Category Archives: Exhibitions

New York/The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library, Sculptor Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923) — © Brian Rose

Everyone knows the majestic lions in front of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Far less appreciated are these female lions guarding the steps of the Morgan Library on East 36th Street. Both sets of lions were carved by Edward Clark Potter, a sculptor known especially for his life-like depictions of animals.

I was in the Morgan to see an exhibition on romantic gardens curated by Betsy Barlow Rogers, the former head of the Central Park Conservancy. I worked for Betsy early in my career making photos of the park, which were used, in part, for fundraising purposes. I also did more utilitarian photographs for park publications and events. I was offered the job as first full time photographer of Central Park, which I turned down, as tempting as it was–I wanted to remain a free lance photographer. In retrospect it may not have been the best career decision, but it’s doubtful that I would ever have begun my Iron Curtain/Berlin Wall project had I taken the job.

While at the Morgan I also saw an exhibition on the influence of Palladio on American architecture–which was serendipitous since my son is doing a school project on Colonial American architecture. And I saw drawings by Albrecht Dürer including his famed Adam and Eve.

In the main library I saw an original manuscript of Magna Carta from 1217. Here’s a bit from the library’s press release:

One of the earliest original manuscripts of Magna Carta dating to 1217 goes on exhibition Wednesday, April 21, at The Morgan Library & Museum. This extremely rare and important document came to New York for a special event for Oxford University but could not be returned to Britain because of the disruption to air traffic caused by the recent volcanic ash cloud. The Bodleian Library generously offered the Morgan the opportunity to exhibit Magna Carta while new arrangements were being made to transport it back to England. The document is on view at the Morgan through May 30.

As I have noted elsewhere, there are those who would set aside many of the principles set forth in this document, which served as the foundation for the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

New York/Cartier-Bresson at MoMA

Cartier-Bresson banner, Museum of Modern Art — © Brian Rose

As is so often the case these days, photography is not allowed in the current Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. So, my pictures are peripheral to the galleries themselves–a banner outside, the gift shop, the entry and title wall to the exhibition. It would be helpful in writing about the organization and content of the show to be able to speak visually, that is, by taking pictures. Once again, visual speech denied. Nevertheless, the museum has provided a significant portion of the exhibit online here.

Maps and exhibit title in MoMA — © Brian Rose

Prints on demand, MoMA, classic Cartier-Bresson image — © Brian Rose

The first thing one encounters entering “Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Modern Century” are several large maps that trace Cartier-Bresson’s wanderings across the globe over the decades he worked as a photojournalist. It’s not the way his work is usually presented, typically a distillation of his most iconic images, especially the “decisive moment” photographs of the 1930s when he developed his groundbreaking way of seeing. I was happy to see curator Peter Galassi take a different approach, thematic and geographical, that while hitting all the high spots of his career, also revealed how many of these photographs came from specific assignments published in the lavishly illustrated magazines of the day. It is important to understand that the “art photography” of Cartier-Bresson was made in an entirely different context from present day gallery photography. The overtly self conscious nature of much contemporary photography is nowhere to be found in Cartier-Bresson’s work.

Seeing the range of Cartier-Bresson’s images at MoMA  spanning decades and continents I was stunned, yet again, by the epic scale of his achievement. Not only did he essentially invent 35mm street photography, and create a purely photographic way of responding to time and composition, his work touched or intersected with many of the great events of the 20th century. And his portraits of leading artists of the century, alone, would have established him as an important photographer.

Venice, 1953, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Having looked at a lot of Cartier-Bresson photographs over the years, I was most interested in the many images in the exhibition that I’d never seen, especially the views of crowds, the pictures made in America, the depictions of working men and women. One photograph, new to me, taken in Venice in 1953 shows the pointed prow of a gondola juxtaposed against an arched bridge reflected in the water to form a nearly completed oval, a tower jutting vertically behind, and a girl in motion crossing the bridge. It’s a classic Cartier-Bresson image, visually modern, but a fleeting glimpse of a timeless Europe.

Photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Garry Winogrand?

Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Lee Friedlander?

