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South Beach, 1974-1990: Photographs of a Jewish Community

Gay Block

Gay Block

Gay Block

Long before South Beach in Miami became a destination among the jet set, it was a thriving retirement community for Jewish Americans, who made their fortunes up north before cashing their chips in and heading to Florida to spend their final years in the sun.

During the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when they came en masse, they decamped in the Art Deco wonder palaces that had been the perfect getaway for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Once they arrived, they brought their culture with them, a singular mixture of Yiddish Americana that exalts the gestalt of mid-twentieth century “Lawn Guyland.”

In celebration, HistoryMiami Museum presented South Beach, 1974-1990: Photographs of a Jewish Community, a group exhibition featuring more than 120 works by Gay Block, Gary Monroe, Richard Nagler, David Scheinbaum, and Andy Sweet.

The exhibition featured each photographer’s work shown individually so that viewers could take in the full panorama of life as seen through their lens. When taken together, we got a bigger look at the life and times of Miami’s senior set. Here, there was character and personality as big and bright as the colors they wear.

In the works of Gay Block, there is nothing so compelling as the human face. For all the beauty it holds, the experience it hides, the emotions it shares – it is a map of personal history. It is hard to know what we broadcast, except to say chances are we are telling more than we know. In Block’s photographs, histories were written all over the face: who we are, what we believe, what we know.

That same sensibility wass evident in the work of Richard Nagler. Here we are one with his subjects so that they speak to us without saying a word. We entered their world and see their lives through his eyes – enjoying the personas that are very much vibrant and alive. They kicked up their heels for the camera and smile knowingly. Life is good, and the best is yet to come.

In the work of Andy Sweet, we were swept away by a symphony of colors that evoke the joy of ice cream on a warm, sunny day, the sweet coolness melting on our lips as we pass the time away. It wass the simple moment between moments where we can simply be, fully awake and aware of the pleasures of simplicity.

David Schienbaum and Gary Monore switched it up and gave us scenes of South Beach life in black and white. Here the story of a life was captured in a single frame, where a wealth of knowledge of the human condition appears in every image they created.

There wass a feeling of truth that pervades the photographs in South Beach; they are like private conversations, spoken to the world that we can enjoy time and again. We as viewers became listeners, flies on the wall. Through our eyes, we were told stories. Stories of lives lived, of people we shall never otherwise know.

Andy Sweet

Andy Sweet

Andy Sweet

David Scheinbaum

David Scheinbaum

David Scheinbaum

Richard Nagler

Richard Nagler

Richard Nagler

Gary Monroe

Gary Monroe

All images: © the artist and courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum.

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