There is much to consider during our upcoming discussion with photographer, Philip Trager, at The Phillips Collection on September 15. But the conversation should start with his most recent books: Photographing Ina and New York in the 1970s.
In Photographing Ina, the photographs cause one to consider issues of process and technical development, the move to digital photography, and the transition from black and white to color. However, what is most compelling in these portraits of his wife Ina is the seeming ease with which her warmth and intelligence is revealed. In a sense, the principal “subject” and “platform” of the entire project is the powerful, intimate relationship between artist and subject—made palpable in the staging of the shots in the dialogue between husband and wife. Indeed, the photographs are characterized by an undisguised and loving honesty.
The same intimacy seems to characterize the photographs of New York in the 1970s. Trager’s photographs capture unassuming and un-romanticized views of the city’s grime, grit, and cacophony. For those of us who lived in New York during those years, the black and white images are poignant souvenirs of the city in extremis—a place of daily challenge but undeniably grand in its humanity. As with the photographs of Ina, this treasure trove of long forgotten photographs capture an unvarnished and captivating portrait of a place.
It’s important to recognize that Trager’s capacity to capture the essence of cities and architectural monuments has been proven before. For example, his portraits of Palladio’s villas convey uncommon perfection and are paeans to the purity of elegant geometry. His large format photographs of Paris embrace the city in all its richness, complexity, elegance, and history.
I will surely want to steer our conversation to its conclusion with a discussion of the portrait of choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones in The Phillips Collection, one taste of Trager’s breathtaking works about dancers and performance.
Dorothy Kosinski is Director of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. American photographer Philip Trager joins Director Dorothy Kosinski to discuss his recent publications, New York in the 1970s and Photographing Ina on September 15 at the Phillips.