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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tick/Zellin at the PhotoCenter

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y., late 1970s or early 1980s
In an extreme case of better late than never, two bodies of work by photographers Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin have been mounted in a beautifully conceived exhibition at the PhotoCenter of the Capital District in Troy, on view through Dec. 13 (PhotoCenter hours are Th-Fr, 5-9, and Sat-Sun, 12-6).

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y.
late 1970s or early 1980s
Originally urged by their mutual mentor Mel Rosenthal more than 35 years ago, this event is the curatorial baby of Mark Kelly (creator of the former Exposed Gallery of Art Photography in Delmar), who designed and planned the installation, along with a handsome short-run book that accompanies it. Kelly has done an admirable job of presenting two collections that share many characteristics but are also quite distinct from one another.

There are many stories behind these photographs, including that of their makers, who are married to each other now. The pictures fall cleanly into the category of "concerned photography" - not quite journalism, not quite art; rather, a form of personal documentary that held sway for decades from the WPA era, through the heyday of Life magazine, and into the 1970s, when Tick and Zellin were learning their craft and prowling New York City with their cameras.

Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin
photo by Tricia Cremo
In those days, just about everybody was shooting black-and-white 35mm film in the street (a habit I understand is making a big comeback today). One feature that sets these two apart from that crowd is that they did not just grab and run. Instead, they formed relationships with their subjects and present them with an unusual depth. They also take a rather sociological stance, which comes across readily at a level of caring that many photographers lack.

It takes energy to care, and time; Tick and Zellin gave it, and this exhibition demands it of the viewer, too. The pictures are touching, many are melancholy, some are even heartbreaking. But they are neither exploitative nor facile. Tick's approach is to get to know his subjects - every one of them a bottom-of-the-gutter Bowery drunk - then capture them in beautiful portraits, which are paired with their own matter-of-fact utterances (handwritten by the photographer). The results resonate across the decades and connect directly to our souls.

Paul Tick - Untitled photograph 1978
Zellin created her larger series (there are 32 of hers, 22 of his) as a long-form essay about an ethnic neighborhood in Queens, where she clearly was part of the scene and enjoyed what appears to be easy access to her relaxed subjects. Her scenes of everyday (or night) activities are sweet and sensitive, and speak of a time and place that's becoming rare in North America, when people knew their neighbors like family.

The work is presented without titles, mats or frames, cleanly printed with white borders using modern digital technology, and it looks really good on the walls. The book is equally appealing, and I understand has sold out a first run already. Both are well worth a good, long look.

Paul Tick untitled photograph from Manhattan, 1978

1 comment:

Unknown said...

We are pleased to announce that the book is now available on line at:
Thank you for the great review,
Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin