Speech is an ensemble of photographs by Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Hal Fischer, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Jim Goldberg, David Goldblatt, Hai Bo, Gregory Halpern, Peter Hujar, Josef Koudelka, Danny Lyon, Duane Michals, Irving Penn, Lucas Samaras, Larry Sultan, JoAnn Verburg, Garry Winogrand, Zhang Huan, and others.
To speak freely is a creative act. Without our bodies or instruments, we have only our voices to express invention. The protection of free speech, written into the DNA of our country, enshrines perhaps the most basic and cherished creative outlet we have.
In celebration of a long, proud history of making our voices heard, Speech explores the photographic tradition of documenting our oratory and expressive moments. Just as a whisper may resonate with equal or greater power as words spoken through a megaphone, a photograph taken candidly in passing may capture a higher truth or poetry than a magazine cover. All represent a right too often forgotten and too seldom exercised. Not lost on each of the artists shown here, photographs have a unique ability to convey, both quickly and with replicability, ideas and beauty that might otherwise get lost. Speech reminds us of the beauty of one of civilization’s best ideas.
Selected photographs, such as Bob Adelman’s 1963 image of Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his iconic “I have a dream” speech in Washington and Garry Winogrand’s view of John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, document historic public speaking events, while others like Duane Michals’s A Man Talking to God, 1975 and Josef Koudelka’s Rumania, 1968 portray more intimate moments of private conversation. Works by Richard Avedon, Gregory Halpern, and JoAnn Verburg subtly allude to First Amendment rights by displaying printed newspaper headlines and religious texts; Robert Frank, Jim Goldberg, and Lucas Samaras employ handwritten messages to communicate with the viewing audience. Portraits of singer James Brown, author Fran Lebowitz, and novelist Carson McCullers celebrate cultural figures who so effectively utilize speech, while other works capture the pure joy of unbridled verbal expression.
Inevitably, an exhibition exploring the concept of speech will take on political implications by the deliberate inclusion or exclusion of particular photographs. Like powerful propaganda pictures, a carefully curated selection of images can lead viewers down certain ideological paths – Speech is intended to do just that.
Courtesy of Pace MacGill Gallery, New York