In the Galleries: May 2021

Highlighting photography exhibits and photo-related happening in the Philadelphia area.

One tiny silver lining in the midst of the pandemic has been the proliferation of online exhibitions. Museums and galleries around the world are beginning to utilize virtual presentation platforms, and it seems likely this trend will continue. Granted, looking at images on a screen is no substitute for engaging with artwork in person. However, since some museums and galleries remain closed to the public, going online is currently the only way to access their special exhibits and collections.

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Book Review: Yamabito, the Mountain People by Osamu Sato

In the 1970s, an unassuming Tokyo salaryman used his one day off each week to journey into the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, an 8×10” view camera in tow. Leaving the city behind, he trekked—first by train, then by bus, and finally on foot—until he arrived at the remote villages there.

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Book Review: Grim Street by Mark Cohen

It’s rare to see street photography that captures life in a small American town. Without the crowded sidewalks and anonymity that one experiences in a big city, street photography doesn’t seem nearly as viable. Yet, photographer Mark Cohen stalked the same small radius of Wilkes-Barre, where he lived and worked, for decades, taking groundbreaking and revealing photos of small-town life that revel in the details. A well-edited selection of his black-and-white work comprises Grim Street.

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Binge-Worthy #2: Candy Mountain (Robert Frank, 1987)

Binge-Worthy is a series that explores films made by iconic photographers.

In 1958, photographer Robert Frank published his groundbreaking and highly influential masterwork The Americans. A year later, he segued into filmmaking. He directed the surreal, semi-improvised Beat classic Pull My Daisy (1959), along with a brilliant and difficult-to-track-down documentary on the Rolling Stones, and a myriad of short, avant-garde films. He occasionally dabbled in other formats as well, even branching out into music videos.

Candy Mountain, a low-budget independent feature from the mid-1980s that Frank co-directed, easily ranks among his most significant filmmaking achievements. It’s a deeply personal work etched with social commentary that drives home just how much, in the wake of The Americans, Frank strove to distance himself from that career-defining body of work. It’s also his most mainstream project, and one that he ultimately deemed a failure.

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Book Review: Palante: Young Lords Party by Michael Abramson with the Young Lords Party

Initially published in 1971 and reprinted in 2011, Palante tells the story, in words and pictures, of the New York City chapter of the Young Lords Party.

Inspired by the Black Panthers, the Young Lords Party was an organization of Puerto Rican activists and community organizers, many of whom were first-generation college students at the time. The movement’s heyday lasted a little under two years, from 1969 to 1971. During that time, its members were on the frontlines of the struggle for social, racial, and economic justice. They were self-described socialist revolutionaries who took a strong stand against police violence, systemic racism, and colonialist policies. Not surprisingly, they constantly found themselves subjected to arrest, surveillance, and harassment by the powers-that-be.

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Binge-Worthy #1: Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

Binge-Worthy is a series that explores films made by iconic photographers.

Welcome to the inaugural entry in this series! Granted, at 9 minutes long, there’s not much to binge, but what better film to start with than a semi-forgotten gem that MoMA cites as the first American avant-garde film? Manhatta was co-directed by Paul Strand, one of the most influential photographers of the early 20th Century. His co-director was the highly accomplished Charles Sheeler, a classically trained painter and self-taught photographer who came up with the initial concept for the film.

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Book Review: Why People Photograph by Robert Adams

This collection of short essays and reviews by one of the pre-eminent American landscape photographers explores a wide variety of topics covering all genres of photography.

A landscape photographer known for his black-and-white pictures of the American West, Robert Adams is a strong writer with a philosophical mindset. That’s at least partly due to his academic background: he received a Ph.D. in English literature and taught at the university level before discovering photography. This book is a follow-up to his previous collection of photography criticism, Beauty in Photography.

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Book Review: Photography Until Now by John Szarkowski

Curator and critic John Szarkowski boasts a larger-than-life reputation in the photography world. The former Museum of Modern Art photography director and author of the classic text The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski helped shape the way that photography was both perceived and utilized via groundbreaking exhibitions such as New Documents in 1967 and, two decades later, at the tail end of the 80s, Photography Until Now.

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Saving the Sound of Sigma

There’s a grassroots initiative underway here in Philadelphia to preserve the building that once housed Sigma Sound Studios as a historic landmark. Around 175 gold and platinum records were recorded at Sigma, an innovative, state-of-the-art recording studio founded in 1968 that was home base for Philadelphia International Records as well as a number of international recording stars. Parallax Review editor and founder Aaron M. Cohen recently wrote an article for Broad Street Review about the effort to save Sigma.