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Alfred Gescheidt


To the world, Alfred Gescheidt is a photographer, but to me, he is an artist with a camera.  He has the ability to see the humanity in a scene and the humor in life and politics. He is then able to transmit that vision to the viewer, which sets him apart from all of his peers.  From his documentary photographs to the surreal abstractions that would make him famous, his keen intellect and cutting wit with an eye for abstraction shine through.  It is easy to break down Alfred’s career into two categories - documentary and surrealism - yet one would then miss much of his vision.  His pursuit of composition, humor, and humanity comes through all of his art whether it is surrealism, documentary, or commercial work.  He describes his surreal images as montage or put-together photography.  It is important to note that he was doing this in the early 1950’s.  In his straight or documentary photography, one can see the same vision that creates the surreal images. 

I met Alfred Gescheidt two decades ago.  My gallery is down the street from his home and hanging in the front window were some drypoints by Martin Lewis.  Alfred walked into the gallery and announced:  “I photographed him when he was teaching at the Art Students League.”  What followed was a wonderful conversation about Martin Lewis and Alfred’s work as a photographer.  Several days later he brought in a photograph of Martin Lewis to show me.  The photograph was taken in 1951 and was used in an article about artists and their works of art entitled Art Does a Double Take.  The location chosen for the Lewis portrait was the scene of his last great drypoint, a nocturnal at a Fourteenth Street subway kiosk.  I felt that it was one of the best portraits of Martin Lewis I had ever seen.  I also liked Alfred’s concept of capturing artists in their own work.  Lewis was not the only artist photographed for the article.  To me, this is the type of photographic work for which Alfred is famous.  It is his ability to conceive an idea and then to transmit it into a photographic image for others to see and appreciate. 

Choosing one image as a “favorite” is difficult, as there are so many that come to mind.  There is one image, however, that I feel covers both worlds in which Alfred worked.  The image is Motion Study, photographed in 1953.  Here is a straight photograph with no montage or put-together image, but it feels as if there should have been.  He has captured the life and vitality of the city in a surreal sort of way.  The cars that should be moving are stopped and the people that should be stopped are a blur of unrecognizable movement, a mass on the move.  A few of the others that I like are Ronbo, the comedy between President Reagan and Rambo, the fictional Vietnam War hero.  I keep the postcard that Alfred made of this subject on my desk and it draws a lot of attention.  Most people do not know that Alfred created this image, but it is known by almost everyone who sees it.  I am also a fan of his many portraits of celebrities, especially those of fellow artists such as Will Barnet and Martin Lewis.  I enjoy his subway series and the human comedy in images like Fisherman, and Grandparents.  I leave it to the reader to choose his or her favorite image.