WORDS Phil Tarley
IMAGES Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery
Peter Fetterman, who showcases the most poetic and humanist photographers of the medium, opens the fall gallery season with an epic collection of McCurry’s biggest and best works. Thirty-four beefy color prints have taken over Fetterman’s space at Bergamont Station, spewing narrative and uber-McCurry color onto the gallery’s walls. Fetterman has been showing Steve McCurry’s work for the past twenty years. He is the only color photographer that has captured the eye in Fetterman’s heart and McCurry is only color photographer the dealer has ever shown.
Famous for his encyclopedic collection of the black and white works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastião Salgado, Fetterman confesses to being a classical romantic and an unabashed lover of lyrical beauty. When the Brit immigrated to California, after a career of film producing which included Mia Farrow’s The Haunting of Julia and Luciano Pavarotti’s Yes, Giorgio, England’s loss became an L.A. treasure. Fetterman offerings mark an indelible imprint onto Los Angeles’ culturescape — presenting the world’s most elegant, numinous and evocative photography.
The gallerist’s office is lined with tomes on collecting and thick photo books, by the likes of Irving Penn, Ruth Orkin, and Cornell Capa. A stunning collection of black and white prints adorn the shelves of his work area. Among them, a heroic photo of John Lennon by Ethan Russell, an Annie Leibovitz of an androgynous Mick Jagger in tights, and a print of a man’s shadow on a seaside balcony by André Kertész, one of the most compelling photographs I have ever seen. Fetterman has a highly cultivated eye. He shows off a world of decidedly potent images, works that were completely unknown to me. To that end, he generously autographed a ravishing book of pictures he edited called, Woman: A Celebration. With a forward by Whoopi Goldberg, it’s filled with classical works of the most exquisite photographers this author, caught up in the bliss and bounty of the contemporary, had never seen.
Steve McCurry is an odd bird. Perennially published in National Geographic, he is first a photojournalist and almost by accident, his images break through somewhat predictable storytelling and become so much more than that. The best of his photographs make us sense the human condition in a fresh way. They make us empathize with the third world people he shoots, who are caught with their eyes telling fear, sadness, hunger and need. His pictures make us feel our own vulnerability. The best are masterworks – direct, simple and honest portraiture stripped to the essence of our basic humanity. The color palette he so adroitly commands augments the greatness of McCurry’s photography.
McCurry is so about narrative and compositional color. It’s rather easier for a black and white photographer to get the tonalities of his image to harmonize – it’s basically all shades of gray, black and white, mediated by highlights and shadows. But color has to be either skillfully coordinated with someone to style the fashions, sets, eye, hair and make-up colors, or in documentary photography, an artist must organically conduct the colors with his choice of where, how and when he shoots. In McCurry’s images, green eyes peer out from a haunted face shot against a matching green scarf; a field of dim, dun, purple on a train car offsets a pair of dark, startled and saddened faces and indigo walls cascade down a passageway punctuated by flowing red turbans and red fruit. McCurry has that eye. He is a man of instinctual and deliberate color. This artist strips his palette to the minimum and comes up with a clean, almost monochromatic mise-en-scene that thrusts his subjects into simple, powerful and highly dramatic relief.
McCurry makes us see with new eyes.