Unreal Nature

March 22, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Into the gap entered the fashion industry, which decisively shook the scene’s pictorial variants into an unlikely new cocktail.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… Looking back, we can see that crosscurrents — which mixed different political and aesthetic impulses — infused the scene with a certain tension, favorable to photography. Beyond the Photo League, they were reinforced by other visual resources and outlets for the medium, clustered in New York. There were, to begin, Life, Fortune, Look, Collier’s, Vogue, Coronet, and PM’s Weekly, active clients in the world of magazines and press. Steichen, director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947 to 1962, featured promising photographers in group shows.

[line break added]  Alexey Brodovitch ran a workshop under the sponsorship of the New School for Social Research that was something of a think tank for new talent as well as a scouting pool for Harper’s Bazaar. In the 1940s, the likes of Louis Faurer, Lisette Model, Richard Avedon, and Ted Croner attended the workshop. Certain connections between fashion and street photography were exemplified by Avedon — following the lead of the Hungarian Martin Munkácsi, a photographer of particularly athletic models.

[line break added]  Robert Capa, another Hungarian, the most celebrated foreign (photo) correspondent of his time, co-founded Magnum, the paramount photo agency of the century, in 1947, with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim, and George Rodger. Magnum was an intensely energetic, war-seasoned, and self-aware group that provided visual news yet kept its copyrights. The demand for pictures of all categories had risen, in New York, to an unimaginable volume.

In the heady trade-off between editorial or commercial and personal work, there emerged a consciousness of the reciprocal influence each had upon the other. Noir film style also played a role in this process, both influencing and affected by still photography. These were champagne days in image culture.

[ … ]

… As they accumulated, the array of different forces that played into the visualization of 1940s New York became more competitive and fractious. With the advent of Cold War anti-Communism and the early McCarthy, old-style social engagement became dangerous and lost its popularity, whatever the sentiments of disaffected radicals. At the same time, the idea of the metropolis as a place to celebrate lost its innocence and began to fade. The solidarity forged by wartime dread was over, to be followed by a fierce peacetime scramble for opening markets and new profits. For photographers, this was an unstable prospect.

… There could be no question that an artistic consciousness had percolated through some photography, guided originally by a documentary aim. Helen Levitt can surely be said to exhibit an artistic temperament, no less than a doctor displays medical tendencies. But how, if at all, were such temperaments to adapt to or be reconciled with the conceptual leadership of new painting and sculpture? Most of the photographers in New York were still more or less loyalists to a descriptive tradition. Into the gap entered the fashion industry, which decisively shook the scene’s pictorial variants into an unlikely new cocktail.

If Harper’s Bazaar had done nothing more to further the cause of American photography than to give Lisette Model (1906-1983) a few breaks, it would have been enough.

… At the time, editors and colleagues regarded Lisette Model as a forward-looking artist by virtue of her pictorial strength, but it was her effrontery that counted more, and proved to be the most modern thing about her. She redefined the documentary mode, introducing motives that could be questioned. Weegee and Model are like bookends to the chapter of photography in 1940s New York. In their work, the stressed optimism of the Photo League, where they were both respected, took on a darker shading.

[line break added]  Weegee went on to a kind of fame, if not fortune; Model was skeptical of fame and experienced steady indigence. Yet, in a slightly delayed action, she inspired a significant following. Without the insights of both these photographers into the unsavory aspects of American society, whether ordained by culture or conditioned by the city, it would be impossible to imagine the candor of the work that was to come.

My most recent previous post from Kozloff’s book is here.




Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: