Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Davidson & Goro

Friday, April 10th, 2020

Two photographers (at least) made extensive documentary studies of blocks of low-income housing in New York in the 1960s. One of them you are probably familiar with, Bruce Davidson’s ‘East 100th Street’, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and published by Harvard University Press in 1970 and now featured on the Magnum web site.

The other you may well be unaware of. New York photographer and journalist Herb Goro (1937-2019) lived for over a year in the East Bronx around 1966 working on a project about which he wrote:

The Block I have chosen is within fifty-five square blocks designated as one of the city’s worst health areas. It’s population is approximately 50’000 with 48 percent Negro, 48% Puerto Rican and 4% elderly white. This section has a significantly high infant mortality rate (29 deaths per 1’000), a tuberculosis rate three times higher than the city average, and a significantly high venereal disease rate. As high crime area it ranks among the worst in New York City.

The Block by Herb Goro, its subtitle ‘Human Destruction in New York City‘ was published in 1970 by Random House. As well as his pictures it contained “slightly edited transcripts” of the tape recordings that he made with the people who lived there, as well as a block worker, a landlord, policemen and Sanitation Department employees who worked in the area.

You can get a good impression of the book in a post made in 2008 on the Artcoup blog, which has half a dozen double page spreads, and on Google Books from the book Mag Men: Fifty Years of Making Magazines. Another of his stories, ‘The Old Man in the Bronx‘ is reproduced from the 1972 New York Magazine (the fifth result featured) and a 2014 blog from Oi Polloi, Through The Magpie Eye: The Block By Herb Goro has a good set of reproductions as well as text and some comments worth reading. Someone did buy the film rights to the book but I don’t think a film was ever made.

One of the comments on the Oi Polloi blog comes from someone whose family featured in the book, some of whom went to the Supreme Court seeking a permanent injunction and damages against publishing their “pictures, names or biographical accounts of their lives, or purported first person narratives“. Goro had releases from some of those in the pictures (and had paid them adequately) but had been unable to obtain them from others, and some he had paid disputed what they had been paid for.

The court denied the motion for a temporary injunction and commented “What appears to be really sought here is money damages.” You can read more details here.

You may be lucky and find a cheap copy of ‘The Block‘ and I almost bought one on the web for £2.91, but just before I clicked found the postage was over £30 and I decided against it.

The two photographers methods were very different, and their pictures make an interesting comparision. Though Davidson’s was in some ways an exemplary and highly admirable documentary project, Goro’s are far more visceral and apparently truer to life.

I got the urge to find out more about Goro after reading the repost by A D Coleman of the review of Bruce Davidson’s “East 100th Street” which he wrote for the New York Times, first published on October 11, 1970.It remains well worth reading and was among the first to broach in a national platform the issues around “the power dynamic inherent in the act of representation, and the difference between representation created from within a given community and representation produced by an outside observer — the politics of insider vs. outsider representation, and the ramifications thereof” as they relate to photography.

In the comments Coleman clarifies the position that he took in the review which have often either been misunderstood or ignored.

At the time of first publication he suggested to the New York Times that they should publish a second review by someone from the LatinX community along with his, and But Where Is Our Soul by Philip Dante, son of Puerto RIcan immigrants and some-time assistant to Gene Smith, appeared alongside his. Although I’m not a subscriber to the NYT, I was able to access this, a damning critique of Davidsons approach – “Davidson’s one-sided preoccupation with the vile is a damaging oversimplification.”

Dante concludes:

The work will doubtlessly be praised and applauded by photography’s esoteric circles, but it would be ironic and unfortunate for a photographer who has produced such commendable achievements in the past to be lifted into a state of eminence by an accomplishment so devoid of feeling. “East 100th Street” is an essay so contrived and demeaning that it can in no way endure as an art—unless it is the function of art to desecrate.

I wonder what Dante made of ‘The Block’.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr


NHS Fundraising Sale

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

I don’t normally publish press releases, but here an exception:

James Hyman Gallery announces the launch of a special fundraising sale.

All profits will go to support the National Health Service.I know that at this time of international crisis, the last thing on people’s minds is looking at art, let alone buying it. In my case, one of my daughter’s has coronavirus (thankfully mildly) and we are under quarantine and waiting to see if we also catch it. All being well my wife, Claire, will return to her job as a surgeon in a major NHS hospital next week.

Unfortunately, NHS Hospital staff, on the front line in the treatment of patients with Covid-19, are still working without the proper PPE (personal protective equipment), and there remains a shortage of testing kits and ventilators.

