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On the Street: The New York School of Photographers

December 11 - February 27, 2005


New York -- its streets, attractions, people, energy and urban charm-is the focus of a new exhibition organized by the Center for Creative Photography. Open from December 11, 2004, to February 27, 2005, On the Street: The New York School of Photographers presents the work of such renowned as artists as Diane Arbus, Roy deCarava, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, William Klein, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Weegee, Garry Winogrand and others who lived and worked in New York in the twentieth century. They documented the drama, turbulence, exoticism and humanity of this great metropolis as it evolved in the crucial years from the economic crisis of the Depression through the social unrest of the early seventies. (right: New York, 1961, Photograph by Garry Winogrand, © Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson.)

Center for Creative Photography Director Douglas R. Nickel notes, "The Center for Creative Photography retains particularly strong holdings of works by the photographers of the New York School . This exhibition presents a wonderful opportunity to discover a set of shared interests and shared sensibilities among photographers who devoted themselves to New York as their subject in the middle part of the century."

At the same time that the U.S. became a world power at the end of the nineteenth century, it also moved from being an agrarian society to an urban one. New York City emerged as the cultural capital of America. The Ashcan school of painters in the 1910s inaugurated a tradition in American art that took the everyday life of New York as the primary theme of their work. Simultaneously, the city became home to an increasing number of photographers, who also trained their eyes on the streets of this frenetic city. Many of these artists were immigrants, and many Jewish in background, who brought with them the intellectual and artistic traditions of Europe. At the same time, the social circumstances of the Depression era and its aftermath would inevitably factor in their work. Generally defiant and not given to "isms," artists of the New York School betray an existential attitude in their work. Photographers such as the famous Weegee clearly put social realism -- an effort to describe the city in blunt, human terms -- at the top of their agendas.

To put the generation comprised by the New York School in context, this exhibition will also include an introductory gallery of photographers who worked in the city before the Great Depression. The New York images of Berenice Abbott, Paul Outerbridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Charles Sheeler were more utopian in character, often celebrating the city's monuments -- bridges and buildings -- by framing them as symbols of progress and modernity. These artists adduce in their work the promise of the city, while the photographers later dubbed the " New York School " more often show us the fallout, that is, the shortcomings of this promise.

What is perhaps most striking about these images, however, is their often in-your-face intensity, which is achieved through the combination of subject and approach. The New Yorkers of these photographs distinguish themselves from the denizens of any other city in their dramatic extremes and appealing idiosyncrasies. Cockeyed camera angles, inexact focus and grainy exposures unbalance viewers at the same time that these techniques deliver us to the very center of the action. These were photographers who as a rule eschewed large-format cameras in favor of the small and portable, and they worked mostly with ambient light. As in the city itself, it's sometimes hard to make out exactly what is happening in the pictures -- everything seems to be happening so fast, the senses are overloaded. The shapes and contrasts of the people and the buildings, pitched at precarious angles, always in motion, are full of mystery.

Now that recent events have caused New York City to again emerge as the focus of the nation's interest and a symbol of the United States, these photographs allow us to draw intriguing comparisons between the then and now of life on the city's streets. At the same time they seem remarkably fresh, timeless, pertinent. This is work ripe for re-examination, full of rich avenues for contemporary viewers to explore.

On the Street: The New York School of Photographers will feature approximately 110 images. The exhibition will be complemented by a schedule of public programs.


Programs and Events

Free and open to the public


Slide Lectures

The Streets of Home: Photo League Photographers in New York, by Anne Tucker
Working independently or as a group, the members of the Film and Photo League photographed all regions of New York between 1936 and 1951. Often they worked for months, even years, within a few blocks, seeking to capture the rhythms of life on the streets. Anne Tucker is the founding curator of the photography department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Since 1976, the MFA's collection has grown to include over 20,000 photographs made on all seven continents. Ms. Tucker has curated dozens of exhibitions, including retrospectives for Robert Frank, George Krause, and Richard Misrach , as well as surveys of the Czech avant-garde (1918-1938) and the history of Japanese photography.
Wednesday, January 19, 5:30 p.m., Auditorium
The Ins and Outs, and the Ups and Downs of New York Streets, by Max Kozloff
Max Kozloff, prominent New York writer, critic, art historian, curator, and photographer will present a learned disquisition on why New York street photography is pretty much always in your face. Kozloff was Associate, Contributing, and Executive Editor of Artforum from 1963 to 1976, organized and wrote the catalogue essay for the exhibition, New York: Capital of Photography (Jewish Museum, 2002) and produced the book New Yorkers: As Seen by Magnum Photographers (Power House, 2003).
Thursday, February 17, 5:30 p.m., Auditorium


