American Black & White
A London-based exhibition presents a portrait of America’s past and present through the lenses of Magnum photographers Matt Black and Elliot Erwitt
Entitled American Black & White, the exhibition brings together new work from Matt Black’s series ‘The Geography of Poverty’, and Elliott Erwitt’s recently re-discovered work in Pittsburgh, taken during 1950. Collectively, the distinctive works in this exhibition present a portrait of urban and rural America, shot half a century apart, but united by the medium of black & white photography.
Examining life in the forgotten corners of America during the first months of the Trump presidency, Matt Black’s series ‘The Geography of Poverty’ finds region after region of the US marked by the competing conditions of poverty, violence, and prejudice as well as hope, honor, and pragmatism.
For this ongoing project, Black has traveled over 88,000 miles across 46 U.S. states, photographing communities whose poverty rates are in excess of 20%, and highlighting the country’s growing wealth divide. Shot as powerful and graphic black and white photographs, the new works in the exhibition span across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Dakota, and were taken during 2017. For the series, Black was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award as well as the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Prize.
In 1950, 22-year-old Elliott Erwitt was commissioned by the legendary Roy Stryker to document Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as it emerged from a notoriously polluted industrial city into a cleaner, more modern metropolis. Erwitt captured the dirt and the grit of the old city, the new buildings of the city’s rebirth, and most importantly, the individuality of the residents of Pittsburgh, creating a unique document of the city.
Drafted into the US army in Germany just four months after arriving in Pittsburgh, Erwitt was forced to abandon the project, leaving his negatives behind. The negatives were held at the Pennsylvania Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and as a result, a majority of these photographs have remained unseen for decades and will be exhibited here for the first time. This project, an early reportage in a quintessentially American post-war city reveals the making of Erwitt’s photographic style.