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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
By Elin Spring
Were you taught that we should study history in order not to repeat its mistakes? Despite the fact that civilizations reliably repeat the same types of mistakes again and again, I still find it illuminating whenever current affairs – like immigration and gentrification – echo historic events. Striking this resonance, Gallery Kayafas is showing vintage B&W photographs by two stylistically distinctive photographers during times of profound social change in Boston: Jules Aarons’ West End & North End during the post-WWII era of urban renewal and Jack Lueders-Booth’s Chinatown to Jamaica Plain on the eve of destruction of the Elevated train and construction of the Orange Line in the mid-1980’s. This spellbinding exhibit will be on view only through February 23rd, 2019. On Tuesday, February 19th, 2019, Gallery Kayafas and the Photographic Resource Center will be hosting a discussion with Jack Lueders-Booth at the Gallery, beginning at 6:00pm.
Jules Aarons (1921-2008) was a career atmospheric physicist whose awe of natural phenomena manifested itself in his deeply humanistic images. His shooting style was mischievously unobtrusive, owing something to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.” His printing style was dark, as was the convention, accentuating the rich textures and captivating mood in the modestly-sized vintage prints on view.
Aarons navigated Boston’s Jewish West End and Italian North End during 1947-1970, capturing his unknowing subjects in frames whose visual dynamics are rivaled only by their emotional pitch. He seemed to especially appreciate the forthright expressions of children playing in the streets, further dignifying their gestures by bringing his camera angle down to match their point of view. Although Aarons’ images clearly convey the optimism of an era and the lively cohesiveness of ethnic neighborhoods, at their heart they are timeless portraits, each a human choreography reeling with his wonder.
In 1985, Jack Lueders-Booth was commissioned to document the neighborhoods surrounding Boston’s Elevated railway that were slated for imminent replacement by today’s Orange Line subway. Employing a clunky 8”x 10” view camera on a tall tripod and accompanied by a student assistant, Lueders-Booth’s shooting style necessitated a very different approach from that of Jules Aarons.
The gallery features a sizable selection of 8”x 10” contact prints and 16’x 20’ gelatin silver prints that, like Aarons, primarily feature portraits. By contrast, Lueders-Booth’s portraits are clear collaborations, direct engagements that acknowledge his multi-cultural subjects’ importance as stakeholders in their neighborhoods and in their photographic encounters with him. I think they share something of the frank honesty conveyed in Dawoud Bey’s stirring Harlem portraits from the 1970’s.
Many of Lueder-Booth’s images are close-ups of the residents who would be most impacted by the MBTA’s impending construction project. Some of the contact prints nod to August Sanders’ typologies, picturing a broad range of subjects from street cleaners to MBTA workers to residents on their front steps. Often, his compositions incorporate the looming Elevated railway, appearing like a symbolic ghost. All of Lueders-Booth’s photographs signal an arrest of daily rhythms, a harbinger of the abrupt disruptions arriving with the Orange Line.
As we live and breathe, change is a constant companion. The inevitable cycles of urban renewal and gentrification continue to transform our neighborhoods, echoing Dickens’ “best of times, worst of times” refrain. Jules Aarons’ and Jack Lueders-Booth’s visions of this paradox in different decades and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods of Boston encourage us to reflect on ourselves and our challenges today, a worthy encounter in any era.
For more information about this exhibit and related events, go to: http://www.gallerykayafas.com/