Tate Modern Level 4
22 May – 31 August 2008
Comprising over 300 works by 19th and 20th century photographers, Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography presents a fascinating history of photographic portraiture taken in cities around the world. Including work by Diane Arbus, Cecil Beaton, Brassaï, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Cindy Sherman, Malick Sidibé, Wolfgang Tillmans and Weegee, among others, the exhibition examines two contrasting sites of photographic practice: the street and the studio, bringing to light the dynamic interplay between these two very different forms of portraiture.
Street photography takes many forms. Its history was founded with the development of small and easily concealed cameras, offering the opportunity to catch subjects in informal, impromptu and even intimate moments. The exhibition includes Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s snap shots of the French bourgeoisie in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and Arnold Genthe’s documentary photography of Chinatown in San Francisco.
Studio portrait photography, which was developed in the 19th century to create more formal portraits, offered the photographer a suitable vehicle for complex technical manoeuvres. It allowed the sitter the chance to compose and present themselves to the world with the associated props and backdrops, as in Samuel Fosso’s self portraits and Baron de Meyer’s fashion photography of famous artists.
Both street and studio photography have developed their own separate histories and codes of representation. The exhibition explores the ways in which the two sites of photography intertwine. The highly composed scenes by Robert Doisneau or the fashion photography in the 1950s by Norman Parkinson and William Klein demonstrate how the street became a site of staging, while Andres Serrano’s portraits of the homeless and Helmar Lerski’s series Head of Everyday 1930 show how studio photography began to record people from the street.
Key to the exhibition is how these two approaches to photographic portraiture have been generated by the curiosities and desires of the urban public, and the extent to which our visual concept of urban culture has been shaped by these images. The exhibition also features books and magazines and examines the shift from everyday life to celebrity, reflecting changes in society, and changes in the status of the photographic profession.
Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography has been organised in collaboration with Museum Folkwang, Essen,Germany. The exhibition is curated by Ute Eskildsen and Bettina Kaufmann, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition will travel to Museum Folkwang, Germany (11 October – 11 January 2009).