Carol Squiers

  • 1989: New German Photography

    EARLY IN 1989, I was commissioned to write a catalogue essay on two young German photographers who would show at P.S. 1's Clocktower Gallery as part of “Ruhrworks: The Arts of a German Region,” a New York “festival” of arts from the Ruhr Valley in northern Germany. I didn't know either artist: Both men boasted respectable exhibition histories in Europe but were yet to establish an American presence. Andreas Gursky would have his first New York exhibition later that year; Thomas Struth's track record included a one-person show at P.S.1 in 1978 and several group shows over the next decade. So I

  • Mary Ellen Mark: Photographs

    Mary Ellen Mark is the Diane Arbus of narrative documentary vérité. Like Arbus, Mark photographs the forgotten and the marginalized, the show-offs and the disastrously narcissistic. But, unlike Arbus, she makes empathetic picture stories as well as single portraits. In this 141-print show (accompanied by a handsome catalogue), curators Michael E. Hoffman and Melissa Harris focus on Mark's American work since 1963, which includes homeless families, Christian bikers, beauty contestants, Aryan separatists, transvestite parade-goers, and pet lovers.

  • Walker Evans

    Walker Evans’s output has long been due a fuller viewing. With new material from the photographer’s archive (acquired by the museum in 1994) and an auxiliary show of 100 images of objects photographed at MoMA’s 1935 “African Negro Art” exhibition simultaneously on view, this 175-print retrospective should fill out the picture. For the first time, Evans’s entire career—from his little-known experiments of the ’20s to his Polaroids of the ’70s—will be represented exclusively by vintage prints. A catalogue with essays from the show’s organizer, Met curator Jeff L. Rosenheim, and the department

  • Ben Shahn’s New York: The Photography of Modern Times

    Best remembered as a painter and graphic artist, Ben Shahn also left behind a body of photographs driven by the same passionately leftist politics as the rest of his art. His early documentary images, the seldom-seen New York photographs made between 1931 and 1936, capture subjects ranging from protest marches to hand-painted shop signs. The first substantial look at these photos in thirty years, this exhibition brings together 118 images—not counting related ink drawings, paintings, mural studies, and ephemera. Yale University Press promises a full-scale catalogue. Feb. 5–Apr. 30; Phillips

  • Brassaï

    This second major retrospective celebrating the centennial of Brassaï’s birth comes on the heels of the still-touring Houston Museum of Fine Art effort. One difference: the proverbial matter of size. Curators Alain Sayag and Annick Lionel-Marie have rounded up a whopping 350 photographs—more than twice the number on view at the MFA show—not to mention fifty drawings and thirty sculptures, along with books by and about the Transylvanian transplant whose alluring vision remains synonymous with the Paris of our imaginations. Although the sheer number of works is impressive, the show does face stiff

  • Carol Squiers

    1. The Religious Right’s Promotion of Photography The ’90s brought the medium massive public attention when various “transgressive” imagemakers were caught dead-center in the culture wars. Some photographers were damaged in the skirmish; others became celebrities. But all the bad publicity made the medium itself a succès de scandale. Alas, the art world, called on to defend the work of photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe, failed to rise to the occasion. That lapse spelled the doom of NEA grants to individual artists, but the controversy also provoked a salutary, if tardy, scramble within

  • Harry Callahan, 1912–1999

    Harry Callahan, who died in March at eighty-six, created a unique body of work that wedded his own vision of photographic modernism to deeply personal concerns. He was central to the Chicago school of photography at IIT’s Institute of Design, where he taught from 1946 to 1961, although he himself had studied only in Detroit camera clubs. Experimentation was as important to Callahan as to László Moholy-Nagy. He called it “photographic seeing,” which he explored through techniques including the use of multiple exposure, camera movement, light studies, and variations in focus. Despite the technical


    When she died in 1899, the Italian-born Countess de Castiglione left behind an eccentric body of self-portraits marking her progress through haute Parisian society. On the occasion of the first full-scale exhibition devoted to this curiously contemporary oeuvre, Carol Squiers talks with curator Pierre Apraxine about the scandalous seductress and the work of self-creation that served as her passport.

    BEFORE CINDY SHERMAN, THERE WAS CLAUDE Cahun, and before Cahun, there was the countess. That’s a neat summation of a certain lineage of photography by and about women, but it’s not quite accurate. While Sherman and Cahun donned costumes and guises as a way to question gender stereotypes, their nineteenth-century precursor, the Countess de Castiglione, dressed up to enhance the role she assigned herself: international woman of mystery, influence, and seduction. Rather than Sherman, a more apt analogy might be Austin Powers—except the countess wasn’t kidding.

    The countess sat for some 400 to 500

  • “William Eggleston and the Color Tradition”

    Remember the shock (at least within the photo world) that greeted William Eggleston’s 1976 MoMA show? Not only were his pictures in color (!)—at that time scorned as either a commercial or an amateur medium—but his subject matter was willfully mundane (!!). Revisiting Eggleston’s work today, the Getty makes more than forty of his (recently donated) images the centerpiece of a survey featuring work by thirteen contemporary color photographers—from Joel Sternfeld and Mitch Epstein to Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee—who carry on the old MoMA lineage. While it should be fascinating to see the work

  • “Nic Nicosia: Real Pictures 1979–1999”

    Nic Nicosia has been making set-up photographs about the pitfalls and terrors of daily life since the early ’80s. With the “Real Pictures” series, starting in 1987, the work gained a new complexity. Nicosia’s vision became darker as his style grew more seemingly realistic: Children discover a corpse, an angry man menaces a clown. The darkness has persisted as the images have become more enigmatic yet somehow more revealingly reflective of the melancholy side of American life. In-house curators Dana Friis-Hansen and Lynn M. Herbert have put together fifty-six photographs, two videos, and two

  • “Robert Heinecken: Photographist”

    During the ’80s, the point was occasionally made that Robert Heinecken had used appropriated images in his work before Richard Prince or Sherry Levine ever did. With this show of 130-plus works from the ’60s to the present, the MCA has taken up that claim, marshaling pictorial evidence that indeed Heinecken was a postmodernist forerunner. Trouble is, he made use of images of women (overtly pornographic or otherwise), and the fact that his approach didn’t exhibit much self-consciousness about his male gaze doesn’t immediately square with enlightened revisionings. All the more reason Heinecken’s

  • “Photographs, Drawings, and Collages by Frederick Sommer”

    If Frederick Sommer’s work is compelling, it is also elusive, even downright odd. Born in Italy and raised in Brazil, he trained as a landscape architect at Cornell. Forced to abandon that profession when he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, at the age of twenty-five, he became an artist instead. After undergoing treatment in Switzerland, he moved to Arizona to recuperate, where he would live for the better part of seven decades. This biographical confluence does not delimit or define his work, but his career-ending ailment was certainly one impetus for his art—an extended meditation on illusion,