A Great Moment for 20th Century Photography

Blog: 11.07.11

Monday, November 07, 2011 - 06:00 AM

Right now 20th century photography geeks are experiencing something of a perfect storm. From a new coffee table book, to a major museum exhibition, to images just made available on Wikimedia Commons — these photo collections reveal long hidden corners of American urban social and cultural history.

First up: Vivian Maier. We wrote about her earlier this year when her pictures were exhibited for the first time in Chicago. Maier had an eye for odd juxtapositions and magical moments as she captured strangers in the city. A fraction — albeit a truly excellent fraction — of the 100,000 negatives in the Maier trove were selected for a book published by powerHouse Books this month. Maier died before the recent discovery of her work, and her biography is still a bit hazy. Once you dig into the little that is known about her, you'll find yourself searching for more clues in her arresting self-portrait on the cover.

Arthur Leipzig, Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn, 1950Arthur Leipzig, Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn, 1950. (The Jewish Museum)

New York's Photo League (1935-1951) was a collective of photographers who believed the medium could be an agent for social change. For 15 years its members shot the everyday: a shoe shine boy, teenagers at a dancing school, kids playing chalk games in the street. This month the Jewish Museum in New York mounts a survey exhibition about the League. And don't miss the radio story on the exhibit by WNYC's Sara Fishko, who spoke with four of the surviving members of the League.

More amazing Depression-era photos surfaced online last month when the Smithsonian's Archive of American Art posted around 200 of its the Federal Art Project (FAP) photos to Wikimedia Commons. The FAP documented the activities of the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency created to employ people in public works projects, including many artists. Some taught art, others painted murals in government buildings, and some designed posters for the National Parks.  Given our current state of unemployment, it's hard not to be nostalgic for this great era of government supported public art projects. 

 

Slideshow: 20th Century Photography

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books)

Vivian Maier, 1954, New York.

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books)

Vivian Maier, September 29, 1959, Esther Street, New York, NY.

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books)

Vivian Maier, Untitled.

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books)

Vivian Maier, Untitled.

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books)

Vivian Maier, Untitled.

The Jewish Museum, New York. © Estate of Sol Prom.

Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant), Untitled (Dancing School), 1938 - from Harlem Document, 1936-40.

The Jewish Museum, New York. © Ida Wyman.

Ida Wyman, Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York, 1945.

The Jewish Museum, New York. © Estate of Jerome Liebling.

Jerome Liebling, May Day, New York, 1948.

The Jewish Museum, New York. © Estate of Jerome Liebling.

Jerome Liebling, Butterfly Boy, New York, 1949.

A life class for adults at the Brooklyn Museum, under the auspices of the New York City WPA Art Project. Photographer unknown, 1935.

Employment and Activities poster for the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1936.

Abraham Linshinsky painting a mural. Photo by David Robbins, 1939.

Alice Selinkoff designing a poster for the Federal Art Project. Photo by Sol Horn, 1939.

Edna Hershman painting a mural for the Federal Art Project. Photo by Sol Horn, 1939.

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Comments [2]

Len Wilson from Scranton PA

I am looking for photos of Dave Robbins

Dec. 13 2012 12:09 AM
Julie Jackson from winona, mn

Love this photo. He looks like he is ready to fly and take on life, see the world

Nov. 08 2011 11:12 AM

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