As everyone pulls together I have been thinking what I can do as an art dealer. I feel very helpless. What I have done is put together a selection of works by some of the major photographers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and will donate all profits to the National Health Service.

It would be wonderful if you could take a look and let me know if anything is of interest to you.

http://www.jameshymangallery.com/exhibitions/2682/press/special-fundraising-sale-for-the-national-health-service

Although some of the pictures are at least of some interest to me, the prices are a little out of my league. But wealthier readers of this blog (if there are any) might be interested. Regular readers will also know that I think the fetishisation of of the photographic print rather misses the point of our medium and its infinite possibility of reproduction.

As I’ve pointed out here before, if you want an Atget to hang on your wall you can have one at little or no cost, and it will quite likely be a rather better print than you can buy from an art dealer. The one hanging in my front room certainly is. And I’ve certainly printed better Walker Evans prints than were made of his work back in the 1930s.

But this is a generous response to the crisis, and I hope it that some will buy and enjoy these pictures, mainly but not all photographs, quite a few of which are images I’ve not seen before.

At least one other dealer has made a similar response, with New York based dealer and gallery owner Hans P Kraus Jr putting up a sale of prints by Early British Photographers, with 10% of the sales revenue going to support New York healthcare workers. The works for sale include some by Talbot himself, as well as Hill & Adamson, Anna Atkins, Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton and others. The print which attracts me most is a later reproduction of Hill & Adamson’s ‘The Bird Cage (the Misses Watson)’, a carbon print made by Jessie Bertram in 1916.

Both these sales were featured in posts by Michael Pritchard in the blog on the British photographic history web site.


Frank continued (part 2)

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Here is the second of three parts of my longish essay about Robert Frank, certainly the greatest influence on other photographers including myself in the years that followed publication of his book ‘The Americans’ in 1958/9. The final and I think most interesting part, in which I take a look at that book in some detail will follow shortly.


New York and Travel

As soon as he possibly could, in 1947, Frank left Switzerland and moved to New York. Art director Alexey Brodovitch encouraged Frank to photograph for Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion magazines. Frank soon found fashion restricting and also contributed to “Life”, “Look”, “Fortune”, “McCall’s”, and “The New York Times”.

Frank also began to travel, coming back to Europe in 1951, where he photographed in mining villages in Wales and in London, as well as photographing in South America for a book including work by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and the French photographer Pierre Verger who devoted more than half of his life to the study, promotion, and practice of Afro-Brazilian culture.

In Wales he took a powerful if slightly predictable close view of a miner coming back from the pit, blackened by coal. It is a powerful portrait, the cheery face beneath a cloth cap heightened by contrast with the broader out of focus miner in the left of the frame. His picture of children playing on the slag heap, and of a miner at home scrubbing himself in a zinc bath while his wife sits at the table reading the newspaper are vibrant reminders of vanished times, and were surely informed by pictures from the 1930s of similar scenes taken by Bill Brandt.

In London too he was drawn to the stereotype, but rendered it in a personal and interesting fashion; men in bowlers and top hats stroll through the fog of city streets, carrying umbrellas. There are also some odd moments and places – a dog in a foggy street, an angel peering over a wall, mothers (or nannies) struggling with giant wrapped babies and prams in the park, bombsites and hearses.

Back in New York in 1953, Frank began to work with Edward Steichen in selecting work for an exhibition on ‘Post-War European Photographers’ at the Museum of Modern Art, and later on ‘The Family of Man’, although as Frank says, he did not share the ‘Captain’s’ sentimental vision behind this. Frank took Steichen to visit the studio of Jacob Tuggener among other photographers, and his work was included in the exhibition.

American Influences

Meanwhile, Frank had discovered another of the elements that was to influence him greatly, Walker Evan’s seminal book ‘American Photographs‘. Again this was a carefully and subtly sequenced work, with picture linking visually to picture and recurring themes. Evans possibly drew his ideas about sequencing more from literary than film sources. Frank took his work to show Evans, who was impressed; it was Evans who was the major support behind Frank when he successfully applied for a Guggenheim Grant to make a journey across America taking photographs.

A further influence on Frank was also largely literary (although at that time derided by the literary establishment.) This was the ‘beat generation’ – writers and poets such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Kerouac had written ‘On the Road‘, his second book, using a single long roll of paper in his typewriter so he could let his stream of thought flow out through its keys to paper without interruption, without pausing to think or editing. The book is based around a series of four largely pointless journeys by Kerouac (Sal Paradise), driving across America with or to visit his friend ‘Dean Moriaty’, whose wild behaviour and unreliability are legendary.

