In 1967, when Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand were still relatively unknown, curator John Szarkowski linked their work indelibly in the groundbreaking exhibition New Documents at The Museum of Modern Art. Although few at the time could have predicted it, New Documents signaled a watershed moment in the history of American photography. What Szarkowski recognized in the three artists was a shared fascination with the commonplace and a novel application of a documentary language to personal expression. “They like the real world, “Szarkowksi wrote, “in spite of its terrors, as the source of all wonder and fascination and value—no less precious for being irrational.” Their conviction that life’s frailties and imperfections are worth examining remains today a premise as vital as when they were first starting out.
Despite the importance of New Documents for posterity, no catalogue was produced at the time. Arbus Friedlander Winogrand marks the exhibition’s 50th anniversary and presents for the first time, in full-page reproductions, the 94 photographs that hung on the walls of MoMA, freshly contextualized with an abundance of archival material. Essays by curator Sarah Hermanson Meister and photographer and critic Max Kozloff, who originally reviewed the exhibition for The Nation in 1967, shed new light on the enduring significance of the exhibition and on the legacy of these three essential artists.