Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to return to Paris Photo with works by Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Kota Ezawa, Peter Hujar, Wardell Milan, Richard Misrach, Eadweard Muybridge, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Carleton Watkins, Carrie Mae Weems, and others.
In Carrie Mae Weems’s The North Star, 2022, the artist explores a painful family story in which her grandfather, Frank Weems, a tenant farmer and union activist, disappeared after being attacked by a white mob in Earle, Arkansas, in 1936. Though he was presumed dead, he narrowly escaped and made his way to Chicago on foot by following the North Star, but was never able to reunite with his family. The work makes an apt metaphor for Frank Weems’s life and the longer history of the bright star, Polaris, which helped guide those escaping slavery. Extended across a long, horizontal plane, the photographs make up an alternative starry night sky, while highlighting the central image, around which the others extend like the branches of a family tree.
The Eiffel Tower remains an iconic element of Parisian architecture, visible even from within the walls of the Grand Palais Éphémère, where this year’s Paris Photo again takes place. In Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographic reinterpretation, the artist pictures the 1889 monument slightly out of focus and isolated from its urban context. Thus, the details of the iron framework fall away, leaving only the contours of its recognizable shape. The photograph becomes a testament to the timelessness of the tower and the ongoing aims of science, industry, and innovation.
In Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Brush Impression, the artist draws upon his study of Japanese calligraphy to record the movement of his brush across the surface of the paper, producing gestural shapes as well as splashes, bubbles, and traces of bristles. Rather than using ink, however, Sugimoto paints with darkroom chemicals on gelatin silver paper to produce striking black and white compositions. Here, the fluidity of the brushstrokes mirrors the kanji character for the elemental expression of water.
An 1880 photograph of a Siamese theater troupe pictures the stage from across the room, widening its view to encompass also the audience at far left. The slightly long exposure captures the movements of the central figures, along with their delicate gestures of touch, like a foot resting on another’s knee, and a hand pressing against a back.
Wardell Milan’s character study, The Engineer, combines collaged photographs, colored pencil, graphite, and paint to construct an “exquisite corpse” of multiple body parts and their shifting perspectival views. A bit of an engineer himself, the artist playfully combines the pieces of his multi-media works to explore the duality between marginalization and the freedom of expression.
To compose this photograph of friend Chuck Gretsch, Peter Hujar stooped to his level, positioning his camera intimately close to the supine figure. Imbuing his photographs with the intimacy that so often determined his relationships with subjects, Hujar pairs the introspective gaze of his sitter with a column of curling smoke, rising ever so lightly from the cigar gripped between his lips.
This curious photograph of an illuminated portrait of Christ in a New York lobby exhibits the kind of strange dualities that interested Diane Arbus throughout her career. The reflection of the portrait in the marbled surface of the adjoining wall not only duplicates the image in reverse, but projects a ghostly likeness of the holy figure, like the stained record that is the Veil of Veronica.
From 1884 to 1887, Eadweard Muybridge amassed an impressive compendium of photographic studies on human and animal locomotion. Developed as tools for artists and scientists, Muybridge’s photographs documented anonymous figures, clothed or naked, in a variety of movements. Though the title does not suggest it, the figure pictured is Muybridge himself.
From Carleton Watkins’s first Yosemite trip in 1861, this mammoth-plate photograph frames Nevada Falls within a long-exposure look at the Merced River below. This work is signed on the recto by the artist himself and was exhibited in the pivotal Watkins retrospective which took place at the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It is being offered for the first time.
The dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History—which transport viewers to far-flung corners of the globe at various moments in history—have long fascinated Hiroshi Sugimoto. During a 2012 visit to the museum, the artist positioned his camera at a particular vantage point before the artificial scene from where the viewer’s illusion of total immersion within the landscape could be achieved.
The third chapter of Richard Misrach’s series, Desert Cantos, “The Flood,” focuses on the Salton Sea of Southern California, a lake created by an engineering mistake at the beginning of the twentieth century. A popular tourist destination throughout the 1950s and 60s, excessive irrigation flooded the area further, leaving infrastructure like these gas pumps eerily submerged and the water at risk of contamination. The fraught history of the desert landscape, and its political turmoil, remains subtly coded within Misrach’s picturesque depiction.
Apart from the expansive views of Colorado’s Front Range, Robert Adams’s photographic studies of the mid-century suburban expansion outside of Denver captured more intimate scenes of everyday life, like this parking lot outside the local grocery store. A line of cars obfuscates the natural horizon beyond, yet a resilient tree rises into frame alongside the shop signs reflecting America’s car-centric culture.
American military photographer Harry Dutchyshyn emigrated in 1926 from Austria to the U.S., where he worked as the post photographer at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey before transferring to Camp Gordon in Georgia after the Second World War. Dutchyshyn’s 1953 portrait of the 229 soldiers of the camp’s Company C was taken weeks after the end of the Korean War, and just five years after President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the United States Military. The changing racial makeup of the armed services in the aftermath of an intense period of global conflict is reflected in the class portrait, which includes the last names and hometowns of the individuals pictured.
Grain elevators, which afforded agricultural production the privilege of industrial scale, were a longtime subject for Bernd and Hilla Becher. Approaching this example near Buffalo, New York, the husband and wife duo photographed their subject according to the “impersonal” and “uninflected” style consistent throughout their career. Yet the lettering adorning its surface, as well as the line of railroad tracks and surrounding buildings, imbue the site with a sense for its unique character.
When Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray began his renowned series of photograms (i.e., Rayographs) shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1921, he layered atop photosensitive paper everyday objects such as thumbtacks, coils, combs, and more. Here, Kota Ezawa’s reinterpretation further symbolizes the rudimentary forms that have become canonical in the history of photography. Installed as a lightbox, Ezawa’s “remix” re-animates the dreamlike image hovering somewhere between abstraction and representation.
In the 2006 series of self-portraits, Carrie Mae Weems situates herself within monumental landscapes and sweeping vistas in and around Rome. Dressed in a long black dress with her back turned toward the camera, Weems confronts iconic architectural sites dotting the city and, in turn, the structures of power they symbolize. As Weems states, “You are always aware that you are sort of a minion in relationship to this enormous edifice—the edifice of power.”