Written in 1950, Kerouac’s publisher turned it down, and it did not appear until 1957. Frank was probably not familiar with the detailed text, but certainly was aware of the movement and had met some of the principals including Ginsberg in the early fifties before his own road trip around America, and in his attitudes and view of America he echoed those of the beats.

On the Road

Frank’s journeys across America were however rather less frenetic than Kerouac’s and fuelled more by his experiences than drugs. Much of the the time he was accompanied by his wife and son who both appear in the final image of the finished book. Throughout 1955/6 he crossed America, driving a second-hand car given him by Peggy Guggenheim, shooting around 500 rolls of film, photographing on the streets and in post offices, Woolworth stores, cafés, small hotels, bus stations.

He started work early in the mornings and usually continued all day. He seldom talked to people and usually tried not to be noticed while he was photographing, though his subjects in some pictures are clearly reacting to his camera – and not always positively. After his travels he edited the roughly 18,000 images down to the 83 which appear in his book, on average around one from every six films.

The journeys were not without problems, particularly when he was arrested and held in jail for 3 days in Little Rock, Arkansas. A police officer saw a Ford with New York plates being driven by a badly dressed and dishevelled Frank; he stopped the car and spoke to him and discovered not only did he have a strongly foreign accent, but saw that there were several cameras and other boxes and bags in the car. Clearly this was a spy, and that he had a piece of paper with something about Guggenheim on it (another foreign name) made circumstances even more suspicious.

So Frank was arrested and left in jail for around seven hours before being subjected to a series of interrogations for another four hours. This was at the height of the cold war and McCarthyism, and the police were totally unable to understand what Frank was trying to do. Why was anyone photographing America other than to supply information to a foreign power? Every possible point in his papers and his attempted explanations was fuel to their paranoia –the name Brodovitch – one of his Guggenheim sponsors – was clearly Russian, one of his children was called Pablo – a foreign name, he had marked routes on his maps and so on.

Fortunately Frank was able to persuade them not to have any of his films developed locally as they had threatened to. When they asked him if he knew anyone in politics or the police or similar, he told them he knew Steichen, and that his wife’s uncle was a close friend of Mayor Wagner of New York.

What concerned Frank most after he had been released was that his fingerprints had been taken and sent to the FBI; he was worried that this might prejudice his application for American citizenship.


The final piece of this essay, first published on the web in 2000, will appear shortly and looks at the content of ‘The Americans’ and then concludes with a very brief section on his later work.

The Falling Man

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Most if not all of us remember what we were doing when we heard about the tragic attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, the 11th of September 2001.

I was just getting my bicycle ready to leave college after a morning’s teaching – I was then working part-time and had finished for the day – when a distraught colleague rushed up to me to tell me the news. She had grown up in New York, and had just seen pictures on her computer showing a plane flying into one of the towers. We shared our horror at what was happening, and watched for short time together unable to beleive what was happening.

After a few minutes I left her and got on my bike and cycled home. I couldn’t eat lunch but began to search for more information on the web, finding both the pictures on the news channels and also a number of posts of mobile phone pictures and video taken by those close to the events, including some making their way out of the building. It was these pictures, with their rawness, often blurred and indistinct that really brought home the horror to me, and I sat and wrote an article linking to them and to some of the professional imagery.

I don’t know that it was a very good article, but I clearly saw the event not only as a terrible act of terrorism, but also as a clear indication of the power of ‘citizen journalism’, perhaps the first major world event where the story was told and illustrated most immediately and effectively by those caught up in the tragedy rather than profesional journalists. And it was a story that attracted around a million views in the next 24 hours or so.

Of course we soon saw a great deal of fine coverage from the professionals, particulalry of the later stages of the event, but these lacked the rawness and immediacy of those first acounts – which their technical shortcomings emphasized (as does the grain and shakiness of Capas D-Day pictures).

Esquire Magazine has published a long and very interesting feature about the photographs of people who fell from the burning towers, and in particular the ‘Falling Man’ captured in a series of images taken by photographer Richard Drew. Originally published on the front pages, it quickly became the subject of controversy, and disappeared from view except on some insalubrious web sites. As the feature reveals, it caused considerable distress among at least one family of a man who died and was apparently wrongly identified as the man in the picture.

The story by Tom Junod is an interesting one, which also raises many issues about the use of these and other photographs, and about what photographs can tell us about what they depict. He concludes that this image of one of the perhaps 200 men who jumped from the upper stories of the WTC rather than await the death that seemed inevitable is of the man who “became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen.