The New York Times Magazine Photographs @Aperture

JTF (just the facts): A large group show, containing the works of 39 different artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the large divided gallery space. The show was curated by Kathy Ryan and Lesley Martin.

The exhibit consists of 13 separate modules. Details for each titled section, including the number of works on view are as follows:

  • Victoria Diehl: The Culture Issue: 2014, 1 archival pigment print
  • Assignment: Times Square: 1997, David Armstrong: 1 archival pigment print, Lillian Bassman: 2 gelatin silver prints, Chuck Close: 3 archival pigment prints, Philip-Lorca diCorcia: 1 digital chromogenic print, Nan Goldin: 1 archival pigment print, Lyle Ashton Harris: 1 Polaroid, Annie Leibovitz: 4 archival pigment prints, Abelardo Morell: 1 archival pigment print, Jack Pierson: 4 chromogenic prints, Lars Tunbjörk: 1 chromogenic print, 28 spreads
  • Sebastião Salgado: The Kuwaiti Inferno: 1991, 5 archival pigment prints, 40 smaller work prints, 1 magazine cover, 8 spreads
  • Simon Norfolk: Where the Protons Will Play: 2006, 2 archival pigment prints, 3 spreads
  • Paolo Pellegrin: 2002, 2004, 2011, 5 archival pigment prints, 1 slideshow, 8 contact sheets, 13 spreads
  • Fashion Cross-Overs: Nan Goldin: 2 archival pigment prints, 1 grid of 9 archival pigment prints, 6 spreads, 1996, Lee Friedlander: 9 gelatin silver prints, 4 spreads, 2006, Roger Ballen: 3 archival pigment prints, 5 spreads, 2005, Jeff Koons: 3 archival pigment prints, 5 spreads, 2006, Malick Sidibé, 4 gelatin silver prints, 4 spreads, 2009, Alfred Seiland, 1 chromogenic print, 2004
  • Great Performers: Rineke Dijkstra: 1 archival pigment print, 1 spread, 2007, Hellen van Meene: 3 chromogenic prints, 3 spreads, 2010, Paolo Pellegrin: 4 archival pigment prints, 20 spreads, 2009, Ryan McGinley: 1 digital chromogenic print, 2010, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin: 5 archival pigment prints, 13 spreads, 2004-2006, with videos running on a single screen – Jake Paltrow, 2007, Sølve Sundsbø, 2010, Alex Prager, 2011, Janusz Kaminski, 2013,
  • A Response to 9/11: 2001, 1 email, 1 letter, 4 staff room images, 1 drawing, 1 front page spread, 1 magazine cover, 3 alternate images of light beams, 18 spreads, Paul Myoda and Julian LaVerdiere: 1 archival pigment print, Jeff Mermelstein: 2 archival pigment prints, 2 contact sheets, Angel Franco: 1 archival pigment print, Steve McCurry: 2 archival pigment prints, Andres Serrano: 4 digital chromogenic prints
  • Damon Winter: Where Steel Meets Sky: 2011, 1 video
  • Lynsey Addario & Elizabeth Rubin: Battle Company is Out There: 2008, 8 digital chromogenic prints, 9 working shots, 2 emails, 1 image of a notebook, 8 spreads
  • Ashley Gilbertson: The Shrine Down the Hall: 2010, 5 archival pigment prints, 9 spreads
  • Ryan McGinley: Olympic Athletes: 2004, 2010, 6 digital chromogenic prints, 1 set of 16 postcards, 1 video, 18 spreads
  • Gregory Crewdson: Dream House: 2002, 4 archival pigment prints, 7 spreads, 1 set of 9 Polaroid studies, 1 set of 3 Polaroid studies, 1 glass case including 4 letters, 2 lists, 3 contact sheets, 1 book, 1 group shot, and 2 working shots

A slightly different monograph of this body of work was published by Aperture in 2011 (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: For the better part of the last thirty years, The New York Times Magazine has been a quiet but consistent innovator in the world of photography. In a time when the picture magazine format has largely been retired (or digitally reinvented), it continues to deliver a superlative mix of photojournalism, fashion, celebrity, and fine art photography, week in and week out, year after year, with seemingly no reduction in its forward momentum. This exhibit provides a whirlwind tour of the magazine’s recent photographic projects (focused mostly on the past 15 years), giving us an insider look at how the fundamental idea of the photographic assignment has been refined and reconsidered in its capable hands.

