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The Good Lift.
Social justice and retention of cultural identity were
not the only themes that engaged photographers.
The romance of technology, the thrill of the enter-
tainment and fashion industry, and the emergence of
such immensely popular and successful photo-maga-
zines as Life and Look all created a new market for pho-
tographic imagery and served as propaganda for
America's good life.
The most financially successful American photogra-
phers of the 1930s, Margaret Bourke-White and
Edward Steichen, celebrated the power centered in
New York with elan and panache.
Bourke-White's father was Jewish, a fact she didn't learn
until she was well into her teens. Her 1930 image Untitled
(Sergei Eisenstein Having a Shave on the Terrace of Margaret
Bourke-White's Studio) adds a dollop of sardonic humor to
the mix of more earnest images from the era.
Times Square was the heart of the city in the 1940s.
Ruth Orkin's 1945 celebratory shot of Times Square, V-
E Day, NYC conveys the power of the place.
The exhibit includes a sampling of Helen Levitt's
animated portraits of black and Puerto Rican children
cavorting on city sidewalks. Levitt, born in
1913, is famous for saying she didn't really
Top to bottom:
like children, but she liked to observe them.
"Times Square, V-E
Day, NYC" 1945.
Mid- to -Late-Century Images
For photographers of the 1950s, New York
lacked soul, but it was also the place where
things happened. The photographers' painter-
with Cop," 1947.
ly equivalent would be the canvases of Edward
Hopper, picturing lonely people in isolated
"Misty in Sheridan
Leonard Freed's cheerless depiction of
Wall Street denizens, Saul Leiter's menacing
figures and Leon Levinstein's distraught mother and
her child all convey the angst and uncertainty of the
Diane Arbus, Model's most brilliant student, sought
out the oddball, the bizarre and the "other," as in her
famous 1970 photograph The Jewish Giant at Home
with his Parents, Bronx, New York, in which the gigantic
son towers over his dwarfed parents.
By photographing freaks, Arbus did the opposite of
what her wealthy Fifth Avenue family expected.
The aesthetics of color came into its own in the mid-
1970s in such works as Bruce Davidson's graffiti-cov-
ered subway car and Nan Goldin's authentic landscapes
of the gay community.
The exhibit ends on a disquieting note with Jeff
Mermelstein's homage to the World Trade Center tragedy,
taken near Ground Zero. In the chilling photograph, a
seated sculptural figure of a man looking into his brief-
case is covered in gray ash, the ground littered in paper.
Called Untitled, Sept. 11, 2001, the original bronze
statue takes on a ghostly hue, like a fallout victim from
some apocalyptic war zone. ❑
"New York: Capital of Photography" runs
through Sept. 2 at the Jewish Museum in New
York City. For information, call (212) 423-3200
or visit the Jewish Museum's Web site at
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