Written and researched by Carlo Traina
If I am standing in one place long enough, someone might say—‘Did you just take a picture of me?’, I would reply—‘What picture?’ There are no pictures, I am exposing film. When the film gets developed—that is when I discover pictures.”
Paul McDonough began to take photos with the same aim a painter normally takes a quick pencil sketch to then paint that subject on a canvas. It’s toward painting that McDonough pointed initially his attention. But it is by the means of these first shots that he realized how difficult it would have been to represent in the closed space of a studio, such variety of situations and images and the huge potential of photography when it comes to represent reality. So he progressively left painting and engaged himself completely with photography.
After various wanderings in other cities, McDonough arrived in New York in 1967. In a city as diverse and cosmopolitan, he got the confirmation that taking photos represented for him an act of liberation: “…to photograph has met my pulse … I have learned to bring with me a camera everywhere, at all times, loaded with film at ISO speed 400. ”
Paul likes to seize the unique moments, the many oddities that New York offers, managing to mix in a single image both the public and the private. The captured scenes show the movement of New Yorkers who live in the concrete jungle.
Along with the usual crowd of workers and shoppers, there are more secondary characters highly characteristic: the guy dressed as a Viking, complete with the helmet; “Rat Man,” with wide open eyes and a rubber mouse on his arm to scare people. There is the man dressed as Uncle Sam or the one who sings arias of Italian opera while walking down Fifth Avenue.
At every corner of the city there is the opportunity to capture a special photo, surely something can happen at any moment, worthy of being photographed. This is the spirit that pushes Paul McDonough to go out always with a camera with him.
His first series of photos that had to relate to the Big Apple, “New York from 1968 to 1972”.
“People are in their own world when they walk”. “If I am standing in one place long enough, someone might say—‘Did you just take a picture of me?’, I would reply—‘What picture?’ There are no pictures, I am exposing film. When the film gets developed—that is when I discover pictures.”
This concept was better expressed by McDonough, in a later interview: “I often live an unexpected joy in finding a detail within the frame that enhances the greater meaning of the image. One detail that I had not noticed at the time of shooting. ”
In the first years of its activity the works of McDonough were not particularly appreciated: with the exception of three prints sold to the Museum of Modern Art in 1973, for his appreacition to grow we have to wait until 2007, when he met the art dealer Sasha Wolf, who published in a volume the work of McDonough and exhibited his.