Image above: © The Estate of Harry Callahan, Eleanor, Chicago, 1949. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
Pace/MacGill Gallery presented on June, 6 2015, BACK, a group exhibition of photographs by Adou, Richard Benson, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Jim Goldberg, Emmet Gowin, Paul Graham, Hiro, Peter Hujar, Jocelyn Lee, Nicholas Nixon, Tod Papageorge, Susan Paulsen, Paolo Roversi, Lucas Samaras, Viviane Sassen, Fazal Sheikh, William Wegman, Henry Wessel, and Garry Winogrand, among others. Featuring a range of subjects – including babies, animals, and nudes – photographed solely from behind, the selected works both humorously and seriously explore the visual and psychological intrigue of images taken from this vantage point.
Images above: (left) ©Nicholas Nixon, Sam, Arles 1997. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York; (right) ©Fazal Sheikh, Simran, New Delhi, India, 2007. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
©Susan Paulsen, Katonah, 2014. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
Images above: (left) ©Viviane Sassen, E’s Jacket, 2005. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York; (right) ©Jocelyn Lee, Untitled (Fiona in water), 2009. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
Traditionally, photographers have approached their subjects from frontal perspectives. When individuals turn their backs to the camera, however, conventional portraits can become investigations into the transformative power of anonymity. In seeking to decipher the identity and thoughts of a figure photographed from behind, the viewer can visually assume their place within the picture – joining baseball spectators in the crowd in Tod Papageorge’s Shea Stadium, New York, 1970, witnessing Senator John F. Kennedy’s presidential nomination in Garry Winogrand’s Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (JFK), 1960, or attending a traditional Chinese funeral ceremony in the Sichuan Province in Adou’s Funeral, Women, 2006.
Many of the works on view capture stolen, solitary moments of meditation and introspection – even of the canine and avian variety. The lone figure in Richard Benson’s Forillon Park, Gaspe, 2006 sits in deep contemplation, and as the suited man in Henry Wessel’s San Francisco, 1973 considers the myriad implications of the vast expanse of ocean before him, so too does the behatted canine in William Wegman’s Lee Street Pond, 1981. Alternatively, some pictures assume a more voyeuristic, cinematic feel, such as Lee Friedlander’s New York City, 1966, in which the photographer’s foreboding shadow appears, unbeknownst to his subject, on the back of her fur coat.
Images above: (left) ©Hai Bo. 2008-1, 2008. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York; (right) ©Henry Wessel. San Francisco, 1973. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
Other photographs explore varied interpretations of the sensuality and physicality of the human back. Nicholas Nixon’s portrait of his son, Sam, Arles, 1997, celebrates the formal beauty and sculptural quality of the naked body, while the sinuous shape of the spine is accentuated in Hiro’s Black Bathing Suits, Manzanillo, Mexico, 1985 and Viviane Sassen’s Nest, 2010. Susan Paulsen’s Katonah, 2014 offers a more intimate approach, allowing viewers to visually revel in the soft flesh of her endearing young subject.
All Opening Images by Kari Bjorn