Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940–1959


January 30–April 25, 2010

Abstract Expressionism, film noir, Beat poetry, and the New Journalism are all widely recognized aftershocks of World War II, representing a broad aesthetic revolution that championed spontaneity and subjective interpretation as the guiding principles of creative practice. Postwar photographers in many ways set the rhythm and tenor of this new approach, not least because the hand-held camera was naturally suited to chance discoveries and impulsive gestures. Significantly, it was the increased prominence of photography in American culture during and just prior to World War II that made it possible for the battlefield to be seen by—and made very real for—those on the home front.

Street Seen provides an in-depth look at six photographers active during the 1940s and 1950s whose work is grounded in a photographic sensibility derived from the visceral imagery of World War II. Lisette Model, Louis Faurer, Ted Croner, Saul Leiter, William Klein, and Robert Frank all share a talent for communicating the emotional resonance of everyday life in postwar America. Their graphically charged and emotionally engaging photographs evoke the excitement and unease that characterized the era, as popular culture, the arts, and everyday life underwent substantial, dramatic changes. They not only emphasize the candid experience of being an anonymous individual amongst an impersonal, fast-moving crowd but confront the viewer with the material presence of their photographs.

Many of these photographers who sought to frame movement and the experience of time’s passage through a lens naturally experimented with motion picture film as well. A select group of these short, non-narrative films will be on view in the galleries to create a dialogue with the approximately 100 photographs. The films provide another dimension to the photographers’ work that has rarely—and in some cases never—been seen. In addition, to demonstrate the scope of the “psychological gesture” in American art during this period, paintings and drawings by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline will punctuate the installation. The proximity of the paintings and photographs will clarify the significance and breadth of the subjective, performative approach to art-making in the mid-twentieth century.

Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940–1959, is curated by Curator of Photographs Lisa Hostetler.

Image:


William Klein (American, b. 1928), Man under El, New York, 1955. Gelatin silver print, 14 7/16 x 10 9/16 in. Purchase, Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation Acquisition Fund. Photo by John R. Glembin, © William Klein