In New York Stories, Keith de Lellis Gallery examines a familiar subject, New York City, through the lenses of fourteen accomplished photographers. These local artists discovered captivating scenes through their varied approaches to street photography.
While some scenes are instantly identifiable, others are abstracted to the point of anonymity. Some photographs find a balance between the two, such as David Attie’s distorted but still recognizable images of the Flatiron Building and Times Square. Numerous featured photographers experimented with reshaping their images through in-camera or darkroom manipulation. Benn Mitchell captioned one of his abstract Mirrors of Life photographs with “Ephemeral life streams by, reflected in the mirror’s instant: Marquee lights and buildings merge into a mellifluous background accenting the mysterious human silhouette”. A city street is transformed into a carnival through Mitchell’s funhouse mirror effect.
Elevated, bird’s-eye views can be found from Todd Webb, Bedrich Grunzweig, and Eugene Smith. Smith’s series, As Through My Window I Sometimes Glance provides voyeuristic glimpses of the everyday goings-on outside his loft window. Unknowing pedestrians struggle to navigate snowy sidewalks as the photographer observed and documented from above.
Several artists diverted their gaze from the Manhattan’s architecture and instead took a human-interest approach to the city. In Beuford Smith’s Palm Sunday, a young girl wearing a cross is seated in a crowded subway car with her eyes closed, seeming to find her own quiet moment amidst the chaos. With a snapshot aesthetic, Jeanne Ebstel captured the uninhibited joy of city children sporting swimsuits on the street, cooling off with water gushing from out of the frame. Weegee’s candid portraits shine a light, quite literally, on dark scenes featuring celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Conversely, Simpson Kalisher’s midday street photographs catch anonymous individuals and groups going about their daily lives.
Donald Blumberg created a series of candid portraits that remove his subjects from space and time: only their heads are visible, with the majority of the frame occupied only by darkness. Jason Farago wrote about the series for the New York Times (Sept. 3, 2015): “For his engaging series “In Front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral,” produced between 1965 to 1967, he would tilt his camera, sometimes as much as 45 degrees off center, and employ long exposure times to black out the cathedral interior. The effect was to eliminate all context, and to turn the worshipers into highly detailed, if physically awkward, specimens in the void.”
In total, this exhibition features works by David Attie, Anthony Barboza, Donald Blumberg, Esther Bubley, Jeanne Ebstel, Bedrich Grunzweig, Simpson Kalisher, Jan Lukas, Benn Mitchell, Fritz Neugass, Beuford Smith, W. Eugene Smith, Todd Webb, and Weegee.
New York Stories: Vintage Postwar Photographs will be on view from February 6 through March 27, 2020 at Keith de Lellis Gallery, located in the historic Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, Suite 703, NYC.