Between September 11, 2019 to February 16, 2020 an international exhibition on the history of street photography will take place at the Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna. Titled: STREET. LIFE. PHOTOGRAPHY – Street Photography from seven decades – the exhibition includes work from classic street photographers The Late Legendary Robert Frank (Switzerland/USA), Diane Arbus(USA), Martin Parr (GB) as well as younger, more contemporary artists like Loredana Nemes (Romania/Germany) Mohamed Bourouissa (Algeria/France) and Lies Maculan (Austria).
Curated by Sabine Schnakenberg (Hamburg) and Verena Kaspar-Eisert, the exhibition is the result of a cross-border collaboration between the Haus Der Photographie/Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (Germany) and the Kunsthalle, Vienna, (Austria)
Initially, the ‘Mother of all Street Photography’ exhibitions could not be shown in Vienna for spatial reasons, and was originally shown in Hamburg in seven thematic groups – street life, crashes, public transfer, urban space, lines and signs and anonymity and alienation. To accommodate the show in Vienna Sabine Schnakenberg took into account the spatial possibilities at the Kunsthaus Wien and, subsequently, urban space and lines and signs are missing as thematic blocks.
Let’s take a little tour of STREET.LIFE.PHOTOGRAPHY.
“Street Life” shows us the unvarnished life (on and of) the street, the passers-by, the street as living space. Starting with Lisette Model and her pupil Diane Arbus, we see how different photographers approach the “objects of their desire”. Model’s distanced gaze contrasts with, say, Bruce Gilden, who almost jumps out at his ‘victims’ on the streets of New York. ‘Crashes’ shows breaks in the usual everyday picture – accidents, real or constructed as film settings; disappointed expectations; destructions of all kinds.
‘Public Transfer’ shows the parallel world of public transport. One of the most exciting exhibitors in this category is Loredana Nemes, and her photographs of the city at night in which she makes timeless portraits of bus and subway users. Also, in this section, we find the work of the late Michael Wolf and his pictures from the Tokyo subway, in which people squeezed into the trains look like corpses.
Copyright ⓒ Axel Schon
Copyright ⓒ Michael Wolf
Copyright ⓒ Leon Levinstein
Copyright ⓒ Philip-Lorca diCorcia
‘Anonymity’ deals with the often conjured loneliness of people in urban space. This also entices photographers to observe people anonymously from a distance and to capture moments of ‘strange life’. The boundaries to voyeurism here are more than fluid.
‘Alienation’ shows alienation of different shades: as for example in the photos by Philip-Lorca diCorcia of sex workers in Las Vegas. Here, the alienation of the workforce is obvious. Lee Friedlander, whose shadow appears in his photographs, and makes him part of the picture. And in an extreme form with Doug Rickard, who doesn’t even leave the house, but photographs street pictures (also from google streetview) from the computer monitor and then mounts people in them.
But the exhibition also raises some questions for me. First of all – can and should street photography become ‘exhibition art’? Without a doubt, there are extremely aesthetic and artistic street photographs. But, on the other hand, especially in the digital age, there are an enormous number of photographs, some of them just as outstanding, that never see the light of day because they are posted on social media or in online portfolios. Of course – a curator has to fall back on existing material that is ‘presentable’. Nevertheless, in my opinion there is a gap here that one should be aware of.
I don’t want to reopen the classic discourse: ‘What is street photography’, but, in my understanding, however, there is a limit to the staging that separates Street from other photographic forms. These include the aforementioned works by Doug Rickard, for example, who for me resorts more to composing, or the photographs of the Dane, Peter Funch, who makes astonishing alienations by assembling people in similar actions into a photo of a certain street corner as part of a long-term project.
That I, as an advocate of social photography, am missing at least one picture by David Goldblatt or any photographer who depicted the everyday street life of the apartheid regime, as well as pictures from May 68, the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the English miners’ strike of 1983, or the Arab spring of 2010, is of course subjective. But – didn’t ‘the street’ play a very special role here?
These considerations don’t change the fact that the exhibition STREET.LIFE.PHOTOGRAPHY is a real gain for all those who deal with the genre. Fortunately, the long running time should make it possible for everyone interested to come to the Kunsthaus Wien and gain their own insight.
Visit the Exhibition in Vienna at : Kunst Haus Wien
Written By: KURT LHOTZKY
Edited by: Sergio Burns