at The ICP, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
The main floor of the ICP is devoted to the historically important uncovering of thought to have been lost Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and Chim photographs of the Spanish Civil War, but at the risk of sounding uncultured, it wasn’t totally my thing. I found the downstairs exhibits much more interesting starting with the staged giant photographs by China’s Wang Qingsong.
While on a simply visual level they are impressive for the amount of effort to elaborately stage the scenes they remind me a little of the glossy hyper real work of someone like David LaChapelle (who, for the record I can’t call my self a fan of). Thematically, though these imposing images are far more complex and interesting. The modern story of China is infinitely intriguing and Qingsong’s interpretation of recent history – particularly it’s new role in and fascination with consumerism – is thought provoking and revealed things I didn;t know before.
Around the corner is a much smaller exhibit of Baptism photographs and postcards. There’s something haunting and almost eerie about a baptism (just ask the people that made the intro to True Blood). Strolling past the images, I was drawn into the ritual, the costume, and the often blurred faces that looked like ghosts. The tone takes a dramatic shift, however when you read the ignorant and often downright racist messages on the back of some of the postcards. Baptisms were seen as very exotic by visitors and though probably never witnessed by most, postcards depicting the act were sent back home for relatives and loved ones to marvel at the strangeness of it all.
Next door are the photographs of Alonzo Jordan. If the baptism images show the divide between cultures, his show the similarities between black and white communities. Smiling gorgeous young African American men and women celebrate birthdays, weddings, home coming dances and football victories even as the realities of racism simmered in the back ground. In 1998, the town of Jasper, which these photographs capture years before, was home to one of the worst racial motivated murders in US history when James Byrd, Jr was dragged to his death. That one can clearly see in these photographs that the black people of the community were truly equal in their hopes and dreams makes the sting of reality that much more painful and hard to understand.