In the New York Times Holland Cotter ends his mostly positive review of “The Modern Century,” curiously I think, by comparing at some length Cartier-Bresson’s American images to those of Robert Frank. Frank and other small camera photographers like Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand were directly influenced by Cartier-Bresson, but I think of them in relation to newer cultural movements–Frank to the Beats and the stream of consciousness style of Kerouac, Friedlander and Winogrand to pop art and the jarring political and social clashes of the 60s and 70s. Their careers overlap, true, but Cartier-Bresson was a product of an earlier European sensibility, attuned to cultural difference and identity–that combined with the peripatetic restlessness of a reporter touching down briefly, then on again to the next assignment. When Frank set off across the United States, he was not reporting from the road; the road became its own reality, leading to places unknown.

Photograph by Robert Frank, 1955

Frank’s “The Americans” is arguably the most influential photo book of the 20th century. Conceived as a project, based on a single body of work, it remains a profoundly insightful, disturbing, portrait of the American social landscape. But nothing Frank did, nor anything any of us do as photographers, is conceivable without Cartier-Bresson. He was the great innovator of “The Modern Century,” as the show at MoMA makes imminently clear.




Art Presson — © Brian Rose

After seeing the exhibit I walked with my friends Art Presson and Eve Kessler through Times Square over to a restaurant on West 44th Street. It was a warm, pleasant evening, the streets teaming with people. My wife and son joined us at the restaurant, and after eating we headed downtown just a few minutes before Times Square was evacuated due to the discovery of a car bomb–fortunately unexploded. We were oblivious to the drama until I checked the news on the Internet later in the evening.

New York/Land’s End

Although I was quite busy in San Francisco shooting five David Baker housing projects, and the arrival of my family for a week’s sightseeing only made things busier, I did eventually find time to see some photography at SFMOMA. There was lots to see there, but a couple of unexpected moments elsewhere seem more significant in retrospect than anything I saw in the museum.

I was happy, however, in SFMOMA to come across the wall of Nicholas Nixon photographs of the Brown sisters, part of the museum’s 75th anniversary show. I’d seen images from the series many times, but never the whole thing together. He has photographed the foursome, which includes his wife, every year since 1975. Although the images were not made in the same setting, Nixon has maintained the order of posing, consistent distance, black and white film, and use of an 8×10 view camera. There is little artifice evident in the way he has photographed these women, yet there is something singularly compelling about the images and the faces staring so intently at the photographer, and at us.

Nixon began this series in 1975 the same year as the exhibition New Topographics, in which his urban landscapes were shown. His portrait of the Brown sisters carried over the idea of objective landscape description to the human figure, foreshadowing the work of Thomas Ruff and Rineke Dijkstra, among others.

The Brown Sisters by Nicholas Nixon — © Brian Rose

Visitors to the gallery at SFMOMA kept snapping pictures of the installation, moving from the youngest to the oldest–which is what everyone does–watching the course of time act upon these resolute, independent, visages. It is a discomforting voyeurism, but we are all in this together, our own aging mirrored on the wall, in this powerful collusion between photographer and subjects.

Parábola óptica (Optical Parable) by Manuel Alvarez Bravo

On a rainy day we went to the Exploratorium, a cacophonous interactive science museum housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts, part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Unique to this museum, science shares the spotlight with “art and human perception.” In the midst of various exhibits on visual and auditory perception I came across the photograph above by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. It is an image of an optician’s storefront reversed so that the signage is seen backwards. Next to the photograph, the museum had built a full scale mock-up of Bravo’s optician’s shop. I made my own Bravo below with my digital camera.

The text panel adjacent to the photograph:

Our “storefront” was inspired by a photograph taken in 1931 by Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Much of Bravo’s work explores the interplay between opposing ideas, such as the cultural differences between urban and rural Mexico. In Parábola óptica, Bravo presents an optician’s store in a way that highlights the paradoxical nature of seeing. For example, the store provides instruments designed to make seeing easier, yet the picture itself is reversed so that the store’s name is difficult to read. The store’s name, La Optica Moderna, literally translates as “the modern optician,” but it’s been said that a broader translation is “the modern viewpoint.” Perhaps interpreting Bravo’s storefront in this ambiguous way suggests the difficulty of seeing clearly in a world filled with contradictions.

Yes, I said out loud to myself. The difficulty of seeing clearly in a world filled with contradictions. That’s what this business is all about. I wanted to share this “find” with someone else, but my son had dashed ahead to another hands-on exhibit, while my wife sat in the museum cafe reading a mystery novel.

