Wednesday, November 13

Moving pictures


Friday, April 5, 1996

What pictures most inspire Mr. Rogers? Jessie Jackson? LACMA
relinquishes the role of curator in ‘Talking Pictures: People Speak
About the Photographs That Speak to Them’By Kristin Fiore

Daily Bruin Contributor

If you could create your own photography exhibit, what pictures
would you choose?

Most would pass over the obscure, esoteric and often
intimidating masterpieces on many museum walls for photographs of
loved ones or scenes that made them laugh, cry or think. These are
the photographs that move and provoke us, that spark insights and
convictions without the assistance of tour guides and
pamphlets.

Unfortunately, many exhibits inspire the insecurity and
inferiority of a visit to the principal’s or dentist’s office.

Knowing this, curators Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric have
put together a collection of photographs for regular folks, on
display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until June 9.
Instead of choosing the photographs or photographers, however, they
selected 55 people of diverse backgrounds and professions and let
them choose the photograph that most impacted them.

Many are famous actors, politicians or artists, but others are
people you would otherwise never encounter. And unlike most
exhibits, there are nearly as many women represented as there are
men.

Even familiar faces like Dennis Hopper and Larry King reveal an
intimate side that is never shown to the camera. Hopper, the madman
of the big screen, ironically delivers one of the most analytical
and artistic pieces, a photograph by legend Henri
Cartier-Bresson.

Other noteworthy contributors include Jesse Jackson, Joan
Rivers, John Updike, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and, for the young or
young at heart, Charles Schultz and Mr. Rogers.

Though the photographs themselves are powerful, they are only
half the show. Its title, "Talking Pictures: People Speak About the
Photographs That Speak to Them," can be taken literally.

Through a hand-held device that is part telephone, part CD
player and part Star Trek, the contributors’ codes can be dialed.
They then explain why they chose that particular picture ­ a
monologue of a few minutes that becomes a window to their
bittersweet memories, profound moments of enlightenment or horror,
off-beat points of view.

These little gadgets are ingenious and convenient, because they
allow visitors to see the photographs in any order they choose, and
to hear as much or as little dialog as they wish. They also bring
the photos and personalities to life in a way that printed plaques
or leaflets could not.

The photographs and stories behind them are as varied as the
people who chose them. None are more harrowing than the first
photograph that greets you as you enter the exhibit. A vivid
portrait at close range and a heart-breaking story by author Isabel
Allende tell the tragedy of young Omayra Sanchez, trapped in the
massive Colombian mud slide of ’85.

It is her third day steeped in mud, wedged between unseen wood
slats and the bodies of her dead brothers. Still, she looks with
courage and serenity toward the sea of cameras that take her
picture, neck-high in the muddy water that would soon take her
life.

Many photographs celebrate strength in times of adversity, some
tinged with heroism, some with sarcasm. William Kunstler’s
selection, "Louisville Flood Victims," is bitter irony at its
finest. A group of Depression-era African Americans wait in a
relief line whose end and purpose is unseen. Some stare at the
camera, some blankly ahead.

Above them, towering in a certain Technicolor that
black-and-white cannot convey, is The American Family ­ Mom,
Dad, sister, brother, dog ­ driving through the countryside in
a shiny new Plymouth. They are all white. Even the dog is
white.

Above their smiling faces and straight, white teeth looms the
American fantasy: "World’s Highest Standard of Living." As Kunstler
observes, it appears as though the car is about to run over the
line of people.

The photograph is so powerfully arranged, it is hard to believe
it was not staged. Whether or not you agree with him, Kunstler
provides some courageous and insightful comments on the problem
that is as true today as it was in 1937 ­ photographs may have
evolved, but America is still reduced to black and white.

Other striking entries look at the horror and the victims of the
Vietnam War and the concentration camps.

But don’t plan to spend the day with a box of Kleenex ­
most of the exhibit is positive, filled with photos that celebrate
artists, the family, American pop culture and even the art of
photography in itself.

Tony Bennett, a life-long painter himself, chose a photograph of
Picasso painting a centaur in the air with a flashlight. Picasso
had to draw the entire image while the shutter was open ­ a
time window of one second. His body is not even blurred in the
photograph ­ he had finished before the shutter closed.

The majority, however, are personal, often ordinary-looking
photos that come to life through the stories they represent. Two
photographs worth visiting solely for their surprising subjects are
"Mystery Picture" from Peter De Forest and "A Visual Sequence of
Sound Waves" from Alice Howell. Both teach that there is more in
front of you than meets the eye.

There are two video installations, featuring Ann Margaret and
Jane Fonda in memorable scenes from "Bye-Bye Birdie" and "They
Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" respectively. When spun endlessly on a
continuous loop, the clips seem like absurd, yet fitting comments
on American pop culture and old-fashioned determination.

This exhibit is one that everyone can enjoy because there are no
academic prerequisites and no formalities between the contributors,
the photographs they chose and the audience. It’s like taking a
walk through a life-size photo album of America’s past and
present.

ART: For more info, call (213) 857-6000.

"Sunday on the Banks of the Marne," a timeless photo of a moment
captured in 1938, was photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson and
selected by actor Dennis Hopper.

"Street Child, Trabzon, Turkey," photographed and chosen by Mary
Ellen Mark, is part of LACMA’s "Talking Pictures" exhibit.

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