It happened in New York: Photographs by Sylvia Plachy

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For decades, photographer Sylvia Plachy has documented the varied and rebellious spirit of New York City, its elusive moments, its shifting cityscapes, and its people. As a staff photographer for the Village Voice for three decades with her “Unguided Tour” column, she has uniquely captured the writers, artists, musicians, public icons, and sidewalk characters which personify this storied and self-styled place.

It happened in New York is a paean to the city that lends us Plachy’s immense powers of observation. We meet the bold countenance of a woman named Monet, standing in front of a Lower East Side building, with its palimpsests of messages, commanding a pack of Great Danes. An oracular image of Donald Trump, signing money on Fifth Avenue in the 1980s announces a brand of public persona drawing mixed reactions and sidewalk crowds.  We see Tom Waits pose as a toreador, and Margaret Atwood don a cloak evoking her Handmaiden’s Tale, three years before the book was published.  We see the silver halo of Don King’s combed-out Afro in silhouette, the brooding eye of novelist Jonathan Lethem, and the burning gaze of a tenant in a bathrobe on the block where a Manhattan fire is still burning. The shadows of men in Greenpoint, Brooklyn look skyward, as elsewhere young break dancers torque their bodies in the sunshine on a boardwalk and children press their faces in a car window to make their presence known.

Ms. Plachy’s ability to uncover vulnerability and the psychogeography of her surroundings demonstrates the indispensable role of the photographer. She is a social documentarian capable of expressing the zeitgeist of a place and time, as much as driving her own creative vision. The power of the image can shape people or give legibility to the less visible. The subjects of Plachy’s photographs are naturally savvy to this artful exchange between the self and the image so characteristic of life in New York City.  

About the Artist

Sylvia Plachy, born in Budapest, lives in New York. She has had one person shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Whitney Museum at Philip Morris in New York, the Queens Museum, The Radvila Palace Museum of Art in Vilnius, Photo España, Madrid, Museo di Roma in Trastevere, and in galleries in Homer, Budapest, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Manchester, Arles, Perpingnon and Pingyau.

For thirty years (1974-2004) she was a photographer at The Village Voice, where she had a weekly column, “Unguided Tour,” and where she became staff photographer, reporting nationally and internationally.  She also had a column for several years in Metropolis Magazine (“Signs and Relics”) and was a contributing photographer at the New Yorker. Her photographs have appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, ArtForum, Granta, Grand Street, New York Magazine and in many other magazines. She is a Guggenheim fellow and the recipient of Lucie Award. Her photographs are held in collections including the MoMA, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum, and the High Museum.

Ms. Plachy has had six books published: SIGNS AND RELICS, 2000; RED LIGHT, 1996; UNGUIDED TOUR, 1990, winner of the Infinity Award for best publication; SELF PORTRAIT WITH COWS GOING HOME, 2004, winner of the Golden Light Award for best book; DE REOJO/OUT OF THE CORNER OF MY EYE, 2007; GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN, 2007.

Ms. Plachy was a legacy photographer at the Look3 Festival in the summer of 2009 in Charlottesville. On February 6, 2010, Sylvia Plachy was given the Dr. Erich Salomon award by the German Society for Photography (DGPh). This prestigious prize is given for "lifetime achievement" in photojournalism.

 


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