( This just crossed our desktop: Irving Pen has passed away at the age of 92. R.I.P.)
Many years ago, the J.Paul Getty Museum made a massive purchase of photographs to the tune of over 7 million dollars.
This historic purchase made an implied promise to the world of photography, that would change it forever.
We’re not talking about the making of the imagery, but the stature of the medium in the world of art.
On the plus side, the prices for photographs started a major rise in the marketplace.
On the negative side, our collecting endeavors began to slow down as the other art collectors jumped in.
All good though.
The new space at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, dedicated to the exhibition of their collection, plus more, has begun to make good on that promise in a very large way.
Not to say that they were stingy with showing what they had already, but we all knew that there was a massive treasure yet to be revealed.
Another bit of good news is that they never stopped acquiring photographs.
The current show, Irving Penn -Small Trades, is an example of one of their more recent purchases, made in 2008.
Creator: Irving Penn (American, born 1917)
Title/Date: Milkman (A), New York, 1951
Copyright: Â© 1951, renewed 1979 CondÃ© Nast
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.5 x 25.9 cm (13 3/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Collection: Partial gift of Irving Penn. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los
In this this brief, summary, “the 252 prints from the Small Trades series depict skilled tradespeople dressed in work clothes and carrying the tools of their occupations,” you get a small idea of what the show consists of.
But there is so much more.
Whenever we see a photographic show at the Getty, we are struck by 2 things: the brilliance of the curators, as the placement, visual, tour, and overall gestalt of the program, is evident in it’s specificity. You are led thought the massive rooms with a purpose, and are invited to jump into sidebar rooms for detailed visual discussions.
The other part that makes us salute, are the descriptor passages that start the wall tours, or define the rooms of photographs. There is a succinct, non-threatening, explanatory verbiage that starts your journey and enhances the experiences. For everyone and anyone who attends.
And then there is the work.
This exhibit hits us right where we live. Starting with Atget’s series of trades folk, to the August Sander series: People of the 20th Century, Irving Penn- Small Trades, has taken the subject of occupations that he felt would not be around for a long time after he had photographed them, and gave them an elegance and natural beauty, he usually used for his fashion work.
First shooting a series while on assignment in Paris, he sent his assistants out in the streets to find willing participants, and bring them back to his studio, to be photographed. The requirement was that they kept their uniforms, work clothes, and or tools of the trade with them.
Shooting against a old theater curtain, using only natural light, a medium format camera and Tri-X, he presented an almost sculptural , yet definitely photographic, portrait of these working people.
When we say that he hit us where we live, you may know that Sander, Family of Man, and the book Working, by Studs Terkel are a few of our favorite works of all time. While Sander kept the subjects in situe, Penn takes away all of the distractions and gives you the pure person with their defining outward accoutrements.
This is the style of Irving Penn, though. While he may have been shooting the tradesmen in one part of the day, he would be shooting fashion models in the other part. You may also be familiar with his series in Africa where he photographed using a similar seamless or cloth background to highlight his subjects as opposed to the environs.
The other key element in this exhibit is the duplication of 252 images showing you the gelatin silver print and a palladium-platinum print. The difference in the image is remarkable, seen mainly when, in one room you see one image, side by side with the 2 processes.
Both tell the story but the palladium has an advantage of texture and tonal range. You can easily see the crisp creases in a trouser leg, or the polish of a leather glove.
Here is where the talents of the curator comes into play; the placement and sprinkling of photographs throughout, may give you a sense of deja-vu, but when you understand the process that the artist was going through, you appreciate the layout of the gallery even more.
Instead of a side by side all the way through, you can immerse yourself in each image and, depending on your walking pattern, make new discoveries for yourself in the exhibit.
All we know is we’re going back for seconds.
Of course we never want to just leave you with a review of a show and no way to experience it on some level, so here is a link to the exhibit, and, son of a gun, there is also a catalog from the folks at Getty, covering the work.
Sounds like a great item for a weekly giveaway. So it will be in a couple of weeks.
Also in photography section of the museum is their smaller space called In Scene.
This current exhibition is titled Making a Scene, depicting a historical look at photography designed and directed, specifically to tell a story, or present a conceptual portrait, and not the realism of a street photograph.
This is such a huge topic, we can see it be expanded into the main hall. We do feel that they were only able to scratch the surface, and most incarnations of the format were still to be represented.
Thanks J. Paul Getty Museum, for continuing to make good on the photographic promise you made to the world, years ago.
if you are in Los Angeles, here is a link for all of the ways to get to the Museum.