Writer and lecturer, photography and art
HERE'S A BRIEF REVIEW I WROTE, NEW YORK TIMES, MARCH 20, 2014:
Amy Arbus: ‘On the Street 1980-1990’ Leica Gallery
By VICKI GOLDBERG
In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president and Gordon Gekko said greed was good, Amy Arbus photographed New Yorkers who thought fame was better. For 10 years, The Village Voice ran her monthly “On the Street” photographs of people in our spectator culture who wanted to be the spectacle — and dressed for the part. Leica Gallery has on view 45 of these wry and telling images. Amy’s mother, Diane Arbus, had raised high the photographic potential of allowing us to stare impolitely at people who might not have invited it; her daughter obliged those who would.
She located a subset of street performers, people who performed the self or some wished-for version. Some, like Madonna, Phoebe Legere and Joey Arias, are professionals. Many were strivers in creative fields, and Ms. Arbus caught them early on. Madonna (who wore a stained coat and said she still had on her pajamas) had just had her first hit single; Anna Sui, the fashion designer, had just gone out on her own; four years after Ms. Arbus photographed McDermott and McGough, who dressed, lived, and photographed like early-20th-century aesthetes, they appeared in the Whitney Biennial.
Though moneyed conservatism held sway back then, these people considered style (and most likely life) an adventure. Ms. Arbus had the wit to see both humor and distinction in her subjects, who represent an obstreperous episode in the craze for celebrity (and attention) of any flavor. All clothing is an identifying sign, but these outfits silently shout the words “self-expression.” There’s a huge pendant saying “sex,” a fur bikini and a dress armored with keys, chains and an enormous lock.
Ms. Arbus posed her subjects astutely — a black-and-white dress before a wall patterned with zebras — and shot from slightly below to suggest they were monuments. She made a snappy, respectful, canny record of one decade’s version of bohemia. Downtown New York in the ’80s fizzed with creative energy; Amy Arbus siphoned it into her camera.
AN EXCERPT FROM MY INTRODUCTION TO CIG HARVEY'S BOOK,
Cig Harvey’s world has a tendency to veer about twenty degrees north of expectations. It’s barely possible that an imp hides in her camera – it might even be an imp that moonlights as a mystery writer – and what do you know, it steals out now and then to put its stamp on her photographs. How else to explain a girl quite pleased with a huge leaf of cabbage on her head, or a woman in a dress standing on a buoy in the middle of the ocean? Oh bother, trying to answer questions like these would be rather like trying to explain a piano concerto, or, for that matter, love. I’d gladly settle for the influence of an imp. However they came about, pictures that pose such entertaining and unanswerable questions map out a decidedly individual and delightfully off-compass realm.
Which brings up the question of whether explanations are a suitable answer to photographs. Some things are meant to be experienced, not parsed. It’s true that certain photographs cry out for elucidation (or at least captions). If they’re news photographs, it’s useful to know whether you’re seeing friend or foe, Cambodia or Afghanistan.. If the images are from unfamiliar cultures with myths and politics beyond our ken, we need help. But abstract photographs like Francis Bruguiere’s cut-paper abstractions in the 1920s or Shinichi Maruyama’s recent photographs of jets of paint flung into mid air? We know how they were made, but the real response lies out beyond the facts.
A COUPLE OF REVIEWS Of MY WRITING:
LIGHT MATTERS (collected essays): Regarding an essay on Joseph Koudelka: "This is gorgeous writing. Not just succinct, it is profound. In half a paragraph, Ms. Goldberg has explained one of the most difficult issues critics must deal with, and it is necessary to note in savoring it that there is no learned jargon, no platitudinous cant: She can make this complex thought clear to her readers because it is clear to her, and because she is confident they can get it." - The New York Sun
"One of photography's most revered and beloved critics, Goldberg examines both the history of photography and our current state of affairs with curiosity, wit, and cutting insight." - Photo Eye
"As a critic, Vicki Goldberg has overseen photography's rise in contemporary art over the past 25 years and Aperture has collected appearances of her colourful prose into a feisty little book. Goldberg has no patience for the moneyed glam that now shapes the commercial scene. In her profiles and essays she asks us again and again to remember quality over success. It makes for a spirited history of the last quarter century."
- Canadian Art
"Few writers on photography can match the wit and authority of Vicki Goldberg. LIGHT MATTERS, a collection that brings together 25 years of essays and reviews, is full of sparkling tidbits: 'Photography's invention was peculiarly timely, occurring as it did just as the human life span was expanding and the prospect of an afterlife shrinking.'" - V & A Magazine (Victoria & Albert Museum)
P. O. Box 217
Waterville Valley, NH 03215
Phone: (917) 743 8149
The White House: The President's Home in Photographs and History (Little Brown, 2011) - in cooperation with the White House Historical Association -
250 photographs from the 1840s to 2010 of the White House, the presidents, their wives, children, staffs, guests, pets,kitchens, bathrooms, etc., plus relations with the media and involvement with technology
The Christian Science Monitor had it on their holiday list, Vanity Fair had it in Hot Type, Newsday had it in its New Design Book section. I spoke about it at the National Archives and various other places, including Wellesley College and Dartmouth. A week before the election, American Profile magazine did a cover story on it.
