Agenda: "Projections" With Karen Zusman, Richard Sandler and Jean Miele, June 18

By David Schonauer   Tuesday June 11, 2019

Karen Zusman calls herself a poet turned photographer.

As a writer, she notes at her website, she documented Burmese refugees in Malaysia. “These were hard stories of suffering — human trafficking, forced and bonded labor, lives that were not free,” she writes. “But after becoming quite close with a small group of refugees over the course of several years in Kuala Lumpur, what has stayed with me more than the narratives of despair, were  many moments of laughter and solidarity. Very hard to capture in words. That's when I realized the poetry and depth of photography.”

Now, she states, “I'm wandering around through other parts of the globe, and simply taking in life on the streets — the stories that are unfolding all around us. As Henri Cartier Bresson famously said, ‘I don't take the photograph, the photograph takes me.’"  

Along the way, Zusman has been mentored by photographer Richard Sandler, best known for his views of life in New York City. Or rather, it should be noted, his work is now widely acclaimed. It wasn’t always that way. As PPD noted in a profile of Sandler, his book The Eyes of the City came as a revelation when it was published in 2016. Time magazine, for instance, called Sandler the “unsung street photographer of 1980s New York.” His pictures, wrote Alexandra Genova, captured “a visceral cross section of fabulous wealth and terrible misfortune, often found in the same frame.”

Both Zusman and Sandler will be speaking about their work at ThePhotoCloser "Projections" series in New York on June 18. They will be joined by photographer Jean Miele, who will be showing and talking about a variety of landscape images, as well as a selection from “Vestiges of Industry: Maritime Studies,” an exhibition currently on view on the Lilac, a Coast Guard cutter that’s retired and docked at Pier 25 in Manhattan.

From Karen Zusman

From Jean Miele

From Richard Sandler

Sandler told PPD in a recent interview that he will be talking about the street photography he began making in New York City in the 1980s — work rooted in his instincts about economic inequality, which was and still is a visual reality of the city.  “I wanted to get to the nitty-gritty of everyday life, and having grown up in a liberal-thinking Jewish household with parents who were activists, it just made the most sense that going out on the street was the best way for me to express myself and my political leanings,” he told PPD in 2017.

Sandler came to photography after a stint as a macrobiotic chef in Boston. After being given a Leica 3F camera by a friend in 1977, he learned photography, he said, “by osmosis” — and also by auditing a class at Harvard taught by photographer and critic Ben Lifson.

Sandler was deeply influenced in his street photography by three photographers — Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander — who had become superstars after being featured in the Musuem of Modern Art’s landmark 1967 “New Documents” exhibition. Curator John Szarkowski identified in their work “a new direction” in photography — documentary images that had the feel of snapshots.

But by the time Sandler began shooting on the streets of New York in the 1980s, the artistic landscape had shifted again. “It was very difficult to be in the generation of street photographers immediately after Winogrand, Friedlander and Arbus,” Sandler told PPD in 2017. “It was difficult to be taken seriously, particularly with the way MoMA canonized them and then closed the door to street photography and moved on to the next thing.”

Below, three images by Richard Sandler:

Now, of course, street photography is more popular than ever. Winogrand has been the subject of a recent documentary film, and his rare color work, shot on Ektachrome film, is now featured in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. “I definitely will reference the show in my Projections talk — and also the fact that I took a workshop with him when I started photography,” Sandler told us.

Sandler says he’ll also be talking about ways of approaching people and shooting on the street. “I’ll also be talking about how work, when it ages, it also ripens,” he says. “Culture is on display in the the street. Over time, street photography becomes a cultural critique, always.”
At top: From Richard Sandler


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