MANHATTAN BRIDGE AT NIGHT, FROM BROOKLYN
I had the chance to see work by Berenice Abbott at the Howard Greenberg Gallery this week. It is always interesting to see how photographers captured New York decades ago, and how the City itself has changed. These are two images that I especially liked. On December 20, 1934, Berenice Abbott photographed "The Night View." She chose the shortest day of the year to make the exposure, knowing that between 4:30 and 5:00 pm, most workers would still be in their office with the lights on, providing maximum illumination for the image. The second photograph shows 7th Avenue, looking south. The exhibition featuring her work will go through April 12th.
This Robert Frank photograph is one of my favorites. It was taken in London in the early 1950’s, and captures a a well-dressed man walking briskly passed a laborer as he struggles to lift a heavy sack over his shoulders. The moment is fleeting, but I think also profound in its social commentary. It defines each man in contrast to the other - affluent versus poor, professional versus laborer, leather gloves versus workman’s gloves, pressed-pants versus torn pants.
By all appearances, the businessman has achieved a level of material success that has alluded the laborer. He wears an elegant long coat and a top hat. He holds an umbrella by his side, though it is not raining. He seems to gaze away from the laborer, as though he is unaware, or wants to be unaware, of the polarized social dynamic that the photographer plainly recognizes.
What I like so much about this photograph, though, is its depth. Initially, the viewer observes the stark contrasts between both men. About all they seem to have in common is their physical proximity.
But ultimately there is an undercurrent of similarity that links the two men together. Each is a worker, in some sense. Each has a designated role to perform in society, a skill-set of some value to offer. Their particular experiences may be different, but ultimately, they are each indebted to their own needs, and therefore to the job that enables them to meet those needs. They are free men, but neither can escape the necessity of a paycheck. And so they toil in the street, or in the office, in torn pants, or in a suit. Their particular tasks are different, but their reason for doing them is the same.
At one level, this photograph serves as a social critique of 1950‘s London. But it also challenges the viewer to reach further and to recognize that despite their differences, neither man is immune to the imperatives of the human condition.
Two of my photographs will be exhibited at the annual IMAGES Photography Competition and Exhibition in Guilford, Connecticut. The competition is run by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. The exhibition will be on display throughout the month of February. You can find out more information at http://www.shorelinearts.org/images.cfm
The New York Times published one of my photographs this week. I took the picture in Central Park at 1 a.m, just as a snowstorm had begun to blanket the City, offering a rare opportunity to capture the Park void of people, and with the snow untouched. The image, which appears below, was published the next day in the City Room blog: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/13/central-park-wednesday-1-a-m/
So much can be written of this photograph, taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in New York in 1946. So little really needs to be said, though. It shows the reunion of a mother and son who were separated during World War II. Their exact story we don't know, though its toll is plain to see. The viewer's attention is initially focused on the weeping mother and son. But other emotions surround. The older man at right looks anxiously toward the tearful reunion, while two men at the top of the frame appear elated -- overjoyed to the same degree as the mother and son are overcome. Others appear with decidedly less affect. It is this confluence of so many emotions - simple, poignant, unprovoked - that I think distinguishes this photograph as a masterful depiction of the human condition.