The camera is ubiquitous. Embedded in our phones, it sits in every pocket and purse; drilled into the walls of businesses and subway stations; fixed to traffic lights and the masonry of buildings. Its lens and spiraling aperture, recording and passive, document moments both absurdly pedestrian and of special importance, unquestionably more the former these days. The glut of photographs — now digital, ephemeral — renders our image of ourselves disposable, making for a curated life that belies reality.
None of these missives are unique. Explications on the societal ramifications of the photographic image stretch from Benjamin to Barthes to Sontag and beyond. We pose for photographs as often as we take them, certainly more than we truly think about them. What is relatively unique, however, is encountering photographs wherein the subjects are at total ease, unbothered, quiescent, not modeled or aware. “Coney Island Beach Sleepers, 1977,” a showing of previously unseen photographs by Karl Baden, at Anderson Yezerski Gallery in Boston’s SoWa District, is a catalogue of such images.
This collection, which will be Baden’s 17th exhibition at the gallery, is early work, work he found when sorting through his copious back-catalogue, filed away in a yellow Kodak mailer. He was 25 when he took them, about to leave for graduate school in Chicago when a trip to the infamous Brooklyn beach seemed a good waste of time. Baden, who recently retired from Boston College after 33 years, found the patrons slumbering on the beach more captivating than the entertainments of the boardwalk.