Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Golden Age in Black and White

In the 1950s, we began to see the world differently. A new generation of photographers was transforming frozen posed pictures into available-light images of people and places as they really were.

Those golden days of black-and-white photography are recalled in a new web site by one of the best of them, my friend George Zimbel. A few clicks will take you to a Bourbon Street bar, an Irish dance hall, a Vermont quarry of that time.

A few more will show you the unguarded famous--Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Nixon.

“Photographs,” Susan Sontag wrote, “alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.”

Now that we are flooded with pictures, it’s good to be reminded there once was not only an aesthetic but an ethics of seeing, when everyone did not feel entitled to observe everything. What photographers who were artists did show us was well worth seeing.

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