Two photographers

(Not about language.)

Two exhibitions currently under way: Walker Evans at Stanford’s Cantor Center, and Cindy Sherman at MoMA in New York. Different styles, but both deeply into social criticism via photography.

The Evans exhibition (Feb. 1 – Apr. 8) is the less ambitious. From the Cantor Center’s release:

American photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975), with his direct and unsentimental images of life on small-town streets, in New York subways, and on sharecroppers’ porches, inspired generations of photographers and helped shape contemporary art. The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents a broad survey of Evans’ 50-year career …

This exhibition encompasses not only Evans’ brilliant documentation of the Great Depression and his work with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the landmark study of three tenant farm families in Alabama published in 1941, but also his little-known experimental photographs from 1928 to 1930; the subway series (1938–41) later published in the monograph Many Are Called; photo-essays for Fortune magazine (1945–65); and rare Polaroid SX-70 prints from his final years. The exhibition includes more than 125 vintage prints as well as an extensive selection of Evans’ original books and magazines. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past, and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art.

And from Kenneth Baker’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Walker Evans’ influence so suffused the work of younger artists that we can barely see what he produced on its own terms. We can sense the force of his example everywhere, from the photography of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston to Robert Rauschenberg’s fixation on signs, Ed Ruscha’s survey of buildings on the Sunset Strip and the industrial landscapes of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

One photo from the show:

Walker Evans’ “Broadway” (1930), at Stanford’s Cantor Center, is an example of the signs and names in lights prevalent in his work.

Notes on what’s shown in this composition:

The Big House is a 1930 film [a prison drama] starring Robert Montgomery, Wallace Beery and Chester Morris. It was directed by George W. Hill (link)

The Astor Theatre was a New York City Broadway theatre from 1906 to 1925… It was located at 1537 Broadway, at W. 45th Street. It was first managed by Wagenhals and Kemper, then by George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, and later by the Shuberts. From 1925 to 1972 it was a movie theatre. The Astor was demolished in 1982 to make way for the Marriott Hotel which houses the Marquis Theatre. (link)

For comparison to Evans’s multi-layered composition, a straightforward shot of the Astor Theatre circa 1936:

On to Cindy Sherman at MoMA (Feb. 26 – June 11). From the museum’s calendar:

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art. Throughout her career, she has presented a sustained, eloquent, and provocative exploration of the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation, drawn from the unlimited supply of images from movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, and art history. Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has captured herself in a range of guises and personas which are at turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. To create her photographs, she assumes multiple roles of photographer, model, makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist, and wardrobe mistress. With an arsenal of wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props, Sherman has deftly altered her physique and surroundings to create a myriad of intriguing tableaus and characters, from screen siren to clown to aging socialite.

Bringing together more than 170 photographs, this retrospective survey traces the artist’s career from the mid 1970s to the present. Highlighted in the exhibition are in-depth presentations of her key series, including the groundbreaking series “Untitled Film Stills” (1977–80), the black-and-white pictures that feature the artist in stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, and European art-house films; her ornate history portraits (1989–90), in which the artist poses as aristocrats, clergymen, and milkmaids in the manner of old master paintings; and her larger-than-life society portraits (2008) that address the experience and representation of aging in the context of contemporary obsessions with youth and status. The exhibition will explore dominant themes throughout Sherman’s career, including artifice and fiction; cinema and performance; horror and the grotesque; myth, carnival, and fairy tale; and gender and class identity. Also included are Sherman’s recent photographic murals (2010), which will have their American premiere at MoMA.

Again, one piece from the show (I think I’ve spent more time picking these two examples than on assembling the text for this posting; there’s just so much stuff):

Untitled Film Still #21, 1978 – Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” series, comprised of 70 black-and-white photographs made between 1977 and 1980, are made to resemble publicity pictures taken on movie sets. The images represent clichés from films of the 1950s and 60s: career girl, bombshell, housewife and so on.

Like the Evans, a city scene — with Sherman as a threatened heroine à la Hitchcock.

Both photographers have the power to intrigue and disturb.

One Response to “Two photographers”

  1. Barbara Kruger « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Clearly allied to these graphic artists are photographers like Walker Evans and Cindy Sherman (here). […]

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