It’s not unusual today for photographers to move between the worlds of art and commerce, pouring resources and techniques from paying jobs into personal projects and applying their particular esthetic to assignments. Paul Outerbridge was famously one of the first to inhabit both realms, producing high-end advertising and editorial images while hanging out with members of the avant-garde in the 1920s and ’30s. His images appeared in the Modernist “Film und Foto” show in Stuttgart, along with László Moholy-Nagy, Berenice Abbott and Man Ray, as well as on the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. In the 1930s he began working in color, using the famously expensive and lush Carbro printing process to make images that ranged from kitchen scenes and still lifes for home magazines, to nudes wearing only stockings or clawed garden gloves, many of which were not shown publicly for years. An exhibition of his work, one of the largest in several years, opens today at Bruce Silverstein in New York City, and runs until September 17.
In his 1940 book Photographing in Color, Outerbridge wrote that a photograph “should do something to its beholder; either give a more complete appreciation of beauty, or, if nothing else, even a good mental kick in the pants.” It’s still a pretty good test today, one that his pictures tend to pass.