Last year, there was much celebration of the launch of Harvey Stein
's new book "Harlem Street Portraits," and his publicity tour continues. Stein will show and discuss images from his 20+ years taking photos in Harlem as well as other images from New York City, on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014, at the Mid-Manhattan Library.
Stein was interviewed by the inimitable Miss Sara Rosen
who kindly gave permission for us to reproduce her article. Enjoy!
Harlem Street Portraits reveals Stein's reverence and love for the friendliness and warmth of Harlem's everyday men and women, and the vibrant and bustling vitality of a historic place that has been the center of African American life and culture for over 100 years. Shooting with a wide-angle lens, Stein's close encounters with families, couples, friends, the elderly, and youth are honest, direct and involving. Each portrait is more than a depiction of a person; it is an intimate record that necessitates direct engagement between photographer and subject showing the mutuality between people.
We are pleased to have Stein here today to share his thoughts about the work he has done on this project for over a decade.
Please talk about Harlem as you know it, as a place you've described to me as "your office." What is it about the streets uptown, the people, the energies that exist on the sidewalks of this world, a place that makes public life an act of art ?
Harvey Stein: I enjoy going to Harlem since I feel it has a street intensity that isn't found in many places in New York City. It's busy, generally friendly, and really beautiful. The avenues (running north/south) are wide, broad and lovely, with old apartment buildings framing the pavements. The cross streets are often filled with brownstones and lots of trees. I have found that the people are quite friendly, open, and emotional. Indeed, the public life is robust, with people hanging out on stoops, and socializing. I seek out visually interesting environments in which to photograph people, and unfortunately in New York, these environments are being gentrified and commercialized. Harlem hasn't escaped this. It seems cleaner; there is less graffiti, nicer store fronts, new buildings and development, more white faces populating Harlem. It is changing, and I think that my images peripherally document that. But my focus is always on the people and how they interact and get along in their neighborhood.
Please talk about the portrait, the way in which people compose themselves, for to be asked to be photographed is not only a compliment, but an honor. I'm always interested in the response of subjects, and how it sets the stage for the photograph. What do you enjoy most about the moment?
HS: I'm not sure that people think it's an honor or compliment to be photographed on the streets. In Manhattan, at least in midtown or downtown, I'd say that 50% of the people I approach to be photographed say no, in Brooklyn only 25% refuse, in Harlem, maybe 20% say no. It depends on the day, whether there is an event going on, how I'm working, etc., etc. Some people grudgingly say yes, others seem to really enjoy it. You never really know what the response will be until you try. And that's what I do, I try and keep trying, never getting upset by a refusal, and always keeping on. I stay cool on the streets, not showing how much I might want a shot, and always remain friendly and respectful.
I try to be casual when photographing on the street; I don't really need or want people to do anything other than to be themselves. Poses are not of interest to me, just people being natural. I ask that they look into the camera and not smile. I believe that portraits are stronger and more engaging when the face is serious, and the gaze is direct. So I guide them somewhat, and am not interested in the subjects composing themselves or performing for the camera.
My street photography is different from most other photographers in that I always try to get close, and use wide-angle lenses to reveal my subject in his/her environment and context. I want the environment to suggest things about the subject that may add another layer to the image. For me, a face is usually not enough; I want their body language, the clothes worn, and some of the foreground/background elements. Ultimately, I am seeking to make as strong and evocative an image as possible, but with permission. I don't really enjoy photographing people candidly; this feels empty to me.
Please talk about that moment of connection, when you, your subject, and your camera connect, capturing a fraction of a second forevermore. After all these years shooting, do you know you "have it"? What do you think that illustrious yet elusive "it" is in the act of street photography ?
HS: I like to think about freezing time with my images, that a person or scene I just photographed will never exist like this again except in the photograph. Nothing makes the passing of time and hence aging more vivid than photography.
I try to speak to my subjects; I want them to be aware of me as I am of them. Perhaps it validates my existence. I seek a collaboration and connection between us, even if very fleeting. I think I enjoy this moment because I am curious and learning something about the person. And learning something about myself. That is my "high".
I sometimes think "wow, that was a great shot, that person really worked with me", and it will result in a wonderful image. It's a feeling not always correct. And it doesn't happen often. For me, that elusive "it" in street photography is when I do make a strong connection with an individual, when we might talk for a few minutes, share the passing scene, and that I photograph 5-10 frames and think I've made a really good image. It's rare, and since I still shoot mostly film on the streets, it takes weeks if not months, sometimes years to realize what I did.
Stein's archive includes many wonderful bodies of work. Here are some of my favourites from his series 'Coney Island 40 Years."
From the Coney Islan series.
Thanks to Harvey for his patience!
A decade ago, after many years of living in Africa, photojournalist Betty Press
moved to Mississippi. Around 2011, still struggling to feel truly at home, "and being a liberal in politics and religion, I decided the best way to deal with this unease was to explore the state, mostly rural and agricultural, through a series of road trips."
"I started by visiting small communities listed in Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, with unusual names like Love, Darling, Expose, Dogtown, Midnight. Often there was very little going on and sometimes it was hard to find the place. When I did, I would look for people out and about. Southern hospitality and politeness are still important and I was welcomed, even as an outsider. Other times I would visit local festivals celebrating music and culture like the Juke Joint Festival and Redneck Festival."
Larissa drying apricots, at the dacha. From the essay A Radiant Shoreline on the Horizon. © Simon Crofts
"Paradise is made from a mixture of cow shit and straw."
In the Land of Endless Expectations
is a project consisting of six picture poems about the Slav heartlands, by Simon Crofts, with accompanying essays and stories. Simon is rolling them out so sign up for updates.
A rich project that you will lose yourself to. Get tea!
Slava at home, Kherson, Ukraine
"Some, as I did, sink into a torpor and think of how to "shed the burden of time". Deep inside they often cherish the mad hope of surviving to a future in which they will recover their lost selves - something that will be possible only when true values have come into their own again. Their whole life consists of waiting for the first glimpse of a promised land, like a radiant shoreline on the horizon. Even though no such thing has ever existed on our planet, and never will, they have no eyes for anything else."
Hope Abandoned, Nadezhda Mandelstam
Serguei and Svetlana at home, Kherson, Ukraine
Koktebel, Crimea. All images © Simon Crofts
Nadezhda Mandelstam's husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, picked up pebbles from the beach of Koktebel, put them in his pocket and carried them back to Moscow. In his essay Conversation about Dante he consulted his Koktebel pebbles to help him understand Dante. He was not alone - in the film Roads to Koktebel, by directors Khlebnikov and Popogrebskiy, the village of Koktebel becomes a kind of place of pigrimage, a name symbolising some kind of promised land that you begin to doubt even exists, for a young boy crossing Ukraine on his own trying to be reunited with his father.
Michelle Dunn Marsh has been in the world of book publishing for 20 years. She and her partners have recently launched a new company, Minor Matters
, that is printing under a non-traditional model, sort of print-on-demand. Books are $50 and they only go into print once a minimum of 500 buyers have committed.
Why 500 people?
"We are interested in cultural resonance and in community. It is our belief that if we cannot generate a minimum audience of 500 people willing to commit $50 for the project to exist as a book, then the work may find its public life in other forms. A minimum of 500 orders at $50 is a break-even financial proposition."
In a recent interview
Marsh said "Aperture is the right fit for some, Taschen or Chronicle are the right fits for others. I'm not looking to do books that are going to sell 10,000 copies, frankly. We've developed a more boutique model. It's not about taking away from what those institutions are doing, it's about adding to it."
The first 500 people who purchase are even listed within the book and each title will be given six months to reach the target 500+.
A Fine Beginning
is a collective showcasing contemporary photography made in Wales. Their exhibition, "Made in Wales," features 17 artists, including friend of aCurator and generally top man, Brian David Stevens
. Mark your calendars for March 14, 2014.
"A Fine Beginning, from which this collective takes its name, is the first chapter of Dylan Thomas' unfinished novel Adventures in the Skin Trade. The central character of the story leaves his parents home in South Wales for Paddington Station and when asked where he's going, Samuel Bennett replies, 'I don't know where I'm going, I haven't any idea in the world, that's why I came to London'."
In 2008, Irina Popova
was on assignment looking for a story about 'feelings.' "I met Pasha and Lilya the day after getting the assignment for the project. You could say that I got lucky. Last year I shot a similar couple that kept their child in the basement."
This controversial photostory has now been published as a book by the Dostoevsky Photography Society
. Since I don't have my copy as of writing, here's the blurb from the preface.
"This fascinating book tells the story of Irina Popova's stay with a family of drug-users in St. Petersburg, Russia. The photostory - focusing on a small child living in shocking family circumstances - has provoked an explosion of criticism on the Internet, directed towards the parents as well as at the photographer. The book reveals the documentary evidence during the development of the story, including the previously unpublished photos from the archives of the photographer herself and the characters, the web pages of blogs with comments, the private letters and the diaries. It attempts to analyze the consequences of the photographer's actions and the degree of responsibility of the photographer. The multivocal storytelling in the book forms the screenplay for a real-life drama. This is the first time this frequently discussed topic of the supposed responsibility of documentary photographers has been analyzed so consistently and comprehensively in book form. This book is therefore more than simply a documentary photo book depicting the deplorable situation of a drug-addict family - it is an essential document dealing with the question all documentary photographers may be confronted with at some time in their careers: can I continue working or should I stop and try to help solve the problem I am witness to?"
Read an extensive article in The Guardian
about what happened when, having been shown in a well-received exhibition offline, the photographs subsequently hit the internet.
We are proud to have this portrait of the Marx Brothers presented as part of the supporting materials for the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
in Moscow's exhibition "Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Famous Jews of the Twentieth Century" which is on now. There is an interview with the curator on the New Contemporary
website about the differences between this exhibition and its original that showed at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1980.
Partners Davide Luciano and Claudia Ficca produce ridiculously fun images. Yes I'm a vegetarian and squeamish about catching meeces. But if I were a mouse and I saw one of these, I'd definitely call a meeting.
'The inspiration for Gourmet Mouse Traps came to Davide after a week-long cheese advertising shoot in NYC. "I was in a cheesy state on mind that week" says Davide. The idea came to him while he was riding the train after a long day on set. "When I told Claudia her eyes light up, she pulled out a pen and paper and instantly created the menu."' Brilliantly bonkers.
Mac & cheese
Ahh, the web. Italian fashion/art project, teeshare
, found the lovely feature 'Act' from French photographer Denis Darzacq
, (whose work was originally introduced to me by the Curator for the Karsh estate), and dropped me a note to tell me about the line of limited edition T shirts they are producing with Denis. Edition is 20. €85,00.
"Teeshare isn't just an original t-shirt, 100% cotton made and handcrafted in Italy, ethically fashioned in artisanal workshops. It's also a means of expression. Which is why we decided to work with artists: so their artworks and their message can go around with the person wearing their teeshare tee."
Because you may as well produce your own, before a dodgy clothes company does it behind your back.