Camera obscura at Cliff House — © Brian Rose

I wanted my son to see the Pacific Ocean before we returned to New York, so we drove to Cliff House at Land’s End on the western edge of San Francisco. We walked some of the trails along the rocky shoreline, as an unusually turbulent sea crashed against the rocks. I also wanted to show him the camera obscura perched almost precariously above the ocean with its 360 degree projected image inside.

There is nothing more basic to photography than such a device, which was known to the renaissance painters and architects. Much of our awareness and understanding of two dimensional perspective is derived from images made with the use of camera obscuras. Photography only became possible with the invention of a way to fix those images on a light sensitive plate or paper surface.

But alas, the “giant camera” was closed, the pavilion rusty and forlorn, the sky and crashing waves unseen within its dark interior.

New York/AIPAD

AIPAD photography show — © Brian Rose

I went to the AIPAD show at the Armory with Eve Kessler and Art Presson, good friends who have a wonderful collection of photographs. It’s fun seeing what the galleries are putting forward, though not always particularly illuminating. New technology showcased by a few galleries in which still and moving images were combined was mostly embarrassing–especially in the company of classic 20th century black and white photography. Color images by Robert Voit–centrally placed cellphone towers disguised as trees–and distantly held landscapes by Sze Tsung Leong–consistent horizon line–continue the Becher inspired, gallery-friendly, trend of typologies. I like their images, but but find the approach self-limiting.

The image above by Will McBride jumped out at me because of its kinship to my own Berlin work. It’s John F. Kennedy in an open car with Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer in front of the recently walled off Brandenburg Gate. That photo was made in 1963. Here are two images of the Brandenburg Gate from 1989 and 2009.

The Brandenburg Gate a short time after the opening of the Berlin Wall (4×5 film)
— © Brian Rose

The Brandenburg Gate on the occasion of the 2oth anniversary of the fall of the Wall (4×5 film)
— © Brian Rose

Oh, and just a little perspective on the healthcare legislation that passed Congress last night. The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant in the subheading of its lead story states: “America took a historical step toward a European tinted healthcare system.” It may seem a radical step to some in the U.S.–but to much of the world, it’s seen as a belated catching up.

New York/The New Museum

The New Museum — © Brian Rose

Hell Yes!–or–Don’t Worry Be Happy

I have to agree with Fred Bernstein in the Architects Newspaper Blog about the New Museum and its garish Hell Yes! — a multi-hued text piece by Ugo Rondinone. To Bernstein, hanging the kitschy lettering on the shimmering scrim of SANAA’s facade is “like wearing a campaign button on a wedding veil.” My studio is around the corner from the museum, and the Hell Yes! has become a daily irritant. There are worse public sculptures in the city, but none that I can think of that so insistently imprint themselves on one’s brain.

SANAA’s design manages to be both elegant and playful, and the off kilter box effect abstractly mimics the hodgepodge of buildings of the Bowery, evoking, perhaps, the boxes and steel refrigerator units and other restaurant appliances being manhandled on and off of trucks on the street nearby. The architectural joke, however, is good natured and feels right. But Rondinone’s goofball element spoils the slightly tipsy balance. While the passing artist proletariat, glancing up at the museum tower, grumbles under their breaths, Hell No!

The current show, Skin Fruit, curated by Jeff Koons from the collection of New Museum board member Dakis Joannou certainly does nothing to dissipate the grumbling. Peter Schejldahl of the New Yorker commenting on the incestuous nature of the exhibition in a narrated slideshow says:

What makes the occasion a real lightening rod to my mind is  a growing populist resentment of the impunity of wealth in the recent era symbolized by the art market. Younger generations coming up can no longer count on the promise of ascension to the starry feeding trough of the market as it has pertained until the current recession. Full article here.

I have enjoyed a number of the exhibitions at the New Museum, and was pleased to see the retrospective of David Goldblatt there, as well as photographs by William Christenberry in an earlier show. But the collusion between commercial galleries, collectors, and museum curators has gotten completely out of hand, and this exhibition takes the cake–or to flog the metaphor–declaims, Let them eat cake!

New York/Richard Misrach

As a landscape photographer working in color with a view camera I have always had enormous respect for Richard Misrach. I own several of his books, and regard him as a pioneer in the field. After years of sticking to a reliable, if predictable, way of working, Misrach has recently experimented with different points of view–the beach series–and now, has begun exploring digital photography, both with camera and print.

