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Public Faces/Private Spaces: Recent Acquisitions at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, October 10, 2006-February 4, 2007

August 3, 2006

LOS ANGELES—Some of the newest additions to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s renowned photographs collection will be on view for the first time in Public Faces/Private Spaces: Recent Acquisitions, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, October 10, 2006 – February 4, 2007.  The exhibition features the works of four accomplished American photographers—Donald Blumberg (born 1935), Anthony Hernandez (born 1947), Mary Ellen Mark (born 1940), and Bill Owens (born 1938)—whose black-and-white pictures focus on different communities in America, ranging from the urban public to the suburban private.  In their images of churchgoers and street kids, urban commuters and suburbanites, the four explore a wide spectrum of the social landscape, offering glimpses of the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.

Public Faces/Private Spaces features 20 photographs made between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s that offer four different approaches to observing people in the places they occupy. Incorporating elements of portraiture, social documentation, and street photography, each photographer presents images reflecting various groups and subcultures that coexist across the country, capturing moments that alternate between the public and the private, between the newsworthy and the commonplace. Highlights include works from Blumberg’s In Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Hernandez’s Public Transit Areas, Mark’s Streetwise, and Owens’ Suburbia.

Public Faces/Private Spaces complements Where We Live: American Photographs from the Berman Collection (October 24, 2006–February 25, 2007), which marks the opening of the Museum’s expanded suite of galleries devoted to photographs.  Increasing from 1,700 to 7,000 square feet, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs at the Getty Center reflects the importance of the art form to the Getty’s mission, and reaffirms the Getty Museum, and Los Angeles, as a major center for photography. It also underscores the Museum’s commitment to acquiring, displaying, and interpreting contemporary photographs. 
The works on view were acquired by the Getty Museum by both purchase and gift.   Where We Live, which features nearly 170 photographs, draws from nearly 500 examples of postwar American photography donated by Los Angeles collectors and long-standing donors Nancy and Bruce Berman.  The photographs by Owens and Hernandez featured in Public Faces/Private Spaces were acquired in 2005 with the assistance of the Photographs Council, of which Bruce Berman is a founding member.  The Photographs Council is a new group dedicated to supporting the work of the Museum’s Department of Photographs.

This exhibition is curated by Virginia Heckert, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs.


Donald Blumberg

I was primarily interested in the possibility of freeing the figure from its environmental ground and placing it at will in the frame—making as opposed to taking the photograph.
—Donald Blumberg, In Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 1973

Blumberg sought out his subject matter in the streets of New York City and first gained national attention for his series In Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which depicts worshippers as they spill out of the landmark cathedral onto Fifth Avenue in the mid-1960s.  He created unconventional figure studies by tilting his camera, and introduced movement and narrative into still pictures by moving during prolonged exposures, and combining two to three 35mm negatives into a single print. An image of a solitary woman joined with a blurred image of the priest skillfully conveys the private and communal dimensions of faith.

Bill Owens

To me nothing seemed familiar, yet everything was very, very familiar.
—Bill Owens, Suburbia, 1973

While on assignment for a local newspaper in the late 1960s, Bill Owens began to record the rituals of daily life and work in the suburbs of San Francisco’s East Bay.  He continued for more than a decade, capturing people he knew—his friends, relatives, and neighbors—at work and at play, indoors and out, in family and social groups. Owens’s intention was neither to criticize nor parody, but to document. He always involved his subjects in his project, often asking them to record their comments on cards, which he later used as captions for his books: Suburbia (1972), Our Kind of People (1975) Working: I Do It for the Money (1977), and Leisure (2004), the fourth book in this series dedicated to documenting the American dream.

Mary Ellen Mark

From my earliest days as a photographer, many of my subjects have been on the edge of or outside the mainstream of our culture. . . I’ve always tried to let my photographs be a voice for people who have less of an opportunity to speak for themselves.
—Mary Ellen Mark, American Odyssey, 1963–1999, 1999

New York-based Mary Ellen Mark is one of America’s best-known and most prolific photojournalists, whose work has been published in numerous magazines, including Life, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and The New Yorker. She is known for her images of those caught outside the mainstream culture.  In her Streetwise series, which began in 1983 as an assignment for Life magazine, Mark illuminates the struggles of teenagers who have chosen to live on the streets of Seattle, surviving by their wits, prostitution, and hustling. In Mark’s hands, an image of a girl with a rag doll cradled in her arms wearing baggy clothes and smoking a cigarette becomes a potent symbol of lost youth. In her images, the sense of lost innocence is magnified.

Anthony Hernandez

My work may be beautiful or it might not be, that just isn’t what I am concerned with. I try to be open and face the city.
—Anthony Hernandez, Untitled
(Journal of the Friends of Photography, Carmel, California), 1973

A native of Los Angeles, Hernandez’s main focus is the urban environment of his hometown. His images emphasize the vulnerability of individuals lost in thought in public areas, surrounded by shoppers or commuters.  Made in 1979 and 1980, the photographs in his Public Transit Areas series contrast the invasive elements of the city with the internal private worlds of passengers waiting for the bus. By keeping the overall composition of each photograph virtually the same—with figures positioned beside the street as it recedes into the distance—while the architecture and the signs that line each street change, Hernandez encourages us to notice the seemingly inconsequential details of the city’s surroundings.

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Beth Laski
Getty Communications Dept.

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