UNCG Magazine

Photographic memories from the Big Apple

It was the early 1970’s New York City. A young, wide-eyed Andy Grundberg ’71 MFA arrived on the scene, on the heels of having recently completed the MFA writing program at UNC Greensboro and getting street cred as a staff photographer at a local newspaper in Reidsville, N.C. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were fresh on everyone’s minds, and the city that never slept was raw, alive, and a place where anything was possible.

Hoping to make it as a poet in the Big Apple, it didn’t take long for Grundberg to find friends and connections with other creative minds. The artworld became his home – a place where poets, musicians, artists, and other creative spirits mixed and mingled. It was not uncommon for him to rub shoulders with famous photographers such as Gary Winogrand, Russell Lee, and Cindy Sherman.

After exploring possible paths as a poet, photographer, and copyeditor, he soon realized that not only was it possible to write about art photography, but he was good at it. So good, in fact, that The New York Times eventually reached out to employ him as its photography critic.

Grundberg watched photography change over the years: first, as a non-important, often-disregarded medium used by conceptual artists to document their thinking and activities, to eventually becoming a major focus for galleries and museums and a prized artform. He then witnessed art photography’s journey into the Pictures Generation (1974-84), or postmodernism as it is otherwise known, where it became entangled in academic theories and ideas about language, representation, and the construction of identities. This era also witnessed the dawn of the digital age of photography.

Part historical account and part memoir, Grundberg’s new book, “How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age,” traces the fascinating and informative journey of the art photography movements of the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s. The book’s chapters take a look at how the medium moved from an outsider form of artmaking to being a major player in the blue chip art world. The book simultaneously highlights the chapters of Grundberg’s life and career.

What is Grundberg’s favorite era of art photography? “I’m always going to have a soft spot in my heart for the Pictures Generation, which suggested that the image world that we live in isn’t just the history of art and all those great Renaissance paintings, but the Budweiser advertisements and the stuff that you see on billboards every day,” he said.

“I think this kind of work took image-making out of just being a conversation about art and made it into something much larger – like how are we formed as individuals.”

Read more about Grundberg’s new book at https://www.amazon.com/How-Photography-Became-Contemporary-Art/dp/0300234104

By Matthew Bryant
Photography in NYC from early 1970s by Andy Grundberg; top photo of Grundberg, early 1970s. Photography courtesy Andy Grundberg.

Andy Grundberg Manhattan Beach Mid70s
Andy Grundberg Manhattan Hotel 1974
Andy Grundberg NYC Mid 70s Dog Max Bowhaus
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