A Way of Seeing: The Street Portraits of Cal Swanson

Cal Swanson for Guide

March 11 – April 8, 2017

Reception: Saturday, March 11, 1:00 – 3:00 pm

Artist Talk: Wednesday, April 5, 7:00 pm

Curated by Patrick J. Cicalo. For a decade spanning the 70s and 80s, Cal Swanson wandered city streets seeking people who attracted his attention. Most of the pictures were taken in mid-town Manhattan, a place which had an edginess that has since been whitewashed and dulled. Swanson explored the streets at dusk, as the neighborhood transitioned from bland and bustling to become something more unsettling and dangerous. Each image captures a life story, sharing a powerful and honest glimpse at human expression.




Artist Statement:

I took my first serious photographs on a Saturday morning in the fall of 1975.

I had no real plan for that day but soon found myself in the Bowery. The human figure, especially the face, has always been of major interest to me. On that day I discovered and tried to record expressions of pain, suffering and endurance on a single 36 exposure roll of Kodak Tri-X film. When I saw the results on small 4×6 black and white prints, I felt compelled to continue… I had to continue; there was no way I could not. I was hooked.

From then on I started to go into Manhattan on a regular basis. I mostly worked the midtown area, especially from the low thirties to Central Park. At that time Times Square was a very different place, it had an edginess that is almost unrecognizable from the Times Square of today.

There was a “transition period” between the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm. I felt comfortable being there during that time frame. Before 6 pm things appeared bland, but after 8 pm I sometimes felt uneasy but during those two hours I felt that I had a chance to capture some of what I was looking for.

While walking I was always searching for someone who attracted my attention, I couldn’t always articulate what I was after, a certain expression, movement, hesitation. There was always something intangible that drew me to a particular person. I responded mostly to what was expressed in their eyes. Very often I would follow an individual for blocks before approaching them, as I wanted to be sure I had the right background for that particular photograph.

I believed that I could only find what I was looking for in the city proper, I know others would disagree but that was my compulsive impression. I did this roughly for about ten years and then I just stopped. That was it. I stored the negatives and prints away and went on to other things (which included an MFA in Printmaking).

Various events have brought this work to light again and this is the first time a portion of them will be exhibited.