Ansel? Henri. Henri? Ansel.
September 2003

by James Colburn

Okay. So you've got a bunch of really good photographs by a world famous photographer and you're the curator of the exhibit at a word-class museum. What do you do?

If your whoever curated the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum a few years ago and you have a wealth of Ansel Adams prints.... BIG Ansel Adams prints... You'll get the "classics" like Moonrise Over Hernandez" or El Capitan and intersperse them with equally, if lesser known, examples of Ansel's work. You'll stick lots of them up on the wall and stand back.

You'll be able to tell who's a photographer because you'll hear soft phrases from men and women standing six feet back. Phrase like "Holy Shit," Oh, My God," and "Wow" and then you'll observe as they often get very close to the print and from a distance of four inches or so mutter, "Holy Shit," Oh, My God," and "Wow." They will, of course, have dragged their wife/girl-boyfriend/significant-other/date-for-the-evening along and the photographer will be saying "Look at that!" and the wife/etc. will, usually, agree that they're at an excellent exhibit of photographic art.

If you're whoever curated the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit that's been on display at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris you'll confuse things by giving some of the best display space to seemingly every freaking press pass that Henri ever applied for. You'll separate the viewer from many pictures by putting sometimes silly souvenirs in three foot wide glass cases against the wall that the photos are hung on. You'll make sure that you put lot's of, shall we say "Non-Decisive Moment" photos in the exhibit and, sorry Henri, you'll make sure that about a quarter of the exhibit shows his paintings and drawings.

Now really. Who goes to an HCB exhibit to see his paintings? I know the guy hasn't taken a photograph since the 70's and I'm sure he has his reasons but give me a break. Give me the photographs and give 'em to me so that I can actually see them up close and personal. I'm not going to bring in a glass of water and do a Three Stooges spit-take to spray the damn prints, and hardly anyone else will either.

I love the work of Ansel Adams and I love the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and, to give the Bibliothèque Nationale credit you can get in to any of its exhibits (and just about any museum in France) for free if you have a valid press pass, but I'm glad that I
saw the exhibit toward the end of it's run since I've heard that people were standing in line for four hours or more when it opened and that would have really pissed me off. Mind you. I picked up a copy of James Nachtwey's "Hell" (or "Enfer" as the French say it) at the Bibliothèque's book shop for around $80, marked down from over $200 so the afternoon was by no means a total loss.

I'm going back soon and hope to see the Jacques Henri Lartigue exhibit at the Pompidou Center in Paris (open until September 22nd.) Now that guy had FUN with his camera.

Then it's dinner at a great little place I know in the 5th.

© 2003 James Colburn
Contributing Writer


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