Words on the Street

The following selection of street photography is inspired by the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Street.

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Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1966 (673.1986)

The Street exhibit is a collection of images, film footage, sketches, and other mixed media from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art curated by James Nares to accompany his hour-long video taken while driving along the streets of New York City.

Nares chose the above image by Friedlander as an example of other artists who took to the streets for inspiration. Friedlander photographed the streets of New York, often sneaking himself into the frame through use of shadows falling on passers-by and reflections in store-front windows. Similarly in Nares’s video, through window reflections, viewers sometimes catch a glimpse of the vehicle Nares is riding while filming.

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August SanderJockey, Vienna, 1932 (390.1984)

August Sander also took to the streets, as he set out to document the German people during the Weimar Republic in the 1920s-40s–the rise and fall of the Third Reich. In his lengthy publications, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Men of the 20th Century) and Antlitz der Zeit (Faces of our Time), Sander categorized his subjects into types, varying by trade and class. These seven groupings include: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, Woman, and The Last People. The Last People was a series on those outcast from society, or those less fortunate–the homeless, veterans, and the sick–and is an example of photography’s hand in marginalization, or classification of “types.”

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Diane Arbus, Loser at a Diaper Derby, N.J. (2008.35.1)

Sometimes, a photographer is recognized for the “types” they photograph, such as Diane Arbus, whose attraction to “the flaw,” the outcast, and the bizarre, gave her the reputation of photographing “freaks.” Like Friedlander, Arbus photographed New Yorkers. However, an important component to Arbus’s work was her search for her subjects. She spent a lot of time getting to know her subjects and often captures them at ease, in an informal setting such as their home (the image of a giant in his living room with his parents) or in a hotel room (a dwarf sitting half undressed on his hotel bed). Arbus’s images can be challenging to the viewer. She distorts societal views of ‘normalcy’ by mixing her images of dwarfs, transvestites, or giants with her images of twins, central park lovers or for example, the image above, a mother casually holding her crying baby in a park. 

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Joseph Rodriguez, Cindy, Spanish Harlem, 1988 (41.2002)

This street photograph above was taken by ICP’s Joseph Rodriguez, who completed the Photojournalism/ Documentary diploma and since has taught classes at ICP. Rodriguez continues to photograph in the social documentary tradition.

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