Larry Silver/Westport Visions

Beach Showers

Betty and Ralph Sheffer Gallery
Mollie Donovan Gallery:  Faces In The Crowd
Now through October 26, 2014

Today, some 40 years since his earliest forays into Connecticut, Larry Silver is sharing his retrospective of Westport photographs at the Westport Historical Society through October 26, 2014. The exhibition, titled Larry Silver/Westport Visions, features images of the town’s favorite haunts, quiet spots and humorous encounters of everyday life in this culturally dynamic community along the shore of Long Island Sound and mouth of the Saugatuck River. “Silver has tried to photograph every facet of Westport life,” as the late Burt Chernow wrote of this body of work.  Larry Silver spent decades photographing the neighborhoods and public spaces of Westport, and the coming exhibit features images of its beaches, open fields, parks and downtown that are indicative of a love affair with his adopted town. This personal, creative journey began in 1973, when Larry Silver and his family moved from New York City to Westport.

An avid observer of human interaction, Larry Silver is equally drawn to capturing moments and scenes of daily life. To hear him tell it, “Trees, farms, ponds, beaches and open fields flew by outside our car windows as we drove to southern Connecticut. Geographically, Westport was a relatively short distance from New York, but as a young photographer, who developed his eye on the streets of the Bronx, it may have as well been another planet. The images of Connecticut—trees, grass, flowers, kids with baseballs, young equestrians, families at the beach—may seem mundane —but they made Larry Silver feel reborn as an artist. He saw an opportunity to capture another part of America that had not been aesthetically documented:

I found myself waking up early, getting in the car, and driving sometimes for hours searching for images. I hadn’t felt this inspired since I was a teenager searching for images in the New York subways or on the beaches of California. But now I had the advantage of decades of experience. I understood the many variables that must be in perfect balance to get the perfect shot: the camera, the lens, the lighting, the setting and the vision. I learned to seize these opportunities, as I did on the eerily foggy morning when I jumped out of my car to shoot the Jogger (1979), a lone man running under a canopy of trees.

Drawn from hundreds of images of Westport, this exhibition includes over 50 gelatin silver prints, many vintage. Included are icons of Silver’s career, such as the Compo Beach images Beach Showers (1980) and Dancing on the Jetties (1979), which depict isolated human figures in strongly composed, and graphic environments. This body of work is stylistically reminiscent of his earlier Photo League material, yet demonstrates the evolution of his lyrical and balanced compositions that define his trademark style. It also features images never exhibited or published before, including views of Sherwood Island State Park, the Gillespie Center (now Homes for Hope), town celebrations, local farms and neighborhoods, plus additional images of Compo, Longshore and downtown Westport. Silver shot the majority of these with a 35-millimeter Nikon, a 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 Hasselblad or a 4 x 5 view camera. However, in recent years, he has explored possibilities of digital cameras.

Westport Visions offers longtime residents, those new to the area, along with summer visitors an opportunity to pause and reflect upon the ever-evolving town, from its roots as an agrarian village to a summer resort and artistic community to a modern metropolitan suburb. Many of the places that Silver captured with his camera have changed or disappeared, yet, others, like views of commuters at the train station and bathers at Compo Beach, remain, at once timeless and familiar. This exhibition will provide audiences an opportunity to think about Westport’s past and future, with its omnipresent call to improve and be vibrant. This has never been so true as it is today with a downtown master plan underway, Compo Beach being redesigned, Longshore Golf Course under new management, and with the last of the farms being subdivided and old houses torn down for new, larger residences. The only other exhibition devoted to these Westport images was the Town Hall exhibit, Westport, A Town in Connecticut, organized by the Westport-Weston Arts Council in the summer of 1985, 12 years after Silver arrived there.

About the Artist: Larry Silver began photographing the streets and subways of New York City in 1949 at the age of 15. Silver studied photography at the High School of Industrial Art, NY (1949-53). The School’s proximity to Peerless Camera Stores enabled Silver to meet numerous members of the Photo League, including W. Eugene Smith, Weegee and Lou Bernstein, who became a strong influence on his work. In Silver’s senior year, he won first prize in the Scholastic-Ansco Photography Awards and was granted a scholarship to the Art Center School, Los Angeles (1954-56). During visits to the Santa Monica Beach, Silver photographed the local weightlifters, body builders, and acrobats. This celebrated series Muscle Beach (1954) was the subject of a solo exhibition at the International Center of Photography in 1985 and again in 1999 at the Los Angeles County Angeles County Museum of Art. Upon moving from New York City to Westport, Connecticut in 1973, Larry Silver began his ambitious Suburban Vision series. “The city streets and subways that supplied the inspiration for my photographs were traded for country roads and beaches. I saw an opportunity to capture both a lifestyle and a landscape that were previously foreign to me as a native New Yorker,” Silver recounts.

Larry Silver’s work is currently in over 29 museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jewish Museum NYC, Brooklyn Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Whitney Museum of Fine Arts, Yale University Art Gallery, and George Eastman House. The New York Historical Society has recently acquired for their permanent collection 33 New York images 1949-1953, which will be exhibited in a one-man exhibition in 2016.

Mollie Donovan Gallery:

How’s Your Photo Recall?
Find out at the Westport Historical Society’s interactive “Faces in the Crowd” exhibit in the Mollie Donovan Gallery. Group photos from Westport’s past will be on display. All you have to do is recognize a face and write in the name.  Class photos from the town’s schools, group photos of prominent citizens from yesteryear and other Westport photos to test your memory will be on display. So, come and test your photo recall. Help us put names to the faces!