Recently I have been on a tear through photography exhibits occurring around DC. Back to back weekends hosting out of town guests brought me to “American Cool” at the National Portrait Gallery and a Gary Winogrand retrospective at The National Gallery of Art. Both exhibits boasted an impressive amount of photographs but the size became a bit overwhelming. I often find that larger institutions have a less rigorous editing process which could be due to the fact that they have more walls to fill as compared to a small gallery.
Focusing on “American Cool,” I was almost more impressed by the introduction stenciled across the front wall then the photographs themselves. Defining the word “cool” might be one of the hardest things to attempt and curators Joel Dinerstein and Frank H. Goodyear III concocted a simple definition that completely captured the elusive word. The iconic pictures complimented the definition but seemed very expected. I think it would have been interesting to see images of unknown individuals who were demonstrating inexplicable concepts of “cool” via their clothes and fashion. The exhibit was laid out very well and spanned through the grand history of trendsetters in the States. Each room captured an era very well in terms of images that conjured up the popular culture of the time. The chosen photographs also had a heavy emphasis on individuals in the entertainment industry, seemingly ignoring other concepts of “cool” that could be displayed in figures such as John F. Kennedy or Andrew Carnegie.
Zooming in on Gary Winogrand, a very different side of portraiture is exposed. The landscape of humanity was what Winogrand captured in his photographs and he did this exceptionally well. His photographs were first very raw and wrought with emotion and then moved to images that captured movement and interaction with physical location. The exhibit did a great job of showing this transformation in the photographer’s style and provided simple captions to accompany the photos.
Accompanying the Gary Winogrand retrospective was a rolling screening of Cheryl Dunn’s Everybody Street. The film was an epic photographic adventure through New York City that caught the street life of Manhattan masterly through an incredible high resolution, slow moving hybrid of photography and video recording. The vivid images were mesmerizing and incredibly beautiful. I certainly recommend a trip to The National Portrait Gallery to catch this pair of extraordinary visual excitement.