By Elin Spring
Time was, our public and private lives were distinctly separate. Nowadays, not so much. Social media blatantly begs the notion of privacy, promoting a torrent of virtual friends and sometimes startling personal posts. Surrounded by surveillance and the ubiquitous snapping of smart phone pictures, our hyper-connectivity has made us paradoxically guarded and blasé. Who can we trust? Street photographer and Boston College professor Karl Baden asks big questions about the ways in which our technological tsunami has re-framed the street photography genre in an upcoming panel discussion on November 13, in a companion exhibit, “Alen MacWeeney and a Century of New York Street Photography” now at the McMullen Museum of Art on the Boston College Campus through December 8th, 2019 AND in his own solo show at Gallery 344 in Cambridge, opening on November 12th. Details for all events are at the end of this article about the exhibit at Boston College.
Although photography in a public space is protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment as a “right to free expression,” suspicion and even outright hostility to being photographed in public is on the rise. Ever-increasing incursions into our lives under the guise of protection or friendship has fueled a transformation in our attitude toward street photography. This incisive exhibit presents pictures from the pre-digital era as a context for considering the state of the art today. Culled from the McMullen Museum’s archives with the assistance of Diana Larsen, Assistant Director, Exhibition Design, Collections Management and Curatorial Affairs, the selection highlights a quintessential venue for intimately juxtaposed strangers: the NYC subway. In a rare delight, we can view Alen MacWeeney’s recently produced composites of his 1970’s subway photographs – cleverly crafted into panoramas formatted like long, narrow subway cars – along with a few of Walker Evans’ famous (and first) candid subway photographs from the 1930’s that were published later in his book, “Many Are Called.”
Also on display are New York City street scenes by Berenice Abbott, Aaron Siskind, Jerome Liebling and Walter Rosenblum, all members of the Photo League, a group that banded together around social causes between 1936 and 1951. A selection of photographs by contemporary documentarian and women’s activist Donna Ferrato are also featured, accompanied by a copy of her seminal 1991 book, “Living With The Enemy.” This is a concise exhibit with an outsized impact.
New York City has nourished some of the most memorable street photography and exceptional documentary photographers in the world. It is against this storied backdrop that curator Karl Baden organized the exhibit and a certain-to-be-lively conversation about the precarious state of street photography today. The panel discussion entitled “When Everyone Has a Camera: Street Photography, the Right to Free Expression, and the Right to Privacy in the Internet Age” will take place on Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 at 6:30pm in Devlin Hall at Boston College.
For information about the Boston College panel discussion and exhibit, go to: https://www.bc.edu/sites/artmuseum/exhibitions/macweeney/index.html?fbclid=IwAR04B7jpKFnvrrfbGruOpVHh_mLexBzf1PVNwa5Nq_Z1hDw8HenqX7j09rU
AND THERE’S MORE! Opening on November 12th, 2019, Mass Ave, Cambridge is a solo show featuring Karl Baden’s layered street photographs of Cambridge’s distinctive neighborhoods from the Charles River to the Arlington border in a rich and diverse photographic portrait of the City. On view at Gallery 344 (at Cambridge Arts in the City Hall Annex) through February 14th, 2020, there will be an Opening Reception on Monday, November 18th, 2019 from 6:00 – 8:00pm. For information, go to: https://www.cambridgema.gov/arts/publicart/gallery344/upcomingkarlbaden