Photograph by Richard Misrach — from On the Beach

The current show at Pace Wildenstein presents a series of large scale photographs printed as negative images, that is, inverted in Photoshop. Going to the gallery I had trepidations about the work having seen a few small images on the Internet. My first reaction on seeing the actual prints, however, was that I found them seductively beautiful, especially at such a size. And I was not troubled by the trick of inverting the images.

Since leaving the gallery, I’ve been having second thoughts, and I’ve gone back and forth on my opinion of the validity of the “the trick.” It’s not that this kind of thing is unheard of in the history of the medium. On the contrary, such experimentation has long been a part of the development of photography from Man Ray to recent color enhanced views of the surface of Mars.

Richard Misrach show at Pace Wildenstein — © Brian Rose
Mouse over for effect, click through to larger image.

Looking at my snapshots of the exhibit I began thinking that the prints were essentially inverted versions of typical Misrach scenes of the American west, no more, no less. The inversion gave them an otherworldly appearance, but really, they were less strange once the initial disorientation wore off.

And then suddenly I thought, what if I flipped the images in Photoshop. What would they look like? First, I inverted whole snapshots, but then just the images within their frames. The startling result can be seen by mousing over the snapshots posted above and below.

Richard Misrach show at Pace Wildenstein — © Brian Rose
Mouse over for effect, click through to larger image.

I’ve decided, for the moment, that I prefer the more abstract images because they are less recognizable as landscapes, but I’m still wrestling with the whole thing. As gorgeous as the prints are, I’m more and more convinced that the negative effect is too much a Photoshop product, a passing infatuation with digital wizardry. Very simplistic wizardry at that. And I’m put off by the press release language: Misrach’s newest pictures – the majority of which are made entirely without film – mark a radical shift from his past work and herald a new era in photography’s history.

Entirely without film. Wow.

Richard Misrach show at Pace Wildenstein — © Brian Rose
Mouse over for effect, click through to larger image.

I still really love the image of stars in motion, the first picture one sees entering the gallery. The sky is white and the streaking stars are black. And I like the “Pollock” evocation above, which is disorienting without being inverted. It’s positively a positive.

New York/Joel Meyerowitz

Meyerowitz exhibition at MCNY — © Brian Rose

Writing about Joel Meyerowitz is complicated for me. While a student at MICA in Baltimore in the mid ’70s, I saw his color street photography, and having just begun shooting color myself, I endeavored to go to New York and study with him at Cooper Union. My success at getting into Cooper was a critical event in my life, and the experiences I had there greatly influenced and shaped my later career.

Meyerowitz’s show at the Museum of the City of New York, Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks, is particularly problematic for me to write about because I did my own survey of New York’s natural park areas back in the ’80s, 30 years before Meyerowitz came to the subject on his own. Go here to see that work.

Meyerowitz exhibition at MCNY — © Brian Rose

I really like this image, party balloons incongruously discovered in the depths of apparent wilderness, actually a fenced-off patch of Central Park.

Legacy, the exhibition, seems to me unsure about its focus and intention. It seeks to be at once a celebration of the richness of New York’s surprisingly spacious natural landscape, and a showcase of Joel Meyerowitz, “master photographer.” But because the images are grouped primarily by borough and park, other possible lines of continuity and inquiry are cut off. A different organization of photographs could have revealed deeper connections in content and method of working. There are any number of substantial images in the exhibit, but their cumulative power has been dispersed. What we’re presented with is a user-friendly Baedeker to New York’s natural parks.

Meyerowitz exhibition at MCNY — © Brian Rose

A fantasia of red and green, an unnaturally vibrant print, in my view.

Another factor cheapening the impact of many of the images is the overly saturated color–the blindingly phosphorescent greens and reds–nothing like the beautifully modulated color of Meyerowitz’s earlier analog prints. New York’s parks have been digitally enhanced.

Meyerowitz exhibition at MCNY — © Brian Rose

The opening wall-sized murals printed on loose, Tyvek paper are nothing less than cringe inducing–Meyerowitz photographs as shower curtains. Unfortunately, a few of the strongest images in the show–once you’re past the Bronx River adventure ride (seen above)–are printed in this way.

Photograph by Joel Meyerowitz

The naked armature of an immense tree in Brooklyn, thick branches almost defying gravity. An admirably straightforward image made without any need for visual contrivance.

