Intro:

Improvements and innovations in camera technology throughout the 1950s yielded smaller cameras and faster shutter speeds, opening a door to a whole new perspective on the urban landscape. Older cameras, too slow to freeze motion, made photographs of streets populated by blurry, ghostly people. The new handheld cameras with fast shutter speeds could freeze motion and create candid photographs of vibrant streets filled with people. Subjects could now be photographed without being posed, or even being aware that they were being photographed. Street photography is a direct result of technological breakthroughs that allowed scenes to be captured as realistically and objectively as possible.

The staged commercial imagery prevalent in advertising and popular culture provoked photographers like Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander to turn to amateur techniques and “snapshot aesthetics” in a quest for spontaneity and authenticity. The Henry holds an extensive collection of Winogrand’s photographs, including the nearly 100 prints comprising his book Women are Beautiful.

The Henry’s collection of street photography captures the dynamics of the social landscape in post-war America. From Bruce Davidson’s images of Civil Rights protests to William Klein’s photographs of our growing consumer culture, photographers challenged long-established models of social justice, formalism, and personal expression.

Jill Hardy

Street Photography:

In the years leading up to World War II, American photographers began taking to the streets in cities and small towns to photograph the everyday lives of their fellow human beings. Generally, these photographers sought to document injustice with the underlying hope of inciting social reform. As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange both traveled across the United States photographing the people hardest hit by the Great Depression, including destitute migrant workers and displaced farming families. Around the same time in Europe, Henri Cartier-Bresson also roamed city streets, albeit with a much different motive: to capture the “decisive moment.” Cartier-Bresson was not particularly interested in social commentary, but rather sought to use photography to show the intrinsic beauty of the world by releasing the shutter at the exact second that beauty revealed itself to the camera.

With bulky, fragile cameras and long exposure times, photographers of preceding eras who worked in public could not help but be noticed. In their photographs, their subjects tend to acknowledge the photographer and appear to address the viewer directly. The meeting of the gaze underscores obvious differences between observer and observed. The debut of lightweight, durable handheld cameras such as the Leica M3 in 1954 granted photographers the ability to take pictures quickly and discreetly. This technological development led to a veritable sea change in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the way photographers shot pictures in the public realm. An unprecedented ability to blend into the crowd resulted in photographs far more candid than those of the earlier street photographers: scenes and interactions have an authentic, unposed look to them.

Brought on largely by a handful of photographers including Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, the new style diverged from the old in terms of both execution and motive. This approach was examined in several exhibits in the late 1960s including a landmark 1967 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York curated by John Szarkowski entitled “New Documents.” In the show’s introduction, Szarkowski cites a new desire in the photographers: “not to reform life, but to know it.” Though photography seems to be objective because the camera captures what is in front of it, the act of photographing is a subjective experience driven by the individual photographer. The photographers in the “New Documents” show sought to convey their own full experience, emotion, and understanding through their art. In choosing to photograph in a certain way, the photographer could project his or her own worldview into the picture.

Robert Frank was a recent Swiss immigrant to the United States when he received a Guggenheim grant in 1955 to travel across the country and document the lives of Americans from every social stratum. His endeavor was akin to that of Walker Evans, but his approach and style were fundamentally different. In documenting many of the same things (gas stations, diners, and the working poor) as Evans had before him, Frank brought his outsider’s point of view to bear on the American experience. His 1958 book The Americans presented a bleak picture of contemporary life in the United States, but did not constitute a call for change. Rather, it presented the country through the eyes and lens of a specific individual. The photographs spoke not only about their subject matter but also about Frank’s personal journey through America as a foreign country.

The majority of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander’s photos are of everyday things and ordinary people going about their lives in unsurprising settings. The aesthetic influence of the ubiquitous amateur “snapshot” (facilitated by portable cameras like the Leica) entered their images by way of what was traditionally considered markings of poorly done photography: off-kilter framing, motion blurs, seemingly banal subject matter, and in the case of Friedlander especially, the occasional intentional inclusion of the photographer’s own reflection or shadow. Ostensibly inconsequential events and details are imbued with new significance when they are singled out and photographed by the artist. The act of seeing and selecting the scene to be photographed becomes an important consideration in reading the photograph itself. The photographs reveal the artist’s presence and point of view so much so that they can no longer simply be considered objective documents.

Zoe Viklund

(Lee Friedlander: Philadelphia, 1961)

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Lee Friedlander (U.S., b. 1934)

Philadelphia, 1961. 1961

Gelatin silver print

5 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 79.76

Copyright Lee Friedlander, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Lee Friedlander focuses on the alienation of modern life, composing unusual, surreal images out of everyday scenes. His photographs from the 1950s and 1960s often appear empty and isolating. In the early 1960s Friedlander made a series of photographs of television sets playing in empty living rooms and hotel rooms. Philadelphia, 1961, from this series, shows a detached face glowing on a screen in a vacant room. The chairs in the room face away from the TV, causing the viewer to question who, if anyone, is watching.

