NOW and THEN: American Photography Masters

NOW and THEN is a series which explores current cultural events in photography that connect us to photography’s history.

This month we visit the “Masters of American Photography” exhibit with Jim Austin Jimages at the Vero Beach Museum of Art in Vero Beach, Florida. The collection spans nine decades and shows works of portraiture, landscape and cultural history and runs until January 14, 2018.

Image 1: Title: “New York,” printed on or before 1916, Paul Strand (1890-1976).This view of people walking in Central Park, where the figures, like musical notes, compose a melody along the walkway, shows Paul Strand at his best, with his mastery of modern, urban subject matter.  Famous for delving in to the heart of small communities and making photos that narrate stories of the people and places that he visited, Strand  was also a filmmaker known for the film ” The Plow that Broke The Plains. ” At a time when photographers were making art, impressionistic images, Strand made uncompromising, hard edged, gritty, direct portraits of American life. He used a disguised lens on the streets of NYC as early as 1916. To learn about the significance of Paul Strand, see https://vimeo.com/159045116 .
Image 2: Alfred Stieglitz, “Two Towers, New York,” Photogravure, printed on or before 1913 from a large copy negative. Alfred Stieglitz had the 291 gallery in midtown Manhattan, New York City, and filled it with sculpture, works by European painters, and art. In his own work, he chose urban settings, and often went out with his camera in harsh weather. Here, his snowy scene has an infinite depth from the branches in the foreground to the Madison Square Garden at left and Metropolitan Life Insurance Building at right in the background.
Image 3: Vero Beach Museum, Olympus Tough TG-4, Jim Austin.

Walk into the Museum, pay the admission fee, and stroll down the hall to the rear and into the Titelman gallery where, hanging on the walls under archival lighting, you’ll be treated to historic photographs that have been exhibited in many museums, in the form of black and white framed prints, from masters of photography during the first half of the 20th century.

The show includes famous images like Ansel Adams monolith “The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite” which Adams photographed in April 1927. The prints highlight the experimental nature and evolution of photographic techniques in the 20th century and the subtlety of darkroom processed photographic prints.

AMERICAN MASTERS

You’ll also see works by William Klein, Arthur Rothstein, Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans and Frank Gohlke. Notably, engineer, artist and photographer Harold Edgarton has two prints in the show, including the only color photograph, his classic strobe flash, stop-action image of a bullet through an apple.

 

Image 4:  Harold Edgarton  “Bullet Through Apple”  1964, printed dye transfer in 1984.

Other highlights of the show are individual prints by Atget, Klein, Peel and Evans. A 1900 black and white photograph, “Street Musicians” by Eugene Atget, depicts a bearded organ grinder with his daughter on a Parisian street. Interestingly, Jean Eugène Auguste Atget was not an American photographer, but his life work is credited with influencing a generation of surrealists, artists and photographers when Berenice Abbott discovered his negatives in 1927 and sold her collection to MoMA in 1968 .

“Stickball Gang, New York” is a photograph by William Klein. Born in New York, Klein photographed the streets of New York City early in the 1950’s, did work for Vogue magazine, and had a talent for depicting slices of gritty, realistic street life.

 

Image 5: Fred Peel (American 1889-1959) “Out of The Fog”

My two favorite photographs were by a photographer I’d never heard of, Fred Peel, and one of my heros, Walker Evans. Fred Peel’s work, titled “Out of the Fog”, shows the shape of a train, headlight on through the fog, belching steam onto the track while a man, possible a RR brakeman, stands nearby.

The photographs grain matches the mood of the fog. Walker Evans photo “Lunchroom Buddies, New York City, 1931” is a beautiful example of his casual, graphic, detailed portraiture that was decades ahead of its time. The image is still fresh and lively today.

Image 6: “Lunchroom Buddies, New York City, 1931”, Walker Evans (American 1903-1975). For some of his work during the years of the Farm Security Administration, Evans used a large-format, 8×10-inch (200×250 mm) camera. He said that his goal as a photographer was to make pictures that are “literate, authoritative, transcendent”.
At Right~ Arthur Rothstein (American 1915-1985) Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936. Mr. Rothstein was with Look magazine as Director of Photography, was a staff columnist for US Camera and Modern Photography magazines and the New York Times, and wrote and published nine books. A professor and educator, Rothstein mentored Stanley Kubrick.

Two iconic FSA classic Depression-era images are in the show. Arthur Rothstein’s Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma 1936 is on the back wall, close to the Dorothea Lange work “Migrant Mother”, Nipomo, California, 1936, Edition #36/300. Nearby is Marion Post Wolcott’s “Winter Visitors from Nearby Trailer Park, Picnicking Beside Car on Beach, Near Sarasota, Florida.”

Danielle Johnson, the curator of modern art, was the organizing curator for the show in Vero. Rachel Arauz, Ph.D. , a Boston-based independent curator and art historian, was the primary curator for the exhibition. She notes “Many of these are vintage prints, made by the photographer very close to the time the negative was made, or late prints made by the photographer or assistant years later.”

As a lifelong visitor to photography exhibits in art museums, I would have preferred more detail near the photographs about the photographers themselves, the controversies surrounding images like “Dust Storm” and “Migrant Mother,” explanations of the place of these photographers in the history of photography, and more rationale about why particular photographic works were representative of American photography.

WHEN YOU GO:

The museum opens at 10 am Tuesday through Saturday and at 1 pm on Sunday. It is located at 3001 Riverside Park Drive in Vero Beach, Florida. Admission is $10. Children are welcome and encouraged to explore the interactive exhibit, next to American Masters, of the illustrations, books, and watercolors of Maurice Sendak. Find The Vero Museum of Art on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1929777453928634/  and on the web here http://www.verobeachmuseum.org  ( Click the Current Exhibitions link).

About the Author: Jim Austin Jimages is an adventure photographer, founder of Slow Photography, photography educator, and past president of the Denver Photo Society. Find him at Jimages.com .

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