Connect with us

Collector's Focus

What I Did Over Summer Vacation



By John Bennette

I started writing for Focus with the idea that the person reading my words would be by my side and that it could be as relaxed as having coffee with a friend. That was about a year ago. I have tried to shy away from telling you what to buy or who is the next great artist. I really want you to look at photography. A new season filled with new excitement and new photographs to look at has started. It is by now October; the auctions will be in a few days. Please try to visit the previews this year.

Collecting is not about what you can buy but about what and why you choose to leave something out. Collecting is another art form. It could be why the larger collectors of today with money and power have started to build their own museums to keep their visions whole and undiluted. We are not there yet — maybe one day.

This column was inspired by what I did during my summer vacation. Collecting is a joy, but like anything else, you need a break, a different direction— maybe to realize that you have reached your goal. For the summer I decided to stop looking for images to acquire. For the summer I decided to put myself to the test that I usually give to my students, that is, to curate an imaginary exhibition of 16 images based on a theme using photographs from many sources, mostly from printed matter and, most importantly, not iconic photography. I use this as a way to help them see and understand what it is they are looking for. Usually we have a session where they all show their ideas and we talk. The process hopefully expands our thoughts about what it is that drives us to collect.

Finding a subject was easy because I love looking at people. More and more I find myself looking with the understanding that something lies within the borders of the image that the sitter is trying to tell me — something more than the conflict of revealing the private self, more than the blank gaze or defensive glare, more than the artist’s manipulation. I want to see it all. I want to be there in the second when no one is looking, knowing of course that it is all in my imagination, that a photograph does not provide me with the privilege of someone else’s life.

I gave my effort the title of “Degrees of Separation.” Previously in my class exercises I had used as a unifying theme people holding photographs of lost friends and family. I am moved and fascinated by the power of the photograph that comes to represent the missing. While I was working on finding photographs that fit with my conceit, a New York gallery approached me to do a summer show. My notebooks were filled with nearly 600 portrait images. The show gave me an opportunity to force myself to edit, to crystallize what was important about this group of photographs. The gallery has as its primary objectives the striving for quality, diversity and affordability. So all of a sudden I could no longer borrow big-name artists from high-profile galleries. I had to establish a sense of cohesiveness to communicate to others a simple idea about repetition in presentation, and I could not use all 600 photographs to do this.

The decision not to use a Diane Arbus or an Irving Penn had a profound effect on me and on the way the show looked. To frame the exhibition—maybe to give pause or a visual rest to what eventually became 95 photographs — I chose six large format photographs of interiors with family portraits and snapshots displayed. This is the way most of us live with portraits. The artists were Mary Presley Adams, Sheila Pree Bright, Annabel Clark, Wyatt Gallery (a person not a space), Joelle Jensen and Jessica Rowe. There were 61 artists from around the world including 17 women. Most are working artists, some with long and distinguished careers. A number I found when visiting galleries and online sites. It was also for me a pleasant chance to show work by artists that I have met over the past 15 years while I have collected and visited places like FotoFest and Photolucida and Rhubarb-Rhubarb.

Rachel Dunville, Heard; Courtesy Peer Gallery

I guess I should give a little overview at this point. There is a wonderful Shelby Lee Adams picture called Mother and Baby, 1999, a homage to Mike Disfarmer taken for the Sunday New York Times. It had never been seen before, but it recalls some of the great paintings on the subject. Placed near it was Heard by Rachael Dunville, a tender image of a family gently intertwined on a porch in an old glider swing. Taken in Missouri, it is beautifully colored, yet there remains something that is a little off. Most people who see Heard say that it reminds them of a Pieta.

“Degrees of Separation” is a portrait show with a number of issues under discussion. One is Identity. How much does a photograph tell us about a person? Marco Arbus’s photograph from Two Cultures in an Armchair — of a handsome black man sitting in an elaborate chair — could have been taken almost anywhere, but it is part of a series taken in Verona, Italy, of a Pentecostal group of West Africans living there. The man evokes George Rodgers’s famous photographs taken in Sudan in 1947.

To some viewers the image suggests the work of Seydou Keita. Against this lushly colored image where the subject injects his presence and connects with the viewer, you are asked to define a person by what is left behind. Vicki Topaz’s keen observation in #302 San Francisco, California gives only a single clue: a lovely piece of lingerie left in a well-appointed hotel bathroom.

We feel that we know this woman based on many images that have come out of advertising in the past. The portraits balance ideas about who is looking. Roger Eberhard’s Taxi Driver, Russia, 2006, taken on the streets, carefully frames a man parked smoking and waiting, a man who appears to be unaware of the camera, yet the viewer is led to where the driver is looking, his gaze focused on his rear view mirror. At what could he be looking so intently? Maybe he is a spy.

Another small silver gelatin photo by Radek Skrivanek of Two Teenagers with a Cassette Player, Wadi Hadhramawt, Yemen, 1995, leaves no doubt as to what engages their eyes. The response to the exhibition was close to what I wanted to create. People took the time to look, and some came back more than once. They looked at details and asked questions. They noticed that some artists posed their subjects very carefully while others seemed to let life happen.

I think Joelle Jensen’s Portrait Hall, 2006, best represents the essence of the show. The artists, their subjects and the viewers are like a large family. Maybe we don’t always talk to or see each other, but we know we are there. We like to stop in that hallway and remember and reflect; we like to look.
Collecting is about looking and then deciding what stays with you. What stays with me is a conceptual piece by Mauro Altamura consisting of 1000 14 x11-inch black and white photographs. Twelve were in the exhibition. The body of work is called Anonymous and they are re-photographs of people in the background of pictures published in the New York Times Friday Metro section.

So this summer I had a lot of time to look at people. I would suggest to future collectors that they try my little exercise. Maybe it will help them see too. The artist who made “Degrees of Separation” a reality are listed below. Most have websites.

Shelby Lee Adams, Mary Presley Adams, Mauro Altamura, Marco Ambrosi, Dave Anderson, Roswell Angier, Sheila Pree Bright, David Wilson Burnham, Julie Dennis Brothers, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Peikwen Cheng, Albert Chong, Annabel Clark, Valdir Cruz, Rachael Dunville, Roger Eberhard, Amy Elkins, Martine Fougeron,  Allen Frame, Wyatt Gallery, Stan Gaz, Justin Guariglia, Charles Harbutt, Jefferson Hayman, Jason Horowitz, Joelle Jensen, Jimmy Katz, Rafaelo Kazakov, Mark Kessell, Yasutaka  Kojima, Milomir Kovacevic, Jason Langer, Li Jie Liu, O. Rufus Lovett, Joseph Maida, Gratiane de Moustier, Mladen Pikulic, Dan Nelken, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman, Sung Jin Park, Paolo Pellegrin, Matthew Pillsbury, Nicholas Prior, Chris Rauschenberg, Frank Rodick,
Jessica Rowe, Junsik Shin, Elizabeth Siegfried, Inbal Sivan, Radek Skrivanek, Will Steacy, Maura Sullivan, Joseph Szabo, Brad Temkin, Vicki Topaz, Charles Traub, Preston Wadley, Ann Weathersby, Frederic Weber, Marc Yankus.

John A. Bennette is a well-known New York photography critic and scholar whose passion is collecting and supporting emerging artists. His 1996 AIPAD address on “The Joy of Collecting” brought him to national attention within the photographic community. He is a frequent panelist and lecturer at photographic symposia nationwide. He is also participating in Focus Feedback. To contact John with comments or questions, please e-mail him at [email protected]

Continue Reading

Collector's Focus




NEW YORK CITY—Howard Greenberg Gallery will present the photography exhibition Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons from October 8 through December 22 in the new gallery on the 8th floor of the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street.

One of the world’s leading galleries for classic and modern photography, the Howard Greenberg Gallery is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibition of important work by the renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks. Through his still images, both candid and staged, the exhibition explores the roots of Parks’ future as a filmmaker. 

Parks, who described his camera as his “choice of weapons,” was known for his work documenting American life and culture with a focus on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement, and the African American experience. He was hired as staff photographer for Life magazine in 1948, where over two decades he created some of his most groundbreaking work that cast light on the social and economic impact of poverty, discrimination, and racism.

In 1969, Parks launched a pioneering film career by becoming the first African American to write and direct a major studio feature, The Learning Tree, based on his semi-autobiographical novel—a career move foreshadowed through his cinematic approach to photography.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Parks’ second feature-length directorial endeavor, Shaft (1971), a classic New York City detective film that spawned the blaxploitation genre, the gallery will present photographic works that reveal the artist’s cinematic approach. 

Parks’ earliest photographs often imply a narrative beyond the individual frame, echoing his desire to represent complex facets of his subjects’ lives and communities. Like his films, Parks’ photographs present robust narratives that seek to reveal the complexities of his subjects’ lives.

The works on view include those staged in 1952 in collaboration with Ralph Ellison and inspired by his novel  Invisible Man, as well as those made while Parks was embedded with the New York gang leader “Red” Jackson in 1948, and images of the Fontenelles, a Harlem family that struggled to feed their eight children in 1967.

The exhibition coincides with the release of the HBO documentary A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks in November, and the extended presentation of works from his series The Atmosphere of Crime in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

About Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
Gordon Parks was born into poverty and segregation on a farm in Kansas in 1912, the youngest of 15 children. He worked at odd jobs before buying a camera at a pawnshop in 1938 and training himself to become a photographer. From 1941 to 1945, Parks was a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and later at the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. As a freelance photographer, his 1948 photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader, Red Jackson, won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine, which continued until 1972. In addition to being a noted composer and author, in 1969, Parks became the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film, The Learning Tree, based on his bestselling novel of the same name. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft. Parks was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and was given over 50 honorary doctorates from colleges across the United States. Photographs by Parks are in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. stated, “Gordon Parks is the most important Black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will remain with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject matter.” 

About The Gordon Parks Foundation
The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

Continue Reading

Collector's Focus

Paris Photo 2021 Review



This review originally appeared in

Paris Photo, the world’s leading art fair dedicated to photography, returns for the 24th time with a packed schedule at the impressive Grand Palais Ephémère in the heart of the French capital, from 11-14 November.
─── by Josh Bright, November 3, 2021

Featuring 177 exhibitors from 25 different countries, along with 30 publishers and booksellers, the fair represents the best of the medium, encompassing the full breadth of the photographic spectrum including the full range of styles and genres, and its earliest forms through to its most cutting–edge iterations.

New York, 1967 © Tod Papageorge / Galerie Thomas Zander

In addition to the numerous returnees, the fair will welcome 29 new main sector galleries, such as AFRONOVA (Johannesburg) who will exhibit recent works by young South African female photographers, and LOFT ART (Morocco) who will present multimedia artworks by Côte d’Ivoire-born Joana Choumali.

De bom jesus a milagres. Galo, 2011 © Claudio Edinger / Galeria Lume

Some of the highlights of the 17 solo shows and 10 duo shows, include, a selection of works by preeminent German photographer, Herbert List, presented by KARSTEN GREVE (Paris); BRAVERMAN (Tel Aviv) celebrates Ilit Azoulay’s work on photography and hysteria; São Paulo gallery LUME, Claudio Edinger’s series on Brazilian identity, and MAGNIN-A (Paris) introduce “Allegoria”, the latest, politically charged series, by Senegalese artist, Omar Victor Diop.

The diverse array of group shows incorporate a host of new and rare works, from unpublished dye transfer prints by American photographer, Tod Papageorge, exhibited for the first time by THOMAS ZANDER (Cologne), to rare prints by Magnum’s, Bruce Davidson, courtesy of HOWARD GREENBERG (New York). A selection of images by newly represented artist, Carrie Mae Weems, will be presented by FRAENKEL (San Francisco).

Drummies, 2017. The school has one sports court, which is used by all the sports teams. The drummies have to be supervised when using this court, there are active gangs present around the periphery of the schools property © Alice Mann courtesy AFRONOVA Gallery

Group presentations celebrating women in photography include the work of, among others, modernists, Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Germaine Krull, and Helen Levitt, exhibited by BRUCE SILVERSTEIN (New York), and new imagery by Zanele Muholi, presented by STEVENSON (Cape Town), whilst GREGORY LEROY (Paris) and CHARLES ISAACS (New York) extol the work of Mexican photographer, Yolanda Andrade, who documented the 1980s LGBT movement in her homeland.

First launched in 2018, the Curiosa sector will return for 2021. Dedicated to platforming and celebrating emerging artists, it will highlight new trends in contemporary photographic practice, including cutting-edge documentary approaches and themes focusing on identity and the natural environment.

Curated by Shoair Mavlian, Director of Photoworks and Tate Modern’s former Assistant Curator of photography, it features solo presentations by twenty artists from eleven different countries, a number of whom will be exhibiting in France for the first time. The kaleidoscopic photographs of rising London photographer, Maisie Cousins will be on display (TJ BOULTING London) as will Jošt Dolinšek’s poetic depictions of the natural world (PHOTON Ljubljana).

Additionally, for the first time ever, Paris Photo Online Viewing Room will open to the public from November 11-17th.

Powered by Artlogic (the industry leader in digital solutions for the art world) it provides a platform for galleries and book dealers, allowing them to expand on their physical offerings, and, an opportunity for those collectors and photography enthusiasts who are unable to attend in person, to peruse and purchase artworks, discover new talent, and connect with galleries and art book dealers from around the world.

The 24th edition of Paris Photo will run from 11-14 NOV 2021. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website.

All images © their respective ownersSHARE:839

Continue Reading

Collector's Focus

A Trillion Sunsets



A Century of Image Overload

Are there too many images in the world? Too many of the wrong kind? Too many that we don’t like, or want, or need? These feel like very contemporary questions but they have a rich and fascinating history. A Trillion Sunsets: A Century of Image Overload takes a long look at our worries and compulsive fascination with the proliferation of photographic images. The exhibition highlights unlikely parallels and connections across the decades. From picture scrapbooks to internet memes, from collage and image appropriation, to art made by algorithms, the exhibition offers powerful insights and new perspectives on our long love/hate relationship with images. 

Artists include Hannah Höch, Nakeya Brown, Sheida Soleimani, Walker Evans, Sara Greenberger-Rafferty, Guanyu Xu, Hank Willis Thomas, Robert Capa, Barbara Morgan, Richard Prince, Louise Lawler, Andy Warhol, Pacifico Silano and John Baldessari.

International Center of Photography

79 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002Jan 28, 2022 – May 02, 2022

Continue Reading


Close Bitnami banner