“Doug Muir: Coming Home,” on display at the Everson Museum, travels down two paths that definitely converge.

First, it explores the long career of a photographer whose work includes images of public spaces, portraits and landscapes, and still-life photos. Muir (1940-2016) showed his photos at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among other venues.

Second, the exhibit traces Muir’s connections to Syracuse. He lived as a small child in the Pioneer Homes housing project and then grew up in a blue-collar household at 151 W. Matson Ave., on the South Side. Although he left Syracuse in 1967 to live in California, he returned home many times.

In addition to Muir’s photos, the exhibition presents various objects relating to his life: letters he sent to relatives, notebooks from the 1980s and his very first camera, a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye given to him by his grandparents in 1953. In an adjacent room, a video combines images taken by Muir and comments from several relatives including his daughter, Heather Muir, and his nephew, David Muir, currently an anchor for ABC-TV.

“Doug Muir: Coming Home: focuses on an artist who documented scenes in downtown San Francisco and Manhattan, in Syracuse’s Columbus Circle, in small towns in Southwest Texas. He had the vision of a street shooter and an intense curiosity about how people interact or don’t interact in public.

On Market Street in San Francisco, Muir depicts a man in business attire walking down a sidewalk and reading a newspaper. He’s seemingly oblivious to the scene next to him: a massive crane and a building mostly demolished.

Another photo taken in San Francisco’s downtown portrays a large stained-steel statue, a man smoking a cigar and a commercial display for Miller Light set up on a table. The statue appears to observe all that’s unfolding before it.  

And a third image, from 2001, touches on an issue that’s still very relevant today in San Francisco– the large number of people who don’t have a permanent home. The photo portrays a man with a tiny dog under one arm and a copy of “Street Sheet,” an independent newspaper focusing on issues of homelessness, under the other.

In addition, Muir traveled to New York City several times. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he photographed a pop-up photo display promising “genuine” photos of the World Trade Center for $1.00 apiece. The work reminds viewers that even in the aftermath of a tragedy, hustlers still run their games.

One of his best known images captures a group of nurses at Columbus Circle. Muir shot from behind them, from the other side of the circle. Thus, viewers see white uniforms in the distance, with water spraying from a fountain and mist right in the middle of the photo.

One of the photos by Doug Muir on display at the Everson. Photo by Doug Muir, courtesy of Heather Muir via the Everson.

Although most of Muir’s photos depict urban scenes, he also spent time in rural Texas during the early 2000s. There, he photographed a movie theater in Marfa, a storefront in Alpine, a tire fence for a house in a town located just east of El Paso.

Moreover, the exhibit documents Muir’s ability to create an interesting photo of a seemingly nondescript situation. For example, he shot a neighborhood barbershop in Berkeley when it was closed. Yet, the image incites viewers’ curiosity about the shop and its patrons.

And the exhibition establishes Muir as a chronicler of life in the United States during the late 20th century. There are photos of the Peoples Park in Berkeley, of an anti-war rally in Oakland, of Kathleen Cleaver and Eldridge Cleaver as members of the Black Panther Party, of Mick Jagger being questioned by Syracuse police officers before a 1966 Rolling Stones concert at the War Memorial. His bandmate, Brian Jones, had been accused of disrespecting the American flag.

By presenting both the exhibit and the video, the Everson provides an extended view of Muir’s artworks and his life. He was from a family of steamfitters and made a living as a union steamfitter for the city of Berkeley.

However, photography wasn’t a part-time pursuit for him; it was a passion. He created a large portfolio of images, exhibited his work widely and received the prestigious Eugene Atget International Photography award.

“Doug Muir: Coming Home” honors a native son, celebrating both his art and his life. It’s well worth a visit to the Everson Museum.

The show is on display through September 3 at the Everson, 401 Harrison St. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $1 for people with an EBT card, free for members, children 12 or younger and people with a military ID.

Carl Mellor covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 to 2016. He continues to cover artists and exhibitions in Central New York.

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