growth in population and the numerous subdivisions which are being built to accommodate this growth. Twenty years ago, there were only sixteen houses on my hometown road of three miles, but today more than two thousand exist. Most of this change is due to the commercial farming industry destroying the business of the small independent farmer and forcing him to make money the only way he can - by selling his farmland.

Each truck farmer typically owns less than thirty acres of land grows food for his family. His survival is dependent upon selling any surplus crops at local farmer’s markets, along the roadside from the back of his truck, or a simple stand in his own backyard.

While concentrating on old farmers whose land and homestead have been passed down through many generations, I have decided to document their fading world. I particularly wish to provide small, yet majestic glimpses into the lifestyles of these very proud people.

I use my Pentax 6 x 7 camera for about 20% of my work. The other 80% comes by using a simple "plastic" camera to obtain the desired effects.

All images are printed by myself on warm-toned paper and are available in both 11 x 14 and 16 x 20 sizes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tina Modotti

Tina Modotti Biography from

Tina Modotti was a remarkable woman and an outstanding photographer whose legendary beauty and relationships with famous men have until now eclipsed a life integrally linked to the most important artistic, political and historical developments of our century.

In 1913 Tina Modotti left her native Italy for San Francisco, becoming a star of the local Italian theatre before marrying the romantic poet-painter Roubaix de I'Abrie Richey. By 1920, she had embarked on a Hollywood film career and immersed herself in bohemian Los Angeles, beginning an intense relationship with the respected American photographer, Edward Weston. On a trip to Mexico in 1922 to bury her husband, she met the Mexican muralists and became enthralled with the burgeoning cultural renaissance there.

Increasingly dissatisfied with the film world, she persuaded Weston to teach her photography and move with her to Mexico. Her Mexico City homes became renowned gathering places for artists, writers and radicals, where Diego Rivera courted Frida Kahlo. Turning her camera to record Mexico in its most vibrant years, her photographs achieve a striking synthesis of artistic form and social content. Her contact with Mexico's muralists including a brief affair with Rivera, led to her involvement in radical politics.

In 1929, she was framed for the murder of her Cuban lover, gunned down at her side on a Mexico City street. A scapegoat of government repression, she was publicly slandered in a sensational trial before being acquitted. Expelled from Mexico in 1930, she went to Berlin and then to the Soviet Union, where she abandoned photography for a political activism that brought her into contact with Sergei Eisenstein, Alexandra Kollontaii, La Pasionaria, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa. Returning to Mexico incognito in 1939, she died three years later, a lonely - and controversial - death.

More on her controversial death from The Tina Modotti Gallery:

In 1942, while riding in a taxi after a friend’s party, she suffered a heart attack and died. There were rumours of murder—was it the Stalinists? Her lover, Victorio Vidali? But most attributed her death to the hardships she had endured.

Modotti died from heart failure in Mexico City in 1942 under what is viewed by some as suspicious circumstances. After hearing about her death, Diego Rivera suggested that Vidali had orchestrated it. Modotti may have ‘known too much’ about Vidali’s activities in Spain, which included a rumoured 400 executions. Her grave is located within the vast Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City. Poet Pablo Neruda composed Tina Modotti’s epitaph, part of which can also be found on her tombstone, which also includes a relief portrait of Modotti by engraver Leopoldo Méndez:

"Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life, bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam,combined with steel and wire andpollen to make up your firmand delicate being."

John Szarkowski on Tina Modotti from "Looking at Photographs:  100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art":

"Although it is doubtless (or probably) irrelevant to the issue at hand, Modotti was surely one of the most fascinating women of her time, even without reference to her talent as an artist. She was an actress, a sometime revolutionary (by design or circumstance, or both), a great beauty, and a great mystery. The available evidence would suggest that everyone who crossed her path was profoundly impressed. Kenneth Rexroth identified her as a Kollontai type, and was terrified, but nevertheless called her the most spectacular person in Mexico City."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roy DeCarava

Remembering Roy DeCarava's 60 Years Of Photos:  NPR story from "Fresh Air" broadcast on WHYY

Roy DeCarava's Obituary from the London Times (November 6, 2009):

In the mid-1950s street photography was generally a documentarian’s medium, useful in the service of social change. Yet Roy DeCarava was as preoccupied with light and shade as with his insider’s view of a down-at-heel, largely African-American New York neighbourhood.

