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Cruel and tender: 20th-century photography at Tate Modern
Tender cruelty. This is the oxymoron used by the writer Lincoln Kirstein in the 1930s to describe the work of the American photographer Walker Evans. Terse and real, his pictures went straight to the point. The shots taken by Evans, together with those by the German photographer August Sander, constitute the historic backbone of the exhibition organised by London’s Tate Modern that explores the realist tradition of 20th-century photography.
The thread running through the pictures selected is the constant oscillation between engagement and estrangement. The result is a specific type of photographic realism that shrinks back from nostalgia, romanticism and sloppy sentimentalism, favouring an observation of reality that is sharp and unadorned. It also avoids the dramatic scenes typical of photographic journalism, preferring more ‘mundane’ subjects such as architecture, objects, places and people.
The shared ambition? In the words of one of their own, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, “to record what, although never really concealed, is rarely noticed”. Among others, the exhibition includes works by Andreas Gursky, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston and Thomas Ruff.