By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page WE47
"By Michael O'Sullivan, reprinted with permission from the Washington Post"
A FUNNY THING happened on the way to the opening of "Lida Moser" at Georgetown's Fraser Gallery. I kept running into museum curators -- one from the Phillips Collection as I crossed the street, another from the Corcoran Gallery of Art as I walked in the door.
Funny, but unsurprising. Moser's photographs are in the permanent collection of both institutions, along with the National Portrait Gallery, the National Archives and the Library of Congress, to name a few of the many others who own her work. What's surprising is that the 85-year-old Moser, a pioneering photojournalist who lives in Rockville, isn't better known outside the museum and gallery world.
Several pictures from what is perhaps Moser's best-known series, "Judy and the Boys," are on view at Fraser. Those delightful 1961 images -- shot in Greenwich Village for a modeling portfolio run amok, in which the artist had the presence of mind to back up when a group of neighborhood boys watching the proceedings insisted on imitating the female model's affected poses -- are humorous, all too human and impeccably composed. They are not, however, Moser's only strong work.
Picking favorites, however, is hard here. That's because Moser was so good at any number of styles, from street photography to portraiture, represented here by shots of photographers Aaron Siskind and Berenice Abbott (for whom Moser once worked as studio assistant), musician Charles Mingus and painter Alice Neel (who returned the favor by painting her art-world friend not once but four times).
From a technical standpoint, Moser's 1949 "Queen's Parade, Edinburgh, Scotland" is a flawless, classic print. A plebeian version of the aristocratic painted group portrait, the crowd scene is crisp and well toned, with each face in the throng waiting for the passing monarch offering a psychological study in itself. Gallery co-owner Catriona Fraser calls it her favorite, while her partner, F. Lennox Campello, is more partial to the almost Sally Mann-like directness of the 1950 "Farm Girls, Valley of the Matapedia, Quebec" or the blurry (and decidedly contemporary) nighttime energy of the marquee-lit 1968 "Cops, Times Square, New York."
As for me, I can't decide between such exemplars of modernism as the virtually abstract vertical stripes making up Moser's 1971 "Construction of the Exxon Building, New York" and the 1965 "Office Bldg. Lobby, New York," in which a passerby seems to emerge from (or disappear into) a surreal fog, or the gritty, street-level urbanism of the starkly cropped 1948 "Man Sitting Across From Berenice Abbott's Studio, Greenwich Village, New York."
Fortunately, with a smorgasbord like this, who needs to subsist on only one dish?
LIDA MOSER -- Through April 18, 2005 at Fraser Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW. 202-298-6450. www.thefrasergallery.com. Open Tuesday-Friday noon to 3, Saturdays noon to 6. Free. See more work by Lida Moser here.
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