He was mentored early in his career by Edward Steichen, but went on to forge a unique identity as a master of formal composition. Trained as a painter and printmaker, DeCarava was influenced by Rembrandt and Michelangelo. He used velvety greys and stark contrasts of light and shade to endow his images with sculptural dimension and drama. Shooting in ambient light, he printed in such a way as to coax light and dark from his picture, so that a child walking down a Harlem street might be bathed in celestial light and surrounded by menacing shadows.

Troubled by the absence of beautiful, complex images of African Americans, DeCarava had stepped in. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s he revealed hidden corners of Harlem — subway stations, restaurants, apartment interiors — to viewers who would not otherwise have had exposure to that world. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did so not as a consciousness-raising exercise. His photographs were intended to stand on their own, outside a sociological or missionary context, as works of art.
Seeking and winning a Guggenheim fellowship in 1952, at Steichen’s encouragement, DeCarava wrote in his application that his goal was to provide “penetrating insight” into black culture. But he also aimed to depict his black subjects in a “serious and artistic way”.

His 1955 book The Sweet Flypaper of Life, done in collaboration with the poet Langston Hughes, was a bestseller, and DeCarava’s work was widely exhibited and acclaimed. But he did not always make commercial approval his priority. Though many of his portraits were of African Americans, he resisted being identified and marketed as a “black artist”, and he doggedly guarded control over the presentation of his work, once withdrawing from an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The 1969 Met show, “Harlem on My Mind”, had failed to include the views of black civic leaders in its planning stages. DeCarava, invited to contribute his work, instead joined the picket line.

Roy Rudolph DeCarava was born in Harlem in 1919, the only child of a Jamaican single mother, Elfreda Ferguson. He attended vocational school, all the while doing odd jobs — shining shoes, delivering ice — to help meet expenses. A teacher from his New York public school once came to the house and urged his mother to foster his artistic talent.

His mother, herself an amateur photographer, provided art supplies and music lessons, and DeCarava gained admission to the Cooper Union, the prestigious institute in Manhattan, to study art and architecture. After two years there, discouraged by what he described as a hostile reception by the overwhelmingly white student body, he attended the Harlem Community Art Centre. While studying painting there, he also made signs for the Works Progress Administration, a project of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

DeCarava briefly served in the Army during the Second World War as a topographical draughtsman, then worked in New York as a painter and commercial illustrator. Initially using photographs as references for drawings, he was drawn to the immediacy of the photographic medium. Despite the painterly appearance of his work — with forms seeming to emerge from darkness by happenstance — his methods were precise and premeditated, reliant on darkroom techniques that changed the balance of light and shade after the fact.

In 1955 he opened an exhibition gallery in his apartment, showing the work of Berenice Abbott and other masters along with his own. Despite critical praise, sales were poor, and he closed the space after two years. A decade later he founded the Kamoinge Workshop (the name is a variation of the term “group effort” from the Bantu language of Kenya), giving young black photographers a place to show their work. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s DeCarava recorded scenes that grabbed his attention. In one image, Force, Downstate, (1963) a woman is grasped by the ankles and dragged off by police.

Starting in the late 1950s, DeCarava was employed as a photojournalist for Look and Newsweek magazines and, in the 1960s and 1970s, for Sports Illustrated. In the magazine world he encountered enough racism that, for three years in the mid-1960s, he was prompted to chair the American Society of Magazine Photographers’ Committee to End Discrimination Against Black Photographers. Magazine art directors, he said in a television interview in 1996, “were not used to seeing black artists walk through the door with a portfolio of photographs”, and some were “literally shaking” when they saw his work. DeCarava was engaged in a longstanding dispute with Gordon Parks, another pre-eminent black photographer, who did not agree with him about discrimination in their milieu.

Feeling constrained by the institutional structures and deadlines of journalism, DeCarava eventually gave up editorial work to teach at Cooper Union in the late 1960s and, beginning in 1975, at Hunter College. His work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1996. Throughout his career he returned to his native Harlem for material and inspiration. Prominent African Americans — Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis — were subjects of his portraits. Yet some of his most famous images were of anonymous, wistful figures — like a young girl in a white graduation dress, shrouded in bright light, juxtaposed with a garbage-strewn urban lot. She lifts her hem delicately, in an apparent rebuke to the impurity around her.

According to Peter Galassi, a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, DeCarava was “looking at everyday life in Harlem from the inside, not as a sociological or political vehicle”. In a 2006 interview the photographer described the essence of his art as “taking what is and making it yours”.
His wife, Sherry Turner, an art historian, survives him, together with four children.

Roy DeCarava, photographer, was born on December 9, 1919. He died on October 27, 2009, aged 89

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gordon Parks

"Those people who want to use a camera should have something in mind, there's something they want to show, something they want to say...," Parks explains. "I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty.  Icould have just as easily picked up a knife of a gun, like many of my childhood friends did... most of whom were murdered or put in prison... but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so."


Gordon Parks at the Farm Security Administration:

Gordon Parks was born in Kansas in 1912 and spent his youth in Minnesota. During the Depression a variety of jobs, including stints as a musician and as a waiter on passenger trains, took him to various parts of the northern United States. He took up photography during his travels and by 1940 had made his first serious attempts to earn a living from the art as a self-taught fashion photographer in Minneapolis and Chicago. Though he had experienced racial discrimination outside the South, it was in the southern city of Washington, D.C., that Parks "found out what prejudice was really like." In 1942, an opportunity to work for the Farm Security Administration brought the photographer to the nation's capital; Parks later recalled that "discrimination and bigotry were worse there than any place I had yet seen."1

Parks came to Washington on a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a foundation dedicated to research about the South, which had a special program to encourage work of all kinds by promising blacks. As a Rosenwald fellow, Parks joined the august company of Ralph Bunche, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and many others.3
Parks, who had admired the Farm Security Administration photographs for some time, planned to spend his fellowship year as an apprentice photographer in Stryker's section and had received encouragement from the FSA Jack Delano when he was applying for the fellowship.4 But when he arrived in Washington, he recalled in 1983, Stryker resisted, expressing worries about the reaction of others--in the agency as well as in the city--to a black photographer. "When I went there," Parks said, "Roy didn't want to take me into the FSA, but the Rosenwald people were a part of that whole Rooseveltian thing. They insisted: 'Roy, you've got to do it.'" As Parks remembered it, Will Alexander--the vice-president of the Rosenwald Fund and the former head of the Farm Security Administration and thus Stryker's old boss--delivered the final nudge.5

Parks's autobiography and interviews emphasize the importance of the education Stryker gave him.6 After asking Parks to leave his cameras in the office, Stryker sent the newly arrived photographer around Washington, instructing him to visit stores, restaurants, and theaters. When Parks was refused service, he became furious and returned to the office ready to "show the rest of the world what your great city of Washington, D.C. is really like," proposing to photograph scenes of injustice and portraits of bigots. In response, Stryker sent Parks to the file to study the work of Lange, Shahn, Evans, Delano, Rothstein, and others. Parks studied their photographs of gutted fields, dispossessed migrants, and the gaunt faces of people caught in the Depression. Although some might lay these tragedies to God, Parks wrote, "the research accompanying these stark photographs accused man himself--especially the lords of the land." As the effectiveness of photographing victims instead of perpetrators and the importance of the words that accompany photographs sank in, Parks concluded, "I began to get the point."7

One evening a few weeks later when he was alone in the office with Stryker, Parks said he was still seeking a way to expose intolerance with a camera. Stryker pointed out a charwoman at work in the building. "Go have a talk with her," he said, "See what she has to say about life and things." Parks complied, and later recalled his first conversation with Ella Watson:

She began to spill out her life's story. It was a pitiful one. She had struggled alone after her mother had died and her father had been killed by a lynch mob. She had gone through high school, married and become pregnant. Her husband was accidentally shot to death two days before their daughter was born. By the time the daughter was eighteen, she had given birth to two illegitimate children, dying two weeks after the second child's birth. What's more, the first child had been striken with paralysis a year before its mother died.8

