Volunteer Pick – Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art

Front cover of ‘Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art’

Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art

Book review by Twy Miller – volunteer at Belfast Exposed

‘Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art’ was published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Associate Curator in the Department of Photography. The images range in date from 1888 to 2005, and are monochrome. The exhibition was shown in Madrid and Dublin, late 2009 to early 2010. The Dublin Exhibition was shown at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and I was fortunate to attend via a Belfast Exposed bus chartered for the trip. I bought the book and still have the program.

How does a collection of two-dimensional prints spread over 100 years represent New York? The iconic photographers that pursued these images show the everyday and the extraordinary. They encompass ever so gently, almost wrapping, the gritty soul of New York.  Every image is a surprise: there is something to be found that one did not expect. The range of shooting styles, exposures and downright daringness to acquire this work is heart-warming.  Each image stands alone, needing no further context. Sidewalks, train tracks, and compilations of architecture all rest beautifully with portraits – both formal and casually captured.

Manhattan from the Promenade, Brooklyn, New York, 1954 © Louis Stettner

My personal love of street photography began with ‘Bystander’, published in 1994, and written by Joel Meyerowitz and Colin Westerbeck. A bystander is what you have to be on the street to find those images. Watching, walking, standing, sitting and waiting. Street photography is now challenged with privacy issues, but with grit, determination and warm clothes, it is possible. That is the essence of ‘Picturing New York’. One senses the technical skills, the appreciation of composition, awareness of light, and all the thought processes working together to produce these striking images.

Monochrome is close to my heart and work, so this book has provided me with a massive range of photographic ideas, styles and techniques, and remains a primary source of inspiration.