By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The fall season is studded with photography shows that should provide a solid, if spotty, grounding in the history of the medium and some much needed perspective on the hyperinflated contemporary scene. Edward Steichen, whose passage from prim, dreamy pictorialism to upmarket protomodernism was both influential and instructive, comes to the Whitney with a retrospective that covers everything from his famous views of the Flatiron building wreathed in mist to his World War II naval combat work. At the core of the show are more than 100 fashion photos and celebrity portraits made under contract for Vogueand Vanity Fairproof that pop culture, with its deliberate confusion of art and commerce, started long before Warhol. Though Steichen and Jacques-Henri Lartigue were working at roughly the same time during the early decades of the 20th century, Lartigue had the advantage of beginning his career as a privileged child whose family's enthusiasm for adventure and invention he recorded in some of the wittiest, most spontaneous photos ever made. The amateur snapshots Lartigue made in the 1910s and '20s, although not "discovered" or displayed until the '60s, captured the explosive spirit of modernism more definitively than anything Steichen could have imagined in the same period. A choice selection of Lartigue's vintage prints will be at Edwynn Houk.
Other shows range across the historical and stylistic spectrum, including Eugène Atget's sublime turn-of-the-century "Portrait of Paris" at, unexpectedly, the Museum of the City of New York; activist-artist Ben Shahn's '30s photos of the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, and other local enclaves at the Grey Art Gallery; Baron von Gloeden's neoclassic homoerotica of Sicilian adolescents falling poignantly short of the Greek ideal at Wessel + O'Connor; Bauhaus pioneer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's enduringly avant-garde photograms at Ubu; and groundbreaker Robert Frank's definitively modern photos and rare early books at Scalo.
But it's the contemporary lineup that gives the new season its greatest kick, and the action starts right off the bat with a slew of important September openings. Katy Grannan, one of the discoveries of the instantly historic "Another Girl Another Planet" show, fills Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren with large-scale color portraits that are at once unblinkingly deadpan and unashamedly sympathetic. Another "Girl" alumna, Jenny Gage, continues to explore the porous border between documentation and fiction with subtly staged pictures of a group of young women she befriended in Ventura, California, at Luhring Augustine.
Saul Fletcher, in his third show at Anton Kern, expands upon his enigmatic, reticent oeuvre in a linked group of small color images that are as odd as they are beautiful. Fashion provocateur Terry Richardson returns to Alleged with what's sure to be more gleeful outrage, though we suspect he'll have some competition from another fashion-world bad boy, Matthias Vriens, who brings his more refined but equally over-the-edge sensibility to the Project. Pierre et Gilles, absent from these shores for much too long, get the retrospective treatment at the New Museum, which touches on all aspects of their defiantly campy iconography, including a recent nighttime series set in scary, sexy fairy-tale woods. And Peter Hujar, whose cult following has grown steadily since his death in 1987, is the subject of a 60-photo show at Matthew Marks that concentrates on work from the '80s. Included will be little-known views of the Jersey wastelands, pictures taken at the crumbling Christopher Street piers, animal portraits, nudes, and his elegant, soulful, unforgettable photos of people who passed through his East Village studio.
Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren, 730 Fifth Avenue, 445-0444
For her first solo show, Grannan rounds up a few of her large-scale color portraits of adolescents along with a more recent series on young mothers and couples in suburbia.
September 7-October 21
Scalo, 560 Broadway, 334-9393
September 7-October 14
Rare, 435 West 14th Street, 645-5591
The photos in Steiner's "Sensory Memory" are organized in four color groups for a conceptual spin, but they're sure to be grounded in sensuality and emotion.
September 8-October 14
Anton Kern, 558 Broadway, second floor, 965-1706
In what promises to be his strongest exhibition so far, the British photo-grapher shows small color still lifes and staged portraits with a mysteriously haunted quality.
The pioneering color photographer shows previously unexhibited and largely vintage street work made between 1966 and 1976.
September 8-October 7
Gorney Bravin + Lee, 534 West 26th Street, 352-8372
This creative conceptualist shows new work from four series, including manipulated photograms, Polaroids, and views from his studio window.
BARON VON GLOEDEN
September 8-October 8
Wessel + O'Connor, 242 West 26th Street, 242-8811
September 9-October 14
Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street, 206-9100
Gage's casually incisive, large-scale color photographs of working-class girls are not always what they appear to be.
TERESA HUBBARD/ALEXANDER BIRCHLER
September 9-October 14
Bonakdar Jancou, 521 West 21st Street, 414-4144
The collaborators who made an especially strong impression in this gallery's "Staged" roundup bring nine of their elaborately constructed photo fictions to New York for the first time.
September 10-October 8
The Project, 427 West 126th Street, 662-8610
The former editor of Dutch and current design whiz at Gucci and YSL fills his first American gallery show with edgy not-quite-fashion photos and hotel-room sketches of hustlers.
September 14-November 4
Edwynn Houk, 745 Fifth Avenue, 750-7070
September 15-October 15
Alleged, 809 Washington Street, 646-486-1110
The sometime fashion, always confrontational photographer pulls back from the wall-filling installation of his last show to mount 20 to 30 large framed prints from his travels.
PIERRE ET GILLES
September 15-January 7
New Museum of Contemporary Art, 583 Broadway, 219-1222
This French collaborative team's first New York show in more than a decade includes a compressed retrospective of their meticulously staged and painted photos, along with previously unexhibited new work.
September 16-October 28
Matthew Marks, 523 West 24th Street, 243-0200
To mark its first exhibition as representatives of the Hujar estate, Marks gathers work from the late '80s, including many images that were in Hujar's extraordinary last show at Gracie Mansion.
The Met brings together 50 choice images from the more than 400 extravagantly theatrical portraits commissioned by the Comtesse de Castiglione and made between 1856 and 1895 by her court photographer, Pierre-Louis Pierson.
Winokur applies his supergraphic style to New York, with color-saturated pictures of a hot dog, a rat, a MetroCard, and other urban icons.
October 5-February 4
Whitney Museum, 945 Madison Avenue, 570-3676
Though Steichen has always had a key presence in historical photography shows, this is his first important retrospective in 40 years, rounding up nearly 200 images, from his early pictorialist gems to later Vogue fashion studies and Vanity Fair portraits.
Continuing two ongoing series, Morell presents photographs of open books and camera obscura images made in New York, Paris, and elsewhere that turn ordinary rooms into mysterious landscapes.
'IN PROCESS: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE '60S AND '70S'
October 20-November 25
Curt Marcus, 578 Broadway, 226-3200
October 28-December 22
Ubu, 16 East 78th Street, 794-4444
November 4-February 4
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, 534-1672
Breuer, one of the quirkiest and most inventive makers of cameraless photoworks, shows new abstract images along with unique books, including ones singed by fuses or electric shock.
November 14-January 27
Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East, 998-6780
November 17-January 7
Wessel + O'Connor, 242 West 26th Street, 242-8811
"Epic of the Starry Heavens," the latest of Dugdale's annual shows here, follows his passionate commitment to the cyanotype process and to his unique brand of sensuous spirituality.
For his first local gallery show in six years, Weber pulls out all the stops, with work in a variety of formats, including video, Polaroid transfer, and excerpts from scrapbooks.
A photographer whose work involves various antique processes revives the delicately toned calotype in a show that carries on his exploration of everyday surrealism.