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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Newly Published Photos on Display at Pollock Krasner Study Center

Black and white photos now on display in the Pollock Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton give visitors a rare glimpse into the lives of the famous abstract artist and his wife.

Helen Harrison, the director of the center, acquired the 21 photos of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner over the summer from photographer Tony Vaccaro. Vaccaro had taken the photos in 1953 while on an assignment for “Look” magazine. The story never ran and the reels containing more than 300 color photos were later lost. Vaccaro, however, saved the black and white negatives, and a group of the prints are now hanging in the living room of the painter’s house which was turned into a study center in 1988. The center is the only museum to have these photos, and almost all of them have never before been printed or published.

Harrison, who has studied Pollock’s life and career for more than 20 years as the museum’s director, says she believes that these photos are unique from any other pictures taken of the artist. None of the pictures are of Pollock painting, but rather show a day in the life of the painter: talking with the neighbor, enjoying a smoke and playing with the dog.

“You get a sense of what their daily life was like,” Harrison said about the photos. “People feel like they could live here too. It’s not off-putting or scary like abstract art.”

Pollock is widely known as one of the most  influential American painters of the 20th century. He is also a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. Krasner, Pollock’s wife, was also a well-known artist who saw most of her success after her husband’s early death in 1956.

During the two day shoot in August of 1953, Vaccaro says he photographed Pollock as a friend, not a photographer. He had met Pollock two years earlier in New York City, and Vaccaro said he used a trick to help Pollock relax while taking photos.

“While we were talking I sat on the floor,” Vaccaro said in a phone interview. “And so what does he do? He sits on the floor and then the dog comes up and I was able to capture very intimate personal things.”

Because Pollock was so influential, Harrison said that many other photographers took a different approach and photographed Pollock working. Pollock’s technique of throwing and pouring paint onto a canvas was something completely new at the time, and people wanted to see the process. In these photos, Pollock is usually very concentrated on his work, lunged over the canvas with a furrowed brow. Vaccaro explained his own opinion of Pollock as a “man packed with force ready to blow up at some point.”

But that is not what Vaccaro wanted to photograph.

“In the work of other photographers he’s kind of stiff,” Vaccaro said. “He’s not a human being, he’s not even a painter. He’s just someone standing there not knowing what to do. So that is what I was after. I wanted my pictures to be different and to treat him like a nice human being.”

Harrison said she knew about the photos because seven of the pictures from the shoot are on a permanent display in Pollock’s studio, and have been there since the museum opened. Harrison said that she wanted do an exhibit that would include more of Vaccaro’s photos while he is still alive, as he is the only surviving photographer to have photographed both Pollock and Krasner. Harrison joked that Vaccaro is “living history,” and said during the opening of the exhibit that Vaccaro was able to explain the atmosphere of days the photos were taken.

Vaccaro, who is most well known for his photographs taken during World War II, has also photographed nearly 2,000 well-known people from Pablo Picasso to former President John F. Kennedy. Vaccaro says he believes that his photos are the best taken of those people, simply because he tries to shoot the “human” side of them. Vaccaro says his photos of Pollock are no different.

“I captured him more complete,” Vaccaro said. “I have him forceful. I have him smiling. I have him playing with the dog. So In other words I didn’t cover only one aspect of him that is like he’s a bomb ready to go off.”

The exhibit opened in August and will close at the end of October 2010. According to Vaccaro, the photos will next be on display in Long Island City in Queens, and he says when he is done exhibiting them, he may donate the prints to the center. The next exhibition at the Pollock Krasner House and Study Center, called 15 Minutes: A Warhol Remembrance, includes collages by Conrad Mara-Relli, Pollock and Krasner’s neighbor, and will be on display in May of 2011.

The Pollock Krasner Study Center is under the direction of the Stony Brook Foundation, a private, non-profit affiliate of Stony Brook University. The house was deeded to the foundation in 1987 after Lee Krasner’s death. According to her will, she asked that the house be turned into a museum.

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