Tisch exhibit offers a ‘View from Left Field’

September 20, 2012

Visitors to the latest photography exhibition at the Tisch School of the Arts can glimpse 20th-century America through the eyes of the Communist Party.

“The View from Left Field,” curated by Deparment of Art History professor Shelley Rice, is an eye-opening photo series composed of images rescued by the Tamiment Library at NYU. The photo morgues were donated by “The Daily Worker,” the official newspaper of the American Communist Party.

Unlike most photo series similar to “A View from Left Field,” the photos were selected because they were visually intriguing, not just for their historical value.

“Most historians and archivists work with images as illustrations for their historical ideas,” Rice said. “My photo students and our history students were working with these images because they were beautiful.”

However visually stunning the images were intended to be, Rice said they are seen through a historical prism.

“These images represent what is ideologically important for the party,” she said. “You’re seeing history through the filter of this party, which was a very important part of American history.”

A group of 20 undergraduates helped choose the photos that went into the gallery. The eye-catching images range from Holocaust postcards featuring piles of corpses to a photo of an Amish family vacationing on a beach.

“We were looking at them as pictures,” said Tisch senior Jonno Rattman, who has worked on the exhibition for the past year. “A picture needs to speak as an image and it also needs to inspire inquiry.”

In putting the exhibition together, Rattman scanned numerous images and curated a reference catalogue at the gallery, which contains the original states of the photos. The process proved to be difficult, as some of the photographs were not labeled.

“Each box is like a little slice of the 20th-century as viewed from the left,” Rattman said. “It’s like the Internet in analog form, but it’s not searchable, so you’re really just stumbling across history in objects.”

“It’s interesting to see [the photographs] represented as documents rather than photographs, for artistic purpose,” said Sarah Steele, an alumna of Tisch’s photography program.

“The View from Left Field” is open and free to the public at the Tisch’s Department of Photography and Imaging at 721 Broadway, eighth floor, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The exhibition runs until Nov. 17.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 20 print edition. Maegan Vazquez is a contributing writer. Email her at features@nyunews.com.

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