Archive for September, 2012

30
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 3rd October 2012

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“For outness is but the feeling of otherness (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented.”

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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In her most famous series, Beach Portraits (1992-2002), juveniles stare at the camera in a moment passif, caught by the camera between states – youth / adulthood, knowing / unknowing, Self / Other. Shot from a low perspective, lit by fill flash and with little contextual detail, the subjects exhibit – and I use the term advisedly – vulnerability, awkwardness (in the body and self), languidness of pose and bravuro self confidence that belies their beautiful alterity. These adolescents are not at one with themselves they are unsure of their place in the world. Dijkstra documents this uncertainty and enlarges it, blowing the photographs up to huge scale so that the viewer can examine every crevice of the persona in minute detail, their alterity visually represented.

Max Weintraub notes that Dijkstra has produced, “a set of carefully balanced compositions defined by the central, monumental presence of her youthful subjects. The classical simplicity of Dijkstra’s photographs focuses the viewer’s attention on the subtle particulars: the teens’ gawky, angular bodies, ill-fitting swimsuits and awkward postures… Her subjects hover somewhere between the receding past of their childhood and an unknown future. And while the identity of her subjects remain anonymous – each beach photograph is only identified by date and location – when viewed together a collective body emerges, one that stirs restlessly between the last physical and emotional trappings of youth and the social and psychological pressures of pending adulthood. The individuals depicted are so powerfully distinct that the effect of seeing these portraits en mass is symphonic, and the images begin to collectively hum with the sounds of the construction of self – its awkwardness, its uncertainty and above all, its heartbreakingly tender beauty.”

What a great piece of writing.

It is also interesting to observe that her own self portrait (Self Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 19, 19911991, below) is only printed at 35 x 28 cm whereas images from the Beach Portraits are printed at 117 x 94 cm. Surrounded by ceiling, floor and wall tiles Dijkstra is enclosed, minute within the frame. The photographer recedes into the background, even more vulnerable and less “visible” than her monumental models of innocence. Other series continue the artist’s investigation into themes of time and change to greater or lesser effect. The Olivier series is a very powerful body of work that documents the loss of youthful innocence and the military socialisation of a young mind, evidenced by the look in Olivier’s eyes and the change in his outward appearance. As the press release states, “the Olivier series (2000-03) follows a young man from his enlistment with the French Foreign Legion through the years of his service, showing his both physical and psychological development into a soldier.”

“In contemporaneous works, including portraits of new mothers after giving birth, and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring, Dijkstra sought subjects whose physical exhaustion diminished the likelihood of an artificed pose… Later, Dijkstra took portraits of new initiates to the Israeli army, photographing female soldiers in their uniforms after induction and then again in their civilian dress, as well as male soldiers directly after military exercises,” states the Guggenheim website.

Basically, this time line of change is a version of the old before and after shot, used throughout the history of photography – from the documentation of the changes in Dr Barnado’s children in the 1870s to the “scientific” use of photography to document the science of physical fitness and the commodification of the body in the ‘Before and After’ bodybuilding photographs from the 1930s, the 1950s and from the contemporary era.

To conclude, the strongest work is where the artist gives the photographs a greater depth of field and adds a narrative element by adding a background to the images. The work with contextless backgrounds is too derivative of say, Thomas Ruff, who I think does it better, more frontally, more confrontingly than Dijkstra does.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Rineke Dijkstra
Coney Island, N.Y., USA, June 20, 1993

1993
Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Dubrovnik, Croatia, July 13, 1996
1996

Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992
1992

Chromogenic print
117 cm x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992
1992
Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Installation view of the Beach Portraits (1992-2002) series from the exhibition Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Rineke Dijkstra
Self Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 19, 1991
1991

Chromogenic print
35 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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“From June 29 to October 3, 2012, the Guggenheim Museum will present Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, an extensive midcareer survey and the first major exhibition of the artist’s work organized by a North American institution. It is the most comprehensive museum exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre to date. Dijkstra, born in Sittard, the Netherlands, in 1959, has developed an international reputation as one of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation. The exhibition will include representative examples from the most significant bodies of work she has created over the past twenty years.

Since the early 1990s, Rineke Dijkstra has produced a complex body of photographic and video work that offers a contemporary take on the genre of portraiture. Her large-scale color photographs of young, typically adolescent subjects recall 17th-century Dutch painting in their scale and visual acuity. The minimal contextual details present in her photographs and videos encourage us to focus on the exchange between photographer and subject and the relationship between viewer and viewed.

