Hidden away on the Corcoran’s second floor are two small galleries showing important photography from the museum’s permanent collection. These exhibits rotate about every 3-4 months, but right now are being occupied by Richard Gordon: Meta Photographs (on view through May 1) and Framed: Street Photography from the Collection (on view through April 17).
I visited them last week; both exhibits showcase works from post-World War II and which mark the shift of documentary photography away from pure photojournalism and towards neorealism and conceptualism. In addition to Richard Gordon, the group show features many well-known artists including Walker Berenice Abbott, Anthony Hernandez, Gordon Parks, Roy de Carava and Gerry Winogrand.
The Street Photography show is reminiscent of a wonderful 2002 exhibit I attended at the Hirshhorn called Open City: Street Photographs Since 1950 and which featured the “fascination with the faces, gestures and architecture of the urban streetscape.” Here too, this fascination is obvious; the human theater of cities, the authenticity and artifice of places and people, and transcendent representations of daily life. Here, we see the conceptualist departure best—not only in the photographic process (think small cameras, fast shutters and covert snapshots) but in the composition (or rather lack of it). The beauty of this movement was really in its refusal to impose easily identifiable or familiar narratives on the viewer, instead creating ambiguous tableaus open to interpretation.
Gordon’s Meta Photographs are 23 selected works from a larger portfolio of 47 photos produced between 1973 and 1978. The Corcoran owns the entire portfolio, which is but 1 out of an edition of 35. This is a smartly curated exhibit which groups together 3-4 photographs into several themes which comment broadly on consumer culture and society’s relation to both the visual culture of photography and the photographer. Be sure to spend enough time in this gallery; there’s always a temptation to breeze through photography, but devoting extra time here will pay off and allow you to absorb many of the playful and geometric juxtapositions, and Gordon’s own conceptual statements.