Light Matters, a selection of my essays (Aperture, 2005)
Co-Author, American Photography: A Century of Images (Chronicle, 1999), book accompanying the PBS documentary of the same name
The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives (Abbeville Press, 1991)
American Library Association list, best academic books of year
New York Times, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune lists of the year's best books on photography
Margaret Bourke-White: A Biography (Harper & Row, 1986; Addison-Wesley, 1987)
American Library Association list, best books of the year
New York Times and New York magazine lists of best biographies of the year
The Frank Luther Mott - Kappa Tau Alpha Research Award
Honorable mention, Kraszna-Krausz Award (biennial, international award for best book on photography)
Honors, Maine Photographic Workshop
Editor, Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present (University of New Mexico Press, 1988)
October, 2006, Wall Street Journal names this one of the five best books ever on photography
ARTICLES, BOOK INTRODUCTIONS
Regular articles on photography for the New York Times for 13 years, articles on art and photography for Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, American Photo, Aperture, Art in America, ArtNews, Focus, Paris Photo, Foto and Video (Russia) etc.
BOOK AND CATALOG TEXTS
Most recently: Alejandro Almaraz, brochure and wall text for "Portraits of Power," Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C., 2013; Cig Harvey, catalog for "Gardening at Night", Dowling Walsh Gallery, Rockland, ME, 2013; Serge Assier, Quatre rives & un regard (Promotion de la Photographie de Presse en Region PACA), 2013; Cig Harvey, You Look At Me Like An Emergency (Schilt, 2012), Susan Paulsen, Sarah Rhymes With Clara (Steidl, 2011); Maria Antonietta Mameli, Free Compositons (Mousse Publishing, 2011, catalog for a show in Milan and New York); George Zimbel, A Book of Readers (Editions du Passage, 2011); Sophie Delaporte, Nudes (SousLesEtoiles Gallery, 2011); Bruce Wrighton, At Home, (Roland Angst, 2010); Manfred Heiting Collection (Houston Museum of Fine Arts), 2010; Bastienne Schmidt, Home Stills (Jovis, 2010); Sophie Delaporte & Astier de Villatte (Astier de Villatte and HP Deco, catalog for a show in Japan and Paris, 2010); Franco Fontana, Franco Fontana(Postcart, 2010); At the Still Point (Cinubia, 2009); Tenneson and Cameron (Portland Museum of Art. 2009); Nick Brandt, A Shadow Falls (Abrams, 2009); Jungjin Li, Wind (Aperture, 2009)
Forthcoming: Barry Fellman, Mangrove; William Meyers, Outer Boroughs; Annu P. Matthews, Memories of India
Also: In August, 2014, I was commissioned by Magnum Foundation to write a 35,000 word biography of Bruce Davidson
Contributing editor, American Photographer, 1978 –
Contributing editor, Aperture magazine, 2004 -
Face to Face, Rey Center, Waterville Valley, 2010
Points of Entry: American Immigration, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, 1995, two year tour -- also: catalogue essay
Bourke-White: A Retrospective, International Center of Photography, 1988-90, two year tour of U. S. and Japan -- also: catalogue essay
Rhode Island School of Design, 2002 - 2008
Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, 2002
Institute of Fine Art, New York, 1997
Frequent lectures in U.S. and abroad, including Universita di Bellas Artes, Rome, 2014; The Arts Arena, Paris, 2013; China Photographers Association, Beijing, 2013; Universidade de Belas Artes, Lisbon, Portugal, 2011; keynote address, World Press Photo 2004 and keynote address, Pingyao International Photography Festival, China, 2006 and 2007; Dalian University, China, 2007, University of Art and Architecture, Xi'An, China, 2009; Preus Museum, Norway, 2007; Ellipse Foundation, Lisbon, 2007
JUDGE, ART AND PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITIONS
Lucelia Art Awards, 2003; The Eisies, 2000; Kraszna-Krausz Awards, 1998 and 2000; W. Eugene Smith Grants, 1998; McDowell Colony, 1993-95; others
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Grant for Research, to study violence in the mass visual media, 19th and 20th century, 1994 -- renewed, 1995
Honorary Doctorate, Lesley University, Boston, May, 2011
Long Chen Cup Award (“for excellent achievement in promoting photography in the world”), China, 2006
Dudley Johnston Award, The Royal Photographic Society, 1999
International Center of Photography, Infinity Award for Writing, 1997
Photographic Administrators, Inc., Award for Writing, 1997
Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, School of Journalism, University of Missouri at Columbia, 1995 (previously given only to photographers)
Arts Arena, 2009 -
Architectural League of New York, 2000 - 2010
Visiting Committee, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2004-2006 (the committee was discontinued)
Senior consultant, “American Photography: A Century of Images,” three-hour PBS documentary, October, 1999
Consultant and on-camera commentator, “Decisive Moments,” six-part BBC series, 1997