A Second Look

Article excerpt

Rise of the Picture Press: Photographic Reportage in

Illustrated Magazines 1918-1939

International Center for Photography

New York, New York

March 27 - June 16

"Rise of the Picture Press: Photographic Reportage in Illustrated Magazines 1918-1939," held at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York City, took as its subject large-format illustrated magazines produced in Europe and the United States between the World Wars, including examples of well-known publications such as Harp Harper's Weekly, Life, Picture Post, Match and Vu; as well as lesser known publications such as USSR In Construction, Let's Produce!, BIZ (Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung), Muncher Illustrirte Presse, Voila, Lilliput, Look and Regards. Work by several now-canonized art photographers appeared in the exhibit, including Bill Brandt, Brassai, Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, Andre Kertesz, John Heartfield, Man Ray, Margaret Bourke-White and Robert Capa, to name just a few. However, the work of these photographers blended relatively smoothly into the larger context of the exhibit, which is to say that name-recognition was, for the most part, sacrificed to the social, historical and formal contribution of illustrated magazines. In fact, the exhibition organizers, Christopher Phillips and Venessa Rocco, and the exhibition designers Julie Ault and Martin Beck highlighted the collaborative nature 'of illustrated magazines by defining the different roles played by photographers, writers, editors, layout designers and various press agencies in determining the look and content of the end product. They also included wall text showcasing Stephan Lorant and Henry Luce, the most prominent and influential editor and publisher, respectively, of illustrated magazines at the time. The most provocative example highlighting the collaborative nature of magazine work, however, was the wall-sized mural of marked-up contact sheets from a photo-essay entitled "How the Picture Post is Produced" that ran on December 24, 1938. The enlarged contact sheets show editor Stephan Lorant sorting through newswire photographs at his desk; men and women working the printing presses, collating the pages and finally bundl ing up the finished product. Next to the wall mural, in a small case, the issue in which the story originally appeared was opened to reveal the first two-page spread of the essay, in which one of the pictures of Lorant, circled in yellow on the wall mural (and thus probably selected by Lorant himself), leads the story.

This kind of innovative exhibition design was unfortunately not consistent throughout the entire show. Most ineffective was a large section of the exhibit in which framed spreads from the magazines jutted out from the wall. Some of these displays appeared beneath a row of images at eye-level, placed flush with the wall, but others were placed above those at eye-level, making the images, and especially the print, barely legible. At first I dismissed this slight annoyance and vowed to have my eyesight checked until I noticed several other visitors experiencing the same difficulty. A quibble hardly worth mentioning except that it raised questions about how one might ideally display such printed matter without doing irreparable damage to the essential character and context of the magazine format.

This commentary is not meant to diminish the accomplishment of "Rise of the Picture Press," for it takes on a body of material often neglected by museums and galleries. While there have been several major exhibits in the last five years focusing on photojournalism or the work of particular photojournalists, the material selected for this exhibit is different. Primarily because the photographs on display are shown in their original context of the magazine, rather than reprinted and framed as single images hung separately on the wall without text, save the typical wall-label identifying artist, title and date. …

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