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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frank’

The Big Book

April 11, 2014 | by

On photographer W. Eugene Smith’s unseen opus.

Eugene-Cover

A spread from the facsimile edition of W. Eugene Smith’s The Big Book.

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On September 2, 1958, W. Eugene Smith’s passport was stamped at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland. Hired by General Dynamics, he was there to photograph the United Nations Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, known as “Atoms for Peace.” He was to be paid $2,500 for two weeks of work (about $20,000 in 2014 money), plus a $20 per diem. Commercial work wasn’t Smith’s preference, but he needed the money. He needed some distance from New York, too.

A week later, on September 9, Smith’s long-awaited extended essay on the city of Pittsburgh hit newsstands in Popular Photography’s Photography Annual 1959. It was the culmination of a three-and-a-half-year odyssey that began with a three-week assignment and led to 22,000 exposed negatives, two thousand of which he said were “valid” for his essay. He staked his reputation on the work, evoking Joyce, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Beethoven, among others, as influences for the “layers” intended in his Pittsburgh layouts. Two consecutive Guggenheim fellowships (the first one coinciding with his friend Robert Frank’s fellowship for the work that became The Americans) further raised expectations. After turning down $20,000 from both Life and Look magazines when they would not agree to his demands for editorial control, Popular Photography offered to put thirty-six pages of their Annual 1959 at his disposal for $3,500. Smith accepted.

Now the anticipated magnum opus was set to arrive. But rather than stick around to toast his achievement, Smith jetted to Geneva. He had anticipated a Pittsburgh flameout earlier that summer, in a letter to his uncle, Jesse Caplinger: “The seemingly eternal, certainly infernal Pittsburgh project—the sagging, losing effort to make the first of its publication forms so right in measure to the standards I had set for it … it is a failure.” Later, he wrote his friend Ansel Adams to “apologize” for “the debacle of Pittsburgh as printed.” Read More »

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Honky-Tonk Hero: Talking with Henry Horenstein

December 10, 2012 | by

Dolly Parton, Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, 1972.

I first noticed the work of Henry Horenstein when he published his 1987 book, Racing Days, a photographic diary in gritty black and white, compiled largely in the now mostly defunct northeastern thoroughbred circuit. I knew his name at the time to be vaguely familiar from other contexts, though I hadn’t yet made the connection to the body of work he’d done beginning in the 1970s of the world of country music. Seeing the photographs in the new edition of Honky Tonk published together, I finally got it—I’d been admiring these pictures of bluegrass pickers and hillbilly crooners for years without realizing their author. Horenstein captured the extremes of the country-western world over the years, from the Hee Haw familiars onstage at the Grand Ole Opry to old-time cult favorites like the Blue Sky Boys; from seventies country-pop meteors like Jeannie C. Riley to such bona-fide C&W stars as Conway Twitty and Porter Wagoner. But what makes Honky Tonk such a terrific document are the photographs Horenstein took of the places where the music was heard—legendary joints like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville and long-gone venues like the Hillbilly Ranch in Boston—and the regulars inside.

With the republication of Honky Tonk, I spoke to Horenstein, now based in Boston and a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, about how a nice young guy from the University of Chicago got involved in documenting what the “King of the Strings” Joe Maphis summed up as the “dim lights, thick smoke, and loud, loud music.”

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112 Greene Street

July 25, 2012 | by

Exterior of 112 Greene Street. Photo by Cosmos Andrew Sarchiapone.

I met with Jessamyn Fiore in the air-conditioned back offices of David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery in late June to discuss her new book, 112 Greene Street, a series of interviews with artists who helped found or were associated with the eponymous location, one of the first alternative art spaces in New York City. Opened in 1970 by artists Jeffrey Lew, Alan Saret, and Gordon Matta-Clark, 112 Greene Street served not as a commercial gallery but as a space in which artists could create and exhibit works collaboratively. Their participation in the burgeoning SoHo art scene also included cofounding FOOD, a pay-what-you-wish restaurant known for its delicious soups. Back then, the neighborhood more closely resembled a small village, rather than the glamorous, high-end shopping district it is now, and all of the artists associated with 112 Greene Street who were interviewed by Fiore remember that communal period fondly.

Fiore has a direct lineage to the groundbreaking gallery: her mother, Jane Crawford, was married to Gordon Matta-Clark, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1978 at age thirty-five. Known for his daring “building cuts”—literal dissections of buildings slated for demolition—Matta-Clark was, by all accounts, charismatic and widely admired and loved. Fiore herself ran a nonprofit art gallery in Dublin for several years before relocating to New York, where she curated an exhibition at Zwirner about 112 Greene Street last winter. She is warm, easygoing, and candid; it’s easy to see why the artists, whom she considers her friends, would trust her to preserve their memories in print.

