Remember the game "I Spy," where kids look out the car window and look for specific objects which catch their little eyes? This notion of free play within certain parameters is the focus of the National Gallery of Art exhibition by the same title. The show spans the history of street photography from the 1930s until 2010, and though the clothes, atmosphere and technology change greatly, the themes remain constant. It is fascinating to watch the city grow like a beast of its own over the history of portable photography; we see the transition from Harry Callahan's photographs of dapper women lost in thought to Bruce Davidson's shots of the subway in its aggressive intensity. These individuals have captured what attracts so many to the madness of urban life.
In the late 1930s, Walker Evans photographed his subjects secretly from a camera hidden in his coat. Sixty years later, Philip-Lorca diCorcia placed a camera in spots throughout the city and captured random passersby in motion. Like an Oulipo poet, each photographer framed his own project to order the overwhelming chaos of the city streets. In this way, the photographs complicate the relationship between anonymous strangers, as the camera turns some people into voyeurs and others into targets of surveillance.
'I Spy: Photography And The Theater Of The Street, 1938-2010' features work from Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Beat Streuli. It will show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. until August 5.
Do you think these photos accurately conjure the craziness of cosmopolitan living? Let us know in the comments section below.