Max Waldman: Stunning Dance, Theater, Nudes and Portraits

Exhibited and Sold By
Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.

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By Alex Novak
Other Dances (Natalia Makarova)
Other Dances (Natalia Makarova)

The first time I encountered Max Waldman's photographs was at Minor White's exhibition "Celebrations" at MIT in early 1974. There were certainly many images that could have struck me from this groundbreaking show, but it was Max's prints with their articulated grainy quality that just blew me away--to use the vernacular of the times.

It wasn't just the technique though, which was perfect in many ways for his subject matter, but the pathos and emotional fury that he managed to capture on film and then print on photographic paper--a particular paper that was no longer made after 1976.

If Cartier-Bresson was to popularize the concept of "a decisive moment", Waldman was to perfect it and evolve it into the "decisive psychology of an image" that could shake the viewer's world with its ultimate beauty, sensuality, nihilism, savagery and virtuosity. He just captured it all somehow, and I was stunned by the few images in this show without knowing--as I do now--how meticulous and exacting ALL his imagery was in communicating the passions of these performers. From the quietude of a mime to the pure strength and agility of the dancers to the raw sexuality and emotions of the actors, Waldman's subjects are not just pictured here in some similitude, but the life breathe of them and their performance is somehow conveyed with an immediacy reserved only to Waldman's photographs. These prints have Presence with a capital "P".

After Eden: Bonnie Mathis & Dennis Wayne
After Eden: Bonnie Mathis & Dennis Wayne

Max Waldman was born in Brooklyn in 1919 of Romanian parents. His father died when he was only eight years old and his mother, who was incapable of supporting five children by herself, put them into an orphanage.

In the late 1930s, Max joined the Civil Conservation Corps, where he first began to photograph. He later attended Buffalo State Teacher's College and the Albright Art School. He also attended the Art Students League where he studied sculpting.

In 1947, he traveled to Dade County Florida, where he photographed his Color Town photo essay. He became a successful commercial photographer specializing in industrial, fashion and commercial photography.

Waldman gave up his commercial photography work in the early 1960s to focus on his real talent and art. His work with the Living Theatre and other Avant-Garde acting companies, major ballet figures, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, and other actors and dancers from such diverse companies as Martha Graham's, Alvin Ailey's, Merce Cunningham's and the American Ballet Theatre helped establish him as the premier theater and dance photographer, perhaps of all time. Frances Alenikoff said of Waldman "His genius transmutes the poetic essence of one art form into that of another--making the fleeting moments seem timeless."

His Marat/Sade photographs, which anyone as old as me will certainly remember, established his reputation and led to an exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art curated by Peter Bunnell in July 1967. Besides Max Waldman's photographs, the works of Frederick Evans, Edward Weston, Clarence White and Minor White were also exhibited. Waldman was delighted with the company. He felt that finally his artistic approach was being recognized. Bunnell described Waldman's images as sensuous, evocative and darkly veiled interpretations of the essence and gesture of theater.

Unfortunately, Waldman died March 1, 1981 at the all-too-young age of 61. Most of the editions he had hope to sell remained unfulfilled with usually only a handful of prints made for each image, despite the edition size; hence his work is rare.

Only now is he again getting the recognition he earned so many years ago.

For more information on Waldman, and to purchase his books, posters, etc., you should go to his archive's website at http://www.maxwaldman.com . But, of course, you can view and buy the photographs right here.