Published: June 19, 2001
PainWebber Showcases Esther Bubley and the ‘Golden Age’ of American Photography
NEW YORK CITY – A photography exhibition at the UBS PaineWebber Art Gallery will present a definitive survey of the career of Esther Bubley (1921-1998), a preeminent documentary photographer of the post-World War II era. On view from July 5-September 7, “Esther Bubley: American Photo-Journalist” examines Bubley’s work and explores her role in the “golden age” of American phot-journalism from the 1940s to the 1960s, when picture magazines dominated the news and entertainment media.
The exhibition will feature approximately 135 vintage black-and-white prints from Bubley’s estate, s well s six color images recently printed from her original transparencies, presenting a broad spectrum of works spanning Bubley’s career as an industrial photographer and a chronicler of everyday life.
Complementing the display of vintage prints on the gallery walls, Bubley’s photo-essays are also presented through the pages of Life, Ladies Home Journal and other popular magazines of the era – a unique pairing that situates her work in its original context. In the post-World War II era, photographers like Bubley, W. Eugene Smith and Gordon Parks gained renown for their documentary assignments for national magazines that reached millions of American homes.
Organized by The Beaux Arts Alliance, the exhibition is co-curated by photographic historian Bonnie Yochelson and Alliance executive director SallyForbes, Bubley’s professional representative and longtime friend. Infusing the exhibition with both scholarly and personal insights, Yochelson and Forbes present Bubley’s career as a freelance photo-journalist for corporations and magazines, examining her signature themes of industry, health and family life.
Bubley landed a job as a darkroom assistant to Roy Stryker at the Office of War Information, and used this position to launch her career. Although she was only 21, she was soon contributing photographs of American life to OWI files.
Following her mentor to Standard Oil of New Jersey, Bubley documented the importance of oil in all facets of life around the world. Bubley’s early Standard Oil projects demonstrate her talent in technically challenging conditions. Finding striking modernist patterns in these industrial assignments, Bubley produced graphically complex photographs, such as ‘Gasoline Plant, Tomball, Texas” 1945, which depicts an enormous pipeline evocative of a roller coaster in its twisting design.
Bubley documented long-distance bus travel for the OWI and in 1947 she repeated the assignment for Standard Oil. She photographed many aspects of bus travel, but at the heart of the story was a series on waiting rooms, which showed a cross-section of the American public coping with boredom. “Bus Story” was published several times and brought Bubley wide praise.
Bubley’s many stories about health care and mental health reflect the era’s faith in new medical technologies and psychiatry. Bubley became the first female recipient of the Photography Magazine grand prize in 1954 for her photographs detailing a UNICEF medical mission’s treatment of trachoma, an infectious disease causing blindness, among the desert inhabitants of Morocco.
Bubley’s “Backstage with Life,” story featured behind-the-scenes views of popular entertainment. Her humorous photographs of an incredibly serious child performer lifting his brother and sister in “Strong Man on Grance Chance Roundup,” 1951, demonstrates her special talent for photographing children.
On view from the popular “How America Lives” series, published in Ladies Home Journal from 1948-1960, is the inspiring tale of the Rood family, who successfully paid off a 40-year farm mortgage in six years. This 1948 photo-essay included scenes from everyday life on the family farm, including Vera Rood bathing her young daughter in a makeshift bathtub in the kitchen and the elder Rood children performing their daily chores.
The UBS PaineWebber Art Gallery is located in UBS PaineWebber’s Corporate Headquarters, 1285 Avenue of the Americas (between 51st and 52nd Streets). The gallery is on the ground floor of the building and exhibition hours are Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 6 pm. Admission is free. For information, 212-713-2885.
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