Unreal Nature

April 5, 2017

Nothing Personal

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the days of the immersed, self-reflexive picture maker were gone.

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

… Starting roughly with the 1960s, Manhattan photographers, with increasing frequency, notice presences that are enough outside the usual traffic as to suggest bogeys on a radar screen.

… Long before, in the 1930s, photographers had sallied forth on activist campaigns, drawing attention to the plight of derelicts, ghetto dwellers, and other unfortunates who had slipped through the cracks of societal concern. Images of the distressed were meant to arouse the will to rehabilitate them through city legislation. Now, people like these, low on the food chain, and others sometimes very unlike them — but always curious — were photographed for aesthetic reasons. This shift in attitude, though gradual, gathered unmistakable strength from the 1960s through the 1980s.

It was not mere eccentricity that attracted the picture maker. “Curious” subjects, rather, were defined more broadly by their often unknowing incongruity of display in the civic space, their presumption that they blend in, against odds that are conspicuous to viewers. The presentation of self had somehow backfired and had come to seem disfavored.

Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1964

… Aside from their gamy subjects, these photographers also evolved a generic form, distinctive of the time. The style of the 1950s had been, on the whole, rather smudgy: in bad weather and low light, New York looked like a busy, indistinct wilderness of neon signs and glass reflections, fretted with querulous faces. Thereafter, an unequivocally hard-edged description enters into and takes over the frame. This explicitness is often linear and quite detailed: serviceably realist, yet without making a fuss about realism.

… What took place in New York photography of the past thirty years is inconceivable without its earlier, historical context, most certainly the heritage of engagement with minority cultures, the melancholy view, and political dissidence. Younger photographers knew of Lisette Model, and some had heard of William Klein. The new school stood on photographic ceremony no more than its prototypes. But the days of the immersed, self-reflexive picture maker were gone.

… The commanding photographers of this period act as if their material is so pungent it speaks for itself. Whatever their contest of wills, the acerbic spirit of the seer wins out over — or deceives — the seen.

Avedon’s celebrity sitters were at his unkind disposal, but he titled the book in which some of them appear Nothing Personal (1964).

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




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