With the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s possible to see that the everyday chaos of the news business actually returns to observable patterns across a long timescale, especially when seen in the context of a weekly features-driven magazine. While the details and locations continue to change, there are and will always be catastrophic events and changes that need to be understood, stars and celebrities to get to know better, and fashion trends to highlight. The trick for a venerable publication like the New York Times Magazine is to tell those stories with compelling and original photographs, and to do so again and again in new ways; it’s the constant and very real challenge of how to engage the readership with unlikely and unexpectedly astonishing images, even when the content that may seem familiar.

The magazine’s deceivingly simple answer to this problem has been to build relationships with the world’s best photojournalists and fine art photographers and then to put them to work on these visual assignments. The harder task is of course how to match the story and the picture maker, and in this arena, the New York Times Magazine has few equals in terms of ingenuity and creativity. In many ways, this smartly edited exhibit provides ample evidence for at least two opposing strategies: to match the photographers with stories that are right in their strike zones, knowing that they already know how to find the nugget of greatness to be discovered there, or to match the photographers with stories that are entirely outside their normal routines, knowing that they will somehow find away to successfully apply their artistic sensibilities to the new and potentially entirely unfamiliar subject matter. Either way, the goal is a visual lightning strike – that series of images that infuses the story with life in ways the reader (or editor) could not possibly have imagined or foreseen.

This show is thoughtfully balanced between the magazine’s likely and unlikely combinations of photographer and story. Sending Paolo Pellegrin to South Darfur or the Libya/Tunisia border, Sebastião Salgado to the burning oil fields of Kuwait, and Lynsey Addario to the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan were the kind of pairings that seem entirely natural and expected – we could predict that these talented photographers would find startling ways to reconsider recurring themes like refugees, war, and destruction.

But it’s the out-of-the-box assignments that create most of the head shaking and inspired surprises. Lee Friedlander, Nan Goldin, and Roger Ballen shooting fashion? Rineke Dijkstra, Hellen van Meene, and Paolo Pellegrin making celebrity portraits? Ryan McGinley covering Olympic athletes? Andres Serrano making portraits of Muslims after 9/11? These are all risky, and potentially downright crazy ideas that somehow work, the artists repeatedly turning convention its head and bringing their own unique styles to subjects they might have normally avoided.

For avid readers/followers of the magazine section, many of these images will be familiar, but it’s really the spirit of invention that’s the key thing on display in this show. It’s the pent up energy that comes from the gulp-inducing moment of sending Lee Friedlander off to shoot backstage at New York Fashion Week, thinking what on earth will he bring back? (and will we be able to use it?) and the resulting wow (sigh of relief) images of chaotic hair being pulled in six directions and staff members and models running every which way that suddenly feel like nothing we’ve ever seen before and somehow amazingly emblematic of the whole ridiculous rush. It’s that alchemy of photographer and editor that is worth exploring here, that inspired nudge outside the comfort zone that in turn creates the conditions for magic.

Collector’s POV: Since this is effectively a museum show (none of the works is directly for sale), we’ll dispense with the usual discussion of prices and secondary market history that usually takes place in this section.

Read more about: Abelardo Morell, Alex Prager, Alfred Seiland, Andres Serrano, Angel Franco, Annie Leibovitz, Ashley Gilbertson, Chuck Close, Damon Winter, David Armstrong, Gregory Crewdson, Hellen van Meene, Ines van Lamsweerde, Jack Pierson, Jeff Koons, Jeff Mermelstein, Lars Tunbjörk, Lee Friedlander, Lillian Bassman, Lyle Ashton Harris, Lynsey Addario, Malick Sidibé, Nan Goldin, Paolo Pellegrin, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, Roger Ballen, Ryan McGinley, Sebastião Salgado, Simon Norfolk, Sølve Sundsbø, Steve McCurry, Victoria Diehl, Aperture Gallery, Aperture

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JTF (just the facts): Published by Fw:Books in 2017 (here). Softcover, 400 pages, with roughly 400 black and white and color photographs. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and ... Read on.

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