Dijkstra works in series, creating groups of photographs and videos around a specific typology or theme. In 1992, she started making portraits of adolescents posed on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine. Shot from a low perspective, the subjects of the Beach Portraits (1992-2002), poised on the brink of adulthood, take on a monumental presence. In contemporaneous works, including portraits of new mothers after giving birth and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring, Dijkstra sought subjects whose physical exhaustion diminished the likelihood of an artificial pose.

Dijkstra has also photographed individuals repeatedly over the course of several months or years. Her ongoing Almerisa series began in 1994 with a single photograph of a young Bosnian girl at a Dutch refugee center for asylum seekers and has grown as Dijkstra continued to photograph her regularly for more than a decade as she became a young woman with a child of her own. The outward signs of her transition into adulthood and her integration into mainstream Dutch culture reveal themselves incrementally over the course of many years. Similarly, the Olivier series (2000-03) follows a young man from his enlistment with the French Foreign Legion through the years of his service, showing his both physical and psychological development into a soldier. Later, Dijkstra took portraits of new initiates to the Israeli army, photographing female soldiers in their uniforms after induction and then again in their civilian dress, as well as male soldiers directly after military exercises.

For several years beginning in 1998, Dijkstra photographed young people, often in groups, posed in the lush landscapes of public parks. In contrast to the neutral backgrounds against which many of her subjects are pictured, the richness of the park settings lends these works a greater depth of field and adds a narrative element.

More recently, Dijkstra has built upon her revelatory work in video from the mid-1990s. In The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL (1996-97) and The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), Liverpool, UK (2009), Dijkstra filmed teenage habituées of local clubs dancing to their favorite music. Presented as multichannel video installations, these works showcase their subjects’ teen personas and methods of self-expression, revealed in how they style themselves and in the movements of their bodies. Two video works made in 2009 at Tate Liverpool expand the artist’s interest in the empathic exchange between photographer and subject to include the affective response to artworks. In I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman) (2009), a group of schoolchildren engage with art, discussing their perceptions of and reactions to a work by Pablo Picasso, while Ruth Drawing Picasso (2009) shows a girl pensively sketching a masterwork.”

Press release from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website

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Rineke Dijkstra
Olivier, The French Foreign Legion, Camp Raffalli, Calvi, Corsica, June 18, 2001
2001

Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Installation view of the Olivier (2000-03) series from the exhibition Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Rineke Dijkstra
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Amy, The Krazyhouse, Liverpool, England, December 22, 2008
2008

Archival inkjet print
96.5 x 75 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
The Buzz Club, Liverpool, England, March 3, 1995
1995

Chromogenic print
110 x 88.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Omri, Givatti Brigade, Golan Heights, Israel, March 29, 2000
2000
Chromogenic print, 140 x 112.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Friday 10 am – 5.45 pm
Saturday 10 am – 7.45 pm
Thursday closed

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website

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28
Sep
12

Rest in Peace Jill Meagher

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27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

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“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

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The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual/ homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin/yang is both/and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black/white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations/ encounters/ experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either/or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

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Many thankx to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Derrick Cross
1983
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Two Tulips
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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“A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Untitled
c. 1973
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p.5, Introduction

2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day- Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.11

3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p.9

4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty- The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp.175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p.164

7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p.8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.20

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p.86

10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24

13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p.331

15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p.208

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Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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25
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Elliott Erwitt. Retrospective’ at Kunst Haus Wein, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 14th June – 30th September 2012

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There is something whimsical and abidingly Chaplinesque about Elliott Erwitt’s photographs (see the feet in FRANCE. Paris. 1989, below) – that is until he lands a knockout blow flush on the chin with a devastatingly serious, weighty image like USSR. Moscow. 1959. Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon (even though the two protagonists were apparently talking about banalities). Erwitt’s “art of observation” is a gift of the eye and the mind, where the artist must be truly aware of the world around them in order to capture the mosaic of reality.

As the press release astutely observes, “Erwitt has a gift that few photographers possess, the gift of conveying a subtext with each photo: sentiment, anger, a little happiness; an emotion that can only be recognised by looking very closely; a “before” and an “after”. Erwitt himself calls this the “essence of what happens”. For Erwitt, photography is about really seeing things: “You either see, or you don’t see.”

Very perceptive and so very true.

