"How to be a Non-Stop Beauty" promises a line on a colorful Harper's Bazaar cover from January 1970, where an electric-blue female swimmer clad in a white bikini and red-and-white bathing cap crouches. Her arms lifted straight up and head bent down, she appears more than ready to take a swan dive right into what will later be derisively termed the "Me Decade." Replacing the "Kum Ba Ya" Sixties with their rampant social activism, nonconformist attitudes, and hippie garb ten years later would be a preoccupation with looks, health, and most of all self -- self-esteem, self-realization, self-aggrandizement. Always the first to exalt and reflect the superficiality were the fashion magazines, which wouldn't hesitate to spend a fortune shipping photographers halfway around the world to shoot such compelling scenes as models in ball gowns posing next to elephants or mugging with African natives.
At the exhibition "Alberto Rizzo: A History -- Forty Years of Photography," currently on view at the Daniel Azoulay Gallery, nonstop beauty is more than evident but devoid of big game. No lions or tigers or bears. More often than not, the game here was to sell and the Italian lensman, born in 1931, did it well, as seen in this first-ever retrospective of his work. Aside from his sleek, flashy fashion pieces, he produced striking advertising images for high-end clients such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Revlon, Chanel, and Max Factor. Models -- or often just their body parts -- serve as sculptural still lifes. In comfortably familiar prints that wrap around the gallery's front room, colorfully silhouetted arms are decorated with gemstone-encrusted gold watches or vibrantly hued fingernails. But that's in the past.
A lonely black-and-white portrait of six tango musicians and beneath them an action-packed picture of mobile tango-dancing feet lead viewers smoothly into the latest phase of Rizzo's career. Black-and-white prints dubbed the Shadows Series line a hallway space and small room. Shot from the windows of Rizzo's third-floor loft in New York, they offer ghostly, soft, faceless silhouettes set against the sidewalks and the crosswalks of the gritty city. The streets and their attendant markings, plus all manner of ConEdison manhole covers -- one even boasting what look like classic Mary Quant daisies -- glow in the urban isolation and desolation.
Most powerful, though, are six shots from Rizzo's Film Noir Series. Created in 1967, they're a precursor to Cindy Sherman's eminently successful cinematic images. Unlike Sherman, Rizzo is not the star of his work. Instead elegantly dressed femme fatales are caught running down lonely cobblestoned alleys, sitting impatiently in cars, and pushing unseen assailants out of the camera's view. All the while, what appear to be automobile headlights shimmer menacingly in the background.
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