Parks made his first photographs of Watson in an office with a large American flag on the wall, two of which are included here. Both pictures are carefully posed, and the multiple shadows cast by the office furniture indicate that Parks used an elaborate three-flash setup. The close-up version is one of his most famous photographs, serving as the frontispiece in Parks's word-and-picture poem Moments without Proper Names, a book dedicated to Roy Stryker and containing a memorial poem for Farm Security Administration photographer John Vachon.10 "

In 1983, when Parks reflected on the lessons he had learned from photographing this series, his thoughts returned to the matter of intolerance. He told an interviewer that he could not simply photograph the person who had discriminated against him, "and say, 'This is a bigot,' because bigots have a way of looking just like everybody else. What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and the bigotry, by showing the people who suffered most under it."13 In the same interview, he underscored the reasoning behind the title of his 1965 autobiography, A Choice of Weapons: "I have always felt as though I needed a weapon against evil."14 Parks's weapon is the camera.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eugene Atget

French, 1857-1927:  The life and the intention of Eugene Atget are fundamentally unknown to us. A few documented facts and a handful of recollections and legends provide a scant outline of the man.  He was born in Libourne, near Bordeaux, in 1857, and worked as a sailor during his youth; from the sea he turned to the stage, with no more than minor success; at forty he quit acting, and after a tentative experiment with painting Atget became a photographer, and began his true life's work.

Until his death thirty years later he worked quietly at his calling. To a casual observer he might have seemed a typical commercial photographer of the day. He was not progressive, but worked patiently with techniques that were obsolescent when he adopted them, and very nearly anachronistic by the time of his death. He was little given to experiment in the conventional sense, and less to theorizing. He founded no movement and attracted no circle. He did however make photographs which for purity and intensity of vision have not been bettered.

Atget's work is unique on two levels. He was the maker of a great visual catalogue of the fruits of French culture, as it survived in and near Paris in the first quarter of this century. He was in addition a photographer of such authority and originality that his work remains a bench mark against which much of the most sophisticated contemporary photography measures itself. Other photographers had been concerned with describing specific facts (documentation), or with exploiting their indivisual sensibilities (self-expression). Atget enconpassed and transcended both approaches when he set himself the task of understanding and interpreting in visual terms a complex, ancient, and living tradition.

The pictures that he made in the service of this concept are seductively and deceptively simple, wholly poised, reticent, dense with experience, mysterious, and true.


Eugene Atget photographed Paris for thirty years. With a singleness of purpose rarely excelled, he made his incredible monument to a city. When he died in 1927 he left approximately 2000 eight by ten inches glass plates and almost 10,000 prints, not counting the plates deposited in the Palais Royale archives. Here is one of the most extraordinary achievements of photography. Yet we know almost nothing of Atget as a person and less of Atget as a photographer. His history is to be read in his work.

Eugene Atget Life:  Atget was born in Bordeaux in 1856. An orphan, he was brought up by an uncle. At an early age he shipped to sea as cabin boy. Doubtless his early experiences made a deep impression and enriched his vision of the world, for in later years he vividly recited to friends amusing anecdotes of this period. Early in his life his faculties of observation were sharpened and developed.

As a young man, he turned to the stage, first in the French provincial cities then in the suburbs of Paris. His physique fitted him only for the less attractive roles usually the villain’s part. As maturity approached, acting became an unrewarding occupation. To what should he turn? He had a lively liking for painting and associated a great deal with painters. He considered being one of them and indeed tried his hand at painting, a number of examples of his own brushwork were found at his studio upon his death.
Finally he decided to be a photographer, an art photographer. He already had an ambition to create a collection of all that was artistic and picturesque in Paris and its surroundings. An immense subject. Atget obtained equipment and with a sack full of plates on his back "started off." Thus began a vast esthetic documentation, a labor of love for thirty years.

