Spotlight on the best photography books of the season
New York City’s modeling career has been long, perhaps above all among cities around the world, and what is amazing is that it has been able to present a new face to almost every one of its portrait painters. Todd Webb was perhaps not the most original of the city’s photographers, as in many ways his work resembles a continuation of Berenice Abbott’s ‘Changing New York’ project from the 1930s, but even more so than his own, his images present a vividly edible pedestrian. sight of the eyes, the one that invites you to enter this pawnshop, take a seat in this tram. I SEE A CITY: Todd Webb’s New York (Thames & Hudson, $ 45), written by Sean Corcoran and Daniel Okrent and edited by Betsy Evans Hunt, shows an upbeat, low-end post-WWII Manhattan filled with sidewalk vendors, one-story sheds, and hand-painted signs. Its main landmarks are Third Avenue (then shaded by the el train), 125th Street, and the East Side waterfront, all of which still resemble the 19th-century city, little modernized. His most famous work is a panorama of a block of Sixth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street, assembled from eight separate frames, showing an easy-going, gently blown landscape of bars and juice stalls. and hamburgers, second-hand record stores, an artist’s offer, a billiard room. One would say that it is enough to cross the avenue to blend in with the thin Sunday crowd of sailors and idlers. But this attitude disappeared with its frame, replaced by glass and steel.
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The city Weegee (Arthur Fellig) relates chronologically overlaps that of Abbott and Webb, although it was the aspect of the city that made the news: murders, fires, car crashes, flooding, as well as some activity. Recreation. New York is depicted most often at night, its citizens struggling with extreme emotions, its apartment buildings and storefronts often disfigured by violence of one sort or another. You get the full package – which also includes puppies and kittens, charity balls, wartime curfews, and meat rationing – at Daniel Blau ADDITIONAL! WEEGEE (Hirmer / University of Chicago, $ 55), which features 359 images, presumably all of Weegee’s work found in the files of the parent company of Acme Newspictures, his long-standing union. I guess the editorial work that went into the book was mostly about grouping the images into subject categories, as no selection on the basis of quality seems to have been made. All were sent to the newspapers, as evidenced by the legendary slugs reproduced alongside, and they all had some topical value at the time, but far too many are second or even third-rate photographs, and much of the news is rightly forgotten. Some of Weegee’s greatest images are almost lost in the profusion of unforgettable daily chaos. This is strictly reserved for institutions and graduates.
Edward Grazda, who worked in the 1970s and early 1980s, portrays a more chaotic city than Weegee’s, and Grazda wasn’t even looking for sinister topics to feed the tabloids. MIDDLE STREETS: NYC 1970-1985 (PowerHouse, $ 35) comes from the fact that he lived for decades on Bleecker Street, at the northern end of Little Italy and a short walk from Bowery, the book’s most important neighborhoods. It features a reminder of how many people then seemed to be living in cars – and the cars were certainly quite large – while others were content with park benches, or failing the curb, perhaps with their heads tucked in. a box for more privacy. Granted, a lot of people lived on the streets even if they didn’t sleep there – the prostitutes who lined Broadway in Midtown, the three-card operators on the curb, the vague knots of guys hanging out in front of bars and restaurants. bodegas or freight entrances. Grazda’s pearly black-and-white finish preserves the jagged, awe-inspiring air of the era with great dignity and gives its occasional threat the respect it deserves. Perhaps the most ominous image shows the Christmas window of John Gotti’s famous Ravenite Social Club: white silhouettes of Santa Claus and Frosty the snowman on a black background, like silhouettes of corpses in the street.