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ART REVIEW: "60 From the 60's"

A decade in review


Anyone who lived through the 1960's remembers the period as one marked with tumult, conflict, and social revolution; a time of youth breaking out of the constricting 1950's ideals and trying to reshape their world. For many who were born after this time, the 1960's as a decade have become a thing of fascination, a period rife with changes we take for granted, and before which it is difficult to imagine living in such an alien American society. The current exhibit at George Eastman House features 60 prints from the 1960's by 10 significant photographers from that era, including Harry Callahan, Benedict J. Fernandez, Hollis Frampton, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Mary Ellen Mark, Roger Mertin, Arnold Newman, Aaron Siskind, and Garry Winogrand. Supplemental materials, including books, magazines, and camera models used by specific photographers, are also included in the show.

Robert Heinecken's work is the first viewers encounter upon entering the Brackett-Clark Gallery. Because of his unique way of working, and the fact that he seldom used a camera, it is arguable that Heinecken was less of a photographer and more of a collage artist. A series of photolithograph prints from his "Are You Rea?" portfolio explores the feminine form amid themes of eroticism and violence, while appropriating images sourced from the mass-media magazine medium.

Heinecken experimented with layering transparencies of several juxtaposed images and negatives to create an often suggestive, simmering tension, and tempt the viewer to spend some time visually sorting out the layered components. This exhibit also includes his "Figure Interiors (Mushrooms)," which features a lady-shaped silhouette with a mycological filling.

Mary Ellen Marks' compelling images of people on the street include the self-possessed youngster in "Girl in Trabzon, Turkey" and "The Man Who Won the Moustache Contest, Istanbul, Turkey," featuring a character with a mighty mouth brow with ends twisted into twin exclamation points. Marks' black-and-white focus tends toward the gritty aspects of life, whether showcasing poverty or the underbelly of international city scenes, and she compassionately captures both the vulnerability and the dignity in her subjects' direct gazes. An untitled image features an emaciated doll of a woman washing at a sink in a broken-down bathroom, dollars poking from her bikini top, her face and chest smeared with what might or might not be paint.

"Heroin Addict Behind a Door, London," from the series "London Junkies," features a young man with a far-off expression and a needle in his arm, medicine deployed. In a different shot, two young boys — faces twisted in the uncertainty of indoctrinated patriotism — hold an American flag that half shields their father's face in "Father and Sons with Flag, Loyalty Day Parade, New York City," from Marks' "Pro-Vietnam Demonstration" series.

Aaron Siskind's work in this show is more playful, with three images from his "Terrors and Pleasures of Levitation" series, in which three men with their backs to the viewer have been shot from below in various stages of rising and falling against a solid white background, emphasizing their forms and nearly abstract shapes and lending a dreamlike quality to the simplest of gestures. Also included in the show are detail shots, taken in Chicago and Rome, of graffiti and post-industrial decay. They showcase remnant textures on the cities' surfaces that silently support the personality of places; ubiquitous minutiae that is rarely in the forefront of our focus.

Arnold Newman's portraits of hot-at-the-time celebrities or aging people of note have a tender tone to them, and his exploration of "environmental portraiture" made use of the sitter's personal surroundings and belongings to tell a more intimate story. A wizened subject in "Bravo Stravinsky" is seated at a desk studying sheet music and dwarfed by the large checker-floored room, his glasses and cane resting on the desk top next to him. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson sits before a desk with many photos on a mantle behind him while an elderly Eleanor Roosevelt stands behind a mountain of papers and before a wall filled with other images. Jean Cocteau is surrounded by stacks of papers and drawings, the window behind him open to a Paris street.

Coming from a fine arts and design background rather than photojournalism or portraiture, Betty Hahn's image speak to the haziness of memory. The artist experimented with historic processes, injecting a nostalgic tone into her work. "My Sisters — Negative and Positive" is one of Hahn's gum bichromates on paper, with overlapping images of young girls on a porch in green-hued negative and on a car hood in blue-hued positive. In "D.M. & A.," a man, his shadow, and his dog are captured in a park near some woods as anonymously as the title.

Before moving on to experimental filmmaking, Hollis Frampton created images that ranged from portraits of artists in their cluttered or clean industrial spaces to abstract snapshots in his "Junk & Rubble" and "Word Picture" series, many of which have a humorous or absurd tone to them. From this latter category is "No," which is a simple image of the word with a slash mark through it.

The social unrest of the 60's was documented in Benedict J. Fernandez's stark black and white work. Fernandez captured heavy emotion and strength, got to know and photographed subjects on both sides of various conflicts, and collected the images in books such as "In Opposition" and "Images of American Dissent in the Sixties." "Pentagon Demonstration, Washington, D.C." shows a crowd of military men, their young faces belying a range of emotions, guns pointed directly at the camera. In another image, a group of dissenters are frozen in time, yelling, clapping, and flashing peace signs behind a police barrier.

Fernandez's knack for including all sides of experience is shown off in "Riots, Newark New Jersey," in which a man at a stand sits behind glass, while the reflection from the street shows buildings and military men passing by. Bitter faces of protestors in one image contrast with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s calm resolve in another, captured directly head-on as he marched at the United Nations Building in 1967. And a comically covered-in-snow Allen Ginsberg stands huddled outside wearing a sign that reads "Pot is Fun."

Harry Callahan traveled extensively to photograph his three main themes of portraits, architecture, and landscape in unfamiliar places. His portraits of women on the streets of Rome and Chicago, wearing mixed patterns and suits, are strangers whose beauty and tastes were immortalized by a stranger. Oddly striking are his simple images of divided-up land plots in growing suburbia. "166 Providence" is a shot between two houses, featuring a ridiculous mash-up of tiny fences bordering tiny properties, making plain the absurdity of staking untrusting claims on little yards and thereby rendering them nearly useless.

Painter and photographer Ed Ruscha's artist books further discuss this encroachment of development across the land, documenting continuous stretches of streets or dozens of examples of a particular subject neatly within accordion-folded folios entitled "Twentysix Gasoline Stations," "Thirtyfour Parking Lots," or "Some Los Angeles Apartments." Every building on the Sunset Strip is displayed, unfolded, ringing the pedestal that holds the other closed books, and wryly pointing to a certain bleakness in city life.

Prolific street photographer Gary Winogrand's work is enigmatic and peeks into private lives, but doesn't quite gain us access to those worlds. In New York City, he captured women talking on the street with ultra-serious expressions. In Los Angeles, Winogrand's viewfinder reached over a disaffected female car passenger to focus on the driver, a man with a broken and bandaged nose. In his photo from Cape Kennedy, we are treated to the scene of a crowd peering high above the picture plane, only puffs of smoke visible. There is a strong sense of things about to happen, or heavy aftermath within these images. But like any true glimpse at others, there is little explanation of the story lines.

Roger Mertin's straightforward images range from women in adverts on the streets of Rochester and Corning, to a dollhouse in Chicago separated from a silhouetted line of real houses by a short curtain. In a nearby case, viewers get a teasing look at "Plastic Love Dream: An Exhibition of Photographs," Mertin's series of black-and-white photographs "that show a fantastical world of naked female bodies in stasis," per the exhibition information. The work includes dark images of the bright bodies of two models in woods and fields, anonymous and suggestive, as if offered by nature and stumbled upon. The work is accompanied by an essay by Robert Sobieszek on Mertin's intensions to explore the male's vision of the female nude's relationship to the erotic.