Visual Arts

Snap Shots

Some superstars of photography come together in a fascinating exhibition of photographs at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

"Private Pictures: Photography From Arizona Collections" features work by classic shooters like Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Cindy Sherman, Henri Cartier Bresson and Tina Modetti. It's a greatest-hits show, the art world version of those wildly popular music compilations Now! That's What I Call Music that package hits by acts ranging from Ludacris to Keith Urban on a single CD for people who don't have the time, patience or desire to sit through anybody's entire album.

Like those compilation CDs, the exhibition doesn't give you an in-depth look at any photographer, or even any genre of photography. Instead, it gives you a sampling of the best work of a lot of photographers.

Shallow? Yes. But that's okay, because sometimes you don't want to hear the crap in the middle of the CD, or look at the middling work from a photographer's off years. You just want to hear your favorite song -- or see an artist's best work.

Face it, we're busy.

There are some great pieces by huge names in the show, so you can cram a lot of quality art-viewing into one visit. An intriguing August Sander portrait of an androgynously dressed woman, circa 1926, is from his unfinished project to photograph the German People. That's Sander's capitalization of People, not mine, a punctuation artifact from the heady Socialist days between the world wars.

A Weegee photo from the mid-20th century of a pair of teens in 3-D glasses necking in a movie theater is gleefully grotesque. Weegee's work gave Diane Arbus (who is not in this show) formative lessons in creepy.

Work by comers is mixed in with the classics, so you can dip a toe into newer photos while surrounded by comfortingly familiar images. German-born photographer Loretta Lux is this compilation's growling rap star. Her sticky-sweet, biting photo of a pair of surreally ideal little girls blasts adults' tendency to turn children into cute lil' ol' mascots.

Photos by Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz are the adult contemporary singles of the bunch; his shot of the San Xavier mission outside Tucson and her portrait of Philip Glass are Backstreet Boys-dull.

That mix is why compilations work. You can skip the song or photo you hate and go to one you love, without having to change CDs or galleries.

Maybe an exhibition this in tune with the contemporary attention span should be called "That's What I Call Photography!"