His rigor, and likely his fury, seems to be grounded in an almost poetic understanding of what the photo can do. “One of my attractions to photography was that I felt it was much closer to writing and literature than any other visual art,” he says. With the Passing Through Eden book, “I started trying to sequence it according to Genesis. I had my Adam and my Eve. It sounds foolish—in a way, it is foolish.”
Ultimately, Papageorge’s most inadvertently influential move at Yale may have been the hiring, in 1993, of Gregory Crewdson, a successful creature of the art world. In 1999, Crewdson co-curated a show, “Another Girl, Another Planet,” of young female photographers whose staged pictures of adolescent girls emphasized crises of identity. These artists became known as the Yale Girls. The subject makes Papageorge a bit sarcastic. “I have a vague memory of the Yale Girls,” he says. “They’re all talented, ambitious, and good-looking. It had less to do with pictures than the pictures that might be made of the people who made the pictures.”
Papageorge is just happy to be getting the recognition he has awaited for so long. The prosperousness of the larger art market, and its hunger for something new, even if it’s old, has inspired a rediscovery of him and his peers. In 2002, the International Center of Photography mounted a show of Winogrand’s work. In 2005, MoMA did a definitive Friedlander exhibit, while P.S. 1 mounted one of Stephen Shore’s work. ICP will have a Shore show this spring. The auction houses are following suit.
“The reassessment of that period has enabled this review of Tod’s career,” says DiCorcia. “It’s not just because someone got to the P section of forgotten photographers … Tod’s a logical choice, and the work is good.” For the Pace/MacGill show, Papageorge’s photos are being priced at $5,000, in (rather large) editions of twenty. They’re printed bigger than they could have been in the seventies, making them more precious and paintinglike.
And he’s still testy. “The fact is that anyone could have called any day during the interim and nobody did,” he says. “The work was always there. All it took was one person to say, ‘I’ll do this for you, Tod.’”