Everyone has their calming place. A place where their thoughts can dissipate and they can return to a moment of tranquility, even if its momentary. For me, that place has always been museums. Maybe its because they are quiet, or filled with beauty, or they hold physical evidence of what is possible, of potential, of creation. Whatever it is, museums are my safe place and I certainly have ones that are more so than others. The International Center of Photography is not on the top of that list (I am partial to a more expansive space – give me the Turbine Hall on my worst day). But yesterday, in a moment of needing to find a way to recenter, I found myself near the ICP with a few moments to spare and decided to give it a try. And I have to say it worked.
On the top floor there is the exhibition ‘A Short History of Photography: From the ICP Collection Honoring Willis E. Hartshorn, Ehrenkranz Director’. There are some beautiful photographs in this exhibition including Eugene Atget’s 1922 photograph of Notre Dame and Harry Callahan’s ‘Eleanor’ from 1950. There is Louise Lawler’s ‘Untitled’ (Gold Jackie) from 1993 and Martha Rosler’s ‘The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems’ from 1975, both which challenge the use of the photograph, pushing its conceptual possibilities. But there is also a large showing of political and historical photographs, both documentary and conceptual. The exhibition shows works by Cornell Capa, Vik Muniz’s ‘Memory Rendering of Kent State Shooting’ from 1995 as well as an image from the Abu Ghraib prison by an unidentified photographer.
The show is wide-ranging, throw some iconic images by Stephen Shore, Robert Frank and William Eggleston in there as well. But it is well worth seeing. The uses, practices and aesthetics of photography are so diverse. Digging into the ICP’s collection is a good way of re-exploring this. By referencing Walter Benjamin in the show’s title it also hones in on the idea that the medium of photography, regardless of how you employ it, is all about the act of seeing.
Downstairs is a much smaller more intimate show, ‘Christer Stromholm: Les Amies de Place Blanche’. This is body of work by Stromholm, a somewhat unknown Swedish photographer, documents a group of transsexual street hustlers in Paris in the 1960’s who became the photographer’s community while he lived there. Its an intimate portrayal of both the subjects in the photographs and the city. These images were published in Sweden in the eighties and a book accompanied it and quickly sold out entering it into cult status. Stromholm’s personal texts as well embracing the importance of the freedom to choose how you live are equally beautiful and the book will be republished this year.