Few photographic subjects have proved as enduring as love and romance, if only because there are few human moments so decisive as a kiss, an embrace, a shared recognition of life's brevity. This online exhibit explores the universality of lovers' passions through the decades and across cultures--in photos that range in approach from vintage erotica, to Hollywood publicity stills, to classic cosmopolitan images of modern romance.
If anything, the common thread woven through this exhibit is the wonderful variety of kisses and embraces captured by the world's photographers. There is the delicate urban--and urbane--passion of Stanko Abadzik's 2002 "Kiss, Prague," which glimpses a contemporary Czech couple kissing amidst a field of empty café tables. And there is the raw yet sculptural power of Larry Clark's nude teenagers pursuing their desire on the cover of his 1983 "Teenage Lust" photo book––a pose prefigured, perhaps, by an anonymous 1860 albumen stereo image, from France, of sexual coupling.
In between these extremes, the exhibit abounds with strong photographic visions, including such beautifully composed and moody explorations of romance as Ilse Bing's couple on a bench at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, or the remarkable shot of a Parisian couple on a park bench at night, bathed in a street lamp's glow diffused by a spreading tree.
Similarly, Maurice Georges Chanu's portrait of lovers by the Seine conveys a strong sense of place and the texture of modern love grasped on the run, while Sabine Weiss's image of a Paris restaurant's facade, with a couple kissing in a window above, is a rich and evocative little drama. Likewise, Henri Cartier-Bresson's scene of lovers on a bench, whose passion continues even with the addition of a child, whose own affection is added to the mix.
Paris may be the city of light and love, of course, but the other pictures in this exhibition affirm that romance thrives wherever there are cameras. The classic film stills of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in "Gone with the Wind" are anchoring images of America's romance with celebrity and of the stagy romance of costume drama at its highest level. As photographed by Hollywood lensmen Clarence Bull and Fred Parrish, these publicity shots have taken on a mythic glow in their pearly black-and-white splendor. Indeed, they stand as rare movie artifacts, refreshingly free of the pop irony that would engulf such glamour photography in the oncoming age of Warhol.
Meanwhile, the kinetic power of Emil Cadoo's complexly rendered, lyrical image of flamenco dancers in motion; or Eva Dohnalova-da Silva Melo's stark juxtaposition of dancers defiantly occupying what would appear to be an industrial chamber; or Raul Gaston's 1923 photo of a man and woman teasingly at play in the woods take us to vastly different states of mind and metaphor. But, as in all of these artworks, the essence of two people--couples only connecting--is the timeless animating force.