A WINDOW TO LIFE: LOOKING AT THE HUMANISTS
NOVEMBER 9 – DECEMBER 7, 2019
Beginning in the mid-1940s, a group of mostly French photographers, known as the Humanists, produced bodies of work that were a response to Europe emerging from World War II. These photographers, armed with lightweight, handheld cameras, created spontaneous, often candid, and emotionally engaging images that captured moments from everyday life with an underlying human connection, thus generating a new, reinvigorated perspective for a more secure and brighter future.
The pictures contained scenarios from informal moments in life that drew on enduring themes from love, play, contemplation, and compassion united through an undercurrent of empathy and resilience; they highlighted the human experience passing through a common thread. This exhibition highlights works by some of humanism’s best-regarded photographers such as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Brassai, Robert Doisneau, Edouard Boubat, Diane Arbus, Bill Brandt, and Sabine Weiss and Roger Mayne.
The selection of photographs in A Window to Life; looking at the Humanists, reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit, creating meaningful images out of the most casual situations. Photographers like
Henri-Cartier Bresson detailed such remarkable occurrences on the streets of Paris, he gained worldwide recognition for capturing the decisive moment. Gyula Haláz, renowned as Brassai (although his seminal work dates back to the 1930s), documented the seldom photographed nightlife in Paris. Edouard Boubat’s use of emotion and romantic subject matter attached a French “exoticness” to the movement. Bill Brandt captured, among other works, visual narratives of British class society, establishing himself as one of the most significant photographers in English history. Sabine Weiss highlighted emotive, fleeting moments of beauty in her neighborhood Porte de Saint-Cloud in Paris; her pictures displayed a lightness, tenderness, and innocence of the everyday. Later, American photographer Diane Arbus depicted persons often living in the fringes of society with intimate, raw portraiture that raised questions of identity and ethos of western culture. Roger Mayne shot pictures of children living in the lower-income suburbs of Southam Street in London while Robert Doisneau captured comedic, peculiar, and sublime instants while wandering through the streets of Paris.
Although never a formal school or title for photographers, the Humanist photography movement eventually became a visual record of human empathy. These photographs became a source of healing, normalizing life, and optimism for a post-war world. By bridging commonalities, Humanist photography became a relevant way for photography to gain predominance to a broader public and create a modern sense of equality and universal brotherhood.