Much of what went wrong with Legacy can be found here:

“Experiencing the print quality and longevity of HP Designjet photo printers was a key turning point in my own personal digital transformation,” said Joel Meyerowitz. “HP’s innovative printing technology has made it easy to express my work in new, creative ways and with this project, I was not only able to showcase exhibit-quality prints but also high-quality, immersive wall graphics that capture the essence of New York City’s parks.” Go here for the whole press release.

Enough said.

New York/Long Island City

P.S.1, Long Island City — © Brian Rose

Coming out of P.S.1, the Long Island City art museum, I pressed my camera up against the wall and did an almost sharp time exposure. In the foreground are metal tubes left over from an earlier installation. Having just seen Robert Bergman’s haunted and hollowed out faces at the museum I find myself in a rather somber mood as the 00’s come to an end.

Robert Bergman photograph at P.S. 1 — © Brian Rose

Bergman’s photographs are beautiful, disturbingly so. But I don’t subscribe to Toni Morrison’s description of his pictures that they assert “community, the unextinguishable sacredness of the human race.” It has become obligatory to find redemptive qualities where none exists. Not that the people in Bergman’s photos lack human tenacity–of course they do–but their faces express the damage of surviving on the margins of society, held in the amber glow of Bergman’s light and color. They are roadside totems–mute, unidentified–storied eyes that suggest hard wisdom. But most of us would recoil from these quite likely rambling, chaotic, figures in the flesh.

Robert Bergman photograph at P.S. 1 — © Brian Rose

The beauty found belies a cruelty, one of the central dichotomies of photography, that people and things must be “sacrificed” on the altar of art. The redemption, if there is any, is that Bergman succeeds at street portraiture where so many other photographers fail, and with these gravely intense images, the end justifies the means.

Washington Post article here.

New York/Metropolitan Museum

Metropolitan Museum, Diana in the American Wing — © Brian Rose

Presided over by Diana, the former weather vane atop Madison Square Garden, by Saint-Gaudens, the renovated Engelhard Court of the Metropolitan Museum is a bustling atrium of fleshy marble and bronze unabashed in the presence of families with frolicking children and everyone snapping pictures or sagging in exhaustion among the ferns beneath a stone pulpit suffering an imaginary preacher’s admonishments.

The Metropolitan, American Wing — © Brian Rose

Metropolitan Museum– © Brian Rose

New York/The Americans

Frank Tedesso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art — © Brian Rose

After leaving (staggering out of) “Looking in: Robert Frank’s The Americans” at the Met, I stood for a moment by a Rodin statue pondering the exhibition–another photography exhibition where no photography was allowed. Robert Frank’s pictures were a searing burn of visual truth made at a time when voices were silenced by blacklists and guilt by association. It took courage to make art in the ’50s, perhaps, but if you were unknown or underground enough, maybe it didn’t really matter. In the end, Frank’s dark–though beautiful–vision of America surfaced, and changed forever how we saw ourselves, and how we viewed and made photographs.

I snapped a few desultory shots of a poster directing the hordes of museum goers to the start of the exhibition. It had on it the famous photograph of a New Orleans streetcar with those unforgettable faces. And then, materializing out of the crowd, a face I knew, someone who is as fine an heir to the tumbling poetry and prose of the Beats I know, the songwriter and poet Frank Tedesso. Here’s a bit of one of his song lyrics:

it’s raining in tibet,
all of the holy men are getting wet
it’s only snowing on my street,
but my heart is melting away from me…
There’s a madman up in the attic
stompin’ the blues in his chains
he sings my songs, he wears my clothes
he answers to my name
love me because i am crazy’
as crazy as you are beautiful
love me because i know forever
runs through me and you
and these flesh and bones
de flesh and de bone
is that the holy ghost on the saxophone
sometimes a man has the need to roam
to roam from these flesh and bones

Go here to hear some of his songs.

82nd Street and Fifth Avenue — © Brian Rose

As I wandered out of the museum, and breezed down 82nd street snapping pictures on my way to the subway, it struck me how self-conscious photography has become since the time of Robert Frank’s intuitive exploration of the country. We seem always to know where we are going and what we will find when we get there. Even serendipitous moments have a calculated predictability. Street photography has a staged quality, and staged photography has subsumed the idea of spontaneity.

New York/Nature as Artifice

Nature as Artifice, Aperture Gallery — © Brian Rose

Not since they established the city of Nieuw Amsterdam in the 17th century have the Dutch been such a presence in the city as now. Everywhere one turns there is yet another event tied to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson, an Englishman hired by the Dutch, to these shores. We have long known that many of our local names are derived from the Dutch—Brooklyn, Harlem, Tribeca—no that’s a joke, Tribeca is the Indian name for triangle below Canal.

But never have we been reminded so often and so well of our Dutch heritage. Had it not been for present day Dutch promotional savvy, we would probably have missed the whole 400th anniversary thing. Or we’d have been stuck with celebrating on our own terms, which certainly would not have involved major cultural events and exhibitions.

Were the United States to remind the English of our common heritage by unilaterally staging an official series of arts events in London, it would be regarded as an act of cultural imperialism, rightly so. But New Yorkers are pretty confident of their place in the grand scheme of things—center of the universe as we know it—so a little cultural hubris on the part of the Dutch is not necessarily unwelcome. The city has rolled out the red carpet, with the mayor pointing out, in this election year, that none of it has cost the city a red cent, much less $24 in beads and trinkets.

Nature as Artifice, Aperture Gallery — © Brian Rose

Which brings me, belatedly, to the topic of this post—an exhibition at Aperture Gallery, Nature as Artifice: 
New Dutch Landscape in Photography and Video Art. This is the second major show this year featuring Dutch photographers. The first, at the Museum of the City of New York, focused on New York as seen by the Dutch. In this exhibit, the Dutch look at their own landscape, historically one of the most engineered patches of ground on earth.

Snelweg, Theo Baart and Cary Markerink — © Brian Rose

Having lived in the Netherlands for about 15 years, I was familiar with some of the photographers in the show. One wall of the gallery was devoted to a tour de force project called Snelweg (freeway), the work of Cary Markerink & Theo Baart. Snelweg presents the highway as both the connective tissue of suburbanization and as a place in itself. The pictures, made in various formats and sizes collaged together, looks great on the wall, but made for an even better book. Here’s a description by the photographers from the George Eastman House blog:

Since the Dutch prefer to look at “high culture” rather then reflect upon the “low culture” – the suburban landscape – it was difficult to find funding for our project. It forced us to take the lead. We subsequently became the producers, photographers, publishers and designers of the project. For the publication we had in mind we invited the American-born Dutch writer Tracy Metz who contributed an elaborate essay on the phenomena of the Dutch Highway. When designing the photo-book we choose a linear form. We had photographed in a mix of styles – using a variety of cameras and film – reflecting on the changes that had occurred in landscape-photography since the seventies. Every spread of the book was different; we used gatefolds, grids, full-bleed pages and included a typographical landscape as a double-gatefold, using the names of underpasses which in the Netherlands are called after the historical locations present before the highway was constructed there.

Although Snelweg depicts the freeway in the intensely used Dutch context, it’s really a universal theme, and applies to the motorway landscape of western Europe and the urbanized parts of the United States. It could have been the starting point for a different exhibition looking at connectivity and mobility as inhabited space not simply as the bare bones of infrastructure.

Jannes Linders photographs — © Brian Rose

The rest of Nature as Artifice presents less complete slices of the Dutch landscape with some photographers well represented, others harder to get a handle on. Jannes Linders, one of my favorite Dutch photographers—largely unknown in the U.S.—is shown in a grid of large format black and white prints. These quiet, mostly emptied out vistas, deserve more wall space. They show a basic fact of the Dutch landscape, that while virtually every parcel of land is designated for use, much of the country retains its 17th century horizontal aspect punctuated by spires, windmills, and newer urban fixtures. What sets Linders apart is that he invests this often banal landscape with a poetic, though somber, quality that—from my experience—lies at the heart of Dutch society.

Photo by Jannes Linders

Photo by Hans Aarsman

As an outsider in the Netherlands I found the Dutch frequently inscrutable, insular. That’s how I feel about Hans Aarsman’s photographs. When I first arrived in the Netherlands his book of photos taken from the roof of an RV while traveling the country was something of a popular sensation for what was basically art photography. I never connected with the pictures, but obviously the Dutch recognized something essential about themselves in the mirror of his camera. In any case, I don’t think he is well served by showing poorly printed 4×5 contact prints to Americans unfamiliar with his photographs.

