Street Seen on View at Milwaukee Art Museum

Major exhibition of 1940s and '50s' street photography captures human condition and feeling of an era

Jan 28, 2010, 10:35 ET from The Milwaukee Art Museum

MILWAUKEE, Jan. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- A unique and pivotal moment in American history is explored in Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959, on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum January 30 through April 25, 2010. The exhibition showcases urban street photography from the 1940s and '50s, providing insight into a time when the photographic medium and American society were both at a cultural crossroads.  

"The essence of the images captured in Street Seen suggest some compelling parallels to today's society, in terms of how we struggle to carve out our place in an increasingly anonymous world," says Lisa Hostetler, Curator of Photographs, Milwaukee Art Museum.

With more than 100 images, the exhibition focuses on the work of six important photographers: Lisette Model's unflinching look at the cacophony of the urban environment; Louis Faurer's empathetic portraits of eccentrics in Times Square; Ted Croner's haunting night images; Saul Leiter's glimpses of elusive moments; William Klein's graphic, confrontational style; and Robert Frank's documentation of American ideals gone awry.

The exhibition also includes work by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, W. Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt and Weegee, among others, to demonstrate how the photographers were influenced by documentary photography and photojournalism, but ultimately differed from their predecessors and contemporaries.

Refuting the common claim that photojournalism was the only significant photographic activity at the time, Street Seen uncovers a crucial time in American art when global media was in its adolescence and photography was just beginning to achieve recognition in the contemporary art world. It is the first major examination of street photography of the 1940s and '50s in nearly 20 years.

"Abstract Expressionism, film noir, and Beat poetry are widely recognized aftershocks of World War II, but the significance of creative photography has been largely ignored," says Hostetler. "The images in Street Seen evoke strong emotion in a subtle and unsentimental way, giving them a universal quality that transcends time and place to tell a very human story."

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Street Seen is made possible by our lead sponsor, the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation. Generous additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius, the MetLife Foundation, and the Milwaukee Art Museum's Photography Council.


The Milwaukee Art Museum's far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine as "Best Design of 2001." For more information, please visit

SOURCE The Milwaukee Art Museum