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A Conversation About Mark Cohen’s Dark Knees

May 7, 2014 | by

Bubblegum, 1975

Bubblegum, 1975; from Dark Knees (Éditions Xavier Barral, 2013) © Mark Cohen

Dark Knees is a 2013 book that accompanies a recent exhibition of Mark Cohen’s photographs from the 1970s, though it feels more like a cryptic archive of fragments—tightly cropped, mostly black and white pictures of parts of the body and objects on the ground. Cohen was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he’s lived and worked for the last seven decades.

Leanne Shapton and Jason Fulford are the founders of J&L Books.

Jason Fulford: I saw Cohen’s show at Le Bal. It was funny to see photographs of Pennsylvania in Paris. I’d like to meet him. I saw a video of him shooting on the street in 1982. He’s pretty sneaky—getting up really close to somebody and then flashing and moving away fast, no conversation. I think he has a thing for legs and feet.

Leanne Shapton: Girls, legs, midsections, hands.

JF: He cites surrealism as an influence. Body parts. I wouldn’t call them portraits. They’re more like pictures of clothes on people.

LS: I’d like to see that footage of him. Looking at the work, it does feel he’s moving, he sneaking, he’s snatching, and it’s almost like he’s looking out of the corners of his eyes. You don’t feel the fixed point with him—you feel it’s sidelong, that he doesn’t want to engage directly.

JF: I kind of wish I hadn’t seen the video. Have you ever seen footage of Daido Moriyama photographing in Tokyo? He uses a point-and-shoot camera and he’s very casual about it. His arms are hanging down straight with a camera in one hand. He moves through the city like a shark, slowly and methodically, in and out of stores, in and out of malls and alleyways, up and down escalators and stairwells, and his instincts seem honed to know when to shoot from the hip and when he can stop and compose. But he never gets that close to people. Cohen shoots with a wide-angle lens, so when he’s got a close up of a face he’s really only a few inches away. Also, it was a different time—people related to cameras differently. In high school, in the eighties, I used to go to the airport and take pictures of people. You can’t do that so easily now. Security won’t let you, people won’t let you. That’s the striking thing about the video of Cohen shooting—people hardly react to him. Read More »

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Garry Winogrand and the Art of the Opening

May 13, 2013 | by

Garry Winogrand, El Morocco, New York, 1955, black-and-white photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand, El Morocco, New York, 1955, black-and-white photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Scroll down for a slide show of photographs by Winogrand, with audio interviews conducted during the March 6 opening of his posthumous retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Garry Winogrand (1928–84) was the first photographer to realize how much juicy comedy could be squeezed out of New York’s art and literary scenes. During the late sixties, early seventies, when he would arrive with his Leica at a Museum of Modern Art opening or a costume ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or at Norman Mailer’s fiftieth birthday party, he would sometimes announce to the crowd, “I’m here,” as if an event did not officially begin until he was there to record it. 

He was more right than even he might have guessed. Were it not for his mordant photos of those ragged, sybaritic evenings, best represented in the 1977 book Public Relations, it would be hard to imagine them. Mad Men and other dramatic re-creations tidy up the social anarchy of those years; Winogrand’s camera didn’t. From the haphazard lines of men and women awkwardly at ease, uniformed in black tie or a too-tight harem top, heads wreathed with cigarette smoke and piles of teased hair, ghostly moues cut with rictus smiles and rows of perfect teeth, he fashioned dark instants of sublime lunacy. Everyone and everything seems false or imbecilic in his party pictures, his eye exposing secret acts of disintegration within rituals of supposed public glee.

Behind his mockery of the self-satisfied and the strivers, though, is a winking acknowledgement that anyone can appear stricken when blasted by a flash at 1/125 of a second. Photography turns one and all into fools, including—especially—artists like himself, eager to hunt life and trap as many of its fleeting variables as possible inside a 35 mm frame but doomed to return empty-handed far more often than not. Read More »

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