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Public Faces

Incidental portraits of everyday Americans

Jul 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 43 • By EVE TUSHNET
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Is people-watching in a museum different from people-watching at a café? As Streuli’s film plays, the people do begin to seem more aesthetically interesting. Their movements are collisions of awkwardness and grace: A guy chewing a mouthful of food turns to his companion with balletic timing, to shepherd her through the crowd. A girl on a cell phone darts her hand out like she’s in a jazz revue. The unique, discordant rhythms of the individuals work with or against the overall rhythm of the crowd.

The most recent works seemed less surprising and satisfying than the earlier ones. Black-and-white film is unusually good at conveying texture, and the color-soaked photos of Bruce Davidson have a gritty, homemade, and flawed feeling, whereas the red-carpet technique used by diCorcia tends to flatten out individuality. This may also be due to the choice of subjects: The girl who is the focus of one of diCorcia’s photos is quite pretty in an interchangeable-starlet way. There are fashions in women’s faces, and it’s easier to see the individuality in a less trendy face. And overall, the people in the more recent photographs seem more contented and less knowing. Presumably, this reflects the photographer’s own interests, since I would guess that 1940s Bridgeport wasn’t a center of hard-bitten realism. 

Still, as the exhibit (perhaps) unfairly and unintentionally argues, our pictures are more interesting when we like the camera less.

Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington.

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