Film Series

The City as Motion Picture
Noted curator, historian and film critic Scott MacDonald introduces four independent, avant-garde films about New York City by Charles Sheeler, Paul Strand, Weegee, Helen Levitt, and Robert Frank-artists featured in the exhibition "On the Street." MacDonald's most recent book, The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place (Columbia University Press, 2002), examines the connections between landscape, cityscape and American independent film.
Part I: Panorama
Manhattan (1921) by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand: A day in the life of New York City, beginning with footage of Staten Island Ferry commuters arriving in Manhattan and culminating with the sun setting over the Hudson River. 6 minutes.
Weegee's New York (c.1952) by Weegee (Arthur Fellig) and Cinema 16: Weegee's evocative portrait of Manhattan , followed by his candid depiction of the beach crowd at Coney Island on a summer day. 22 minutes.
Thursday, February 3, 5:30 p.m., Auditorium
Part II: Close-up
In The Street (1952) by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, and James Agee: A hidden camera exposes the everyday street life in a New York neighborhood. 16 minutes.
Pull My Daisy (1959) by Robert Frank and Al Leslie: Beat poets Alan Ginsburg, Gregory Corso and others cavort on the Lower East Side , accompanied by the spontaneous narration of Jack Kerouac. 30 minutes.
Thursday, February 10, 5:30 p.m., Auditorium


New Permanent Gallery at the Center for Creative Photography

On September 4, 2004 The Center for Creative Photography announced the opening of a new permanent gallery dedicated to the presentation of its vast holdings of over 80,000 works. The CCP boasts the largest collection of twentieth-century North American photographers, among them some of the most revered practitioners of the medium. It is also unique in that it collects not only individual works but entire careers of artists. With the addition of the Permanent Collection Gallery, the Center is better able to share the wealth of its collections-both photographs and archival materials-with the public through rotating exhibitions. The new gallery, the product of a major redesign of the former exhibition space, increases CCP's area for the display of objects by approximately 30 percent. Only a small handful of art museums in the United States currently provide dedicated gallery space for the display of their permanent collections of photography.

"The new space forwards our ambition to make the Center's collections more visible and better known," stated CCP Director Dr. Douglas R. Nickel. "It also gives us the opportunity to show what an archive does, to follow the creative process from the moment of inspiration to final public exhibition."

Upon its founding in the mid 1970s, the Center secured the collected works of five extremely influential artists: Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Frederick Sommer, Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams. Since that time, it has become home to over sixty major archives. The Center's holdings of historically significant artifacts include journals, correspondence, contact sheets and other materials that greatly enrich and augment our understanding of the medium.

The first exhibition in the permanent gallery space, on view from September 4 to November 28, 2004, presented photographs dating from the 1920s through recent decades; in synoptic fashion, it shows the breadth of photographic practice in this period. The selection of objects represents the Center's holdings of selected works by a large variety of artists, as well as the photographs and so me of the significant artifacts of those artists whose archives the CCP houses. Alongside an extraordinary and iconic photograph of shells by Edward Weston, for example, a letter from one-time lover and fellow photographer Tina Modotti describes her reaction when she received this print from him: "My God Edward your last photographs surely took my breath away! I am speechless before them." A letter from Alfred Steiglitz to Paul Strand, appearing between works by both photographers, reveals a little of Steiglitz's struggles with the medium, and even more about Strand's wife and Stieglitz's relationship to her. We are able to gain insight, also, into Garry Winogrand's creative process through a marked-up contact sheet mounted beside the final image he selected and printed.

Other photographers featured in the exhibition include Diane Arbus, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Dorothea Lange, Helen Levitt, Man Ray, Aaron Siskind, Frederick Sommer and Hiroshi Sugimoto. The exhibition will be on view concurrently with Jo Ann Callis: Cake Hat Pillow, a survey of the intriguing work of this surrealist-inspired artist.  


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