What They Left Behind: Colorama, ‘Body Parts’ and Earth Works


Obituaries in The New York Times give account of the lives of the people around us — what they accomplished and how they lived — and reading them can be an exercise in discovering, or rediscovering, the marvelous things they created.

Here is a sampling of such legacies, focusing on visual artists, from recent weeks.

Robert Frank changed the path of documentary photography in the United States with the publication of “The Americans,” a collection of pictures that he produced during journeys across the country in the mid-1950s. Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction for this visual road trip through the nation’s consciousness.

Mary Abbott circulated in the macho world of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, but received far less recognition than her male counterparts. She didn’t care much for her reputation anyway, and chose to focus on making art.

Read her obituary here

They were idealized images of an idyllic life: giant backlit photographs in Grand Central Terminal that served as a long-running, commuter-eyeball-grabbing advertising campaign for the Eastman Kodak Company. The photographer Neil Montanus, who took more of these pictures than anyone else, was, his obituary said, “an athletic adventure-seeker whose photographic exploits included embedding himself with a onetime headhunting tribe in Borneo and leaping out of a Land Rover in Kenya to capture the image of a snarling cheetah face to face.”

Huguette Caland, the daughter of Lebanon’s first president, grew up in a privileged family, married young, took lovers and fled her family for Paris — happy and free, as she described it. She went on to forge a deeply individual path in art, creating voluptuous, exuberant, often whimsical works that frequently took the female form as its subject. Her best-known series, “Body Parts,” played with sensuous shapes that one critic called “a celebration of the plumpness of life.”

Read her obituary here

Gianfranco Gorgoni was working as a commercial photographer in Milan when he moved to New York in 1968 and plunged into its cultural life. His photographs of artists like Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and Chuck Close — often with their works — became art themselves. Then he found another niche: photographer of Land Art, pieces carved out of or imposed on a landscape. Images of “Spiral Jetty,” by Robert Smithson, became his best known in the genre.

Mac Connor worked for advertisers in the 1950s and ’60s, an era when Madison Avenue still preferred illustrations to photographs for hawking products. Magazines also used his illustrations to punch up their fiction.

Read his obituary here

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