Looking at photography, seeing design. The current exhibitions at the International Center of Photography are, of course, of photography, and brilliant, various and devastating images at that. But the work of contemporary photographer Caio Reisewitz and the collected works in Urbes Mutantes: Latin American Photography 1944-2013 also offer a showcase for design in multiple forms. Reisewitz’s large-format images (in whose size, as well as their greens and grays, you can see the influence of his study in Germany) represent “places of power” in Brazil, including Oscar Niemeyer’s Ministry of Foreign Relations in Brasilia. The moody image above is of Niemeyer’s own house in Rio, more commonly seen as a sunny, tropical tribute to the good life. A series of photocollages by Reisewitz introduce informal architecture into the green landscape, symbolizing the push of architecture against nature. His images seemed particularly a propos after reading Justin McGuirk’s survey of urbanism across Latin America in the new book Radical Cities.
Downstairs, the museum’s survey of Latin American photography is broken into themed sections, beginning with one on modern architecture. The New York Times has a thorough slideshow here. We see both the expected straight lines and sharp shadows, as well as more recent photojournalism on the decay and reworkings of modern housing. I was particularly excited by a huge vintage book, simply titled Caracas, on display in one case, as well as a one-of-a-kind album from Mexican architect Mario Pani’s office showing images of his CUPA housing. (I’ll post my own photographs of CUPA in its present-day state next week.) Several other sections of the exhibition also included beautiful examples of period book design, including a limited-printing automobile portfolio in a shiny stainless-steel case. Graphic design made an appearance not only in printed matter, but in a separate gallery on signs, documenting the work of sign-painters, advertisers and store-owners. Packaging turns up too: Susana Torres documents the sad end of the Inca-as-brand in a series installed floor-to-ceiling. There are more themes: identity, nightlife, protest, and many more photographers to discover. If you won’t be in New York before September, the catalog looks excellent.