Already gathering steam, Atlanta Celebrates Photography will present its annual omnibus of photo exhibitions, lectures and workshops throughout the month of October. Expect a snapshot, if you will, of global contemporary practice and its many forms, from photojournalism to digital wizardry.
A relatively young, and forward-looking, medium, photography nevertheless has a glorious past. What better way to inaugurate a month-long spree than by communing with the discipline’s modern matriarchs and patriarchs?
Masters of Photography, at Lumière through December, is just the ticket. The exhibition is chockablock with canonic images of the black-and-white variety. There is, for example, an array of Arnold Newman’s portraits of luminaries, from Igor Stravinsky to Frida Kahlo, and a wall devoted to a cross-section of Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko’s photos, including his vertiginous cityscapes.
Berenice Abbott’s Nightview (1932) and Dorothea Lange’s White Angel Breadline, San Francisco (1933) are a study in mood swing. Abbott’s bird’s-eye perspective of Manhattan’s intoxicating towers captures the city’s electricity. Lange’s photos are among the most searing portraits of the Depression. In this image, a man alone in an anonymous sea of hats leans on a rail cradling a tin cup, his hands clasped as if in hopeless prayer.
The gallery is hung to encourage conversation between images and to impart a bit of history. Al Weber, for instance, “out-Ansels” his mentor Adams in a gorgeous, crystal-sharp photo of pounding (or is it ebbing?) surf on the rocky San Gregorio Beach.
A suite of landscapes by Brett Weston — given to Eikon Gallery for a fundraiser after the Monterey, California, venue — calls our attention to one of the pioneering supporters of West Coast photographers. The Eikon Gallery, which was open from 1967 to 1974, showcased the work of the Westons, Al Weber, Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams, who were customers of the James family’s camera shop. Steve James also worked to bring photography to a larger audience through a series of television programs, which can be found in Lumière’s video archives.
Attention is the key word here. The narratives and digital ingenuity of contemporary photography are fascinating, but there’s something about this work — and even the absence of color — that makes you look and perhaps see the world a bit differently or more intensely. Aaron Siskind, for example, shows us abstraction in the texture of peeling paint or a sort of Stonehenge in a New World rock formation on Martha’s Vineyard.
Paul Strand’s Lusetti Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953) reminded me of Edgar Degas’ painting Portrait of the Bellelli Family — pregnant with hints about the members’ interrelationships. The matriarch and one of her sons stand sentinel in the doorway, as if they are the beams holding up the lintel. Did Strand pose them? Did he introduce the bicycle so that the circle of the wheel would counterbalance the perpendiculars of the architecture? Whatever, it’s quite a compelling image.
The gallery is also exhibiting works by Bullock. And don’t miss architectural photographer Richard Pare’s views of Le Corbusier’s buildings in the bathroom.