Don’t you just love it when things pan out? It doesn’t happen all that often. There are so many things that can muck up the works, when one strives for synchronicity.
Last week, we showed you early work from an acknowledged master: Martin Parr. Wasn’t it fun to see his youthful vision? How sympathetic and romantic were those pictures?
And then this week, we ran an interview with Aline Smithson, who recently published some projects from the 70’s on Lenscratch. Apparently, what’s old will forever be new again. I’m sure there were Pharaohs going on about “ochre is the new black,” but of course we’ll never know. (Unless time travel gets invented one day. And then, I’d probably just ask a Pharaoh why he tried to keep the Jews as slaves. Didn’t he know we were the Chosen People?)
Given the path I’ve unwittingly followed this week, of course the very first book I picked up off the stack, “Bottrop-Ebel 76,” would be a publication of early work from 1976 by Michael Wolf, another of contemporary photography’s darlings. I’d suggest that it was destined to happen, but then I’d probably lose 10% of our readership. (I can only be so much of a new-age-freak before the New Yorkers stop reading in droves.)
Yes, this book even features an amazing photo of a dude with a ladder, just like last week. (Only this time, they were smart enough to put it on the cover.) So, what’s this one about then?
For a university final project, Mr. Wolf hung around the coal miner’s neighborhood of Ebel, in the town of Bottrop. (Hence the title.) Just as I can recall the joy I felt at pointing a 35mm camera at everything that walked, when I was 24 and in Europe, these pictures also reflect a less specific eye.
They’re really good photographs, for sure. The anticipation of a pig’s slaughter, contrasted against the jimmy-rigged football being kicked around in the background. The intensity of a fu-manchu mustache, or the cold eyes of a 12 year old smoking a cigarette. There’s a dude getting naked in his kitchen, and a little girl swinging in a doorway.
All are cool to look at. For sure.
But the closing essay ties these pictures directly to Mr. Wolf’s current work: faces pressed against the cold glass of a Tokyo subway, or the artist’s camera pressed against the computer screen, documenting Google’s world domination.
I don’t see it that way. Just as I was fascinated when I once saw a show of William Eggleston’s first B&W pictures at Cheim and Read, I love looking at where a really good artist comes from. Aline Smithson also referenced how differently we see the world in our 20’s, relative to the wisdom we accrue thereafter. Pushing 40, I’d have to agree with her.
So you might find these pictures brilliant. You might even buy the book. Cool. Enjoy it. But by now we know that’s not why I highlight a photo book each week. I do it because I’m pretty sure you’ll find it interesting, and seemingly, you’ve all learned to trust me. (Suckers.)
Bottom Line: Another look at young work by a famous photographer
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