Covering the work of nine American photographers who have shot the urban, suburban and rural landscapes in color and black-and-white since the mid-1960s, this show demonstrates that the postmodern revolution that began with Andy Warhol’s pop art did not kill off classical-modern straight photography, which continues to flourish in the present. Curator Lucas Zenk has included stars of the canon, such as Eugene Richards and John Gossage, and unjustly neglected practitioners such as Christopher Churchill, David Hanson and Dennis Witmer. As distinctive as each of those artists is, Zenk has chosen images from their vast troves that unite the show around formal characteristics (straight-on, middle-distance shots) and sensibility (repose with an edge). Read the rest of this entry »
After a long and illustrious career that still continues, as a major member of the gifted late-modernist generation of Institute of Design photographers, including Barbara Crane and Ken Josephson, Joe Jachna now shows his earliest work, in which the balance of his aesthetic is reversed from what it became. Jachna has become known as a Zen photographer of wooded nature whose images capture his subjects exquisitely and make us fix on them rather than on the artistry involved in making the images. At the inception of his vision, Jachna was focused on nature, but he appropriated it to create black-and-white small-format studies that emphasized the play of photographic values, such as light, tone, and texture. Read the rest of this entry »
Ashley Gilbertson, “Bedrooms of the Fallen: CPL. Christophe G. Scherer,” 2012
Whether it is Vincent Cianni’s black-and-white portraits of gay soldiers under the contradictory and compromised reign of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Stephanie Sinclair’s searing color scenes of Afghan women who have taken violence into themselves and committed acts of self-immolation, or Samantha Appleton’s color war-zone shots, like a jihadi in Iraq praying alone inside the walls of a bombed-out, gutted house, this powerful show, titled “Collateral Damage: The Human Face of War,” fills in the picture of the realities of war beyond the battles. Read the rest of this entry »
In his “Pond” series, John Gossage presents finely printed black-and-white images of the land around an unspecified pond at the edge of an unnamed large city. Photographed in the 1980s and 90s, the images reflect Gossage’s sensibility and devotion toward this place. He communicates a reverence toward the humble and neglected in his walker’s-eye scenes of scrubland mixed, at times, with signs of unpretentious human habitation. The prints can draw the viewer into the scruffy woods and transfix him there as sure as might a wondrous Ansel Adams study. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago’s premier photojournalist Art Shay captured a moment in place and time, here in the early 1950s, when the gritty old city still held on, with its bittersweet ironies and brutalities, its harshness, and its anticipations of technology-fueled urbanity. Shooting straight and on the fly in unremitting black and white, Shay could pull the heartstrings and captivate the eye, as in his shot of a man taken from behind on a dingy commercial street who holds a duffel bag in one hand and a tiny kitten peering at us in the other, cradled on his shoulder; next to him a sign propped against a brick wall reads, “Be Kind Now.” Read the rest of this entry »
Lynne Cohen, "Untitled" Office with fish on wall, 1978
Travel back to the 1970s hip scene—think Talking Heads. There you will find Lynne Cohen who gained fame and acclaim from the photographic cognoscenti for her deadpan, straight-on black-and-white images of depopulated institutional interiors that come at you as starkly delineated stage sets for the absurd rituals of modern life, after the illusions of the sixties have been dispelled. Read the rest of this entry »
Veteran photojournalist Alex Webb has spent his life getting into the recesses of the non-Western world, learning, as rock icons Rush said, to “catch the heat of the third-world man.” Webb is an unreconstructed street photographer, looking for the moment at which drama—intended or not—reaches a peak that he can capture to make it seem that the humdrum life that everyone leads, whoever they are anywhere, achieves an epiphany of shock and awe. Read the rest of this entry »
Frederick Sommer, "Coyotes," 1945
In this lavish show of black-and-white and a few color images taken in the last half of the twentieth century, from the collection of the late Jonathan Williams, who was a noted photo critic and whose non-profit Jargon Society press published poetry paired with American modernist photography, we look back on a sensibility that pressed against the confines of realism but still remained anchored to the world. Having bagged some big game, like Harry Callahan (about whom he published critical essays), Aaron Siskind and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (a book of whose late photographs he published), Williams also caught many minor masters like Wynn Bullock and Frederick Sommer, the latter of whom encapsulates the critic-collector’s proclivity for a gothic sense of life. In one of the most grisly yet somehow fascinating and even grimly amusing death scenes, Sommer captured a plot of stony, scraggly ground on which are strewn the carcasses of four coyotes sporting hideous snaggly teeth. Williams also collected some feel-good images, but his heart was in the darkness. (Michael Weinstein)
Through July 30 at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 West Superior.
"Double Exposure," c. 1955
At 75 years old, Charles Swedlund, who was schooled at Chicago’s fabled Institute of Design, has decided to open up for public view his vast archive of black-and-white experimental photography that he had kept to himself through more than fifty years of persistent shooting that ranged over countless genres—each of which he bent in new directions—and subjects. Faced with the problem of taming this overflowing visual cornucopia, the gallery selected for its first Swedlund show sixty-four works done in and around 1955, dividing them into groups including dense and intricate multiple exposures, action shots of firefighters, ice abstractions, swampscapes of Okenfenokee, cityscapes of Chicago and urban night scenes. Through all his diverse output, Swedlund shows himself to be a quintessential I.D. disciple, dedicated to technical care and precision harnessed to disciplined imagination aimed at seeing the world around us through what is revealed distinctively by the photograph. Swedlund’s most original and powerful grouping contains multiple exposures of water towers that have been isolated in a neutral visual field to produce crisp and sharply delineated intriguing dynamic and fanciful studies, as when a tower becomes a trash receptacle for its inverted topsy-turvy image. (Michael Weinstein)
Through June 25 at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 West Superior.
"Two Women At a Parade, Harlem," 1978
Having achieved acclaim for his sensitive formal color portraits of African Americans, Dawoud Bey began his photographic career in the 1970s taking black-and-white street portraits of the same kinds of subjects. Although Bey’s early work, which is featured in this extensive show, displays the same attention to the nuances of personality for which his later studies are distinguished, it is far more spontaneous, lively and raw. At the beginning, Bey was not fully in command and his subjects had a great deal of leeway to express themselves. A perfectionist, Bey’s trajectory took him on a path to ever-greater control, which always involves gains and losses. The virtues of a bit of laissez-faire are nowhere better shown than in a shot of two matrons leaning against a police barricade sporting the most skeptical expressions that are cut with a trace of patronizing humor. It’s unfortunate that none of Bey’s later studies are in the exhibit—we’d see that he’s come a long way for better and worse. (Michael Weinstein)
Through April 30 at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 West Superior.