Monday, September 14, 2009

Small Trades

Yesterday I decided I needed a day alone. Like, really alone. I didn't see anyone until about 6 PM. It was, I have to say, blissful.

I woke up, had breakfast while reading a book, and then decided on a whim to go to the Getty. I saw 4 exhibits, which I'll hopefully write about at some point since I took notes. I love doing that in a museum, even if my notes only look like this:

Sargent, The Wyndham Sisters

Repin-Gashin - committed suicide looks like a photo

Sargent, Madame X

A lot of my notes seem to presuppose these images live somewhere on the web, which a lot of the older ones do. Voila, The Wyndham Sisters and Madame X:

Gorgeous. That skin is unreal. Photoshop that! Hrmph.

I had my worries about Repin-Garshin, but it turns out it's a painting of Garshin by Repin, and yes, it looks like a photo. Brilliance.

But aside from the astoundingly astute yet obvious observation "It looks like a photograph", I really have no idea what else there was about it that struck me at the time, except that it was haunting.

Sometimes, standing in front of the thing, you're having a completely separate experience from just seeing the image on a card or a screen. It's not even close. So, pages of this kind of thing.

I digress. The whole point was that I take notes, and I actually decided to strike while the iron is hot, and write about a show that's still running, that you can see until January. And you should.

It's Irving Penn's Small Trades at the Getty. IT's 155 silver prints and 97platinum prints. It's a wonderful look at not only a bunch of trades that may have run their course, but also a brilliant study of people and a time.

Turns out Penn was sent by Vogue to take photos in Paris and London, while based in NY. He took the opportunity to work on a project he'd been doing documenting "small trades", or the variety of workers in each city in their uniforms. See Seamstress from London:

Or Busboy from Paris:

Sometimes the photos are straightforward, as above, and sometimes whimsical. One of my favorites, was a Parisian boulanger, covered in the flour of his trade, shirtless and doughy, with a white cap. He looked like a giant piece of dough having a great time.

There were others, the dance instructors come to mind, or the showgirl; the flower delivery man holding white boxes. There is a terrifying cucumber seller who looks insane, as if he was selling cucumbers for that day only, having picked up a box on the way out of the institution. The cucumbers, save the one in his hand, are gnarled and twisted.

Some that I couldn't find images for, but struck me, were:

Lady Acrobat
Chair Caners--the woman knelt in the photos, and then you realize she actually has deformed legs. IT's almost intimate catching her and her partner in the act of caning a chair, as if they work in secret usually
Coal Man - NY
Pastry Chefs - Paris, who look like they could be brothers
Onion Seller and Chamois seller - both covered by their goods, the onion seller with a great boa of onions around his thick neck, and the chamois seller covered in hides
Balloon Seller - a woman with great, dark, shiny balloons
Window Washer - NY - who looked so young
Vehicle Watcher - London - An old heavyset woman in a dark floral dress with a black sweater. She looked like she thought everything is suspicious.

Penn has a gift in the series for bringing the uniform forth, and then disappear. You say to yourself "ah, it's a fireman" and then the uniform disappears and you see the person who usually hides behind it. You can see the pride or the misgivings about the careers, and on some the miles that have taken their toll.

The exhibit is wonderfully curated, and the photos are grouped so that you are encouraged to look at the difference in the types of prints Penn created and how those effect the image. Also wonderfully, there are certain trades he took pictures of in all three cities, so you can see Firemen, for instance, from NY, Paris, and London. Or waiters. There's a room of photos or restaurant people.

It's a beautiful exhibit, made even more remarkable by the copies of French, British, and American Vogue where the photos ran. I can't imagine it happening today. It's quite a project, and I'm excited I got to see it.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

What a fantastic day and your commentary is really great. I want to do the same thing: get up and go there alone.