By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Of the three photographers included in “Strange Days,” Eggleston is closest to the all-encompassing visual curiosity of Weston, and as a consequence both have been misinterpreted for their inclusiveness. Weston’s later work contains frequent images of death and decay as aspects of the natural order of things, which contemporary (and subsequent) critics labeled “morbid.” Eggleston’s work, which at its best combines the improvisational genius of his hero Henri Cartier-Bresson with the Technicolor hypersaturation of Hollywood auteur Nicholas Ray into a dreamlike intensification of the everyday world, has been improbably accused of everything from anti-formalism to exploitative voyeurism.
The true founder of the school of exploitative voyeurism (Weegee aside) would be Diane Arbus, represented here by a powerful cross-section of the Mexican dwarves, Jewish giants, nudists, headless sideshow attractions, and transvestites whose company she sought out after the fashion industry proved too freakish for her. Several of Arbus’ classic images are here — the “Identical Twins,” the “Puerto Rican Woman With a Beauty Mark” and the “Boy With a Straw Hat Waiting To March in a Pro-War Parade” — but the show also includes such lesser-known works as the previously unexhibited “Woman in a Rose Hat” and “Cliff Gorman in Lenny.” Arbus killed herself in the bathtub shortly after photographing the latter (not that there’s any connection), and her martyrdom has lent an air of perversity to her oeuvre that may not be deserved. It seems more likely that Arbus was personally exploring the threshold where social convention compels us to look away, and granting visibility to the unmentionable castes.
Like Arbus, Garry Winogrand usually constructed his images around social situations, but tended to find his subjects in more public spaces: demonstrations, be-ins, crowds of people at parks and zoos, and clusters of people in the streets. One of the most compelling images in “Strange Days” is a perfectly composed and timed shot of a family — probably tourists — scuttling past a wheelchair-bound beggar at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in 1969. The interplay between the abstracting effect of the reflected diagonal sunlight and the awkward electricity of the captured interaction (or lack thereof) is exploitative voyeurism at its best. Winogrand, emerging from a photojournalist background, tended to privilege content over form but was usually able to accommodate powerful doses of both.
In subsequent years, such high-wire balances between style and substance have proved unnecessary, as more and more artists have found that a poorly crafted snapshot of a mentally retarded performer or underage junkie excites as much controversy and attention (and garners as much critical, collector and curatorial support) as a photographic masterpiece. “Strange Days” finally comes off as a document of this aesthetic turning point rather than as a prĂ©cis of countercultural turmoil. With the rise of narrative fictional mise en scĂ¨ne photographers like Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall, and the advent of digital technologies like Photoshop, you don’t have to actually exploit any real people to get that sensationalist sensation, or have any interaction with the real world for that matter, or ever see the inside of a darkroom.
EDWARD WESTON: A Legacy | At the BOONE GALLERY AT THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, ART COLLECTIONS AND BOTANICAL GARDENS, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino | Through October 5
STRANGE DAYS: Photographs From the Sixties by Winogrand, Eggleston and Arbus| At the J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, 1200 Getty Center Drive | Through October 5