Jacques Wendenbergh, Kenneth Snelson

Centre Pompidou, Galerie Zabriskie

One of the few contemporary exhibitions that seemed to reflect a real passion for its subject was that of Jacques Wendenbergh, who has photographed in Provence for the last decade. His pictures of both crowds and space filled the frame powerfully, and his work gave evidence of the kind of instinct for light necessary for a truly original vision. Yet even this work often seemed to fall short of first-rate because it was printed on contrasty paper (Agfa #5?) which blew away backgrounds and otherwise simplified images, as if that would somehow simplify as well the social issues that interested Wendenbergh. The realism he achieved thus was just more French Romanticism in disguise.

The fact was that amidst all these shows, contemporary French photographers were somewhat hard to find. Of the 22 photographers in the “Avant- Garde” show, for example, 13 were American and only three French, and perhaps the best show of any contemporary work was Kenneth Snelson’s panoramas. Snelson has recently had a show in New York of large black-and-white pictures done in lower Manhattan near his sculpture studio. But Paris, ironically, lends itself to his vision better. Streets and building corners that don’t meet at right angles enhance the mysteries of perspective that his rotating panoramic cameras create, with the result that his small, 360 degree color pictures of Paris made one forget the mechanical fixity of his instrument in a way that his New York pictures never do.

Colin Westerbeck