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Magnum Photographers Capture Milwaukee’s Identity
The Milwaukee Art Museum presents "Postcards from America: Milwaukee."

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Snapshots of Milwaukee’s cultural heritage, unsung heroes, distinct neighborhoods and urban design come together to form Postcards from America: Milwaukee, a Milwaukee Art Museum photography exhibit opening Thursday at 6 p.m.

Postcards from America is a Magnum Photos brainchild – a collaborative effort among more than 11 photographers of varying styles and backgrounds. The Milwaukee Art Museum collection is the first museum exhibition from the project and is the group’s fifth stop after traveling across the Southwest, Utah’s Rocky Mountains, Rochester, N.Y., and Florida during the 2012 presidential election.

“Photography is often seen as a solitary pursuit, but the aim of the Postcards from America project is for the photographers to try to play like a band, in search of a kind of polyphonic visual sound,” Magnum’s website states.

In its goal of photographic collaboration, Postcards from America: Milwaukee captures the city’s multifaceted identity while maintaining artistic cohesion.

Lisa Sutcliffe, curator of photography at Milwaukee Art Museum, worked with the photographers while they visited Milwaukee between Aug, 2013, and April, 2014. She says the exhibit represents “their response to place.”  

The photographers include Bruce Gilden, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Jacob Aue Sobol, Alec Soth, Zoe Strauss and Donovan Wylie.

Gilden and Power captured vibrant, playful images from the Wisconsin State Fair. A bacon-topped Bloody Mary hangs beside a portrait of a greasy cheeseburger, and scoops of strawberry and chocolate custard atop American flag-covered cones. Gilden focused on the faces of the Fair, creating extreme close-ups depicting the harsh effects of time (and smoking).

The garish festival photographs starkly contrast the subdued, black and white images by Danish photographer Jacob Aue Sobol.

“He’s really interested in contrasting the harsh, deep dark winter landscapes – the coldness of winter with the warmth of emotional intimacy,” Sutcliffe says. “These photographs represent our communal desire for connection, but they contrast very strongly with the harsh winter landscapes.”

Aue Sobol also worked with local college students to help find his subjects. UWM and MIAD formed a collaborative class in which students served as assistants for the photographers.

The structural aspects of Milwaukee’s community come to life in the artful compositions of Mark Power, who was interested in the city’s architectural characteristics. With few people in his photographs, the buildings serve as central characters.

Donovan Wylie adopted a similar approach, capturing the thick steel beams underneath the Marquette interchange. Sutcliffe says the image resembles a cathedral, emitting a message of “if you build it, they will come.”

The exhibit continues its versatility in Jim Goldberg’s Google Street View adaptation, with Susan Meiselas’ female manufacturers, Paolo Pellegrin’s romanticized industrial shots and Zoe Strauss’ memorial to murdered rapper Evon Young.

The exhibit will be open from July 10 to October 19.

See a photo gallery preview of the exhibit here

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POSTED 1/12/2015