(Lee Friedlander: Shadow, New York City)

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Lee Friedlander (U.S., b. 1934)

Shadow, New York City. 1966

Gelatin silver print

5 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.64

Copyright Lee Friedlander, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Lee Friedlander’s works are both impersonal and intimate. Although people are found in many of his photographs, they usually play a supporting role. Friedlander’s larger conceptual message is of his own personal perspective. In Shadow, New York City, he incorporates his own shadow into the photograph, an unorthodox practice at the time. The prominent shadow causes the viewer to take the place of the photographer as he closely follows a stranger down the streets of New York City.

(Weegee [Arthur Fellig]: Drink Coca‑Cola)

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Weegee [Arthur Fellig] (U.S., b. Austria‑Hungary, 1899–1968)

Drink Coca‑Cola. c. 1950

Gelatin silver print

13 7/16 x 10 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, 2006.66

Copyright Weegee / International Center of Photography / Getty Images

Weegee had a penchant for photographing morbid scenes. Drink Coca-Cola is a darkly humorous image that plays on his reputation for photographing death. This ambiguous image leaves the viewer unsure whether the subject is sleeping, unconscious, or possibly dead. The title ironically suggests that if the subject drank Coca-Cola instead of alcohol, he might not be in the situation that we find him in.

(Weegee [Arthur Fellig]: The Critic)

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Weegee [Arthur Fellig] (U.S., b. Austria‑Hungary, 1899–1968)

The Critic. 1943

Gelatin silver print

10 3/8 x 12 3/4 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.184

Copyright Weegee / International Center of Photography / Getty Images

Part of what makes Weegee’s images such enduring icons of street photography are the contradictions he captures and forces viewers to confront. The Critic is an illustration of privilege in the midst of poverty. Weegee creates a dialogue of extremes within his photographs, sharp contrasts between haves and have-nots. Two women enter the Metropolitan Opera - their bright white furs are illuminated by Weegee’s bare bulb flash, contrasting sharply with an onlooker’s dark, worn-out jacket.

(William Klein: Pray, Sin, New York, 1954)

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William Klein (U.S., b. 1928)

Pray, Sin, New York, 1954. 1954, reprinted 1984

Gelatin silver print

9 1/8 x 13 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.86

In Pray, Sin, New York, 1954, Klein aggressively captures hectic street life by inserting his wide-angle lens into the personal space of his subjects. At a time when graphic design and advertising were becoming ever more dominant in the urban landscape, Klein used signs and typography to structure this composition. By interspersing text and advertisements in the spaces between people, Klein energizes his photographs and comments on the growing consumerism of post-war America.

(Garry Winogrand: Untitled [from The Animals series])

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Garry Winogrand (U.S., 1928–1984)

Untitled [from The Animals series]. 1962

Gelatin silver print

9 1/8 x 13 3/8 in. image and size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 79.212

Copyright The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

(Garry Winogrand: World’s Fair, New York City [from Women Are Beautiful, no. 20])

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Garry Winogrand (U.S., 1928–1984)

World's Fair, New York City [from Women Are Beautiful, no. 20]. 1964, printed 1981

Gelatin silver print

8 3/4 x 13 1/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, gift of Michael R. Kaplan, M.D., 99.13.6

Copyright The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

With his lightweight and silent Leica camera, Garry Winogrand shot hundreds of thousands of photographs during his short lifetime. Most were taken on the streets of New York City and are characterized by off-kilter angles, unorthodox framing, and images that feature active figures. This is certainly true of World’s Fair, New York City. The angle of the bench, the rhythmic repetition of bent arms and bare legs, and the gestures of people leaning towards each other create an image that vibrates with the energy of everyday life. In his own words, Winogrand photographed simply to “see what the world looks like in photographs.”

(Lee Friedlander: New York City, 1965)

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Lee Friedlander (U.S., b. 1934)

New York City, 1965. 1965

Gelatin silver print

6 1/4 x 8 13/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 79.76

Copyright Lee Friedlander, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

(Bruce Davidson: Black Americans [from The Time of Change series])

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Bruce Davidson (U.S., b. 1933)

Black Americans [from The Time of Change series]. 1963

Gelatin silver print

8 13/16 x 13 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, 2005.163

Bruce Davidson photographed the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. A true storyteller, Davidson documented the inequalities afflicting the lives of black Americans. His quest ranged from the rural south to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Black Americans is a powerful portrait of a woman sitting quietly in the back of a police van, arrested for fighting for her rights. In Black Americans, as in many of his images, Davidson photographs the subject straight on, establishing a connection between the viewer and the subject and opening up a dialogue between them. This is an image of someone exercising defiance against immense odds, it humanizes both subjects and viewers in an effort to, in his words, “open up a journey of consciousness.”