The years between the World Wars witnessed a burst of extraordinary innovation in visual culture, nowhere more so than in the realm of photography. Enthusiasm for the advent of an urban, technological civilization reached a peak during this period. By the late 1920s, in both Europe and America, a host of inventive young photographersoften allied with such avant-garde movements as Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and the New Objectivityhad created an image of dynamism and glittering prosperity that was widely felt to mirror the new metropolis. By the early 1930s this euphoric image was shattered as an economic crisis of unprecedented scope swept Europe and America. Again, it was photographic images, this time by young documentary photographers and photojournalists such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Russell Lee, which captured the desperate efforts to revive urban and rural communities during the remainder of the decade.
The photographs in the Daniel Cowin Collection provide a remarkably wide-ranging sample of the varied and sometimes contradictory roles that photography played during this era: symbol of the technological fervor of the Machine Age, medium of avant-garde artistic experimentation, vehicle for the seductions of mass advertising, and documentary tool for registering social reality. Looking at these photographs today, one can't help but marvel at the remarkable spirit of confidence and audacity that they still convey, whether employing the techniques of documentary realism or hyperbolic fantasy.
Christopher Phillips, Curator; Vanessa Rocco, Assistant Curator