Robert McCabe was born in Chicago in 1934 and grew up in the New York City area. He first started taking photographs when he was was five using a Kodak Baby Brownie. His first photographs of Europe were taken in 1954 during a trip to France, Italy, and Greece while an undergraduate at Princeton. He returned to Greece in 1955 and 1957 and travelled extensively in the Aegean, shooting with a Rolleiflex and Plus-X film. In 1957 he took a series of colour photographs in the Greek Islands at the request of the National Geographic Society. His black and white photographs were first exhibited in the mid-1950s at the Firestone Library at Princeton and in a touring exhibition which ensued. Since then he has been travelling and photographing around the world presenting his photographic work in numerous exhibitions and publications. He lives and works in the United States, Greece and France.
Greece: Pathways to an Enchanted Land •
Embassy of Greece in Brussels•
Memories and Momuments of the Aegean •
Museum of Cycladic Art•
Greece: Pathways to an Enchanted Land •
Wooden Boats of the Aegean, 1954-1964 •
Mycenae 1954: High Noon •
Athens Art Gallery•
Patmos: Pathways of Memory •
The Old School•
(curated by Elizabeth Plessa))•
On the Road in the ’50s: Paris, Italy, North America and Points South, Monodendri, Greece •
Rizarios Exhibition Center•
Greece Photos •
Queen Sofia Spanish Institute•
Havana, Cuba Photos •
National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation – Eynard Mansion•
Santorini and the Aegean: The Innocent Years •
Petros M. Nomikos Conference Centre•
The Persistence of Memory
Robert A. McCabe is a contemporary wanderer: in modern times he continues the age-old tradition of foreign travelers in this country. Influenced by his classical studies at Princeton University and by classical Greek culture, his work constitutes a photographic archive of Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, the years after World War II and Greece’s civil War. With the remoteness of a foreigner yet the intimacy of a philhellene, he has created a sort of personal photographic diary of Greece, the place and its people, in a complete range of works from portraits and scenes of daily life to buildings, antiquities, and landscapes.
This exhibition focuses on his photographs of the sea, a central element in Greek identity. These photographs can be divided into subgroups: seascapes; portraits of boats; moments from daily life – simple or complex, tranquil or frenetic. The photographer’s approach is clearly anthropocentric. He is interested in people and their lives as defined by their relationship to the sea. The photographs depict survival after the disastrous decade of the 1940s, and the daily toil and effort of life. The Aegean, ever a defining feature of the Greek natural environment, appears and reappears at the epicenter of history, as is the case today. The familiar Greek seas with their historic and cultural depth, create anticipation, are the backdrop to our lives, protect us and provide for us.
As an American, McCabe comes from another culture. His photography, however, never descends to folklorism or orientalism, for he regards the subject of his work as culturally his equal. The photographs record the ruined state of Greece in the 1950s, the poverty, the difficulties, and the ceaseless efforts for restoration. The photographer does not convey these themes with easy emotions or stereotypes. He seeks the spiritual substance, what is below the self-evident, without, however, resorting to a romantic view of poverty. The faces have dignity, frequently face the camera frontally, look at the photographer and, by extension, the viewer. Thus a relationship of equality is created between the subject and the photographer/viewer. The intensity radiated by the black-and-white photographs functions to highlight the subjects and gives them a classical air. The attentive and selective quality of the viewpoint makes these photographs timeless, and always contemporary.
As is the case with many iconic works, the photographs can be interpreted in many ways. Besides their undoubted quality of documentation of an era, McCabe’s photographs are works of art – and it is for this attribute that they are being exhibited at the Citronne Gallery. They are characterized by realism, but also by a rare aesthetic quality. They belong to the long international tradition of black-and-white photography which developed and flourished in the first half of the 20th century.
The photographs may be judged by the uniqueness of the moment they capture; the choice of the moment follows the artist’s instinct. McCabe is a photographer with acute visual perception. The aesthetic significance of his works derives from an ability to see and a sensitivity for a crucial moment, the fraction of a second: when to push the shutter button to give an appropriate expression to a specific array of forms. For McCabe, the unlikeliest object or an almost imperceptible human detail can become elements of importance.
McCabe’s works in their entirety are not an objective recording, an ordinary photographic documenting of events. They are images with an intense artistic dimension, reflections of a decisive era for Greece and its people. Today, the aesthetic reality of these works, the sea, the wooden boats and the people, functions as a living, persistent memory.
Dr Tatiana Spinari-Pollali Art historian – Citronne Gallery Director 15th March, 2016