It's not often that, while sorting through the morning papers, I'm stopped cold by an image on the front page of an inside section. In today's New York Times' Science section, there is an amazing photographic collage of Lake Tenaya in Yosemite National Park. It's composed of several images made during the last 130 years and incorporates photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, among others. This collage is worth a thousand words, and definitely makes many museum exhibitions pale in comparison. It grabs your attention, makes you look, think and learn more than many exhibitions do. The article argues that the "American idea of pristine wilderness" was formed by a "profoundly mistaken fantasy" that these masters of landscape photography helped to create with their majestic photos of this particular lake. Do yourself a favor. Pick up today's New York Times and read this intriguing article.
And speaking of photography, the Getty has two exhibitions worthy of a visit. "Strange Days: Photographs from the Sixties by Winogrand, Eggleston and Arbus" brings to life this tumultuous era in numerous images culled from the museum's permanent collection. Though I didn't have firsthand experience of living in America at that time, looking at these black and white images I feel a strange mix of nostalgia, alienation and disbelief.
Gary Winogrand's specialty is capturing a seemingly innocuous moment in the lives of ordinary people going about their business in mostly unremarkable public spaces. Surprisingly, the matter-of-factness of these images, which are not my favorites, informs me about this era more than the other works in the exhibition.
William Eggleston keeps his distance from the places and people he photographs, showing not that much sympathy for either. His camera captures uncomfortable silence lingering in the corners of nondescript spaces and makes me think of America in the '60s as a thoroughly alien place.
But leave it to Diane Arbus to captivate the eyes, to stir up the emotions and to break your heart with an assortment of unsettling images of giants, midgets and regular-sized people - all of them staring into the camera. I always feel that Diane Arbus identifies completely with her subjects. It's too complex to describe in words what happens between the image and the viewer. Suffice it to say that one wants to cry looking at these photographs which capture the unbearable sadness of living.
Across the plaza from the Museum, at the Getty Research Institute, there is a small but delightful exhibition of photographic portraits of the most famous artists of the 20th century, with an emphasis on the Paris School and stars of the post-World War II American scene. Alexander Liberman, as Art Director for Vogue Magazine and Editorial Director of Cond-Nast publications, knew everyone in the art world on both sides of the Atlantic--and it shows. His portraits of Matisse, Picasso and Braque are not the definitive portraits of these great artists, but no one captured better the unique ambiance of their studios, with the aging maestros surrounded by their ageless masterpieces.