Posts Tagged ‘John Benton-Harris’

The New York School

Saturday, October 10th, 2020

Another exhibition I would like to be able to see opened in Montpellier on 7th October (until 10th Jan 2021), at the Pavillon Populaire, the Espace d’art photographique de la Ville de Montpellier, a venue whose very existence screams a very different regard for photography (and culture in general) in France compared to the UK. I’ve never been to Montpellier, a large city on the Mediterranean coast with a long history and considerable historic remains, but it would certainly seem worth an extended visit in other times.

The show, featured in The Eye of Photography, is The New York School Show. New York School Photographers, 1935-1965, “presenting, for the first time in Europe, a project specifically dedicated to this movement considered to be a true visual revolution” and the ‘Eye’ features an introduction by Howard Greenberg, Exhibition Curator and Director of the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, which you can also read in French on the Pavillon Populaire web site (a section of the municipal web site). From there you can download the exhibition booklet in English (or French) which contains, after an introduction by the Mayor a longer text by Gilles Mora, former artistic director of the the Rencontres d’Arles and since 2010 exhibition curator of the Pavillon Populaire and biographies of the 22 photographers included in the show. It’s an interesting selection including both very well-known figures and just a few previously not known to me – I think I have written at least a little about 18 or 19 of them.

Although Jane Livingston coined the name ‘New York Photographic School’ in her 1992 book (The New York School: Photographs, 1936-1963), when I was writing ten years later about the Photo League it was still not widely known, and I received considerably email from people about the articles, including from a number of photographers who had been involved, some of whom I had as yet failed to mention, but mainly from those previously unaware of the huge body of work from this era. I republished one of 2001 articles on the Photo League in general on this site in 2015.

Livingston included in her book The photographers included in the publication were Sid Grossman, Alexey Brodovitch, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer, William Klein, Weegee, Ted Croner, Saul Leiter, Leon Levinstein , David Vestal, Bruce Davidson, Don Donaghy, Diane Arbus, and Richard Avedon, with shows based on her work adding Roy DeCarava and Ed Feingersh; 13 of them appear in the Montpellier show.

Many of them were of course included in the wider show  ‘American Images – Photography 1945 – 1980‘ at the Barbican in 1985, thanks largely to the personal knowledge of New York photography by one of the three curators of that show, John Benton-Harris, born in the Bronx and had became an active part of New York’s photographic culture before coming the the UK after serving in the US Army as a photographer in 1965. Although not dedicated the ‘New York School’ it introduced many of us to some of the main figures in it, and the catalogue, ISBN 9780140079883, available secondhand for under a tenner, remains worth buying.


The Thing Itself

Monday, July 27th, 2020

I never met Bill Jay, (1940-2009), though I’ve heard many stories about him from photographers who knew him, not all entirely positive. By the time I really came into photography Bill Jay had left for the USA, having considerably shaken up photography in the UK through his conversion of the magazine Camera Owner aimed at amateur hobby photographers into a publication which was at the forefront of contemporary photography in the UK, Creative Camera, and founding and published the 12 issues of his own magazine Album as well as establishing photography in the ICA.

I bought all the back-issues I could find of both Album and Creative Camera, soon taking out a subscription to the latter which I continued for many years until it entirely lost direction. And I read and sometimes bought a number of his books, though I think only his first, ‘View on Nudes’ has retained its place on my shelves. And many of his articles appeared in the various photo magazines I read, including the BJP.

In later years, Jay put some of the many articles he wrote and his photographs, particularly those of many photographers, on the web, and I both read and wrote about these on-line. There is still a Bill Jay web site with these pictures and some articles etc.

I was reminded of Bill Jay by a post on ‘The Online Photographer‘, Bill Jay on ‘The Thing Itself‘ about his most reproduced essay, first published in 1988 in a college newspaper. Perhaps surprisingly I couldn ‘t find itisn’t on the Bill Jay site, but is available along with much other material on Bill Jay on the ‘United Nations of Photography‘ site. It’s worth reading the full version.

Also on the ‘United Nations of Photography’ site is a link to the recent film about Jay, Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay, about which Grant Scott writes:

Bill was a great believer in the sharing of knowledge, experience and beliefs and we therefore felt it was appropriate to make our feature length documentary on his life available for all to see. The film features exclusive interviews with Martin Parr, Brian Griffin, Daniel Meadows, Paul Hill, Alex Webb, Brookes Jenson, Homer Sykes, Anna Ray Jones and archival footage of Bill himself telling his story his way!

One of the others who knew Jay well – perhaps better than some of those listed above – and appears briefly on the film is John Benton-Harris, who I’ve often heard talking about Jay. It’s perhaps a shame that his views are not presented there at greater length.