The Showers The Gallery: Sid Kaplan: New York Rhythm

The Showers The Gallery present, with the complicity of Deborah Bell, the first personal exhibition of Sid Kaplan in France. The exhibition is presented by this text by Magali Jauffret :

Seeing footage of Sid Kaplan is rare. Because this 82-year-old New York photographer, who still runs a studio and darkroom in the East Village, has had his own career overshadowed by the cumbersome legend of Mr. Frank, as he calls the one he produced, for thirty-five years, the prints.

Robert Frank (1924-2019), author, in 1958, of the cult book “The Americans” edited by the French Robert Delpire, was therefore the tree that hides the forest. And in vain he declared: “Sid Kaplan is not only an excellent shooter, but also a very great photographer not yet recognized enough”, nothing helped. The man had to wait until 2005 for the picture rails to take an interest in his life’s work – some 96,000 images – finally offering them exposure and recognition.

You will succumb to the charm and energy of the famous American street. But how ? What guides Sid Kaplan’s gaze when, hanging out in a New York bar, he comes across a smoker overlooked by three screens? When the snow having the same effect on him as when he was a kid, he goes out, all exhilarated, to capture the magic of whitewashed urban landscapes? When for two years, he photographed from a window a crossroads at the corner of Madison Avenue? When for ten years, after the winter and summer solstices, he stares at sunset, between the skyscrapers of Manhattan?

We are far from the strafing of Gary Winogrand who, in addition to the women, frames, as much as he can, the energy, the flow, the urban bazaar. Far from Lee Friedlander who, influenced by Walker Evans, tries to give life to the social landscape. From Louis Faurer who favors, among anonymous people who often come across at night, fragility and doubt. By Diane Arbus whose portraits reveal the devil hidden in each of us.

Sid Kaplan doesn’t shoot on the sly, he doesn’t look for the golden ratio either. To his gallery owner Deborah Bell, he explains: “For me, the best way to practice photography is to do it in my free time, like Jacques-Henri Lartigue or Alfred Stieglitz. I never wanted to do a job that would have put me at the mercy of artistic directors and deadlines to meet, I would have gone nuts ”. To his colleague, the French shooter Guillaume Geneste, author of the book “Le tirage à mains nues” published in this fall by Éditions lamaindonne, he confirms: “I knew I didn’t want to be in the studio. I just wanted to be alone with my camera and walk around to take my own pictures ”.

Where was this desire for photography born and when? In the South Bronx, where his Jewish family from Eastern Europe, went into exile. Then, coincidence doing things well, he meets Weegee at 14 years old. It was there that he said he found himself “hypnotized, attracted as by a drug” by discovering for the first time an image taking shape in the revealer.

Eugene Smith becomes his neighbor. Ralph Gibson introduces him to Robert Frank, “a customer who pays.” In the meantime, the young man, who must earn a living, has started working for “Compo”, Manhattan’s most prestigious photographic laboratory. There, he spends his life in the dark room, but by washing, freezing, drying the prints, his eye, in contact with them, never ceases to form.

Because he rubs shoulders with the cream of the photographers of the time, from the team of the “Family of Man” exhibition which is exported throughout the world, to that of the FARM (Farm Security Administration) to those of the Magnum agency among which Cornell Capa who made him take the pictures of his brother Robert, Lou Bernstein of ICP, Philippe Halsman, the poet Allen Ginsberg …

Many of these photographers are very involved in the Photo League, which the Mac Carthy commission will soon dissolve. Reporters or photojournalists, they have artistic concerns, but also social ones. They want to testify. This is not the case with Sid Kaplan. Raised in the Bronx, he certainly rubbed shoulders with misery, he is certainly imbued with the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, he hardly leaves the Lower East Side, but does not feel in any way invested with a mission. . If not to pass on his brilliant black and white shooting skills to the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he is a teacher.

Lines in space, high lights, traces of a vanished New York, a street scene with kids, a passing cloud… Sid Kaplan the documentary maker humbly feasts on what would have delighted André Kertész. The human does not interest him more than that. He does not take the lead. And above all, he does not forbid himself anything. He is not afraid of eclecticism which, for him, is a force that keeps him far, far from the anecdotal.

Magali Jauffret

Art critic

Sid Kaplan : New York Rhythm

September 24 – October 31

The Showers The Gallery

5, rue Legouvé

75010 Paris

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