JOHN ALBOK: Compassionate Vision
PDNB Gallery's upcoming solo exhibition for John Albok is not just about New York City. The photographs exhibited from the 1920's - 1950's represent a microcosm of America. Albok's every day passion to document the people of New York in challenging and celebrative times represents a truly American experience.
Compassionate Vision opens with a portrait of John Albok's family, standing in front of his tailor shop on Madison Avenue. His profession as tailor did not stop him from exploring the world around him with the camera that he carried with him when immigrating to the U.S. After work and on weekends he avidly captured New Yorkers at play and in leisure.
Before immigrating to the U.S., John Albok served in the Hungarian Army where he had photographed prison life. Sadly, his father and two sisters died during the war, leaving him searching for a better life in America. Because of this tragic wartime experience and his talent for art, John Albok was destined to find the wonder in his new country that promised him a more stable and enriching existence.
New York became his permanent home and an important backdrop for his photographs. Most of the photographs featured in this show date from the Great Depression in the 1930's to WWII in the 1940's. Some of these photographs have never before been exhibited, while many have been shown in museum exhibitions.
Included in this important survey are stellar images from the 1939 New York World's Fair. His images of the great art deco architecture of each pavilion illustrated a powerful message for the future. There is a wonderful photograph among this selection showing an early television broadcast, certainly a product of a new world. John Albok captured the essence of the World's Fair, the future, which was the key to a successful, uplifting Depression era event.
This period of hopelessness is strongly defined by an image of the reprehensible "Hooverville" in Central Park. This became home to many destitute souls as a result of President Hoover's economic policies. John Albok was again witnessing a strikingly trying time in his new America. The images were meant to inform, through art, the folly of its government. The artist's compassion comes through.
Later, in the 1940's, a new city, and country, emerged. War was the topic of the day. Everyone was working to win. Albok's images of the city's war efforts are remarkable. Important marches and bond rallies were the subject of some. And a delightful image of soldiers on leave, relaxing with their girlfriends in Central Park is a stark contrast to the earlier Hooverville image.
And then there are the young, innocent images of children at play. In a metropolis such as New York, the playground was the street. Many photographers including Helen Levitt, Jerome Liebling, Morris Engel, photographed children playing stickball or opening fire hydrants, or hanging out on front doorsteps. John Albok could photograph these young citizens like no other. His animated image of a boy stealing a bus ride, leaping onto the back bumper of the vehicle, records the mischievous and daring street play of the times.
All of the photographs in this exhibition are vintage prints, defined as printed by the artist near the time he took the image. The patina of some of these prints is quite alluring. These rare photographs are rich in blacks and wonderfully printed with great detail. This, from a tailor, who worked eight hours a day in his shop. And in the spare time remaining, he passionately photographed his world.
This exhibition was curated by the daughter of John Albok, Ilona Albok Vitarius.
John Albok, Homeward Bound,
Central Park, 1934