Social Graces Hardcover – May 1 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Traveling between the vastly different worlds of New York society and his working class neighbors in Martins Creek, Pa., throughout the late 1970s and early 80s, Larry Fink embarked on a project similar to Diane Arbus's, often capturing in his images some quality of which the subjects themselves are unaware. But Fink, unlike Arbus, doesn't seek the "freak" in everyone; empathy comes through in the Social Graces he finds and juxtaposes, even when the photos are less than flattering. First published in 1984, the book's bias toward the "down-home" Pennsylvania folks is evident in the images and Fink's essay from 1982 (he calls the New York socialites "`political enemies'" in quotations, but only half ironically). Yet a number of the 92 duotone photos are truly riveting, and Fink's observations of class dynamics 20 and 30 years ago still feel relevant today.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Larry Fink is a two-time National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a professor of photography at Bard College. His two previous monographs, Boxing (1997) and Runway (2000) were published by powerHouse Books; and under contract with Condé Nast, his work has appeared in top publications including Vanity Fair, W, GQ, Detour, and The New Yorker. Fink lives on a farm in Martins Creek, Pennsylvania.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
SOCIAL GRACES contains sixty-nine square-format black-and-white photographs of people partying in two vastly different social worlds. One is high society New York City -- Studio 54, MoMA benefit, gallery openings, debutante balls, and the like. The other is the blue-collar workers and their families from Martins Creek, Pennsylvania (population less than 1,000), along the Delaware River between New York City and Philadelphia. There, the social occasions are family birthday parties, high school graduations, and New Year's Eve parties at the American Legion.
In both sets of photographs, the people are caught with their guard down, revealing -- seemingly -- their essence. Curiously, for many of the New York society folk that essence seems shallower. Their social graces are more sophisticated, and they no doubt smell better and drink more expensive booze, but on the whole they come across as strangely alien. That may be in line with Fink's underlying intent (and is perhaps influenced by my own social background). But regardless of possible socio-political preferences, both sets of photographs contain some exceptional images.
Incidentally, among photography books, is there any with a better title? Or any with a better cover photograph?
My copy is the 1984 first trade edition from Aperture. It contains a superb three-page foreword by Fink. He writes that at an early stage in his career he studied the works of George Grosz, Goya, and Daumier, where he found "a deep social commitment combined with a genius for reaching through to the essence of human experience." That captures Fink's own photography about as succinctly as possible. SOCIAL GRACES was re-issued in 2001 by powerHouse Books. That edition apparently contains commentary by Max Kozloff. I hope it retains the original foreword by Fink. (Though for all I know, the text by Kozloff may surpass that of Fink's.) Either edition is worth tracking down if you care about socially engaged photography.
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