“Before The Shift” at the Stephen Dater Gallery

 

“Before The Shift”
Photography by Lynne Cohen, Martin Parr, Stephen Shore, and Alex Webb at the Stephen Daiter Gallery

Today, many of the biggest names in photography are best-known for their color artworks.  Four such modern masters are featured in “Before The Shift”.

But, each of these artists has his or her roots in classic silver print darkroom photography.  Gathered here are early works – black and white photographs from the 1970s by Alex Webb, Martin Parr, Lynne Cohen and Stephen Shore.  Each artist has undergone a paradigm shift in moving from black and white to color in creating their later mature artistic career statements.  Color built on black and white foundations. The viewer will find interesting the relatively spare, restrained and classical approaches that define the early careers of these highly respected and successful photographers.

As with his later color work, Alex Webb’s razor-sharp but respectful studies of life’s myriad moments strike an insightful chord.   Representing his earlier documentary photojournalism, Webb is here pared down to the essentials of classic photography, humanistic images, well-conceived and finely crafted.  Ever the roving reporter with an eye out for the very edges of life’s stories, even Webb’s quiet pictures hum with an electricity. Although, as with Cartier-Bresson, Webb’s subjects are left their humanity and dignity.

Martin Parr’s prints in the show offer insight into an eye developing an aesthetic that would later become world – renown for lushly created, playful and acerbic social commentaries every bit as charged as the keen observations by his artistic forebears, such as William Hogarth, the celebrated scourge of complacency in the eighteenth century.   In “Before The Shift”, some of Parr’s  black and white works are  by contrast ( to his color ), poetic and reserved,  -  delicately printed  excavations of poignant moments, culled from scenes where the subjects are either unaware or  not asking for attention.

Lynne Cohen’s large color diagrammatic studies of human-built environments where the occupants have stepped just out of frame are engaging and immersive, tinted with her bone dry humor.  Her black and white studies interpret differently.  Here we see the same wry aesthetic, but defined by a cool distance and a surgically precise tone and design.   She has been called “The Talking Heads” of photography.  Indeed, David Byrne, the lead singer of that groundbreaking 1970s musical group, wrote the introduction to her first published volume of black and white photographs.  Some of her images in this exhibition are as aesthetically spare as a haiku.

Stephen Shore is a household word in the world of color photography. Precocious, he reportedly sold three prints to the iconic Edward Steichen, then head curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art when he was fourteen years old.  Shore’s projects during the 1970s helped create the atmosphere of respect for color photography, allowing it to be considered the artistic equal of traditional silver printing.  Here Shore is represented by a quartet of diptychs, images of a subtly shifting suburban landscape.

The facts:
“Before The Shift”
Stephen Daiter Gallery
230 W. Superior
Fourth Floor
Chicago, IL 60654
t: 312 787-3350

Lynne Cohen, Greystone Hotel, Ypsilanti 1971, Gelatin silver print, 6.63 x 4.63 in. Gelatin silver photograph on mount. c. 1971 print. Signed, titled and dated in pencil by artist on mount verso.

 

Alex Webb, Alabama Prison 1976, Gelatin silver print, 6 x 9 in. Gelatin silver photograph. Vintage print. Signed, titled, dated, and annotated “1″ and “76-3-11/23″ in pencil by artist on print verso.

 

Martin Parr, Lord Savile’s Gamekeepers, Hebden Bridge, England 1975, Gelatin silver print, 11.94 x 7.94 in. Gelatin silver photograph. 2013 print. Signed, titled and dated in pencil by artist on print verso.