TWO VIEWS: Henri Cartier-Bresson
The Cartier-Bresson show that just opened at MOMA is a very different kind of exhibition than the last one that I saw at the museum. That prior show concentrated on his early work, his surrealist-influenced street photography of the thirties, largely from Europe. This new exhibition concentrates on his entire work. Though the early photographs are represented –– and indeed there are a few extremely early images that I am utterly unfamiliar with –– the show largely focuses on the later, more journalistically oriented work from all over the world. There are examples of many of the magazines that published his work from this era, and there is a set of astonishing maps, representing an incredible amount of research, that track Cartier-Bresson’s wanderings throughout the world.
Though I remain personally most excited by the early, more lyrical work — it was so pure, so visionary, such a special moment in the history of photography –– it is fascinating to see the broad spectrum of his oeuvre, including many images that I was unaware of. And there are certainly some gems to discover: I was particularly taken with this image from Torcello (above). I may well have seen it before but now, thanks to this new exhibition, it is burned into my memory.––Alex Webb
“In a portrait, you are looking for the silence in somebody.”––HCB
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”––HCB
Above, I selected TWO QUOTES by the late great Cartier-Bresson, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Paris a few years before he died. In addition, I’m also including links to two interviews with him –- one a TV interview with Charlie Rose of PBS and, the other, a radio interview with Susan Stamberg of NPR.
And, lastly, here are TWO LINKS to reviews of the current MOMA show, one by the New York Times art critic, Holland Cotter and the other by Philip Gefter of The Daily Beast, which includes a slideshow of some of Cartier-Bresson’s most iconic images.–– Rebecca Norris Webb
TWO RARE BIRDS: BARB and HELEN
Last month at the Barcelona Zoo, I was thinking about a good friend of my parents, Barb, a lover of birds, who had died recently in my hometown in South Dakota. I’ll always remember my last visit in February with Barb and her husband Don, the couple surrounded by a menagerie of assorted birds, dogs, cats and ferrets. Bird-thin from the cancer, Barb was holding one of her prized cockatiels close to her chest, and –– like always –– her chief concerns were about her many rescued creatures, not about herself.
So, in the Barcelona Zoo last month, I couldn’t help but think of Barb as I photographed this caged cockatiel (above), while outside my frame –– above the bars and the glass and the zoo’s many fences –– the largest nesting colony of gray herons in Spain was flying free.––Rebecca Norris Webb
When I first moved to New York in the late 1980’s, Helen Levitt was one of my favorite photographers, and continues to be so, today. Known predominantly for her black-and-white photographs of children in New York City, she also worked some in color. Above is a rare bird for me personally, a photograph I’d never seen until recently.
When I look at this image, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for a couple of reasons: It’s a photograph taken of the once ubiquitous icon of the New York City street –- the phone booth–– this one crammed with mother and children. And secondly, because it was taken on the now extinct Kodachrome film.––RNW
DARK HORSE: Louis Faurer –– Text and Images
Some photographers seem to fall through the cracks of photographic history. Such seems to have been the case for a time with Louis Faurer. When I was a young photographer, no one ever mentioned Faurer’s work. In the late 70’s, after moving to NY, I began to see some of his images, images that I found intriguing, evocative. I’ve seen more over the years and have always been excited by the uniqueness of his eye. But until Rebecca recently returned from Houston Fotofest with a book of his collected photographs –– with a fine introduction by Anne Wilkes Tucker of the MFA, Houston ––I didn’t really have a sense of the scope of his work.
Most of the Faurer work that I had seen over the years reminded me a bit of that of Robert Frank (not necessarily surprising, in that they were apparently close friends): that sense of immediacy, of being inside a poetic moment, often captured a little off-kilter. As with Frank’s work, with Faurer’s work there is often a strong sense of freedom to the camera. Situations are seen through glass, through reflections, through car windows. At times, the seeing seems to look towards the later complexities of Friedlander — though consistently striking a more lyrical note. And for me, personally, this is the side of Faurer’s work that I am particularly sympathetic to. However, what surprised me most in looking at this book of his work was its variety. There seems to be a willingness to experiment, to move in different directions, to try new approaches. For alongside the more spontaneous off-kilter street pictures are more conventional portraits as well as negative sandwiches. There are echoes of Lisette Model, Arbus, and even Maholy-Nagy. Perhaps it was simply a fertile time in American photography, when photographers felt particularly free to explore.––Alex Webb
IN HIS OWN WORDS: The Photo Not Taken
The MFA Houston book of Faurer’s work by the insightful and thoughtful Anne Wilkes Tucker, includes a wonderful passage from a letter written by the photographer to the then editor of Camera Magazine, Allan Porter, in December 1974. Faurer, who was known, among other things, for his sympathetic photographs of people on the fringes of society, reflects on an incident in which he missed a photograph of a destitute man in the New York subway. Interesting how sometimes the photo not taken gives us a different kind of picture of a particular photographer’s process, body of work, and even, sometimes, as with the passage below, his humanity.—Rebecca Norris Webb
Slowly I walked down the slope leading to the second lower level platform. Was it because I was not courageous that resulted in a miss? Because I could not further humiliate him? Was this cadaver-like man with no direction beyond the need for food, thought, and love? Again, the thought came to my mind, was I cowardly? Had I become a counterpart to this man? Hadn’t I been pacing, darting aimlessly, without direction, like the man? Later I related the incident to several people. I said, perhaps I thought I was he, maybe I was afraid of myself, but I wanted to think that he had experienced so much pain and anguish that additional injury to his once felt dignity was not possible and that I could not risk accepting the guilt. Or maybe from way back I heard Walker Evans once say to me, “You wouldn’t photograph a fat woman, would you?” and he might have added “and hurt them?—Louis Faurer