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Pulsing Life

about William Gedney

During his career William Gedney only had one exhibit of his photography. He only had a single photograph published in a magazine in the U.S. He never worked on assignment. In fact, outside of a few other photographers, a handful of gallery curators, and a small number of grant managers at art councils, he was unknown. Sadly, that’s still largely the case.

From the mid 1950s through the early 1980s, William photographed throughout the United States, in India, and in Europe. From street scenes outside his Brooklyn apartment to the daily chores of unemployed coal miners, from the indolent lifestyle of hippies in Haight-Ashbury to the sacred rituals of Hindu worshippers, he recorded the lives of others with remarkable clarity and poignancy. His photographs, along with his notebooks and writings, illuminate the vision of an intensely private man who, as a writer and photographer, revealed the lives of others with striking sensitivity.

Born in Greenville, New York in 1932, William died of AIDS in 1989, aged 56, in New York City and is buried in Greenville, a few short miles from his childhood home. He left his photographs and writings to his lifelong friend Lee Friedlander. In time, Friedlander’s efforts, which had earlier led to the revival of E. J. Bellocq’s works, chartered posthumous revival of William’s work. A great trip.

In one of his journals, William quotes the composer Béla Bartók: “What matters most of all, is to penetrate into the pulsing life of the people themselves, to become imbued with their way of living, and to see their faces when they sing at their weddings, harvests and funerals”.

library.duke.edu

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