It is necessary to qualify the meaning of "art photographer" as well as "esthetic" documentation, since these terms mean different things to different people. Never was Atget "arty." His art stems from his grasping of the photographic medium without confusion or imitation of painting. His vision, backed by heart and brain, mature sensitivity and above all selectivity was well synthesized and projected for the beholder to understand and thereby to be enriched. Maturity, in this case, was not a handicap but a powerful ingredient.

Armed with the experience of travel, observation, and drama, Atget photographed the monuments of Paris, houses, sites, chateaux, streets, subjects about to disappear. Photography was no more materially rewarding than acting. Nevertheless he persevered, lugging his unwieldy view camera and heavy glass plates. One day Luc-Olivier-Merson bought a print for fifteen francs. Atget rejoiced and was encouraged. The playwright Victorien Sardou became interested in his work and put him on the track of vanishing Paris. Before the World War of 1914-1918, Atget was gradually winning recognition and financial support.

But the war broke out "the second that Atget had seen. He had a horror of it, he loved his work so much." People thought he was a spy or lunatic. He no longer sold anything when there was peace again, he was an old man. He produced less and less, lived, as it were, on his capital of old work. The archives of the Palais Royale acquired some of his plates, but at low prices and purely for their record value. So Atget’s life moved to its close: In 1927 he died, without public recognition or understanding of the vast importance of his work.

Atget’s Photography:  Atget assigned himself an alluring and provoking subject, the city of Paris, the dream city of thousands of struggling, aspiring, gifted and would-be poets, painters, composers. Paris, the city of art and bridges over the Seine, of boulevards and cafes, of narrow, crooked streets and gray plane trees in the beautiful Luxembourg gardens.

To Atget, Paris was not a dream but an actuality a fact of hard material expressions, of strange contrasts and contradictions. It was weathered, eroded facades of mansion and humble dwelling; ornate construction of wrought iron grilles and balconies; fantasy of shop signs and carousels; visible magic of rich grapes, cherries, cauliflower’s, lobsters, heaped in luxuriance in Les Halles; formal elegance of Versailles and the Trianon; rustic primitiveness of a plow lying in furrows outside the fortifications; outmoded forms of carriage and horse-drawn cabriolet; excitement of an eclipse seen by crowds in the Place de l’Opera; a thousand and yet another thousand images of the miracle of daily reality.

In recreating Paris for us and for all time, Atget gave it permanent reality by utilizing photography in its own right. He did not veer toward excessive concern with technique nor toward the imitation of painting but steered a straight course, making the medium speak for itself in a superb rendering of materials, textures, surfaces, details. Within the limits of his equipment, he recorded all phases of the life about him: people, street activity, the city proper.
Atget’s Equipment:  The photographs reveal Atget’s method of work. His equipment consisted of a simple 18 X 24 cm view camera, with almost none of the present-day adjustments. It had a rising front, as may be seen by the photographs, many of whose corners have been cut off because the lens did not give full coverage. He had no wide-angle lens. The focal length of his lens is unknown, but it must have been between eleven and twelve inches. Atget used glass plates. As for accessories, he certainly did not use an exposure meter. At most he made use of a simple coefficient table with mathematical calculations. But it is more likely that he judged exposure by his vast experience with light conditions, subject matter, and type of plate emulsion. Because the emulsion used then were non-color-sensitive, he never used filters. For interior work, he used no artificial light of any sort but availed himself always of natural light. Any shutter used with the lens was at most a simple bulb shutter. Atget made a practice of closing down to a small aperture if conditions permitted. Only when he photographed people did he open up the diaphragm and focus critically on the center of interest, leaving the background out of focus. It is doubtful if his lens could have been faster than 1/11 at its widest opening. It would seem from the photographs themselves that most of them were taken during the summer months when the sun’s actinic rays are stronger. Also most of the human figures of these series are posed to the extent that Atget probably asked them "to hold still a moment."

Because he did not have the advantage of fast lenses and fast emulsions, Atget had to solve his photographic problems within the capacities of his materials. Since his equipment and materials were not adequate to stop fast action, he worked a great deal in the early hours of the day, rising at dawn.