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What We’re Loving: Sundry Practices, New Order, Flower Power

June 1, 2012 | by

The enthusiasms of our Southern editor (plus a fact-checking query from issue 201) have sent me back to Urne-Buriall, Sir Thomas Browne’s 1658 essay on the “sundry practises, fictions, and conceptions, discordant or obscure” surrounding funerals and the afterlife: “Why the Female Ghosts appear unto Ulysses before the Heroes and masculine spirits? Why the Psyche or soul of Tiresias is of the masculine gender; who being blinde on earth sees more than all the rest in hell; Why the Funerall Suppers consisted of Egges, Beans, Smallage, and Lettuce, since the dead are made to eat Asphodels about the Elyzian medows? Why since there is no Sacrifice acceptable, nor any propitiation for the Covenant of the grave; men set up the Deity of Morta, and fruitlessly adored Divinities without ears? It cannot escape some doubt.” —Lorin Stein

“If beauty is defined as a composite quality encompassing both extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior, then possibly the most beautiful flower shop in the world is located in Vienna’s low-key-but-hip 4th District.” So begins The Flower Shop: Charm, Grace, Beauty & Tenderness in a Commercial Context, which is a little hard to describe to those unfamiliar with the work of author Leonard Koren. It’s a profile of Vienna’s Blumenkraft, told through sepia-toned photographs and text, but it’s also more than that. You learn how a flower shop functions, from the selection of the wares to caring for flowers to arranging, and you get to know the staff and experience the challenges and triumphs of running a small business and of trying to bring something beautiful, unique, and ephemeral into the world. It ends up being a much bigger story than that of one florist, however lovely. —Sadie Stein

New Order, “Leave Me Alone.” I’m not sure how I’ve never discovered this masterpiece of new wave mellow-dee. Perhaps it’s been sitting on the toadstool of my mind, elbow on knee, hand on chin, waiting for the perfect moment to ring out. As a fan of New Order’s calmer music—“Regret,” “Love Vigilantes,” “Ceremony (Single Version)”—“Leave Me Alone” ranks high in its moody solitude. Bernard Sumner rolls the song along slow at first, but the urgency in his voice picks up as his “character” becomes more frustrated in his inability to escape the company of others. The lyrics keep in line with New Order’s usual sexual despondence:

From my head to my toes
To my teeth, through my nose
You get these words wrong
You get these words wrong
Everytime
You get these words wrong
I just smile.

—Noah Wunsch

There are so many reasons to be excited about art this year—great gallery and museum shows all around the country. Lucky Chicagoans are catching the tail end of a Claude Cahun exhibition and are a month into the Art Institute’s display of their newly acquired Dawoud Bey collection. The twenty-five black-and-white photographs are comprised by Bey’s “Harlem, U.S.A.” series, which was first shown more than thirty years ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem. If you’re not in Chicago, I recommend the handsome catalogue—the photographs are worth extended viewings, and his images of the Manhattan neighborhood’s denizens stand alongside the work of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and James Van Der Zee as definitive American portraits. —Nicole Rudick

My favorite movie of the last five years is probably Reprise, by the Norwegian director Joachim Trier. I loved its sense of humor and its sense of possibility. Trier used the devices of the nouvelle vague, not with irony or nostalgia, but as if they were brand new—as if Oslo today were Paris circa 1964. Most of all I loved Anders Lie’s performance as a brilliant writer in the grip of a life-threatening depression. Oslo, August 31, which was released last week in New York, has all of these things, too, including Lie as a recovering addict who thinks he will never piece his life back together. Despite the similarities, Lie’s performance in Oslo is full of surprises. I can’t think of a movie actor my age who is more fun to watch. —L.S.

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Part 2: The Offer

October 25, 2011 | by

Steve Lowe and the Mugwump. Photograph by Michael Childers.

A story in three parts. Previously: Part 1, The Amanuensis.

I met Steve the first time I stayed at the Lautner Motel, in August of 2000. I was in California to do research for a book about trailer parks, and there was an anarchist trailer park, a place called Slab City, in an abandoned military base about sixty miles south of Desert Hot Springs. I’d brought my girlfriend and wanted to stay somewhere nice to make up for the 120-degree temperatures, so we wound up at the Lautner. It was late when we finally arrived, but almost as soon as we’d gone inside and put our luggage down, Steve knocked on the door. Read More »

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Mary Frank

May 26, 2011 | by

Mary Frank in her studio, 2011. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

The photographs in Mary Frank’s current solo show at DC Moore Gallery were made over the last three years, yet they evoke decades of history. The items in the photographs form a kind of collage: she composed new paintings directly onto the planks of her studio floor, then arranged sculptures, other works of art (some dating back fifty years), rocks, glass, torn paper, fragments of paintings, and fire around the new painting. It’s like she created abstract, autobiographical stage sets. Then she photographed the results.

I first met Mary through her cousin Paul Weinstein. Their grandfather, Gregory Weinstein, had emigrated from Russia in the 1870s and started a multilingual printing company on Varick Street, a business Paul still runs today. I met him in the early days of the Jazz Loft Project through David Levy, the former director of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. David told me that Paul was “a finisher,” someone who could help me organize a complicated New York project from my home base in North Carolina. That proved to be true: among other things, the seed of a four-year collaboration with Sara Fishko and WNYC on the Jazz Loft Radio Project came from a public event Paul threw for me at the Center for Jewish History on Sixteenth Street in 2005.

One night around that time, Paul and I were having dinner downtown. I told him I’d spent the afternoon with photographer Robert Frank in his Bleecker Street studio. “My cousin Mary used to be married to him,” Paul said nonchalantly. I startled to attention, the small town of New York City revealing itself to me once again. Until then I only knew Mary Frank as a figure in a photograph. She was the beautiful, exhausted young mother in the car with her two children at the end of Robert Frank’s The Americans—the woman keeping their kids fed, clean, and happy on the road, while her husband completed the work that would make him immortal in the history of photography.

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