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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, February 24

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Photography Fri Mar 18 2011

Making it Look Easy

This review was submitted by Anna Wolak.


Steve Schapiro: "Jodie on Couch" (1975); photo courtesy of Catherine Edelman Gallery.

To have Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese secure brilliant, attractive actors as your subjects, to have the perfect movie set as your background, to have the lighting already flawlessly arranged for each shot, then for the two famous directors to invite you in to capture it all on film - that is a photographer's dream. Steve Schapiro is a lucky bastard.

Schapiro's photos from the films The Godfather and Taxi Driver--the current exhibition at Catherine Edelman Gallery--are enough to make any photographer jealous. They just look so easy. But their seeming simplicity belies their intricacy. Sure, the elements were handed to Schapiro (here is a borderline, brooding, mysterious cab driver with chiseled abs and piercing eyes and a lot of shiny guns; Here is a thirteen-year old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, big-hatted doll who is the most unlikely participant in prostitution ever), but it takes a master to know to arrange those elements into a breathtaking photograph--a breathtaking moment, really.

The show is full of those moments. In one photo, Marlon Brando stands unflinching before the camera, holding a cat that is blurry in an obvious, squirming attempt to get away from him. In the movie, the cat rubs against the Godfather, juxtaposing a seeming soft side with a character that is definitely not soft. The blur of the kitten in Schapiro's photograph is closer to the truth of Brando's character. The mafia leader's subjects most likely wanted to get out of his grasp too. In another photo, a midriff-baring and hot short-wearing teenage prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), walks out of the frame as a group of men on the street watch her from behind. The sign above their heads reads "For Rent", as if it were a thought bubble instead of a real estate sign. These moments work better as photographs than they do in film. As fast as a motion picture goes, details like a street sign or the movement of a cat vs. the stillness of a Godfather are lost. Luckily they can be found in Schapiro's photographs.


Dawoud Bey: "A Boy In Front Of The Loews 125th Street Movie Theater"; photo courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Across the street at Stephen Daiter Gallery, Dawoud Bey's photographs achieve the same revelation of character, but with a less recognizable cast. Walking into the Dawoud Bey: Early Portraits exhibit is like walking into and through 1970s Harlem or Brooklyn, which is what Bey did. The photos fall between candid and posed, and make even the latter seem natural. Some of the subjects seem to invite you in while others wonder what the hell you are doing on their street. It is like walking through a town where even if the residents do not know your name, they will still always look you in the eye. One "Girl in the Dell Doorway" stares at the viewer, silently begging him or her to help her figure out how to leave the city, while the "Boy In Front Of The Loews 125th Street Movie Theater" owns the street with his confidence and his oversized sunglasses. They might as well be characters from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, or James Joyce's Dubliners. Bey did for New York what these authors did for their respective title cities--he defined a town by its characters, but he went one step further and put a face with that town's stories.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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