ICP at 50: Photography
For Our Current Moment

ICP at 50: Photography<br>For Our Current Moment

In 1974, Hungarian-American artist Cornell Capa founded the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York to champion “concerned photography” — focusing on socially and politically minded images that could educate and change the world. Since its conception, the museum has shown over 500 exhibitions from more than 3,000 artists. Trail-blazers such as Tyler Mitchell, the first Black practitioner to shoot the cover of Vogue, as well as Nan Goldin, the renowned documentary-photographer, have featured in the centre’s acclaimed list of shows. Now, ICP celebrates its 50th anniversary with a retrospective that unites work from the 19th century to the present, showcasing pieces by Robert Capa and Weegee, alongside contemporary work by Carrie Mae Weems, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Jess T. Dugan and Samuel Fosso.

A highlight of the exhibition is ICP’s display of works by Samuel Fosso (b. 1962). The artist was born in Cameroon, raised in Nigeria, before moving to Bangui in the Central African Republic during the Biafran War. Fosso apprenticed as a photographer before opening his own studio aged just 13 years old. Initially, he would make self-portraits from left over film, sending the spare pieces to his grandmother as mementos. It was a process that left him fascinated by concepts of autoportraiture, expression and subversion. Quickly, he turned his studio into a playground for self-transformation, engaging with culture, history and identity. His self portraits take up uninhibited and glamorous poses: instantly identifiable in their empowering use of tight shirts, platform shoes and dark glasses. In more recent years the artist has described his photography as as “a form of therapy that has enabled me to bring about a sense of self and tell the world that I exist, that I am here. Self portraits give me the opportunity to engage with my own biography.”

The exhibition also includes seminal work by artist and filmmaker Gordon Parks (b. 1912). Between the 1940s to 1970s, Parks produced photo essays for LIFE magazine on issues relating to poverty and social justice, establishing himself as one of the era’s most significant interpreters of American society. In 1948, his work Harlem Gang Leader explored the young life of a 17-year old named Red Jackson. Whilst Parks produced over hundreds of negatives to the publication’s editors, only 21 pictures were published, giving way to a piece that, as Dawoud Bey writes, contributed to “distortions of the worst kind.” In the years since, however, Parks’ full project has been revealed. It sheds light on what was excluded from the original story, revealing a project that sees Harlem street life next to more tender familial moments. In 1952, LIFE published Parks’ photo-essay A Man Becomes Invisible, inspired by Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man (1952). On display at ICP is Invisible Man Retreat, a photograph that imaginatively renders Ellison’s protagonist. Here, a figure sits underground, listening to Louis Armstrong on a record player, surrounded by lightbulbs.

Elsewhere, the museum shows the work of New York Street image-maker Helen Levitt (b. 1913), described as David Levi Strauss as “the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time.” Inspired by Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson, her work create a palpable sense of place. In one picture, a woman in a chequered two-piece peers into a taxi’s window. In another, a girl plays on the street, caught between the curb and a green car. Urban and domestic life is further captured by Brooklyn-based artist Deana Lawson (b. 1979). Through attention to lighting and pose, the artist explores topics of community, motherhood, romance and spirituality. These are all topics that demonstrate ICP’s pivotal role in today’s cultural landscape. The anniversary show compounds studio and vernacular, aesthetic and documentary, and intimate and conceptual practices, all the while revealing the historic development of photography.

ICP at 50: From the Collection, 1845–2019 | Until 6 May


Words: Chloe Elliott

Image Credits:

Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait, 1977. International Center of Photography, Purchase, with fundsprovided by the ICP Aquisitions Committee, 2004 (17.2004)© Samuel Fosso, Courtesy JMPatras/Paris

Deana Lawson, Mama Goma, Gemena, DR Congo, 2014.International Center of Photography, Purchase, with funds provided by the ICP Acquisitions Committee, 2019 (2019.18.1)© DeanaLawson, Courtesy the

Gordon Parks,Invisible Man Retreat, Harlem, NewYork,1952. International Center ofPhotography, The LIFE MagazineCollection, 2005 (1606.2005) Courtesy and © The GordonParks Foundation

Helen Levitt, New York, 1980. International Center ofPhotography, Purchase, with funds provided by the ICP Acquisitions Committee, 2008.© Film Documents LLC, courtesy Zander Galerie, Cologne