New York Photo Review
from the NYPR Archives

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine


Wanna See My Portfolio?
Don Burmeister
It’s Wonderful to be Alive, Mabou by Robert Frank. Source:
Robert Frank, "It’s Wonderful to be Alive, Mabou" 1971

Presenting portfolios put together by five of the leading photographers of the early 1970’s: Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Duane Michals, and Garry Winogrand, as well as a small portfolio of photographs by Robert Rauschenberg from some 20 years earlier, Pace/MacGill’s summer show could well be the most serious exhibition currently on view in New York.

These portfolios (except perhaps for Rauschenberg’s) were not meant to be dropped off at the front desks of galleries for review, as the title might infer; rather they were designed to be sold to institutions and wealthy collectors in a bulk sale at a time when few fine-art photographers could support themselves from the sales of individual prints alone. But the portfolios also offered creative opportunities. Much like the newly popular record albums of the time, they provided a small venue where the photographer could choose images and put them together in a defined context. This was long before images were routinely designated as parts of extended series and at a time when the publication of photography books was a long, expensive and rare process.

Untitled by Robert Rauschenberg. Source:
Robert Rauschenberg, "Untitled" 1952

To follow along on the LP analogy, three of the artists definitely were interested in putting together “Greatest Hits” portfolios. From Garry Winogrand we get the couple with two chimps in Central Park, that wardrobe malfunction at the Metropolitan Museum, the black bear’s jaws back at Central Park, as well as lots of young women on the street. Freidlander came though with top ten hits like the one with the TV set at the end of the bed in Galax Virginia, and, perhaps his greatest hit, the one with his own surprised shadow on the back of a woman’s fur coat in New York. Diane Arbus included a few of her chartbusters as well, The Jewish Giant in the Bronx, those twin girls with the different minds, and that patriotic young man in a straw hat.

It is always good to see these familiar images, especially in the old fashioned, small sizes shown here. But a deeper interest comes from the lesser-known images the photographers included. Winogrand and Friedlander produced their portfolios at the same time and the Pace/MacGill press materials indicate that Friedlander actually edited the images for his friend. Sure enough, there are only two images in Winogrand’s portfolio without people, those bear jaws, and an incongruously complex street in Dallas–a perfect ‘Friedlander’. Amidst the Friedlander pictures (aside from the back of the fur-coat lady’s head) there is only one with prominent people, a disjointed amalgam of heads at a New York cocktail party, the Friedlander ‘cover’ of a Winogrand theme.

Duane Michals and Robert Frank each took a different tack with their portfolios: the concept album. Duane Michals’ 1965 portfolio presages much of his later work. With only 5 images “A Visit with Magritte” is essentially a short photo story. He used double exposures of both Magritte and his wife, and of their home to strong effect. Although he does not employ text in this portfolio, the sequential nature of the imagery is implicit here and will be a cornerstone of his future work.

Robert Frank’s portfolio also came at a turning point for the artist. In Nova Scotia, using a ‘disposable’ camera with 16mm film that was sent off by mail to be printed, he used the prints he received to produce large collages with hand written text, letters, and clippings. The original collages are now in the Canadian National Gallery in Ottawa, but this portfolio contains hand-pulled lithographs of the originals. The prints, perhaps because of the unifying effect of the lithographic process, may be even more emotive than the originals. This set alone is worth the trip to the gallery.

The Rauschenberg portfolio is the outlier in the group, produced by the artist in the 1950’s before he turned to painting and assemblage. They offer quirky and intriguing looks onto a path not taken by the artist.

Despite its rather jokey title, this is a seriously interesting and intelligent show, both for its insights into the photographic past and its relevance to the photographic present.

Wanna See My Portfolio?

32 E 57th St. 9th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 759 7999

Thursday, July 14 to
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Hours: Summer Hours: Mon-Thur, 9:30-5:30

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery