American Idols

Article excerpt

BILL WOOD'S BUSINESS

INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY

NEW YORK CITY

MAY 16-SEPTEMBER 7, 2008

The business of American photography has centered primarily around fashion and photojournalism, capturing either the new trends in New York City or political struggles seen around the globe. "Bill Wood's Business," however, illuminates the career of a portraitist who worked primarily in Fort Worth, Texas, from the late 1930s to the late 1960s. During that time, Wood's portraits captured the effects of the postwar economic boom on a prominent city that remains marginal to both the East and West coasts. Although Andy Warhol only suggested everyone's "15 minutes of fame" in 1968, Wood treated photography as a medium that had the potential to make anyone significant, although nearly all of his subjects displayed in the exhibition at the International Center of Photography (ICP) are anonymous, identified only by a few words set in brackets.

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Wood's photographs are hung salon-style within a small corner of the museum, lacking individual attributions, except for the wall text. After looking thoroughly at the display, however, certain patterns of representation emerge. In the early 1950s Wood was intent on portraying new businesses, a critical component of the American Dream. "[Man in front of his store]" (1959) reflects a man from a distance leaning into the open door of a new business that is housed in a square, brick, mid-century building. Gravel from two empty lots shore up both sides of the structure, while "OPEN" hangs across two of the large, glass windows. Beyond the initial facade, there is no display of goods, leaving the purpose of this business a mystery. A deep sense of the unknown carries on in "[Man sitting at desk amid empty shelves]" (1959). The dark-suited gentleman sitting behind the desk reads some papers with a smile. Could this document be a gesture that signifies a move up the corporate ladder? The white cinder blocks in the background, combined with the empty shelves on either side, convey a change that is in process.

A celebration of franchise appears where a long ribbon of small flags zigzags throughout a nearly empty parking lot in "[Worth Food Mark parking lot]" (1960). It is ironic that the empty space between the camera and the grocery store would be interpreted as a selling point. Two images taken nearly ten years before, "[Woolworth's]" (1950s) and "[Housewares]" (1950s), capture, respectively, the store's exterior facade, with decent window displays, and the store's interior, with shelves filled neatly with new merchandise. …