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August 29, 2006

Christie Davies admires the work of Julie Foreman, a rising American photographer whose photographs are being exhibited in Tuscany - Julie Foreman's photographs at Monteriggioni Castello, Tuscany

Posted by Christie Davies

Strove - Chicago Andata e Ritorno di Julie Foreman
Monteriggioni Castello
Via 1 Maggio, 10
Monteriggioni, Siena, Tuscany
2nd September - 12th September 2006
Daily 10am - 1.30pm and 4pm - 8pm
www.julieforemanphotography.com

Julie Foreman is a well-known Chicago "street photographer" whose work is again being exhibited in Tuscany. We have this year another selection of the many black and white photographs of the streets and people of Europe that she has taken on her visits to Europe - particularly Italy but also Austria, France, Switzerland and Turkey. She is a paparazza of the ordinary. She captures folk like you and me going about our everyday business, revealing our characters, avocations and troubles in our faces, postures and movements. We can not hide from the discreet fade-into-the-background camera-woman of the Chicago Intelligence Agency, the seeker from Skokie. It is the kind of photography we all do from time to time but Julie Foreman is better at it than the rest of us. It is the opposite of the posed smiling shots favoured by Japanese tourists.

How unself-conscious many of her subjects are, as in Turkish Women Smoking. They sit barefooted but with heads carefully covered, and well hand-bagged beneath the Mediterranean trees in Sultanachmet Square in Istanbul, intently sucking and puffing the smoke of the evil tobacco plant. How solid they are like the tree, how delicate is the light on the ground in the distance that has sneaked through and beneath the branches.

How oblivious too are her Men on the Wall in Siena caught in conversation, ignorant of their impending film or digital immortality. It is a wonderful photograph that drives one's curiosity. What is the animated, seated man saying? What is the solemn, unlistening, standing man thinking? The success of this photograph, like much of Julie Foreman's work, lies in the care with which she has selected depth and pattern. Behind the men are great panelled studded doors and walls of brick in need of pointing. Also she has extended the shot to the left to take in the corner to the side with its steps leading down and away and its iron railed balcony jutting into nowhere. The men are held by the wall and doors immediately behind them but they are also gently located in a much bigger space.

The same feel for depth characterises Italian Family taken in Lugano in Switzerland. The members of the family dominate the photograph but behind them is the long perspective of a street that recedes to infinity, with its parallel sides getting closer and closer together in defiance of Euclid. It is full of walkers coming towards and away from the family, whose anonymity contrasts with the intimate portrait of the mother and her three children in the foreground. It looks easy but it took a lot of skill - skill in selection, in choice of angle and focus, in knowledge of balance and perspective - the skills of the painter and the photographer.

The same sense of balance and perspective is to be seen in Foreman's landscapes such as Cypress Tree. Here the tree points up and the path across and away, both framing a squat and untidy little hatch-up hatchback.

Men walking in Florence is really also a landscape photograph. The men are there just to provide two solid black vertical lines between the heavy regular wall of a palace and the irregular polygons that crazily pave the path between the crowded parked cars. It is not a human interest story but an almost abstract pattern in black and white, regular and irregular but held tight between the walls of the city. The black haired, black suited Italians could just as well have been trees.

A similar use of space characterizes Woman Artist who is set against an immense white gravelled square with plinths. Here she is coiled up dark in the centre, a finger on the sketch she is making of the scene that surrounds her but emphasizing the distant trees in a way that the photograph does not, a picture of the scene within and at odds with the photograph of the scene.

It is surprising how much even a photograph taken from behind a person can indicate as in Padre, an old priest black of hat, shoes and soutane as he squeezes past a parked scooter in the Via del Corso in Rome, the proudly humble plainness of his clothes contrasted with the shiny mechanical detail of the scooter's engine and its high plastic windscreen. An amateur would have tried to get rid of the scooter but Julie Foreman knew it had to be there to bring out the man. It is a study in Christian piety, the frivolous, evanescent, scooter for whizzing heedlessly around the streets setting off the solid sense of semper eadem given by the padre's back. The photographer must have a deep sense of the nature of Christian religiosity to bring out such feelings.

We may contrast it with French Woman, a skirt hugged bottom of pure sexuality, attached to a woman striding down the colonnaded Rue de Rivoli in Paris. There is nothing revealing or immodest about the way she is dressed but you can imagine eager Frenchmen lurking beneath and watching from behind those pillars.

What Julie Foreman has been able to do in her photographs is to give variety and vitality to the everyday. We walk through such streets all the time but we never notice them, nor the men and women who people them. It is the task and inspiration of the street photographer to make us see and marvel at the otherwise unseen and in this she has succeeded.

Christie Davies has often walked through these same streets and wondered at the people.


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