Press Release: April
An Unerring Vision
Keith de Lellis Gallery is honored to present an exhibition of large-scale
mid-century photographs of New York by Paul Himmel (1914–2009).
The exhibition will open on April 2 and run through May 20, 2009.
Over a career that began in the late 1940s, Paul Himmel produced
several bodies of work, bringing his unique vision to subjects as
varied as dance, the circus, New York City, European cities, and
the human figure, as well as the beaches where he summered with
his family for most of his life.
Paul’s immense talent was evident from the outset. He was
always experimenting, and one gets the sense that he photographed
for the joy of seeing what his images would look like captured on
the two-dimensional plane. With his pioneering spirit, he created
work that is still every bit as fresh as it originally looked more
than a half-century ago. Among his most powerful subjects were the
streets and landmarks of his hometown, New York. He captured the
iconic sights of Manhattan and Brooklyn, rendering classic scenes
in an elegant and timeless manner.
Himmel’s early studies with the legendary art director Alexey
Brodovitch engaged him in a lifelong interest in capturing human
movement in still images. In 1947, he took a series of experimental
photographs in Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse. The
scene captured is a sea of humanity in motion, surging past frozen
figures, positioned by the photographer to test the viability of
using posed models amid a mass of moving figures in fashion photographs.
One of the series is featured on the cover of Himmel’s highly
acclaimed 1999 book, simply titled Photographs; another is in the
permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington,
His spare photographic study of the Brooklyn Bridge is an exercise
in simplicity. With its three basic elements, the New York skyline,
the bridge’s diagonal cables, and a lone figure of a man peering
across the East River toward Manhattan, it has become the photographer’s
signature image. Although the picture shows us only a few details
of the bridge, it reveals just enough to allow one’s memory
to fill in the blanks and recall the bridge in its entirety.
Another remarkable image is Himmel’s moody soft-focus night
view of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime. Although this darkened
scene is captured as a blur of golden lights, there is sufficient
visual information to produce an immediately recognizable sight
remembered from one of Manhattan’s great annual traditions,
the towering tree in Rockefeller Center.
Paul Himmel retired from the photographic scene in the late 1960s
to pursue a second career as a psychotherapist. His reputation was
revived in the 1990s by the photo-historian Martin Harrison, resulting
in a book and exhibition that successfully re-introduced his significant
bodies of work to a whole new generation. Paul died on February
8, 2009, in his ninety-fourth year, having lived a rich and fruitful
life highlighted by his later discovery as a significant artistic
talent. His photographic legacy enriches immeasurably the medium
as an art form.