Friday, July 9, 2010

Review of Gallery Artists Larry Towell and Susan Meiselas Featured in L.A Observed

'Engaged Observers' at the Getty

Written by: Iris Schneider

This week, several of the brightest lights of the photography world turned out to honor the still image.

Susan Meiselas, James Nachtwey and Lauren Greenfield are three of the photographers whose work is represented in a Getty Museum exhibition called Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography Since the 60's. They were treated like celebrities as they autographed books and answered questions on opening night.

I remember looking at some of these very images in the 70's and 80's, at the time I was just beginning my career as a photojournalist, and I was moved by their power and emotion. Meiselas' photos of the revolution in Nicaragua from 1979, Nachtwey's reportage of wars on foreign soil, Walker Evans' and Dorothea Lange's images that captured the Depression era in the United States and its effects on the people across the United States who were struggling for their survival. They inspired me and seeing them on the walls of the Getty was like reconnecting with old friends.

As we now know, things have changed for photography and photographers. Meiselas is working in video along with stills. Greenfield, who has documented the effects that money, marketing and society's emphasis on beauty has over young people in books like "Fast Forward" and "Girl Culture," has also begun working with film. Her last effort was "Kids + Money," a powerful film that explores how teens feel about the role money plays in their lives.

Even the photographers at Magnum Photos, one of the few remaining photo agencies and whose members are among the elite and most accomplished in the business, recently had several intense days as they met for their annual business meeting.

The agenda that made things so stressful? "Survival," said Larry Towell, a Magnum member and one of the photographers whose work graced the walls of the Getty show.

The exhibit provides a welcome respite from all the worry, and a chance to revel in the pure power of photography.

The show features the seminal and iconic work of some of the best documentary photographers working since the 60's, each of whom have passionately pursued personal projects. Two whose work are represented, Leonard Freed and Philip Jones Griffiths, recently passed away but not before the Getty purchased their collections. Freed, whose work on civil rights highlighted the struggles and pride of the African American community, and Griffiths, whose early work in Vietnam helped to document the effects of the war on both the American soldiers and the Vietnamese people, are strongly represented at the show.

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