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We Can Be Heroes – Guitar and Photo

I was at the Met yesterday afternoon to see the the Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand and Guitar Heroes exhibits.

S(3) was great and easily held its own against the contemporary work across the hall. I’m always amazed at how dark prints from this era look but always astounded by the detail, the tonality, and the local contrast. They feel like all of the range is in the bottom quarter tones, little is blown out, and there are specular highlights to keep them from getting too flat.

Me in The Steerage, by Stieglitz, 1907.
Me in Stieglitz by Paul Strand, 1929.

What surprised me the most was Steichen’s work. I’ve seen Stieglitz and Strand countless times so there’s a bit of fatigue there. Steichen’s early work is sumptuous – he really, of the three, had forged his own printing style and pushed the limits of what could be done.

The Flatiron by Edward Steichen, 1904. Gum bichromate over platinum.

One corner of the Steichen room has a half-dozen or so autochromes. This was one of the earliest color processes which uses colored potato starch to act as color filters. Color images this old always feel special, as if they shouldn’t exist and in the act of seeing them you are discovering them for the world.

Mrs. Selma Schubart by Steichen or maybe Stieglitz (not known which), 1907.
Rodin - The Eve, by Steichen, 1907.

From the S(3) show on the second floor, across the building, and down to a gallery below grade you’ll find Guitar Heroes.

The crowd at Guitar Heroes with an 1870 Bini.

The exhibit looks at three luthiers in NYC; John D’Angelico, James D’Aquisto, and John Monteleone, but provides historical context going to back northern Italy in the 1500’s. I tend to gravitate toward simple and unadorned in guitars so my favorite was a James D’Aquisto New Yorker made for Paul Simon.

Oval Hole New Yorker, Archtop Guitar, by James D'Aquisto.

Guitar Heroes, as an exhibit, relies on the visual over the aural. It’s beautiful but that’s not enough. You wish there was a way to give a sense of how one guitar sounds versus another or even feels. The Met has a gone a long way to fill this gap with a free iTunes app, an extensive web site, and the option to rent an audio tour but a guitar exhibit without a shared sense of the music… something’s missing.

One other new item on display at the Met is the Roman Mosiac from Lod, Israel. It was discovered in 1996 during a highway construction project, it dates back to A.D. 300, and it will be at the Met only through early April.  It’s a real treat – fun, playful, vibrant – and as unique for what it does not portray (people) and as for what it does (animals like the giraffe and rhinoceros.)

Roman Mosaic, Lod, Israel. A.D. 300.


  1. Jim

    I was there the following Friday, Jon, and saw those items as well. I was taken by the size of the Flatiron shots, and the variations. I also enjoyed Strand’s still life shot, like the bowls and the car tire, and especially the shadows on the porch.

    The guitar show was strangely antiseptic to me- I guess I have gotten used to Guitar Center. I wanted to touch.

    The Lod mosaic was really cool. The drawings are very sophisticated and naive at the same time. Did you notice how many of the creatures had a dark outline, like a child’s drawing…

  2. The Flatiron shots are gorgeous as well as the other prints where a color printmaking processing was combined with a platinum print.

    I agree on the guitar show. I wanted to hear the guitars and feel how they played. I would be curious to know if those side sound holes make a difference in how the player hears the music. When I’ve had free time in the city I’ve often popped into Rivington Guitars on 4th St or Matt Umanov on Bleeker to try out vintage guitars. They’re always unique in how they play and sound. Locally, if you want somewhere quieter than GC, Russo’s in Trenton has a good selection, and if you are up the Delaware – The Guitar Parlor in Riegelsville is really nice. It’s tiny; Bil is a luthier with his own line of guitars and his wife Sarah does repairs.

    The mosaic was really refreshing and a surprise. I’m trying to resist the urge to say, “It floored me,” but it’s, alas, too late…

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