Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review of Noel Camardo, Los Angeles

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Leo Rubinfien’s Garry Winogrand retrospective and thinking a lot about street photography. In particular, Rubenfien argues that Winogrand’s late pictures from Los Angeles are a quality body of work and not, as Szarkowski argues, an unfinished problem left incomplete by Winogrand’s untimely death. During my falling into a wormhole of Winogrand pictures, out of nowhere Mr. Camardo was nice enough to send me a copy of his new book of LA street work, and my first thought was, wow, Camardo kills Winogrand’s later pictures. Granted, I fall on the Szarkowski end of the debate over Winogrand’s later work, but still, if Winogrand had ended up with Camardo’s images, there would be no doubt of the quality of his late photographs.

Now, I am not trying to be unfair and saddle Camardo with a Winogrand comparison. But Camardo at his best takes the tragic chaos of Winogrand’s LA work and crams it into the meticulous frames of Friedlander, if Friedlander worked in color and was a little more formally stiff. The books starts with a man in front of convenience store holding a cross to the sky and ends with a man radiating light as he sits Indian style on a sidewalk. It is the LA that as a New Yorker I always imagined. Yet, as good as Camardo is, some of the pictures, like the well-lighted steps of an LA mansion, feel like filler or, at best, setting the scene for some of the meatier images. And more than one picture seem to have been taken from a car, which is a limitation, except when it is overcome, as it is in a stunning frame of street signs that lead to man painting a pink garage. Driving pictures do make sense for LA, which is certainly an automobile town, but at times, the car vantage point feels like just too high a hurdle, even for someone as talented as Camardo. But when his daring pictures come together, they become a perfect synopsis of all 70’s photography, rigid architectural pictures with hints of social economic issues, whit an improbable grouping of strangers forming a coherent narrative. The pictures are exceedingly impressive, like one of a row of garbage cans outside an apartment building, with a older lady beautifully lit by warm light in the top right corner, an older man putting out what looks like a rug in the center and a small child alone at the bottom of the stairs at the lower left. Camardo is what would have happened if Winogrand had bought a 4x5in and hadn’t died.


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