Reality vs Fantasy
Law & Order Crime Scenes at the Hudson River Museum
October 1 – December 31, 2005
YONKERS, NY. August 8, 2005 — Law & Order: Crime Scenes,captured in startling black and white photographs by Jessica Burstein, are at the Hudson RiverMuseum from October 1 through December 31, 2005. More than 30 images from the NBC series, now in its 16 th season, will be displayed alongside Law & Order props, marked scripts, and special-effect imitation body parts. The exhibition includes a memorial to actor Jerry Orbach, the show’s star detective Lennie Briscoe, who died last year. Also featured will be a bank of television monitors screening the Law & Order opening sequences that show the crime scenes depicted in the photographs — with each televised sequence segueing into the familiar Law & Order theme song…
Law & Order is television history. An icon of the genre, it draws millions to tune in for the pleasure of entering a sixty-minute crime puzzle. Its style harkens back to the hard-boiled, black and white detective movies produced during the classic age of film. Dick Wolf, the show’s executive producer, originally hoped to film Law & Order in black and white.
The Scene — Criminals and Cops
The actors who appear or have appeared on the series and its spin-offs are household names. Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe; Jesse L. Martin as Detective Ed Green;. Sam Waterston as the hard hitting prosecutor Jack McCoy. But, producing the weekly television show draws on the talents of many individuals — among them Jessica Burstein, for many years the show’s official photographer. Her work has included the show’s publicity and title shots as well as the evidence photography, seen on-air, that supports the plots. Apart from her official duties, however, Burstein, for close to a decade, documented the “crime scenes” that trigger each episode. These grisly scenes of people, slashed or stabbed, that open each segment, and call for superb detective and legal skills, may appear remote on home televisions but on a museum wall they shock. The photos disturb, too, because Burstein’s cool style mimics dispassionate police photography. The moment is frozen in time. No commercial comes to the rescue.
Seeing the Dark Side
Burstein’s photographs pose the question: How does photography represent reality today? Influenced by photographers Weegee (Arthur Fellig) and Les Krims, Burstein documents the dark side of society but her work also bridges the gap between entertainment, reality and art. In the exhibition, Burstein tells stories that illustrate the confusion of real vs. unreal or the artifice of trompe l’oeil, such as the “dead body,” who had to convince New York City passersby that she truly was not injured or the mop-haired dummy pulled from the Hudson that convulsed the cast. The show’s adherence to painstaking real detail offered Burstein the chance to deceive the eye or test the perception of illusion and reality. The use of black and white, which should be distancing, almost forces our imaginations to fill in the details. One needs to continually remind oneself that the images present are not “reality” but rather a disturbing verisimilitude. Burstein’s work forces us to reflect on the increasingly blurred line between reality and fiction in a world that devours 24-hour “reality” programming as entertainment.
About Jessica Burstein
Jessica Burstein began her photography career in 1974, as the first female staff photographer for the NBC network. In 1994, she became the official photographer for Wolf Films, which is responsible for, among other television series, the Law & Order franchise. In addition to the book Law & Order: Crime Scenes, Burstein published. in 2000, the book The Grandmother Book: A Celebration of Family with her sister, journalist Patricia Burstein. Her work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Paris Match, Stern, as well as TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, People, New York, and Bon Appetit. Burstein's still photography has been seen on television in productions such as Frontline and The Today Show. Her portraiture is in the permanent corporate collections of JPMorgan Chase Bank, Philip Morris, and Time Warner.
This exhibition was organized by George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film.
Criminal Sundays, a series of programs from October through December at the Hudson River Museum , examines the making of Law & Order through discussions and lectures by the show’s cast and crew. More information at www.hrm. org.
The Hudson River Museum is located at 511 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers, NY.
Hours: Wednesday - Sunday from 12-5 pm. Friday, 12-8 pm.
Museum: $5 adults, $3 seniors and children 4-12. Children under 4 free. Members $3.
Information: 914.963.4550 www.hrm.org. On Fridays 5-8 pm admission to galleries and the planetarium free.