The Art Gallery of Ontario recently launched its largest exhibition to-date of American photography and film. The exhibition features works of acclaimed photographers, such as Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Gordon Parks, Danny Lyon and Garry Winogrand, in addition to photographers who attended Casa Susanna. It also features films by Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clarke, Marie Menken, Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie.
The exhibition challenges the contemporary view of American life from the 1950s to the 1980s, and presents complex images of race, cross-dressing and sexuality, as well as people who lived outside the mainstream culture, such as bikers and bohemians. It features reportage, documentary and staged photography, providing an insider’s look into the cultural layers.
Although the exhibition is not fashion-focused, it offers opportunities for fashion discussion. For example, one of the highlights is one of the most famous works from Nan Goldin’s series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Goldin has challenged the notions of beauty and glossy imagery and is considered to be an influence in the snapshot genre of fashion photography. Recently, she has worked for luxury fashion labels such as Bottega Veneta, Jimmy Choo and Dior.
Another section presents Casa Susanna, which was a safe haven for cross-dressers of the 1950s–1960s, organized by Susanna and her wife Marie. More than 170 snapshots are on display, showing the variety of female roles—through costumes—that were adopted by either heterosexual men or those who would later identify as trans women.
Diane Arbus’ work is a big draw. She was one of the most influential female photographers of her time. Some of her most renowned works—such as Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, 1962; Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967; and A Naked Man Being a Woman, N.Y.C. 1968—as well as images of celebrities, are featured in the exhibition.
Gordon Parks was a LIFE magazine contributor, a co-founder of Essence magazine, and a photographer for Vogue during the times of Alexander Liberman. He is most famous for his photographic essays that challenge poverty and civil rights of African-Americans. His insightful portraits of people of Harlem are also on display at the exhibit.
Danny Lyon’s images present the insider’s view on the subculture of outlaw motorcyclists. Although there is no fashion reference in his works, the compositions and poses in his images are reminiscent of the contemporary style of fashion advertisement photography.
And, finally, Garry Winogrand captured the American street culture of the mid-century. His reportage photography from high-society events, such as the Metropolitan Opera Balls, and the streets of New York City showcase a wide variety of people and street styles.