CHARLES H. TRAUB.
Published by the Gitterman Gallery, 170 E 75th St, #1A, New York, NY 10021. 35 pages; 33 black-and-white plates. ISBN No. 1-4243-0678-7. Phone 1-212-734-0868; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; http://www.gittermangallery.com .
Somehow, without pressing the point, these photographs taken during the 1970s convey the texture of the decade perfectly, as Charles H. Traub moved through the daylight of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Hampshire and, mainly, Chicago, with his boxy square-format camera at chest level, framing his close-ups of various torsos, the backs of peoples' heads, the fabrics and patterns of American reality as if broadcasting live from the center of a hangover. Indeed, the 1970s were nothing if not the hangover of the Swinging Sixties, channeling the cultural fallout of that socially explosive decade into a self-obsessed era of bad taste, taboo-busting, and exhibitionism.
For Traub--who studied with the likes of Aaron Siskind and Garry Winogrand at Chicago's Institute of Design, and has gone on to lead prestigious photography programs from Columbia College to, currently, New York's School of Visual Arts--the "Me Decade" he chronicled seems all about juxtaposed realities. We can sense that in his image of a foxy female striking a mock-Marilyn Monroe pose in front of a Walgreens drugstore; or of some stout, raincoated woman clutching a magazine with the white-bread image of a Breck girl on the back cover; or of long-haired hippie types, photographed from behind, facing the splendors of nature with all the romantic hubris of figures in some latter-day Caspar David Friedrich painting.
Just as descriptive and dryly humorous are Traub's immersions in the wild floral prints, plaids and paisleys of 70s fashion, especially a wonderful Chicago shot of a businessman in a windowpane-check suit standing in front of a vast windowpaned expanse of skyscrapers. Vignetting his images with the rounded corners of a TV screen, Traub isolated these moments--in which light and form are carefully shaped for us, though the subjects seem casually chanced upon--with palpable affection and poise. Whatever the 1970s may or may not have been in the great river of modern time, Traub knew how to go with the flow.
MILOSLAV STIBOR: PHOTOGRAPHS 1960-1970.
25 pages; 14 black-and-white plates. ISBN No. 80-7248-354-4. Information: c/o Milislav Stibor, K sidlisti 8, 779 00 Olomouc, Czech Republic; Phone: +585 426 990; Email: email@example.com .
The 1960s and 70s were very different decades in Eastern Europe than they were in North America, as the liberalizing currents of the day interacted tensely with Soviet-bloc reality. Czech photographers such as Miloslav Stibor, Vladimir Birgus, and others were emerging from the gray shadow of Stalinism with strong, declarative photo expressions.
This small volume of Stibor's work (with a helpful, if awkwardly translated, essay by Vladimir Birgus) crisply conveys the slow-blossoming freedom of Czechoslovak life at family outings in the country, with drunken uncles asleep on the ground; or with images of Czech girls in Paris, sporting the Mary Quant styles of the 60s yet wary in gesture and demeanor; or with nude studies, in which classical form is no longer the point so much as the sensuality of flesh, hair, and curves.
Stibor's best photo may be a journalistic image of a blonde Czech girl interacting imploringly with a psychedelically shirted young black man in Paris: this depiction of interracial near-bliss is expressively shadowed and hidden, as if symbolizing the danger of the situation. Marked by high contrast and formal elan, Stibor's photography reveals the clues of place and time in spare, stark, human moments.
MAN RAY FOREVER.
Galerie Francoise Paviot, 57 rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 Paris, France; 25 plates. Phone: +011-33 3 42 60 10 01; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Website: http://www.paviotfoto.com .
Francoise and Alain Paviot have a history of exhibiting Man Ray's photography that goes back more than 25 years, and these 25 images are presented as having well-known provenance. Many are familiar Man Ray surrealist delights, such as the marvelous 1924 nude, "Violon d'Ingres," which depicts the model's bare back overpainted with the markings of a violin. Other examples include 1926's serene "Noir et Blanche," with a white model's head delicately juxtaposed with an African tribal mask; a view of Marcel Duchamp, pipe in mouth, the back of his head shaved in the shape of a star; and Meret Oppenheim in solarized profile.
The Rayographs and disorienting views of common objects--hats, magnolias, stones, furniture--are classic Man Ray, their austere and subdued tonalities, bespeaking the artist's preternatural control of his media and his consistent good taste amidst all the suggestive fun and febrile pretensions of surrealism. This small catalogue is a fine sampling of Man Ray's photography, and invites the collector as well as the casual observer to consider the influence of one of modernism's subtlest masters.
CREATED EQUAL. PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK LAITA.
Fahey/Klein Gallery Publications; 48 pages, 20 black-and-white plates. Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 North La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036; Phone: 1-323-934-2250; Fax: 1-323-934-4243; Email: email@example.com ; Website: http://www.faheykleingallery.com .
Mark Laita's project--completed over the course of seven years, and representing each of the lower 48 U.S. states--is a humanistic attempt to remind us that we're all brothers and sisters despite the vagaries of fate, and while it comes off as something of a gimmick, there's real photographic grandeur here as well. Each of these eight-by-ten-inch portraits comprises a diptych, contrasting or comparing two images--cowboy/indian, bank robber/lawman, beauty queen/topless dancer, and so on.
By and large, the conceptual template for Laita's portraits is Richard Avedon's "In the American West," that great portfolio of drifters and hardscrabble lives, photographed against neutral backdrops to emphasize their sheer selfhood and existential circumstance, and Laita is certainly up to the task. Many of these models had never had their portraits taken before, but they project powerfully under his direction, while his large-format compositions are lit gorgeously, to a burnished perfection.
Ultimately, though, the contrasts seem forced and obvious; does Laita really need to pair a buckskinned Colorado fur-trapper with a fur-coated New York socialite, or a trio of nuns in their pristine habits with a hard-bitten troika of Nevada prostitutes in their sleazy lingerie? By themselves, each of these images speaks well enough of existential choice, chance, and consequence. Indeed, it is sufficient to notice that the beaming, indefatigable Miss Iowa 2000, Theresa Uchtyil, is missing her left hand. It only gilds the lily to pair her with the stunningly whole topless dancer who clamps a bunch of dollar bills in her left hand and stares out with a vague sadness.
And yet these portraits compel and provoke us, and a few exhibit a fine humorousness: a group of proud mariachis matched with a group of equally proud Elvis impersonators; plain Amish teenagers from Pennsylvania paired with accessorized punk teens from Hollywood; a Utah polygamist and his three wives offset by a Detroit pimp and his three prostitutes. Laita's aim is true as he seeks the common pulse that beats beneath our differences, and regardless of their situation or their social standing, his subjects are memorably, magnificently themselves.
Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005. He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.
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