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Anyone who follows photography would (or should) be familiar with the legacy of Aperture, a photo magazine founded in the early ’50s when the medium was still struggling to be taken seriously as a fine art. Spearheaded by the legendary photographer Minor White, and cofounded with him by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, Aperture, along with the success of Robert Frank’s The Americans and the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “The Family of Man,” was one of the immediate, post-war contributions that catapulted the acceptance of photography alongside painting and sculpture.
In the ’60s, the Aperture Foundation started to also publish photo books and limited-edition prints by many of the most important photographers of last century. Now in its 50th year, their publications continue to be a kind of seal of approval stamp for important photography, providing catalogs of contemporary artists like Vik Muniz, Sally Mann, and Olivio Barbieri. For its golden jubilee, Aperture has organized a traveling exhibition of original prints by the photographers they’ve published over the years. On view at FotoDC’s headquarters at the former residence of the Spanish Ambassador on 16th St. NW, it’s a celebratory anchor to its annual weeklong salutation to photography.
With the greats of photo history—W. Eugene Smith, Paul Strand, Danny Lyon, August Sander—to some current big names like William Christenberry, Annie Leibovitz, and LaToya Ruby Frazier, the exhibition of some 90 images is a must-see during its brief run through Nov. 15. FotoWeek claims a bevy of photo offerings across the city with very strong contemporary exhibitions: “Absence/Presence” at George Washington University’s Brady Gallery; “Sylvania” by Anna Beeke and “Intersection” by Léa Eouzan at Cross MacKenzie; and a retrospective of the oft-overlooked Esther Bubley at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
FotoDC is fortunate that a number of museums also have longer-running exhibitions that crossover with their efforts, even if viewers have some time to spare to catch them: Permanent collection photos brought out at the Phillips Collection; “Eye Pop: The Celebrity Gaze” and “Dark Fields of the Republic”—Alexander Gardner at the National Portrait Gallery; “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty” at the American Art Museum; and “Recent Gifts” at the National Gallery.
“Aperture: Photographs” is the decadent eye candy for FotoWeek proper. The pleasure of experiencing some of photography’s most iconic images in close view isn’t lost. Steichen’s early experimental image of the Flat Iron in New York from the early 1900s, or Weston’s famous nude-turned-avant-garde abstraction, or a poignant portrait by Mary Ellen Mark, who died last May, will have some photo-nerds fawning.
The Spanish residence also houses the winners of FotoDC’s competitions and two additional special exhibitions, so space is tight—and not originally intended for art viewing. Those photo nerds may also cringe to find a Diane Arbus mounted on the end side of a movable wall, or haphazardly hung text panels, or an unreasonably clustered grouping of works. Ignore the unfortunate quality of the exhibition’s installation, and just focus on the enormity of these photographers and their images.
The exhibition is on view daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., to Nov. 15, at the Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence, 2801 16th St. NW. $6. fotodc.org.