Taking it to the street


In the early 20th century, urban photographers such as Walker Evans and Paul Strand used only a camera and modernist techniques (like abstraction and fragmentation) to capture daily city life in New York City, Chicago, Paris, Havana, and Moscow, among others. With "an aesthetic unique to the camera," argues the Smart Museum's exhibit Street Level: Modern Photography from the Smart Museum Collection, their work "demarcate[d] a space for photography as an art form in its own right." The one-room show mirrors the theme presented by the Smart's six-gallery special exhibit, Seeing the City: Sloan's New York, which features artist John Sloan's early 20th century paintings and drawings of street scenes and cityscapes.

Curated by Rachel Furnari, AM'02, a PhD candidate in art history, Street Level is divided into three sections. Furnari starts with "On the Street," images of working-class immigrants next to shop windows: evidence, she writes in the exhibit notes, of "a new acceptance of camera's accurate, narrative scenes and abstract, aestheticized versions of 20th-century urbanity." The next stop is "Above," where the photographer's angle is "only made possible by modern technology like airplanes and skyscrapers." In one picture, Flying in Red Square, photojournalist Georgy Zelma shoots Moscow's Red Square from above through scaffolding, fragmenting the crowds of people gathered below. Finally, Furnari takes us "Below," back to the "more intimate scale encountered in 'On the Street,'" but this time, the subjects are "pressed in by tall buildings, elevated train tracks, and long, high bridges."

Street Level runs through September 7.


Photos: Top: Nathan Lerner, Cigar Store, 1934, gelatin silver print; bottom: Ben Shahn, Untitled (New York City), 1932-1935 [c.?], gelatin silver print mounted on heavy paper, vintage impression .

Photos courtesy the Smart Museum.

June 23, 2008