By Annie Holub
A picture tells a thousand words
"Foto/Auto/Bio: The Charles Harbutt Archive," is on display at the Center for Creative Photography, is an exhibition consisting of an autobiographical timeline of Harbutt's career and a chronological display of his photographs. Beginning with the early 1960s, the pictures are set mostly in New York and depict, if you will, societal "Kodak moments": a thin man in circa-1963 pointy shoes walking down Park Avenue, his vertical frame contrasting with a horizontal reflection of the skyline in a marble wall; a couple of boys from a reform school driving, laughing, while smoke curls among their open, excited mouths; a grinning girl standing on a balcony holding a cat, her parents behind her drinking, uninterested, an expanse of monotonous block apartment buildings below.
The timeline moves on, with Harbutt's photos starting to move worldwide as the biographical story shows the progress of his career. Harbutt is known for the correlation of the "personal" and the "documentary" in his work. He has published two books, Travelog and Progreso, worked as a photojournalist, commercial photographer and as a photography instructor. This quote from a description of a class he's teaching at the International Center for Photography this winter describes his work well: "The best photographs reflect the personality of the photographer, with the photographer's 'voice' subtly speaking through an image without interfering in the content."
The pictures in the exhibit capture typical moments, and the mere fact that they're hanging on a wall in a gallery gives them a "voice." The photos from the '90s are more collage-like, usually consisting of more than one photo or interpretation of the same image. "Time Stops 5:47 pm" shows a small boy wearing a sandwich board that reads: "Luis Aqui Da La Hora" (Luis is here to give the time) with a clock reading 5:47 on it. One image of the boy is crisp and another, hanging just above it, is blurry. The crispness of the picture makes you stop and look; likewise, if you were in a hurry on that very same busy street, you'd probably not even give the kid a second glance, his presence blurry in your short-term memory.
The exhibition, which runs through Jan. 11, is meant to renew recognition of Harbutt, whose name has become nearly lost among newer photographic trends. His work consists of visual freeze-frame documentaries of America, Latin America and parts of Europe from 1960 to the present, all of which contain Harbutt's own voice and are nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. Exactly the way photographs should be.