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Many thankx to the Kunst Haus Wein, Vienna for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. Fort Dix, New Jersey. 1951
1951
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. New York. 1974. Felix, Gladys and Rover
1974
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. California. Pasadena. 1963
1963
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh. 1950
1950
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
FRANCE. Paris. 1989
1989
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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“Elliott Erwitt, the “Woody Allen of photography”, who views his subjects with his heart as much as with his eye, captures human – sometimes all-too-human – situations in his oeuvre. Kunst Haus Wien presents pieces of the mosaic that is Erwitt’s reality, taken from over half a century of his photographic work. This comprehensive retrospective includes about 150 works by a highly active photographer. Erwitt embodies a type of photographer that has become extremely rare, one who views his subjects with his heart as much as with his eye and thereby sees things that most people rarely notice: the little humorous situations and passions of everyday life, the tiny moments in which gestures and facial expressions say more than a thousand words.

Erwitt is one of the leading photographers of his generation. Extremely versatile, with a broad spectrum of interests, he points his camera at human – sometimes all-too-human – situations: Some of them involve animals, others are political, still others capture a touching moment. Photography, for Erwitt, is above all an “art of observation” that depends first and foremost on the special way in which one views the world. In our world of fast-moving TV images and digitally enhanced pictorially compositions in advertising and fashion, Erwitt’s works restore to the photographic medium its original power. His snapshots are pieces of the mosaic of reality. Erwitt has a gift that few photographers possess, the gift of conveying a subtext with each photo: sentiment, anger, a little happiness; an emotion that can only be recognised by looking very closely; a “before” and an “after”. Erwitt himself calls this the “essence of what happens”. For Erwitt, photography is about really seeing things: “You either see, or you don’t see.”

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Kitchen Debate

The ability to tell a whole story in one picture is Elliott Erwitt’s strength – as in the summer of 1959, when US Vice President Richard Nixon met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. Erwitt’s snapshot documents how Capitalism and Socialism collided head-on in the form of the volatile Nixon and the surly Khrushchev. Actually, what he photographed was – as he later discovered – merely a conversation about banalities between two politicians during the Cold War, and yet this turned out to be the political photograph that would make him famous. Erwitt’s photo of the so-called Kitchen Debate cemented Nixon’s image as a hardliner and Erwitt’s own reputation as a journalistic photographer who had the qualities of an “invisible insider”.

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Dogging Dogs

Erwitt has always taken photographs for his own pleasure as well: street scenes, people – and dogs. The photographer relates to dogs on a very friendly basis; he barks at them and photographs them in situations that show how “human” they can be. He takes some of these photos on walks in Central Park in New York, others at dog fairs and dog pageants. Erwitt’s dog photos have filled whole books and he could probably pride himself on having created the first image of dogs as cultural creatures.

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Museum Watching

The “art of observation” has led Erwitt to take numerous photographs of people in museums: He portrays people in their silent dialogue with art when they pause – engrossed or sceptical – to take a closer look at an artwork. The particular environment of the museum is an ideal one for his sharp and at the same time affectionately ironic eye for people.

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Naked

When Elliott Erwitt mingles with nudists and takes photographs, the result is very different from the usual photographs of nudes. Erwitt shows people unclothed and undisguised, far from ideals of beauty and staged poses. These photos form a kind of sociogram of nudist culture and are perhaps Erwitt’s most extreme attempt to capture the “conditio humana” in photographs.

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Personal Exposures

Between politics and irony, between concerned photography and street photography, these works reveal touching moments that Erwitt has encountered and observed. These photographs allow room for intimacy. They include pictures of his family as well as famous portraits of actors and artists.

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Photographs and Anti-Photographs

Elliott Erwitt, the son of Russian émigrés, was born in 1928 in Paris. After his birth, the family moved to Milan, where Elliott spent the first ten years of his life. In 1938, the Erwitts fled the Italian fascists and returned to Paris, after which they escaped the Nazis on the last passenger ship to the USA. The family landed in New York, but Elliot’s father soon decided he did not want to stay there. The family travelled all the way across the USA to California and started a new life in Los Angeles. Today, Elliott Erwitt lives in New York.

As a photographer, Erwitt has always worked for the advertising industry and at the same time realised his own photographic projects. This double context of assignment photography and authorship photography has typified his entire career, although the borders between the two fields have often been fuzzy. In 1948, Erwitt met the photographic legend Robert Capa, who invited him to join Magnum Photos. In 1954 he became a full member of the agency, where he soon felt completely at home. He served as President of Magnum Photos from 1966 to 1969.

