I like listening to curators talking about their work, talking about the things they think are important in the artist they are showing and talking about what they hope the viewer will see. Recently I heard Jennifer Watts, Curator of photographs at the Huntington Library and Scott Wilcox, Chief Curator of Art Collections at the Yale Center for British Art talk about their co-curated exhibition; Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland.
The show is an in depth look at the work of two very different people, one, Davidson, a journalist/documentarian photographer with a clear eyed humanist vision, the other, Caponigro a landscape photographer with a strong mystical bent. On the surface there is very little to link their work and yet…Watts and Wilcox have made the unlikely connection work. Both photographers spent time in Britain and Ireland in the sixties, both worked in black and white and both were searching for meaning in what they saw. For me, that question of meaning is what comes through. Each photographers work is hung separately. There is no attempt to convey equivalence between individual images. But the feeling of the whole is coherent and the experience of the show is positive and nourishing.
I asked Wilcox and Watts why this is an important show to see firsthand. Here are some of their answers.
Jennifer Watts: There is no substitute for seeing a real print on real paper made by a craftsperson. The depth and quality you experience seeing an original object is like nothing you can experience on a screen or even on a printed page. I’m reminded of this again and again because we look at these images countless times while we are preparing for an exhibition. Often times we see the pictures as poor copies or in a book and then the work arrives and we put it on the wall and suddenly it’s a whole different experience, a very personal experience. For instance, in Paul’s case, he spends a great deal of time in the darkroom to make his prints. They have a depth and quality and luminescence that only comes from hours and hours of labor. It not the kind of thing where you go in once and develop a print and you’re done. He tests over and over again until the print really imparts the feeling he wants you to experience.
…I always design thinking “What do I want to feel when I walk into an exhibition?” You’re in a three dimensional space, in an intimate setting with the work and I want people to come away having made connections and having run the gamut of emotion. You can’t get this looking through a book which is a very linear experience. In a three dimensional space you can respond to the work with more of your senses. It’s more like a movie, it has pacing and moments. One moment you’re contemplative, another you feel humor, yet another awe, it’s like any good story telling, there’s ebb and flow. I want people to feel not exactly drama but engagement with the work. I want them to leave having a new appreciation that they couldn’t have had just looking at a screen.
Scott Wilcox: I think one of the things that’s so important about this exhibition is that it brings together two outstanding American photographers of their generation and it shows a body of their work that is very little known and never before seen together. At first, bringing them together felt odd, they are such different personalities both as people and as photographers. Consequently we couldn’t meld their work together as we originally thought we would, we had to keep them separated. Instead they speak to each other across the galleries in a way that’s really exciting. It’s unlikely they will ever be seen this way again. This is probably the one opportunity to see these artists side by side and in this conversation.
More of their thoughts on the photographers as well as the images on display in the exhibition can be found in the lovely catalog available here: www.thehuntingtonstore.org or here: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300201499
The show runs from November 8th to March 9th. And if you’re in the LA area on December 11th do yourself a favor and get tickets to join Jennifer Watts for a private tour of the exhibition at: www.brownpapertickets.com It’s a rare opportunity to hear from someone who has spent months thinking about the photographs and the photographers while you are in the company of the images.
And if not for the talk come when you can, come and see this show as it should be seen, slowly and thoughtfully. The Huntington is a great place to spend an afternoon or even a day. Take advantage of the gardens as well as the art and walk away feeling better for having spent the time. Why not? What else could be better?
Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland –