Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Into The Sunset: The Definitive Article

Garry Winogrand, New Mexico, 1957

While I was on holiday in New York last week I saw the MoMA's new photography show, Into The Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West. The exhibition has been criticised for being downbeat, delusional or distorted, but that all smacks of a point missed.
     The title is clever in that it never professes to show the real American West, simply what subsequent generations have made of it through the artificial eye of their viewfinder. The scope is broad, covering the last 150 years, though it really comes alive around the 1940s and '50s. Not only do we see the West evolving before our eyes during this period, but also we can witness the rapid development of photography as a unique artistic authority. While the art world busied itself with the luminous ambiguities of Abstract Expressionism and the commercial frivolities of Pop, photography offered a very definitive take on the real world.   
     Like the new sheriff in town determined to clean up the joint, you may not have agreed with the views of these photographers perhaps, but there was no escaping the clarity and intensity of their delivery. Into the Sunset features the best of the period, with classic images from Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, alongside more experimental images like William A. Garnett's 1950 series of housing developments shot from the air. It tends towards the male perspective but this isn't a humourless or boorish show. End on the glum persistence of Elliott Erwitt's slot machine playing grandma and you'll be grinning until the cow(boy)s come home.

1 comment:

  1. Winogrand is grand ! The MOMA did a book on him called "Figments From The Real World" which is an excellent work on his life and photos... if you can find it, don't miss it...