Wednesday, May 5, 2010

W. Eugene Smith - The Jazz Loft Project in New York City till May 22, 2010

For the first time, a rare set of W. Eugene Smith's black & white work prints are displayed at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and will be available through May 22, 2010. This collection of prints is called the Jazz Loft Project, where Smith took residence at 821 Sixth Avenue (between 28th and 29th Street) for eight years, recording audiotapes and recording images of jazz musicians, artists and underground characters in their element. Smith's photographs capture the late-night jam sessions, rehearsals, and musicians testing new melodies. The likes of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, and Hall Overton were photographed as they practiced in less than desirable make-shift rooms. In addition to Smith's "recordings" of the musicians, on display are also Smith's series of street photographs taken with his 400 mm Canon lens from his loft window.

The collection presented in the exhibit, in my opinion, is less famously known or has not reached as much notoriety as Smith's other works such as The Pacific War (1942-1945), The Country Doctor (1948), The Nurse - Midwife, Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1954), and Minamata (1971). However, the Jazz collection, like his other photographs and photo essays, continue to tell you a story about how it was to see these artists in their natural environment. Smith is like a fly on the wall; his photographs do not show "posed" characters, rather, everyone is naturally going on with their business as if he was not there. There is no doubt that by living among the artists, it allowed him to capture what others would not, the 'human-ness' of these individuals without disrupting the mood in the room. Interestingly enough, a few videos at the end of the exhibit tell you that some of the musicians knew he was around, but no one really took notice of him; and others, didn't even know who he was.

So who was W. Eugene Smith? He was a renowned photographer who during his career worked for LIFE, Newsweek, Parade, Magnum and freelancer at Black Star. During his photographic career he gained notoriety from numerous collections of photos, as mentioned above -- The Pacific War (1942-1945), The Country Doctor (1948), The Nurse - Midwife, Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1954), and Minamata (1971). He captured a great number emotion evoking photographs, but what also made him stand apart from other photographers was his talent as a printer. Funny thing is, in one of the videos at the exhibit, Smith stated that when he started at the age of 14, he hated dark room work, but from the beginning to the end of his career, he obviously overcame that and learned to enjoy working in the dark room as he became a great printer.

At the exhibit there were a few quotes that caught my eye. Upon reflection of Smith's life, Smith stated that while living at 821 Sixth Avenue, it was "great exuberance and just truer quality of seeing", which may explain the quality and "air" about the photos. Additionally, he also stated that during this time period (1958), he was at the peak of his career; it was the best and worst time of his life as a photographer and nadir for human being. For those that do not know, in 1957, Smith left his wife and four kids to live at the dilapidated five story loft building; of which, as a viewer, you will see his work taken over a span of eight years, including everything inside and outside the building walls at 821 Sixth Avenue.

Below is my list of things that should not be missed at the exhibit:

  • Thelonius Monk. 1959. The printing of this is incredible -- dark shadow, face silhouetted, eyes closed expressing his passion for music and a lit cigarette with smoke coming out from it.
  • Robert Ayler
  • Roland Kirk - you see him performing on the piano and there is a somewhat ghostly shape of a person watching on the left side of the photo -- (again, Smith chooses what he wants you to see through his printing quality)
  • Lady getting out of the Car -- there is something sexy about that leg coming out of the car
  • Lady searching around in her purse
  • Mother giving her child gloves
  • Salvador Dali photo - he's just one of my favorite artists;
  • Note: Aside from musicians who frequented 821 Sixth Avenue, were other well-known including Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson).
Video : Audio Recordings
  • Audio recording of when a policeman visits him in his loft
  • Audio recording of Smith calling Ziff Davis publishing company --
  • Screen #3 - watch and listen to Eugene Smith talking about his projects
Inside the Cases: A Must See
  • LIFE Magazine -- articles on Albert Schweitzer, the Nurse: Midwife, South Pacific
  • 400 mm Canon lens

With that said, the exhibit is now on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and will run through May 22, 2010. The exhibit will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center (July 17-September 25, 2010), the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (February 3-May 22, 2011), the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego (May 19-Oct. 7, 2012), and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona (late 2012, early 2013). There will also be an exhibition of projected images at the Monterey Jazz Festival September 17-19, 2010.

For more info: WSJ article, Jazz Loft Project Homepage

Address & Hours: February 17, 2010 through May 22, 2010

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center
40 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10023-7498
Phone: (212) 870-1630

Tues, Wed & Fri: 11 to 6;
Mon, Thurs: 12 to 8; Sat: 10 to 6
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