Paul McDonough: Sight Seeing @Sasha Wolf

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung in the long single room gallery space. All of the prints are modern gelatin silver prints, made from negatives taken between 1971 and 1982. The prints are sized 16×20 and come in editions of 15. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: When we think of 1970s West coast photography, Paul McDonough isn’t a name that we might normally come up with right away. But the New York photographer spent time in California and Oregon during that fertile period, making outsider pictures that combine his street-savvy awareness for the serendipity of converging people with the easy going, laid back warmth of life out West. They’re street photographs, only in this case, the street is a beach, a sun-baked parking lot, or a paved boardwalk.

McDonough’s image of the swirling mass of bodies around a Santa Monica beach camper is the kind of complex composition that has its roots in New York city chaos. Swimsuited men and women perch on top of the RV, stand in the doorway, climb on the back, catch rays nearby, and generally wander around, a half dozen mini-vignettes and tiny gestures captured in one single all-over frame. Other photographs zero in on knots and tangles of young people, hanging around cars and checking each other out, the indirect interactions of guys and girls falling into time worn patterns of looking and not looking. But the crisply observed local details are what creates the atmosphere: short shorts, plaid bell bottoms, beater convertibles, rusty El Caminos, bikinis, old school roller skates, wavy, sun-bleached Farrah Fawcett hair, and warm afternoon light. Again and again, McDonough’s timing is quietly and casually perfect: a blown chewing gum bubble underneath a spraying fountain, a escalating line up of children on the ladder of a playground slide, and the separation of skateboarders on a gas station blacktop all coalesce at exactly the right moment. He has captured a relaxed world where pulling your car right up on the beach isn’t out of the ordinary and where sunbathing on a grocery store curb amid the abandoned shopping carts seems entirely natural, and he makes it look so effortless that we might think taking these kind of pictures is somehow easy, which of course, it’s not.

All in, this show broadens our view of McDonough, exposing a side of his work that we hadn’t seen before. Step by step, exhibit by exhibit, we’re working our way forward in time, his archive proving richer and more varied with every successive discovery.

Collector’s POV: The works on view are priced at $3000 each. McDonough’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Paul McDonough, Sasha Wolf Gallery

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