Non-Art Art Photography ExhibitionThe Village Voice has an interesting article on an exhibition, at New York City's International Center of Photography, of the work of commercial photographer Bill Wood. A Fort Worth, TX-based photographer, he did general commercial work that eventually found its way into the hands of collector Diane Keaton, who actually had them basically packed away for 20 years until she really looked at them.
What I found of particular interest was the ambivalence that Keaton and the writer have toward the photos. They aren't "art" - he's not "another overlooked or local genius on the order of Mike Disfarmer or Weegee," as writer and curator Marvin Heiferman puts it. But as the article's author Martha Schwender notes, they are striking. Yes, there is the danger of a social equivalent of Sergei Eisenstein's theory of montage, in which a scene in a movie can take on different meanings based on the context. Taken out of the original commercial context, these photos might take on the sense of commentary on values and mores:
But there's something that makes me hesitate at viewing these photos through the filter of our current standards, either for fashion or political correctness. This is not out of charity because Wood (essentially a good ol' boy who was born and died in Fort Worth) never "rose" to the level of Frank's or Winograd's distanced critique. Nor is it out of nostalgia, a longing for a time when the U.S. was at peace, and businesses (like Wood's) were owned and operated by individuals rather than conglomerates, and development, to people living in the vast American West, meant prosperity rather than destruction. Instead, it's partly because Wood's images of Americans smiling in their uniforms, offering a quick product demonstration, receiving congratulations, or finally getting sick and lying in their coffins, were taken by a fellow striver.I'm likely to be in the New York City area at some point in the near furture, and this show at the ICP seems like one worth catching. If Bill Wood fails to interest, there are two other exhibitions that look promising: Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan and Arbus/Avedon/Model: Selections from the Bank of America LaSalle Collection.