Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paul McDonough

I like Paul McDonough's work quite a bit:

What ever happened to this guy? He popped up briefly in 2007 with a show at Sasha Wolf but beyond that he seems to be off the radar.

Of course one could just as easily ask, What ever happened to 1970s street photography? The photos above, most of which are from the 70s, are wonderful examples of the style which was king back then, concise observations captured in 35 mm b/w. The object wasn't to document anything in particular but go out into real life and come back with photos which worked. Wessel, Papageorge, Levitt, Perkis, Kalvar, Winogrand, Erwitt, Friedlander, Dane, the list goes on... They were all masters of the aesthetic. Perhaps "observational" is a better word than "street"?

4th St., NYC, 1970 by Richard Kalvar
This makes a nice pair with the street musician shot above

This style is over 30 years old but it's still my favorite. I would choose a well-seen 70s style moment over just about any other type of photo. Not only is it my favorite to look at, but shooting 35 mm b/w is the heart of my daily practice.

I know I'm old fashioned. The attention of the photo world is now firmly elsewhere. Now the emphasis is on ideas and anyone who takes photos just for the sake of the photo is wasting their time. Folks like McDonough are left like forgotten detritus along the course of history.

Well, not completely forgotten. More photos and a brief bio can be found here.


Anonymous said...

You would very much enjoy a new French Exhibition Catalogue called "La Photographie Americaine 70" Published by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. No Paul McDonough but lots of other great photographers of his ilk from the 1970's

Anonymous said...


J. Karanka said...

Came accross it when the exhib. It's good, but not my fave. I think that those guys in the 60's and 70's really were into trying to create a problem in a frame and trying to solve it in a unique photographic fashion. The most obvious are for me Winogrand, Friedlander and Eggleston, and it's interesting to see how the things they came up with are a mixture of instinct and rationalization. Friedlander is maybe the most rational and experimental of the three, but all of them were looking for these images that happened to work slightly against expectations.

Blake Andrews said...

I think you're generally right Joni, and that was partly my point. Those guys were more interested in the challenge of seeing photographs than in coming up with a grand concept and then filling in the slots.

China Plate, I'll look for the book though not sure how common it will be in the U.S. I'm curious who you are. I don't ask to be accusatory --certainly it's not in the tone of BryanF on HCSP, e.g.-- but out of curiosity. If you're feeling revelatory...

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, agree about this wonderful style being a bit underground today. But who knows, fashion might change again! And isn't parts of Martin Parr's work in the observational genre? I know, he switched to MF colour long ago, but still ...


Anonymous said...

Came across this post a while ago, you've written quite eloquently of what these photographers were after... and I'd agree, it seems these 70's era street pictures were about the photograph... how the camera sees... and the lovely surprises you find when you shoot this way.

I studied with Mr. McDonough at Pratt for a few classes, he was a quiet and unassuming instructor, as I recall... and a good teacher.

Thanks for the reminder.