Elliott Erwitt at Beetles+Huxley

I always enjoy a visit to the Beetles+Huxley gallery. The intimate space is ideal for a display of 30-50 domestic-size photographs and the catalogue is always good value at £10. The current exhibition shows prints by Elliott Erwitt to celebrate his 90th birthday, portrait and journalistic work and his private ‘snaps’.

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The least satisfactory are the studio portraits. OK, they are workmanlike but not up to a Karsh standard – and that look with the head tilted back to catch the light might work with Marilyn Monroe but looks really odd on Che Guevara. Erwitt is better in ambient light as his portraits of JFK and Arthur Miller demonstrate.

With his wider journalistic work and particularly with ‘snaps’ we see the element of humour that Erwitt is famous for. Here, Nixon seems to be getting his point across to Kruzchev.

Elsewhere, we see a group staring at an empty picture frame, a woman apparently startled by a shop-window mannequin looking back at her, and boys dangling off an anchor rope in Tahiti.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be an Erwitt show without the doggy pictures.

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Felix, Gladys and Rover are there, as is the dog excavating the beach at East Hampton and a sequence of an old Parisian man greeting a small dog.

Nothing gritty or challenging here (but who wants to be challenged all the time), just a delightful way of spending half an hour.

Reference

Gregory, T., and Huxley-Parlour, G. (2018) Elliott Erwitt. London: Beetles+Huxley.

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Joel Meyerowitz at B+H

The Beetles+Huxley exhibition Joel Meyerowitz: Towards Colour 1962-1978 presented a very different view of Meyerowitz’ work from the large-format Ground Zero images discussed previously. Unsurprisingly, given that the exhibition was mounted in conjunction with Leica, it deals with his 35mm early work before he bought his 8×10 in 1976.meyerowitzBH

Meyerowitz’ photography is largely self-taught having been inspired to pick up a camera when, as a junior art director, he was briefed to ‘supervise’ Robert Frank on a photoshoot. Being self-taught, and therefore unladen with the baggage of art-world received wisdom, he was attracted to colour from the start. As a matter of practicality, however, he carried a camera loaded with monochrome film as well as one loaded with colour, and much of his early published work is in mono.

There seem to be two threads as we look at the work chronologically. First, the move from predominantly monochrome into exclusively colour work. Meyerowitz regarded a European road trip in 1966 as his coming-of-age as an artist, and had excluded mono from his work by 1972.

Colour describes more things – more radiance, more wavelengths, more sensation. (Meyerowitz, concatenation of two quotes from the exhibition catalogue)

Second, there is a move away from the traditional ‘decisive moment’ images (epitomised by the ‘Kiss Me Stupid’ image above) to something more decentralised or non-hierarchical in which everything, including the colours, contributed equally to the image.

I was trying to unlock photography from the aesthetic of ‘the decisive moment’ – a difficult thing to give up – and to bring the photograph closer to the experience itself, which is inchoate and unresolved in ways that I had been reluctant to deal with before. (Meyerowitz, exhibition catalogue)

Although I have enjoyed Meyerowitz’ later large-format colour work, I found that my preferences in this exhibition were towards the earlier work, mono and colour. Analysing my own reaction, I believe it is because I am reluctant to let go of the concept of the decisive moment.

As always with B+H exhibitions, they make good use of a fairly small space – the photographs are close together but never feel crowded – and the catalogue is excellent value at £10.