Discovering art in plain sight
Street photography has fallen out of favor in art circles, but the tradition is kept alive by dedicated shooters.
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Ms. Einzig's photographs combine social conscience with artistic expression. "I'm trying to work out who we are as Americans, and how we display ourselves in public," she says, "I feel a responsibility to make historical documents."Skip to next paragraph
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Einzig notes that workshops she conducts attract amateur photographers of all backgrounds. "There are a lot of young people [who] really want to do street photography," she says. Could the pendulum swing back to embrace the street ethos? "I'd like to think so," says Einzig. "I think people are hungry to feel that connection."
Both Westerbeck and Ms. Tucker see threats to street photography, however. Journals and book publishers that provide outlets for such work are diminishing.
More onerous are post-9/11 restrictions that have placed limits on photographing in public settings. Tucker has received e-mails from professionals detained by authorities for photographing bridges and elevated trains. "There are places where photographing people on the street may become illegal," observes Westerbeck.
"I would miss [street photography] if it disappeared," says Tucker. "I would desperately miss it if there were no more men and women engaging in the world as it exists. It'd be like reading only fiction."
It's hard to think of a more prolific career in photography than Lee Friedlander's. The retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art spans 49 years and contains nearly 500 black-and-white images. It's an impressive display of his work ethic, one that's matched by the sustained quality of the pictures.
Exhibition organizer and MoMA chief photography curator Peter Galassi has left nothing out, following his subject across the American landscape and to far corners of the globe. Beginning on the sidewalks of New York, Friedlander roamed large cities and small towns, aiming his lens at factory workers, monuments, suburban tracts, vacant lots, cherry trees, and cactus flowers. His "Letters from the People" is a moving primer of letters and numbers, words and sentences harvested from billboards, posters, and graffiti. The show contains intimate pictures of friends and family, and no artist since Rembrandt has been as adamant about self-portraits, and none more inventive.
Friedlander found his mature style in the early 1960s, before he was 30. He has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. Various pictorial strategies - weird reflections, clipped figures, sardonic juxtapositions - appear throughout the exhibition. Even as he repeated himself, Friedlander, like a great blues musician, grew more expressive.
He came to prominence with a satirical, deadpan brand of street photography, pictures that were about nothing and everything, like dispatches from an outsider who can't tell what's important from what's trivial. This early work was leavened by a visual whimsy (a sense of humor that later disappeared). A businessman in front of a high wall doesn't notice the comic-book question mark over his head; a mini-skirted woman behind a glass door can't see the Diner's Club decal positioned like a fig leaf; a cloud shaped like three scoops of ice cream balances on a traffic sign.
The show also offers a new series of densely beautiful tree photographs, tight crisscross views of branches, bark, leaves, and needles, shot in bright light so that everything's in focus.
The resulting images are as flat and tangled as Jackson Pollock paintings, and more complex - Abstract Expressionist nature studies. After a half-century, Friedlander still has the power to astonish the eye.
1899 At 42, former actor Eugene Atget begins photographing turn-of-the-century Paris. His work, rescued from oblivion in 1925, continues to influence photographers today.
1916 Paul Strand produces a series of candid street portraits, including "Blind Woman," and exhibits them as art photography in New York.
1925 The Leica, the first practical 35- mm camera, introduced in Germany.
1938 "American Photographs," Walker Evans's groundbreaking exhibition and book, is presented by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1947 Magnum Photo Agency, which went on to support many street photographers' careers, is founded.
1952 "The Decisive Moment" by Henri Cartier-Bresson is published in France.
1959 Swiss photographer Robert Frank's book "The Americans" is published in US to critical controversy.
1967 Exhibition "New Documents" at MoMA features work by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand.