A unique and pivotal moment in American history will be explored in "Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959", on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum
January 30 through April 25, 2010. The exhibition, which showcases urban street photography from the 1940s and 50s, provides new insight into a time when the photographic medium and American society were both at a cultural crossroads.
The essence of the images captured in Street Seen suggest some compelling parallels to todays society, in terms of how we struggle to carve out our place in an increasingly anonymous world, says Lisa Hostetler, Curator of Photographs, Milwaukee Art Museum. The photographs have a universal quality that transcends time and place to tell a human story. Many of the images capture scenes that could just as easily be present day Milwaukee as post-World War II New York City.
With more than 100 images, the exhibition focuses on the work of six important photographers. Among the highlights are Lisette Models unflinching look at the cacophony of the urban environment; Louis Faurers empathetic portraits of eccentrics in Times Square; Ted Croners haunting night images; Saul Leiters glimpses of elusive moments; William Kleins graphic, confrontational style; and Robert Franks documentation of American ideals gone awry.
The exhibition also includes work by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, W. Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt and Weegee, among others, to demonstrate how the photographers were influenced by documentary photography and photojournalism, but ultimately differed from their predecessors and contemporaries.
Refuting the common claim that photojournalism was the only significant photographic activity at the time, Street Seen uncovers a crucial time in American art, when global media was in its adolescence and photography was just beginning to achieve recognition in the contemporary art world. It is the first major examination of street photography of the 1940s and 50s in nearly 20 years.
Abstract Expressionism, film noir, and Beat poetry are all widely recognized aftershocks of World War II, but the significance of creative photography during that time has been largely ignored, says Hostetler. However, the way in which the images in Street Seen evoke strong emotion, in a subtle and unsentimental way, makes this exhibition undeniably appealing on a human, universal level.