February 17, 2007

What's On at the International Center of Photography

To celebrate a day where the mercury actually climbed above the freezing mark, we set off to 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue to see the new exhibitions at the International Center of Photography. But you don't have to brave the slush and cold - these shows are on view until April 29th.

The ground floor gallery features works by the Hungarian born photographer Martin Munkácsi (1898-1963). "Think While You Shoot!" seeks to cement his reputation as a premier photographer of the speedy, nervous, modernity of Europe between the World Wars. Although Munkácsi was well established in Budapest and Berlin, he fled to New York and a job at Harper's Bazaar when the rise of Nazism made it dangerous for him to continue to live in Germany. America welcomed him and he enjoyed major success in the field of fashion photography. Though his name is certainly not a household word, the visitor with find some very familiar images within this collection of over 125 vintage photos and documents.

Moving downstairs, we were treated to "Henri Cartier-Bresson's Scrapbook Photographs, 1932-1946", an exhibition curated by the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris. Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) is considered one of the masters of 20th Century photography, and this show presents pictures taken from a personal scrapbook of his best work in this select period. It is a collection of photos of his travels to Mexico, Spain and Italy, his documentation of the Coronation of King George VI, portraits of French artists and writers and finally World War 2 and the Liberation of Paris. This last subject is the most fascinating as Cartier-Bresson himself was captured and held as a P.O.W. for 3 years and presumed dead by the artistic community. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art was planning a memorial exhibit when he escaped the camp and emerged alive in 1943 and was able to personally deliver his scrapbook of 346 postcard size prints to the organizers in New York. The 1947 MoMA show marked a real turning point in his career. It also marked the shift in his vision from Surrealism and "photography for it's own sake" to the "need to tell stories". Some of his most famous works are on view here, as well as a short video that provides a fascinating glimpse into his life and process.

Last but far from least is "Louise Brooks and the 'New Woman' in Weimar Cinema". This icon of silent film with her signature "look" epitomized the emancipated flapper of the post suffragette era. How this young woman from Wichita, Kansas, emerged into a sexually and socio-economically mobile siren of the notorious Weimar Republic is a study in determination, independent thinking and great artistic power. A small selection of striking photos from Brooks' own archive of film stills, bequeathed to the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department (Ms. Brooks ended her life in Rochester, NY), offers a glimpse as to how successfully she made this her reality. When seen in her signature roles of Lulu ("Pandora's Box", 1929) and Thymian ("Diary of a Lost Girl", 1929), the transformation is complete. Louise Brooks IS the "New Woman".

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