“Magnum Streetwise: The Ultimate Collection of Street Photography”
Edited by Stephen McLaren
Thames & Hudson, $40
Maybe you like your street photography with fewer frocks and more grit.
If that’s you, then a collection of scenes from dozens of Magnum photographers is probably up your alley, particularly when that alley is occupied by three masked military police in Rio de Janeiro with a woman sliding between them so she can get home with her groceries. Since the photo is one of David Alan Harvey’s, you know that the light is even and the colors pop.
You may prefer getting out of the alley and into the Roxy Club in London, where Peter Marlow found three young fans of punk contorting themselves to the music of Adam Ant.
If you have a taste for the unfamiliar, you’ll follow the Chilean photographer Sergio Larraín to Sicily, where a hillside substitutes for a street, or to Pisac, Peru, where the narrow streets aren’t paved and the women go barefoot.
It’s impossible to describe even a fraction of the variety of hundreds and hundreds of photos in “Magnum Streetwise.” It’s a book that serves as both a tutorial on unconstructed moments and a memorial to the masters of the genre and their little peeks into street life that tell stories bigger than the frames they fill. ■
“Bill Cunningham: On the Street — Five Decades of Iconic Photography”
By The New York Times; Photography edited by Tiina Loite Potter, $60
No street photographer captured more joy than Bill Cunningham. His subject was self-expression — not his, but his New Yorkers’ and their clothes. Although he worked in the world of fashion, it wasn’t simply the latest tats that turned his eye. Bill — that’s what everyone called him — was interested in style and its interpretations.
From his vantage point at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, Bill watched the world go by, waiting for a coat worn just so, or a skirt cut that highlighted a new pattern, or comfort-defying shoes that made a statement. He didn’t care if you were a tourist or a New York native, if you were wearing a thousand-dollar belt or a Boy Scout uniform.
He looked at how you wore it, and he looked for what you wore that had debuted 20 years earlier but was making a comeback, reinterpreted by a new generation.
That’s where his genius lay. Bill could make the connection between old and new and between new and what’s next, and explain it to the readers of Styles section in The New York Times, whose pages he filled from 1978 until just before his death in 2016 at age 87.
For those of us who usually find fashion mind-boggling or simply odd, he deciphered trends to explain how they came about, such as in the 1990s when he shared a set of photos of pedestrians wearing a flannel shirts tied around their waists. Making the connection to musicians breaking into the mainstream at the time, he called it “the ultimate deconstructed hip-hop look.”
You’ll smile at the outfits he captured, and chuckle a bit too, in this compilation that stars ordinary people as the arbiters of taste.
“The best fashion show is definitely on the street,” Bill said. “Always has been. Always will be.” ■
“Avedon: Behind the Scenes 1964-1980”
By Gideon Lewin
Fresh from art school in California, Gideon Lewin went to New York in 1964 to look for a job in photography. Arriving at his third interview, this one on East 58th Street, he exited the elevator onto a dark hallway on the fourth floor.
“As I got out, the studio door opened and a tall, beautiful woman came out, all made-up, with long, dark eyelashes, bright-red lips, and her hair pulled back,” he writes of his first encounter with a supermodel. “It was Wilhelmina. ‘Wow,’ I said to myself as she smiled. I knew I had come to the right place.”
So began his 16-year stint working with Richard Avedon, first as his studio assistant, then studio manager. Lewin helped create the lighting that Avedon's photos are famous for. When published in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, they were recognized for their groundbreaking creativity. A 1970 exhibition in the Minneapolis Institute of Art would become the first of many.
The photos you find in Lewin’s book are his own, depicting life beyond the seamless white paper, of assistants setting up shots, art directors reviewing contact sheets, and after the work is done of everyone blowing off steam with an in-studio dance party, with Avedon’s exuberance filling the room as he grooves with a model.
A photographer himself who entered the field when fashion photography was becoming an art unto itself, Lewin describes Avedon glowingly, saying that he had never met someone so totally committed to photography. “He was outgoing, a bundle of energy continuously in motion,” Lewin writes. “He understood beautiful light, and he would light up when he saw a great print.”
Here’s a book that shows Avedon creating the work you know already — probably from some of the very prints Lewin made in Avedon’s darkroom. ■