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New York: Capital of Photography

December 8, 2002 – February 16, 2003


New York: Capital of Photography chronicles the changing face of New York City throughout the twentieth century as interpreted by several generations of photographers with deep affection for the metropolis. More than 100 color and black and white photographs capture the humanity of the city through its people, rather than its monuments. New York: Capital of Photography also pays tribute to the unique contribution of Jewish artists in establishing street photography as an art form. These adventurous photographers shared an affinity for those on the margins of society which would inform the language of street photography with its sly poetry of everyday life.

The works on view have been assembled from major public and private collections, archives, galleries, and the artists themselves. Included will be a number of the century’s photographic icons as well as many more images that will be new to the public eye. Indeed, many of the featured photographs were published for the first time in the exhibition’s accompanying illustrated catalogue.

Among the 60 photographers represented in the exhibition are such luminaries as Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt, Ben Shahn, Lisette Model, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand. In identifying the different impulses that characterize New York street photography, the exhibition brings to light the contributions of such lesser known but remarkable photographers as Louis Faurer, Morris Engel, Ted Croner, Sid Grossman, and Leon Levinstein.

Exhibition in Detail

“Twentieth-century photography in New York is a giant picture archive largely visualized by the practitioners represented in this exhibition, two-thirds of whom are Jewish. These photographers are notably unable to hide their affection for the city, even as they brilliantly document what they see as its shortcomings,” says Kozloff. He continues, “Their work, marked by exuberance, pathos and an identification with human suffering, still provides the core images, the foundation, from which contemporary photographers draw to picture life today.”

Spanning the years 1898 to 2001, New York: Capital of Photography charts the shifting impulses in picture-making that coincided with years of dynamic economic growth or recession, social turmoil or political uncertainty. Emblematic of the century’s first decade, the work of Lewis Hine is represented in the exhibition by three stirring photographs that illuminate the faces of immigrant New Yorkers finding their bearing in adverse conditions. Hine is seen as the first of many photographers who have viewed the city as a crucial testing ground for the promise of democracy, and as inspiration not only for later documentary photographers, like those in the socially conscious Photo League of the 1940s, but for succeeding generations.

Following Weegee’s paparazzo flash and Lisette Model’s rough, grainy portraits of the 1940s, and continuing through the urban panache of Leonard Freed and William Klein in the 1950s to the edgy forays of Nan Goldin, Larry Fink, and Sylvia Plachy today, New York: Capital of Photography characterizes New York photography during the second half of the twentieth century as a time of sustained and fascinated, rather than solicitous, involvement with people of ethnic, racial or sexual difference.

A coda to the concluding section of New York: Capital of Photography is an image of a Lower Manhattan cityscape rendered empty and ashen in the wake of the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Jeff Mermelstein’s large-scale color photograph focuses on the stark unreality of a bronze statue of a seated business man, the figure depicted frozen, and, except for a covering of dust and leaves, unfazed.

The Midwest premiere of New York: Capital of Photography furthers the Art Center’s tradition of exhibiting work by some of the art form’s most accomplished practitioners. In 1999 the Art Center presented Robert Frank’s The Americans, a milestone in the history of photography and unique document of the country at mid-twentieth century. The 1997 exhibition Photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo featured works spanning several decades drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.

The Wisconsin presentation of New York: Capital of Photography will be the second stop on an international tour. The exhibition will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland, as a featured presentation of the Musée de l’Elysée from April 10 to June 9, 2003.

Exhibition Support

New York: Capital of Photography was organized by The Jewish Museum, New York. This exhibition received major support given in honor of Evelyn G. Clyman by the Eugene J. and Emily Grant Foundation. Additional support has been provided by The Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Bank of New York, Irene Duell, Lynne and Harold Honickman and other generous donors. Endowment support has been provided by the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund.

Funding for the Wisconsin presentation of the exhibition has been provided by Miller Brewing Company; Steinhauer Charitable Trust; Robert D. and Irwin A. Goodman; Mildred and Marv Conney; the estate of John Ishikawa; Cindy Kahn and Steve Marker; Al and Dana lin Bernstein; The Art League of the Madison Art Center; the Exhibition Initiative Fund; the Madison Art Center’s 2002-2003 Sustaining Benefactors; and a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin. Promotional support has been generously provided by the Wisconsin State Journal.