527 W. 23rd St., (212) 629-6778
Through Feb. 16
It's possible to describe the contents of Hendrik Kerstens's photographs, but hard to explain how they work. To say he takes pictures of his daughter with tin foil on her head, or bubble wrap, or a plastic bag, is certainly correct, but it makes his project sound like a poor joke, and although it is certainly infused with humor, it is considerably more than that. Similarly, to note that Mr. Kerstens is Dutch and locates his birth (in 1956) in the Netherlands, it has to be added that his mind-set—his way of seeing—is also Dutch. His work references the great Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th centuries, probably Johannes Vermeer more than any other.
Mr. Kersten photographs his grown daughter, Paula, and usually from the chest up, against a black backdrop. She mostly wears black, so her pale face and headdresses are what we see. The pigment prints are quite large, many 60 inches by 50 inches. The lighting mimics that of the Northern masters and the cockeyed headgear at quick glance could be mistaken for that of the earlier period. But Paula's gaze—she looks right at the camera—is fraught with unspecified significance, and implies an equal intensity in the photographer's regard for his subject. Which is to say, the father for his daughter. It is this relationship that the portraits are mostly about, and its seriousness transcends the goofy hairnet, the napkin and the pastry-decoration bag: The daughter trusts her father not to demean her.
Amy Stein & Stacy Arezou Mehrfar: Tall Poppy Syndrome
521-531 W. 25th St., 646) 230-0020
Through Feb. 16
Amy Stein and Stacy Arezou Mehrfar are American photographers who spent a month in New South Wales, Australia, investigating "Tall Poppy Syndrome," a social phenomenon in which successful people (the "tall poppies") are "cut down to size" because of the talents that distinguish them from their peers. It is hard to see how this is demonstrated here, but many of the pictures are interesting withal. In "Schoolchildren" (Weethalle, 2010), the 18 youngsters, most of them in uniform, sit at desks facing forward with looks that express varying degrees of boredom and involvement. The subjects of "Team Players I" and "Team Players II" (both Crowa Rugby Club, Crowa, 2010) wear red-and-white horizontally striped shirts and stand lined up on the green playing field. The four sturdy-looking young men in "II" pose with their arms crossed; the six solid women in "I" have their arms at their sides or behind.
The two photographers don't specify which of them took which pictures. Did one of them take all the group photos, including the six members of the "Hay Branch of the Country Women's Association" (Hay, 2010)? Who took the individual portraits, such as "Woman with Water Bottle" (Broken Hill, 2010)? Or "Cut Down Tree I" (Balranald, 2010) and its "II," "III" and "IV" iterations? And where is the tall poppy?
We Went Back: Photographs From Europe 1933-1956 by Chim
International Center of Photography
1133 Sixth Ave., (212) 857-0000
Through May 5
The first time I saw David "Chim" Seymour's 1952 picture of a wedding in Israel, I burst into tears. I could tell from a distance that it was a Jewish wedding; although the scene was outdoors, a couple dressed in white were standing under a huppah, the canopy under which marriage ceremonies take place. As I walked closer to the wall on which the picture hung, I saw that the crowd around the couple was wearing street clothes, not fancy dress; the groom wore his white shirt without a tie, and only the bride had on something "nice." A huppah is supported by four poles usually held by friends and relatives, but here, instead of simple poles, I saw that it was being held up with two pitchforks and two bayoneted rifles. I wept because this image was such a perfect representation of Israel at that time—people working the land pausing to celebrate a wedding, but having to come to the ceremony armed.
Chim was born Dawid Szymin in 1911 in Warsaw and died in 1956 while covering the Suez Crisis, killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire four days after the armistice. His career as a photojournalist included reports on French left-wing politics in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, the post-World War II recovery in Eastern Europe, a project for Unesco on the impact of the war on children, and the early development of Israel. With Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger, he founded Magnum Photo in 1947. ICP curator Cynthia Young has organized a comprehensive exhibition of more than 150 pictures by this great photojournalist.
A version of this article appeared January 26, 2013, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Shadows of Former Selves.