Hans van der Meer photographs — © Brian Rose

Two other photographers I’d like to spotlight here are Wout Berger and Hans van der Meer. The latter has for years been photographing small time soccer fields in the Netherlands and all over Europe. While his pictures capture moments of play, they are equally about the surrounding landscapes, and express how integral the game is to Dutch society—and much of the world. I have always loved these pictures. Three, shown in this exhibition is not enough.

Poisoned Landscape by Wout Berger — © Brian Rose

Photograph by Wout Berger

Wout Berger is another brilliant Dutch photographer perhaps not adequately shown in Nature as Artifice. His photographs of polluted wasteland around the Netherlands are interesting—despite murky looking prints—but his more recent work, often made just looking down at the ground a few feet in front of him, find the infinite in the finite. His book, Like Birds, which is on sale at Aperture Gallery, is beautiful.

What’s missing from this exhibition, speaking from a not entirely disinterested perspective (see my own pictures of the periphery of Amsterdam), are images of the new neighborhoods, the utopian architecture, the supreme expressions of the planners and architects whose visions of the future have been implemented in the Netherlands to an extent unique in the world. There are glimpses of it in Nature as Artifice, but just as the cityscape of New York was missing from Dutch Seen at the Museum of the City of New York, significant aspects of the Dutch landscape are largely absent in this, nevertheless, worthwhile show at Aperture.

Have this group photograph New York? Now that would have been interesting.

New York/Blurb Party

Blurb party in Tribeca

Last night I went to the Blurb party in New York. That’s me at the beginning of the video above taken from Darius Himes’s blog. Blurb as many of you probably know is an online service with tools for creating your own book, uploading it, and having it printed at very good quality at an affordable price. I’ve been using Blurb to create presentations of my work.

For the second year Blurb has sponsored a contest called Photography.Book.Now in which photo books are judged on content and design. Darius Himes, editor and book publishing maven, was the head of the contest jury. I decided, at the last minute, to submit my Berlin book dummy to the contest, which I am pleased to say won an honorable mention. Where things go with this book I don’t know. It employs a number of photographs from my Lost Border book, but focuses specifically on Berlin, and 2/3 of the images have never been shown elsewhere.

You can preview the book on Blurb’s website here.

The party was held in a space in Tribeca with beautiful views of the city. The winning books were liberally sprinkled about on tables and a continuous shelf running along the windows. After the awards ceremony most of us went to the roof terrace where there were more books. In the video I’m standing at a long table looking through a book and talking to the photographer who made it.

I didn’t know a lot of people at the event, but chatted with a few I recognized–Vince Aletti, photo critic for the New Yorker, the grand prize winner Rafal Milach who did a wonderful book, Phil Block who runs the education department at ICP, and a number of photographers with their books whose names I cannot conjure up. It was an enjoyable evening.

New York/Museum of the City of NY

John Bartelstone and Ben Diep — © Brian Rose

I’ve been to a couple of openings–one, a group show, at Aperture Gallery on Dutch landscape photography, and another, photographs of New York’s waterfront by Len Jenshel and Diane Cook. Both exhibits are worth writing about, so stay tuned for some comment once I’ve had a chance to revisit the shows.

I ran into photographer John Bartelstone, and Ben Diep, one of the best color printers around at the Jenshel/Cook opening at the Museum of the City of New York. Ben, gesturing above, is trying to figure out whether these are analogue C-prints or digital C’s from scans.

New York/David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt exhibition at the New Museum — © Brian Rose

After seeing the David Goldblatt show (Intersections Intersected) at the New Museum a couple of weeks ago, I struggled with a response. Despite the fact that his work is widely known, his photographs of apartheid era South Africa and its subsequent aftermath had never made a strong impression on me—probably my own lack of attention—or so I assumed. Nevertheless, I left the museum feeling ambivalent about Goldblatt’s admirably ambitious life’s work. I went back a few days ago with some friends who had just returned from a trip to South Africa, and gave the exhibition a second look.

David Goldblatt black and white prints — © Brian Rose

Photograph by David Goldblatt

As hard as the exhibition tries, I don’t find the attempt to connect the B&W and color work particularly fruitful. Like it or not, the jump to color represents a major break in Goldblatt’s way of seeing. The earlier work is often square format, engaged with people, and more journalistic—though always understated—the images have great intensity, richly printed. The color view camera work opens things up greatly, widens the view, pulls the photographer back, allows for smaller scale moments across a larger scale frame.

