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"Open City: Street Photographs 1950-2000"
2001-05-06 until 2001-07-15
Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
Oxford, , UK

Working in the street has always been one of the key activities of photographers, but since the invention of small, hand-held cameras, street photography has usually been taken to refer to spontaneous images seized from the constant flow of human activity that the street provides: the decisive moment as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously described it.  The work of Cartier-Bresson and his followers laid the foundation of a new vocabulary for photographers that soon became evident in photography all over the world.

Open City: Street Photographs 1950-2000 begins at the point at which photographers began to make work that was in part a reaction to this established vocabulary, and at the same time a continuation and extension of its tradition.  The exhibition will begin with the striking photographs made in the 1950s by Robert Frank, Roy DeCarava and William Klein, as well as Tazio Secchiaroli, one of the first paparazzi.  These artists formed an intimate relationship with street life and their work demonstrates a distinctive move away from simple documentation to a more participatory approach.  Their ironic, and at times confrontational, stance was continued in the 1960s in the powerful and sometimes disturbing photographs made by Garry Winogrand.  Other photographers in the exhibition who continued working in this still fundamentally realist tradition include William Eggleston, best-known for his innovative use of colour, and Nigel Henderson.

The exhibition will also include works that treat the street almost as a theatrical stage, an arena that offers the photographer more opportunities for control over his or her subjects than might at first be apparent.  While the rhetoric of street photography has always leaned heavily on the implied authenticity of the moment, the street has increasingly been the site of events overtly staged for the camera.  This is particularly evident in sixties fashion photography, represented here in key series by Richard Avedon and Terence Donovan.  

While Jeff Wall's elaborately staged and posed colour photographs, shown in light boxes, could not be confused visually with the typical black-and-white 8 x 10 street photographs, they nevertheless make full use of the vocabulary developed by street photographers of an earlier generation.  In fact, they derive much of their power from this tension between modes of representation.  The same could be said of Philip-Lorca diCorcia's introduction of studio lighting effects into otherwise unaltered street scenes, as well as his staged portraits of street hustlers.  Other contemporary photographers, such as Wolfgang Tillmans, move back and forth between more or less traditional street photography and staged events, just as they also move back and forth between the worlds of art and fashion.

Other photographers featured in Open City will include: Nobuyoshi Araki, Nikki S. Lee, Daido Moriyama, Santu Mofokeng, Catherine Opie, Fazel Sheikh, Raghubir Singh, Beat Streuli and Thomas Struth.

William Egelston
Ca. 1985

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