Elliott Erwitt is one of an elite group of photographers whose pictorial language has heavily influenced American photojournalism. In decades of successful work as a photographer and as a director of documentaries and television films, Erwitt has always also remained an “amateur” – in the sense of its Latin root, meaning “lover” – of photography. In his photos he combines irony with insight and lightness with profundity, thereby creating humorous images that can often make life just a little bit easier for the beholder.”

Press release from Kunst Haus Wein, Vienna

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. California. Bakersfield. 1983
1983
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. California. Elliott Erwitt. 1976
1976
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USA. New York. 1963. 57th Street Gallery
1963
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
USSR. Moscow. 1959. Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon
1959
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Elliott Erwitt
GB. ENGLAND. Kent. 1984
1984
© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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KUNST HAUS WIEN
Museum Hundertwasser
Untere Weißgerberstraße 13
1030 Vienna
T: +43-1-712 04 91

Opening hours:
Daily, 10 am – 7 pm

Kunst Haus Wein website

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23
Sep
12

Review: ‘Photographic abstractions’ at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd August – 30th September 2012

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John Gollings
born Australia 1944
Untitled
1988
from the series Bushfire aerials
Gelatin silver print
45.5 x 56.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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John Gollings
born Australia 1944
Untitled
1988
from the series Bushfire aerials
Gelatin silver print
45.5 x 55.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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David Stephenson
born United States of America 1955 arrived Australia 1982
Star drawing 1996/402
1996
from the series Star drawings 1995-2006
Chromogenic print, printed 2008
55.8 x 55.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist, John Buckley Gallery Melbourne, Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney and Bett Gallery, Hobart

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Paul Knight
born Australia 1976
Cinema curtain #3
2004
Chromogenic print
43.5 x 55.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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“The function of the stage curtain in the cinema was to help suspend the illusion of reality in the moving image of the film. The idea being that the plain white screen behind the curtain was never seen without the moving image on it. So the illusion always existed behind the curtain and was simply masked-off from us by it. This is partly why the image was alway projected onto the curtain for a moment before it was opened, to ensure that we never saw the dead white screen. These works use this function of the cinema stage curtain as a way of engaging with the meta-reality offered by the flat-plane of a photographic print. Utilising the lure of aesthetics and pattern to bring the viewer onto the folded membrane of the curtain and onto the essentially flat plane of the print. Both give way to a potential of volume.”

Text from the Paul Knight website

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Paul Knight
born Australia 1976
Cinema curtain #2
2004
Chromogenic print
43.5 x 55.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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Dropping the abstract ball

There are some excellent works in this interestingly themed exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art. Unfortunately the exhibition, the theme and the work are let down by two curatorial decisions. Before I address those issues I will give my insight into some of the work presented:

  • A wonderful print of Sisters of Charity, Washington DC by David Moore (1956) where the starched cornettes of the sisters reminded me of paper doves. The kicker or punctum in this image is the hand of one of the sisters pointing skywards/godwards
  • Wonderful David Stephenson Star Drawing. I always like photographs from this series. Taken in Central Australia using as many as 72 multiple exposures, Stephenson used a set of rules for each exposure – deciding on the length and amount of exposure and how far he would rotate the camera between each exposure before embarking on the creation of each image. The construction of the image was pre-determined  but because of the movement of the earth and stars over a couple of hours, the result always incorporated an element of chance. Stephenson draws with light that is millions of years old, the source of which may not exist by the time the light falls on Stephenson’s photographic plate (the star might be dead)
  • John Gollings Untitled from the Bushfire series. Beautiful, luminous black and white silver gelatin prints of tracks in bushfire affected areas. These aerial photographs make the surface of the earth seem like the surface of the skin complete with hairs and wrinkles. In process they reference the New Topographics exhibition of 1975, where the mapping of the landscape is etched into the surface of the photographic print, where the pictorial plane records the environment like the marks on an etching plate. “The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.”
  • The beautiful Scott Redford Urinal photographs where the subject becomes secondary to the abstract visual elements as the flash bounces off the metal surfaces. Tight camera angles and a limited colour palette cause an almost transcendent composition. The swirls and markings and the sword-like quality of the central image (see below) remind me of Excalibur rising from the lake, dripping water.
  • Four photographs by John Cato, one each from Petroglyph 1971-79, Waterway 1971-79, Proteus 1971-79 and Tree – a journey 1971-79. These were incredibly beautiful and moving photographs, abstractions of the natural world. You need to be reminded what an amazing artist John was, one of the very best Australian photographers, his poetic photographs are cosmological in their musicology and composition
  • Two photographs from Paul Knight’s outstanding Cinema curtain series (above). For me there was a textural, sensory experience here, an intimacy with the subject matter that forced me to focus on the surface of the photograph, the flat plane of the photographic print, itself a highly abstract form. Amazing
  • My particular favourite in the exhibition were the, to me, unknown works of the artist Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski (see the two images directly below). These photographs were the most delightful surprise of the exhibition – landscapes of the mind that had great feeling and focus, felt movement, space, flow of light and energy. This was wonderfully nuanced work that I wanted to see more of

