PRINT February 1964


Richard Conrat at the San Francisco Museum of Art

IN FIFTY PHOTOGRAPHS, Conrat shows us the people he has seen as he has carried his camera around Mexico and around San Francisco. His photographs avoid being picturesque—quaint natives in quaint costumes—only because Conrat is a good designer. He has an alert eye for capturing satisfying images of people in their settings, the placid Bread Market Couple, Oaxaca with the arrangement and texture of their baskets, with a rebozo, so necessary for the design, draped over a basket; or for expressing the rhythms of their movements against the landscape, women strain to push a boat into Lake Patzcuaro, an old woman in Oaxaca balances herself and her basket as she walks down the street.

Conrat is not a photojournalist, and his photographs succeed only when he is not flirting with photojournalism. Werner Bischof, for example, embraces people to make them symbolize the unity of all mankind. To Conrat, people are elements in his designs. The Cazadero Dishwasher, beautifully placed within his framework, has words printed on his apron. We can read some of them: “Be caref/ I have given/ and throw/ when pro.” Who is he? Why are the words printed? We are left unsatisfied and impatient because the photographer has designed a man who deserved to be explored. Four photographs of Mission, Night Fire compose what must have been a dramatic, active experience into static tableaus.

Although Conrat’s photographs show and demand no great emotional involvement, they may be enjoyed and respected as designs.

Margery Mann