My two favorite shows among the many each year at the Park Avenue Armory are the annual print and photography fairs. Maybe it’s because multiplicity still carries a whiff of possibility for the buyer with shallow pockets. Of course, these days the stars of both fairs are usually rare, sometimes unique objects carrying hefty price tags, as is born out at the 31st Photography Show sponsored by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD).
This year there are 79 international galleries showing all manner of historical and contemporary photography. Head up there this weekend (11 AM to 7 PM on Friday and Saturday; 11 AM to 6 PM on Sunday) to compile your own top-ten list. I went with a photographer friend who knew many things that I did not, and together we agreed that the following works were pretty amazing.
Edwynn Houk Gallery (New York): Maybe it’s an unfair way to begin, as this is the booth that greets visitors at the entrance—with a big, dramatic cowboy, colorful in a hot sunset, by contemporary Swiss photographer Hannes Schmid. How could you not get roped in? There are many dealers showing some extraordinary vintage prints, but Houk has two that made us literally weak in the knees: Edward Weston‘s sexy Nude in Dunes, Oceano, 1936, so perfectly crafted that you can see the grains of sand beneath Charis Wilson’s body and the tiny hairs on her legs; and André Kertész‘s Clock of the Académie Française, 1929, a famous image of which this is the only known vintage print. There’s something about seeing, through the clock’s emphatic face, people outside going about their business: it gets to the heart of photography’s intimate relationship with time, and puts you in mind of your own fleeting passage.
Galerie Priska Pasquer (Cologne): Given current events, it’s unsettling to look at the Japanese photography in Priska Pasquer’s booth but there is a fine selection from the ’60s and ’70s by the likes of Yutaka Takanashi, Daido Moriyama and Shin Yanagisawa—photos in which bleary urban settings and characters are cast in steamy extremes of light and dark. The tiny pedestrians in Overpass Shibuja, Tokyo, from Yanagishawa’s 1960s “Tracks of the City” series, enter a shadowy tunnel as if crossing into the underworld.
Richard Moore Photographs (Oakland) has a nifty selection of cityscapes, mostly by artists you’d expect, like Walker Evans and Helen Levitt. We were struck by a group of very simple pictures by the lesser-known Percy Loomis Sperr, who photographed all around the boroughs of New York from the 1920s to the ’40s. His modest shots—a girl eating cotton candy; a Hires Root Beer Truck parked in an empty industrial neighborhood, for example—are both matter-of-fact and particular. Moore also has what has to be one of Weegee’s most terrifying pictures-no, not a crime scene, but a sleeping circus clown. Find it if you dare: Dressing Room Behind the Circus Room, ca. 1944.
Steven Kasher Gallery (New York): Do your tastes run, as my friend’s do, to anonymous or undervalued commercial photographers? Kasher’s booth has a wall of photographic identification buttons from the 1930s through the ’50s, three handsome pictures of bowling-pin splits, and a quartet of anonymous color portraits of ordinary African-American sitters, which are all worth some time. The gallery has also brought a group of prints by Herbert Ponting, a National Geographic photographer who documented polar expeditions. (He famously accompanied Robert Falcon Scott on his last expedition to Antarctica.) His vintage gelatin silver prints, made 1911–12, run the gamut of genres and views, from moody landscapes of vast stretches of ice to a close-up portrait of a noble sled dog.
Bruce Silverstein/20 (New York): The gallery is about to open an exhibition of Frederick Sommers‘s collages and photographs, so it’s no surprise that they hung a corner of their spacious booth with Sommers’s efforts in various mediums. These included, among other works, a drawing and a photograph of a few lines from a musical score. A luscious gray-on-gray photograph captured Sommers’s own creation, a cut-paper abstraction that he destroyed after he photographed it—Thomas Demand avant la lèttre.
Charles Schwartz Ltd. (New York) is showing photography and ephemera concerning the capture of the Confederate general Jefferson Davis-apparently a preoccupation of the popular imagination in the North. Weirdest is a tintype of a child’s drawing of Davis dressed in women’s clothing (which is how it was rumored he attempted to escape). That’s in a glass display case at the front of the booth. But shift your gaze a little to the left to see four anonymous ambrotypes of Japanese sitters in traditional costumes. The Shinto priest is particularly fine. All come in their original, exquisite little inscribed wooden cases.
Minor White, Harry Callahan These are not booths, of course, but fine examples of each photographer’s work appear in countless places at the fair. Look for great vintage prints of White’s Windowsill Daydreaming (1958) at William Schaefer/Photographs (Chester, PA), and his Church, Hornitos, California (1948) at Paul Hertzmann (San Francisco). And at Robert Klein (Boston), the flat façade of Callahan’s Untitled (New York) (1945), with its just-off windows, is an understated masterpiece.
Julie Saul Gallery (New York) Always on the watch for rare photographs by Luigi Ghirri (1943–1992), we found four very good chromogenic prints from the ’70s at Saul’s booth. Best is an Alpine panorama with scruffy trees in the foreground—one of the Italian photographer’s disorienting details of scale models (da “In Scala” #540), 1977. Also, nearby, are two portraits of girls bathing at Hilton Head and Coney Island, by Reneke Dijkstra, from the early ’90s, back when the photographer worked in a smaller scale, much more intimate than her more recent work.
Weinstein Gallery (Minneapolis): Oddly, contemporary photography is not a strong suit of AIPAD, possibly because many of today’s cutting-edge practitioners prefer to be mainstreamed as “artists who make photography.” Luckily, a few still feel comfortable in the ghetto. Weinstein has mounted a nice solo showing of photographs by Alec Soth, whose images of marginal people and their marginal dwellings are a little scary, and effective for the sense they convey of trespassing in a world where you don’t belong. To wit: a photo of a room in an abandoned building, its wall scrawled with the graffito, “I LOVE MY DADDY I WISH HE LOVED ME” (2007_10zl0006, 2007).
Morat Galerie (Hamburg): Contemporary American photographer Christian Patterson was for a time the assistant of William Eggleston, while living in Memphis, and the influence is at times too readily felt. Nonetheless, Patterson’s large color C-prints have their own brilliant color sense and eye for the vernacular. One 2004 photograph is titled for a phrase written on a piece of cardboard above a gas stove, all burners blasting: “Revelation 21:8.” It’s as good a photograph of Evangelical end-times as you’re likely to find.