Atget’s photographs are the supreme proof that photography is more than a "machine." Except for the complex factors of stopping motion, Atget found no obstacle to making his photographs an extremely expressive comment on life. Not the camera, but Atget himself dictated what would be set down in these beautiful prints. The intensity of his purpose and vision was the powerful drive which compelled him to undergo long years of neglect and hard work. At the same time he accepted the tremendous labor of his method, carrying the cumbersome view camera many miles, weighed down by bulky glass plates. For him the camera was but an instrument for expressing his intense awareness of life.

In personal matters Atget was, if not an eccentric was uncompromising. From the age of 50, he lived solely on milk, bread, and pieces of sugar. He was absolute in hygiene and in art. This determination when applied to photography created a unique monument.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Amy Stein

Amy Stein Biograrphy from her web site:

Amy Stein (b. 1970) is a photographer and teacher based in New York City. Her work explores our evolving isolation from community, culture and the environment. She has been exhibited nationally and internationally and her work is featured in many private and public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Nevada Museum of Art, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and the West Collection.

In 2006, Amy was a winner of the Saatchi Gallery/Guardian Prize for her Domesticated series. In 2007, she was named one of the top fifteen emerging photographers in the world by American Photo magazine and she won the Critical Mass Book Award. Amy's first book, Domesticated, was released in fall 2008. It won the best book award at the 2008 New York Photo Festival.

Amy was raised in Washington, DC, and Karachi, Pakistan. She holds a BS in Political Science from James Madison University and a MS in Political Science from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In 2006, Amy received her MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Stein teaches photography at Parsons The New School for Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Amy is represented by Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, ClampArt in New York, and Pool Gallery in Berlin.

Friday, February 4, 2011

E.J. Bellocq

Susan Sontag's introduction to "Bellocq:  Photographs from Storyville, the Red-Light District of New Orleans:

FIRST 0F ALL, the pictures are unforgettable - photography's ultimate standard of value. And it's not hard to see why the trove of glass negatives by a hitherto unknown photographer working in New Orleans in the early years of this century became one of the most admired recoveries in photography's widening, ever incomplete history. Eighty-nine glass plates in varying states of corrosion, shatter, and defacement was the treasure that Lee Friedlander came across in New Orleans in the late 1950s and eventually purchased. When, in 1970, a selection of the ingeniously developed, superb prints Friedlander had made was published by the Museum of Modern Art, the book became, deservedly, an instant classic. So much about these pictures affirms current taste: the low-life material; the near mythic provenance (Storyville); the informal, anti-art look, which accords with the virtual anonymity of the photographer and the real anonymity of his sitters; their status as objets trouves, and a gift from the past. Add to this what is decidedly unfashionable about the pictures: the plausibility and friendliness of their version of the photographer's troubling, highly conventional subject. And because the subject is so conventional, the photographer's relaxed way of looking seems that much more distinctive. If there had once been more than eighty-nine glass negatives and one day a few others turned up anywhere in the world, no one would fall to recognize a Bellocq.
The year is 1912, but we would not be surprised to be told that the pictures were taken in 1901, when Theodore Dreiser began writing Jennie Gerhardt, or in 1899, when Kate Chopin published The Awakening, or in 1889, the year Dreiser set the start of his first novel, Sister Carrie - the ballooning clothes and plump bodies could be dated anywhere from 1880 to the beginning of World War I. The charges of indecency that greeted Chopin's only novel and Dreiser's first were so unrelenting that Chopin retreated from literature and Dreiser faltered. (Anticipating more such attacks, Dreiser, after beginning his great second novel in 1901, put it aside for a decade.) Bellocq's photographs belong to this same world of anti-formulaic, anti-salacious sympathy for "fallen" women, though in his case we can only speculate about the origin of that sympathy. For we know nothing about the author of these pictures except what some old cronies of Bellocq told Friedlander: that he had no other interests except photography; that "he always behaved polite" (this from one of his Storyville sitters); that he spoke with a "terrific" French accent; and that he was - shades of Toulouse-Lautrec - hydrocephalic and dwarf-like. Lest the association induce us to imagine Bellocq as a belle époque erotomane who had transplanted himself to the humid franco-creole American city to continue his voyeuristic haunting of bordellos, it might be mentioned that Bellocq also frequented the opium dens of New Orleans's Chinatown with his camera. The Chinatown series, alas, has never been recovered.
The Storyville series (in this new enlarged edition) includes two pictures of parlor decor. The interest for Bellocq must have been that, above a fireplace in one picture and a rolltop desk in the other, the walls are covered with photographs surrounding a central painting, photographs with the same contrasts as the ones he was taking: all are of women, some dressed to the nines, some erotically naked. The rest of Bellocq's photographs are individual portraits. That is, there is a single subject per picture, except for a shot of two champagne drinkers on the floor absorbed in a card game (there is a similar off-duty moment in Bunuel's unconvincing, notional portrait of a brothel in Belle de Jour) and another of a demure girl posing in her Sunday best, long white dress and jacket and hat, beside an iron bed in which someone is sleeping. Typically - an exception is this picture, which shows only the sleeping woman's head and right arm - Bellocq photographs his subjects in full figure, though sometimes a seated figure will be cut off at the knees; in only one picture - a naked woman reclining on some embroidered pi - does one have the feeling that Bellocq has chosen to come close. Central to the effect the pictures make on us is that there are a large number of them, with the same setting and cast in a variety of poses, from the most natural to the most self-conscious, and degrees of dress/undress. That they are part of a series is what gives the photographs their integrity, their depth, their meaning. Each individual picture is informed by the meaning that attaches to the whole group.
Most obviously, it could not be detected from at least a third of the pictures that the women are inmates of a brothel. Some are fully clothed: in one picture a woman in a large feathered hat, long-sleeved white blouse adorned with brooch and locket, and black skirt sits in the yard in front of a low black backdrop, just beyond which frayed towels are drying on a laundry line. Others are in their underwear or something like it: one poses on a chair, her hands clasped behind her head, wearing a comical-looking body stocking. Many are photographed naked - with unpretentious candor about, mostly, unpretentious bodies. Some just stand there, as if they didn't know what to do once they had taken off their clothes for the camera. Only a few offer a voluptuous pose, like the long-tressed adolescent odalisque on a wicker divan - probably Bellocq's best known picture. Two photographs show women wearing masks. One is a come-hither picture: an exceptionally pretty woman with a dazzling smile reclines on a chaise-longue; apart from her trim Zorro-style mask she is wearing only black stockings. The other picture, the opposite of a pin-up, is of a large-bellied, entirely naked woman whose mask sits as awkwardly on her face as she is awkwardly posed on the edge of a wooden chair; the mask (it appears to be a full mask minus its lower half) seems too big for her face. The first woman seems happy to pose (as, given her charms, well she might); the second seems diminished, even foiled, by her nudity. In some pictures, in which the sitters adopt a genteely pensive look, the emotion is harder to read. But in others there is little doubt that posing is a game, and fun: the woman in the shawl and vivid striped stockings sitting beside her bottle of "Raleigh Rye," appreciatively eyeing her raised glass; the woman in ample undergarments and black stockings stretched out on her stomach over an ironing board set up in the backyard, beaming at a tiny dog. Clearly, no one was being spied on, everyone was a willing subject. And Bellocq couldn't have dictated to them how they should pose - whether to exhibit themselves as they might for a customer or, absent the customers, as the wholesome-looking country women most of them undoubtedly were.
How far we are, in Bellocq's company, from the staged sadomasochistic hijinks of the bound women offering themselves up to the male gaze (or worse) in the disturbingly acclaimed photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki or the cooler, more stylish, unvaryingly intelligent lewdness of the images devised by Helmut Newton. The only pictures that do seem salacious - or convey something of the meanness and abjection of a prostitute's life - are those (eleven in this selection) on which the faces have been scratched out. (In one, the vandal - could it have been Bellocq himself? - missed the face.) These pictures are actually painful to look at, at least for this viewer. But then I am a woman and, unlike many men who look at these pictures, find nothing romantic about prostitution. That part of the subject I do take pleasure in is the beauty and forthright presence of many of the women, photographed in homely circumstances that affirm both sensuality and domestic case, and the tangibleness of their vanished world. How touching, good natured, and respectful these pictures are. What a splendid gift Lee Friedlander has given us.