Lisette Model, “Woman with Veil, San Francisco,” 1947.
Lisette Model, “Woman with Veil, San Francisco,” 1947. (The Lisette Model Foundation)

Photographs that speak to one another, all from a female perspective

‘A Female Gaze,’ at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, explores the work of 12 street photographers over seven decades

The wanderings of a street photographer, led by a curious intuition with a camera in hand, can be a solitary experience as the artist’s eye dances between fleeting connections with strangers and light. But when these decisive moments are caught by the press of the shutter, they take on a broader meaning and become lasting impressions of history.

“A Female Gaze,” an exhibition at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, explores the work of 12 female street photographers over seven decades. Their piercing perspective cuts through the street armor of everyday life, using the city as a canvas to explore everything from geometric shapes to personal relationships.

“The pictures just started conversations with each other, almost like old friends who may not have met before,” said Howard Greenberg director Karen Marks, who curated the show from the gallery’s vast archives.

As the photographs come together, they spark a dialogue that uniquely reflects the vision of these female photographers. In a male-dominated medium, it’s a refreshing visual exchange.

A willingness to push the boundaries of traditional framing and composition results in surprising abstractions. Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) accentuated the exaggerated verticality of the city at a time when skyscrapers were constantly reaching new heights. The towering silhouettes of women on the town come to life in a photograph by Lisette Model (1901-1983). Barbara Morgan (1900-1992) experimented with photographic techniques that toy with a viewer’s perception.

These photographers translate passing moments into meaningful visual explorations, with a special sensitivity to documenting the experiences of women and youths. In one photo, Esther Bubley (1921-1998) catches the gaze of a passenger on a Greyhound bus. Vivian Maier (1926-2009) focuses on two women in Chicago, one adjusting her heels while the other’s ripped stocking adds a level of humanity to a moment familiar to many. While the young people in images by Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) try to project maturity, the photographer sees through their efforts, revealing in their quiet expressions their true age.

Each image in the exhibition imparts an individual message to be interpreted, but collectively they start a rich conversation.

“You get … a bunch of great pictures together and a bunch of great artists together, and you find a way that they could lock in and converse,” Marks said. “And they do. Late at night, when no one’s here. I’m sure they’re all back on the wall in the morning.”

“A Female Gaze” runs through April 2 at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, 41 E. 57th St., Suite 801, New York.