A captivating exhibition of photographs that span a half century by Alex Harsley, the visionary photographer and founder of the 4th Street Photo Gallery in New York’s East Village, is currently being shown at the June Kelly Gallery. The works will remain on view through June 19.
Harsley’s gallery has long been a gathering place for photographers and artists seeking conversation, feedback and ideas. Dawoud Bey, the Chicago photographer who wrote the exhibition essay, had an early exhibition in the small storefront gallery not long after Harsley opened it in 1971 and recalls it had quickly become a supportive center and community for photographers.
Other photographers who on occasion would visit Harsley’s gallery included Robert Frank, Hugh Bell, Andres Serrano and Don Hogan Charles. Artists such as David Hammons, Willie Birch and the late Vincent Smith would also drop in for hours of talk. The gallery is also regarded internationally as a resource on photography and photographers.
Harsley has spent five decades roaming the city with his keen eye, an inexhaustible interest and passion for the daily human drama, as well as an uncanny sense of composition. These qualities, Bey writes in his essay, demonstrate “a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings coupled to the ability to respond instantaneously to the recognition of life as it is unfolding in front of the camera.”
His images, Bey continues, “are firmly within the tradition of ‘street photography’ and are a significant contribution to the genre, given the high level to which Harsley developed this way of seeing and making photographs. He has also made contemplative pictures within the landscape tradition, seeking out those quiet moments that allow for a visual and personal reflection, a moment in which to examine one’s place in the larger world.” Bey says Harsley’s winter street scenes, always a challenge for a photographer, are among of his most evocative.
Taking all of these works into consideration as one photographer’s efforts to make a life through art, Bey concludes, “we come away with the realization that Alex Harsley has … been quietly adding to our experience of the world and the way it can be reinvented through the eyes of a sensitive and knowing artist.”
Harsley is a native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, and grew up in New York City. His images have been seen in numerous one-person and group exhibitions since the 1950s and are represented in many private collections.
Harsley studied privately with Professor Lloyd Varden of Columbia University, a key figure in color photography. He has collaborated on projects with a number of other artists, including videos with David Hammons and Candida Alvarez, and produced a video documentary, “The Life and Work of Vincent Smith.”