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Once Again, Strange Days

August 09, 2003

The turbulent, anxious months since the terrorist attacks of September 2001 prompted Americans to look inward, wondering how those events changed us. Are we a more generous and tolerant people? Or vengeful and insular? What is our true nature? Our better side? Our darker impulses?

Other tumultuous times, most recently the 1960s, stirred similar collective introspection. Focusing their lens on that decade, three eminent photographers took a run at questions that pique us anew in the Getty Center's ongoing show "Strange Days."

Jim Morrison and the Doors provided the leitmotif. "Strange days have found us," go their lyrics, "Strange days have tracked us down." Momentous political and cultural shifts in the 1960s and singular events threw many Americans off balance, at once infusing them with a heady sense of new possibilities and of innocence lost. African Americans wrestled free of Jim Crow segregation, a generation of women charted boundless new lives for themselves, some heroes were assassinated and others were catapulted to the heavens in spaceships.

Garry Winogrand felt those changes in the suddenly revved-up pace of life. People walk fast in his pictures; they peer from their cars at a whirring world. A young woman strikes a sultry pose at a "be-in" in New York's Central Park, looking at the camera -- and through it as well.

For William Eggleston, the 1960s left America's quiet places and the people who lived there looking forlorn. A squat tract home stands against a gray sky. The neon sign of a roadside motel glistens on the rain-slicked parking lot.

To Diane Arbus, the most familiar and innocent often seemed the strangest. She shot her portrait of a sleeping infant so close that the baby's moist lips and tiny eyelashes loom grotesquely large. A nighttime shot of Disneyland's magic castle -- empty and dark -- renders it a foreboding place.

Photojournalists have already begun to chronicle America's social landscape after the 9/11 attacks. Now, through Oct. 5, the Getty exhibit lets viewers see how Americans changed during other "strange days."


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