Looking at Lens

Although I regularly take a quick glimpse at the New York TimesLens‘ blog, often just with my newsreader that doesn’t actually show the pictures, I don’t that often find things that are of enough interest to comment on here. Much of what they publish is interesting, but generally I only write about things if there is something I feel I can add to in some way or take a special interest in.

In the last week or so, there have been quite a few posts there that interested me, and I particularly warmed to some of Nathan Farb‘s pictures in 1967’s Other Summer of Love, perhaps because they reminded me of when I was young and a student, though Manchester in England was very different to the New York Lower East Side of his pictures. But there was just a little something of the same spirit of counter-culture in the air.

The slide show with this piece has 21 pictures, enough to get a good idea of the work, whereas sometimes on Lens I find there just isn’t enough. Usually of course you can find more pictures elsewhere – and Lens sometimes provides a link or you can search for yourself, but then things can get rather time-consuming.

That piece led me on to the large format and very posed portraits of Harf Zimmermann, who, inspired by Bruce Davidson’s book ‘East 100th Street‘ took his camera into the homes and onto the streets to photograph his fellow residents and workers in the East Berlin neighbourhood where he lived. His pictures have for me a kind of dissonance like I often feel in dreams between the people and place and perhaps seem more like theatre sets with actors rather than real people – whereas the colour images he took when he returned to the same area in 2010, judging by the couple of examples in the article, Exposing Life Behind the Berlin Wall, simply look like high-quality versions of family snaps.

East Germany was of course a police state, where it was healthy to assume that everyone except you was a Stasi agent (especially if you were not.) Rather like living in G K Chesterton’s nightmare novel ‘The Man Who Was Thursday‘. Though working as I do with many protest groups I find I often look around and wonder which of us present is one of the 144 undercover UK police stated recently by the authorities to have infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups since 1968 – around the time I first got involved in such things.

But there is also something very German about the pictures – and not just in some of the obviously German backgrounds. They didn’t remind me of Davidson, but they did remind me of August Sander and his attempt to study and classify the people of his country, interrupted by the Nazis who seized and destroyed his ‘Face of Our Time‘ in 1936.

I then went on to find several more ‘Lens’ posts worth looking at, including Fighting For Basic Rights in Morocco, Amid Crisis and the remarkable Venezuela’s Youth Wait to Live Again.

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