Louis Faurer: Retrospective, Anne Wilkes Tucker, ed.

Discussion in 'Education' started by robert_jones|8, Dec 11, 2002.

  1. Recently, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago to catch a two-room show by Robert Frank, which feautures classic images from his seminal work "The Americans," along with more recent fare from the 1970s through the 1990s. Also on the bill was the main showing -- a retrospective of prints by the recently deceased Louis Faurer, of whom I had only passing knowledge -- which was sponsored by Robert Frank's foundation named in honour of his daughter, Andrea. Fortunately for me, I bit the hook baited with the Frank photographs (which were beautiful to see in person for the first time) and finally got acquainted with Faurer's work.

    Lou Faurer was a fashion photographer from the late 1940s through the early 1970s for such magazines as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, but his passion was photographing Times Square in Manhattan at night. What immediately struck me about his photographs was how Faurer took the blaring and glaring crossroads in the city that never sleeps, and extracted from them utter solitude and psychic desolation. An aging woman shields herself with an umbrella from the blinding fury of incandescent lights flickering, despite the dry pavements; A family up from the farmland poses for a portrait which places their quiet dignity in the foreground against the marquees of movie theatres; a man stands along the kerb both awestruck and intimidated, in a shot which must have later been the genesis of Robert deNiro's defining role of Travis Bickle, the loner cabbie who pads up and down Broadway in total anonymity.

    There is plenty of fare available to the keen eye of the viewer who wants something off the beaten path, that's yet set on one of the most beaten paths in the world's travelogues.

    Faurer was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and grew up in Philadelphia. It was here that he began his explorations as an amateur street photographer. During World War II, he took a photographic course from the Army, and was a civilian photographer for the War Department. After the Allied victory ended the war, Faurer began working in the fashion industry. It was around this time that his friendship with newly arrived Swiss-Jewish emigre Robert Frank began, as both worked as fashion photogs, while Faurer spent much of his time sweating away in Frank's darkroom. In the 1950s, their career paths diverged, with Frank following in the steps of Walker Evans as a straight documentarian, leaving Faurer to the fashion set. Yet, the two remained friends, despite Faurer's angry demeanour. One friend described friendship with Faurer as "high maintenance."

    Faurer was exacting in capturing the exact tonal range and precise contrast needed to convey the feel of New York at night. Most of his early work is printed by himself, and while technically beautiful, it is refreshing to see that Faurer was not a perfectionist -- on many of his prints he left scratches, eyelash hairs and dust spots from negatives unretouched, whereas most other exhibiting photographers would have sweated bullets in spot-toning them out of existence. Strangely, it works, giving the viewer the "you are there" feeling of being present at the creation.

    Also introduced for the first time are many of Faurer's Kodachrome reversal transparencies from the same time period (taken with his Leica rangefinder, very patiently handheld at night to render acceptably sharp images at 40 ASA). The resultant C-type prints made from internegatives are very faithful to Kodachrome's trademark warm tonality, and give us an alternative take on 1940s/50s Times Square.

    Despite his photography being selected by Edward Steichen for the "Family of Man" compendium, Faurer remained on the fringes of the gallery scene, never fully embraced by the art photography movement until the 1970s. In his own lifetime, Faurer exhibited mostly in group exhibitions, but had only about five solo shows. This current retrospective is a long overdue gathering of most of Faurer's important works, which was first held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, moved to San Diego, and is fittingly due at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in June 2003.

    As for the printing of the book itself, it is first rate, and both the tones and the colours are extremely true to the originals. Tucker's introductory essay is an excellent biographical sketch of Faurer the man, and Lisa Hostetler categorises Faurer within the realm of "Film Noir" photographers of his time, though she doesn't give enough background on the New York tabloid crime photographers such as Weegee and Osmund Leviness who defined what would later become the genre.

    Nonetheless, this book (and the exhibition from which it was drawn) finally establishes Faurer among the top tier of art photographers where he rightly belongs.
  2. did frank influence faurer or did faurer influence frank. they knew eachother and might even have shared an apt. i don't know for sure.
  3. Elsa, thanks for your query. They influenced each other, as they often worked for the same publications, were good friends, and Faurer often used Frank's darkroom. They came up in photography together, and shared a similar aesthetic and sense of life.
  4. I saw the Faurer exhibition in Philly Art Museum and subsequently bought the book that goes along with it (the above mentioned). Excellent! His NYC "street" stuff is utterly amazing. having only discovered the enjoyment of photographing street in NYC's Times Square myself, it was doubly deliteful to see someone else from the past get so awed by that place.....especially at night.........nothing else like it, and Faurer presents it as well, or better, than anyone else i've seen.............a MUST see!

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