The first photograph I am discussing is entitled, “Behind the Gare St. Lazare,” and was taken in 1932, at one of the large railroad stations in Paris. I’m going to speak about it in relation to the beginning opposites Aesthetic Realism shows every person is trying to put together: Self and World—for it surely is about those very opposites. We see in the foreground the silhouette of one man in the midst of a leap. He is one particular individual in a bowler hat, taking a chance, and yet how richly and subtly Cartier-Bresson makes us see the relation of this man to the world around him. As I’ve studied it, I’ve come to feel that it is one of the great photographs of the world because of the way it shows, through lines, shapes, forms and through light and dark, that the self is in an unlimited relation to reality, and it is that relation which gives the self meaning and grandeur.
Mr. Shulman photographed buildings by some of the era’s best-known architects, including Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Mies van der Rohe and Oscar Niemeyer. But he also photographed less exalted examples of American buildings, like gas stations, apartment buildings and shopping malls. One of Mr. Shulman’s most widely reproduced images, a 1960 view of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22, shows two well-dressed women in seemingly casual conversation in a living room that appears to float precariously above the Los Angeles basin. The vertiginous point of view contrasts sharply with the relaxed atmosphere of the house’s interior, testifying to the ability of the Modernist architect to transcend the limits of the natural world.
Julie Blackmon’s photographs don’t look particularly real – they’re too staged and manipulated for that – but she is a kind of realist nonetheless. Instead of depicting domestic life in extremes, either as some soft-focussed bower of bliss or alternatively a living hell, Blackmon goes for something in between. Her family scenes supposedly represent the more ordinary experience, and yet Blackmon freely admits that her own extraordinary upbringing as one of nine children has inevitably filtered through – hence the comedic, joyous, rowdy chaos that defines each one, illustrating family life as both a blessing and a bane.