Goldblatt color prints — © Brian Rose

Photograph by David Goldblatt

(One of my favorites, it is a richly layered image–swaying grasses, a line of shacks, a highway with blurred cars, a line of trees against the sky.)

As a landscape photographer making images overlaid with cultural/political issues, I am sympathetic to Goldblatt’s concerns–I almost wrote mission—and that is where my problem with his work resides. Despite the inclusive taking-it-all-in appearance of the large color images, the offhandedness of the images is belied by a relentless intentionality. It is not that they are overtly polemical—but I have the sense that each image comes with implicit annotations and directions.

Photograph by David Goldblatt

I am distinctly in the minority in saying this. Most reviewers of Goldblatt’s color work say something close to the opposite–that the great merit of the photographs is the way in which they depict ordinary reality—quotidian—the word employed by New Museum curator Joseph Gergel. Most of the photography I admire fits the description of Goldblatt’s work—but… There is something else about that work that misses for me.

Text from an earlier exhibtion at Huis Marseilles in Amsterdam:

Until a few years ago Goldblatt’s ‘personal’ work was exclusively in black and white, for with colour he could not express his rage, revulsion and fear of the ideology of apartheid. Moreover, during that period he had found the technical expressive possibilities of colour photography to be limited: for example, colour transparency films had not enough latitude, colour negatives displayed colour casts, and he did not have sufficient control over prints made on PE paper. The beginning of a new political and social era after the abolition of apartheid occurred almost synchronously with far-reaching developments in digital printing techniques. At this point Goldblatt felt the need to expand his choice of subject and form of expression. A new generation of colour films and the remarkable control of contrast and colour saturation enabled by digital reproduction have made that possible for him.

Goldblatt shoots his photographs on colour film and then edits the negatives in the computer. Working together with his master printer Tony Meintjes, he only makes changes that could be done in a darkroom – he never uses the computer to alter the contents of an image. The prints are extremely sophisticated inkjet prints on aquarelle paper. He strives for a colour rendering which corresponds as closely as possible to his perception of colour in the reality of the harsh South African sunlight. High contrasts, unsaturated, neutral colours and at the same time a broad range of tone and hue give each print an unprecedented, pinpoint sharp graphic quality in which each detail is visible.

Those of us who began working in color at an early date came to the medium with few prejudices about the inherent meaning of color. I remember arguing once with another photographer who was struggling with the move to color, that blue skies were not too cheerful to me, they were simply blue. It never occurred to me that a rich colorful rendering of the world around me might lack seriousness or emotional weight.

The film and c-print material I began to use in 1978 produced beautiful results (though vintage prints have yellowed over the years), and I worked directly with negatives in the darkroom until a few years ago when it became possible to scan, Photoshop, and produce digital prints, as Goldblatt and most other color photographers do now. Photographers like Joel Meyerowitz, Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, and Richard Mirsrach all printed much of the work they are best known for in the conventional darkroom.

Much of the language in the quote above attempts to give Goldblatt’s decision to move to color prints a unique credibility, even drama—the abolition of apartheid and synchronously far-reaching developments in digital photography…extremely sophisticated inkjet prints…unprecedented, pinpoint sharp graphic quality…his perception of colour in the reality of the harsh South African sunlight.

Photograph by David Goldblatt

As I looked longer at the color prints in the New Museum I realized that much of my problem with the work originated with decisions made in Photoshop—specifically the high contrast seen in most of the prints, and the attenuation of the color palette in the lightest and darkest areas of the prints. Shadows, for instance, in nature rarely appear without color. They tend to be bluish in warm daylight, but can contain and reflect the colors in them and around them. In most of Goldblatt’s prints, the shadows have been greatly desaturated.

Photograph by David Goldblatt

The same goes for the highlights, particularly the grasses where a whitish/yellowish cast blinds the eye—which I believe was the intention—to express the South African light–but in fact, in my view, is an over-interpretation. In the end, I found the prints harsh and brittle, and sapped of life. Digitized. Whatever the justifications, this does a disservice to the images, and stands in the way, at least for me, of a fuller appreciation of Goldblatt’s achievement.

Go here for a different perspective.