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Some excellent work then that was let down by two curatorial decisions. The first was the amount of work in the exhibition by each artist – a couple of prints here, another three small prints there – that really never gave the viewer chance to fully engage with the outcomes that the artist was trying to achieve nor explore the process that the artist was using. I know this was a group exhibition trying to highlight work from the collection but a more useful contribution would have been less artist’s in the exhibition with greater work from each, allowing for a more focused exhibition.

Far more serious, however, was the lack of any text that placed the work in a socio-cultural context. At the beginning of the exhibition there was 5 short paragraphs on a wall as you enter the space with mundane insights such as:

  • Photographic language engages the senses and imagination and challenges the way we “look” at the world
  • Through the use of cropping and obscure angle the familiar is made unfamiliar
  • Colour, shape and form (geometric patterns) are important
  • Some artists’ eliminate the camera altogether through photograms, scanner, collage
  • Use of multiple exposures, distortion, mirroring
  • By drilling down into the substances and processes of photography we can reflect on the very nature of photography itself
  • Exploring geometry and patterns found in nature and the built environment or alluding to more intangible themes such as time, mortality and spirituality

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I have précised the five paragraphs but that’s all you get!

The only other information comes from brief wall texts accompanying each artist and these sound bites really don’t give any social and cultural context to the artist, the time they lived in or the social themes that would have influenced the work. For example, who would know from this exhibition that the artist John Cato was one of the first photographers in Australia to create visual tone poems using images of the Australian landscape, one of the first to work in sequences of images and who would go on to be a teacher of great repute, helping other emerging photographic artists at a critical time in the development of Australian art photography. Nobody. Also, I wanted to know more about the “substances” and “processes” of photography in regard to photographic abstraction. There was no serious theoretical enquiry, no educational component offered to the viewer here.

While money might be tight there is really no excuse for this lack of creditable, researched, insightful information. You don’t need a catalogue, all you need is a photo-stated 4-6 page essay to be given to visitors (if they desire to have one, if they want the information). It doesn’t take money it takes will to inform and educate the viewer about this important aspect of Australian photographic history. For a subject so engaging this was most disappointing. In this particular case the curators really did drop the abstract ball.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski
born Poland 1922 arrvied Australia 1949 died 1994
Untitled
c. 1971
Gelatin silver print
24.6 x 19.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski
born Poland 1922 arrvied Australia 1949 died 1994
Australia Square – Sydney
1971
from the series Inscape 871
Gelatin silver print
29.4 x 24.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist

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Anne MacDonald
born Australia 1960
Cloth (red velvet)
2004
Ink-jet print
127.0 x 105.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist and Bett Gallery, Hobart

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John Cato
Australia 1926-2011
Tree – a journey
1971-79
from the series Essay I
Gelatin silver print
35.5 x 27.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the John Cato Estate

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Chantal Faust
born Australia 1980
Waiting
2007
Chromogenic print
80.0 x 58.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

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Chantal Faust
born Australia 1980
Lap Milk
2007
Chromogenic print
80.0 x 58.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

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“Drawing on MGA’s collection of Australian photographs, Photographic abstractions highlights the work of 33 Australian artists who use photography to achieve abstract effects. Ranging from modernist geometric abstraction and the psychedelic experiments and conceptual projects of the 1970s, through to recent explorations of pixelated pictorial space, this exhibition surveys a rich history of abstract Australian art photography. Photography is traditionally recognised for its ability to depict, record and document the world. However, this exhibition sets out to challenge these assumptions. As co-curator of the exhibition and MGA Curator Stephen Zagala states, “The artists in this exhibition are less concerned with documenting the world and more interested in engaging the senses, exciting the imagination and making the ordinary appear extraordinary.”

Some artists have eliminated the camera altogether, preferring the effects that can be achieved with photograms and digital scans. Other artists have experimented with multiple exposures, mirrored images, irregular lenses and the printing of the usually discarded stubs of negatives. Co-curator and MGA Curatorial Assistant Stella Loftus-Hills says, “Photography has always been tied to abstraction. Some of the first photographs ever produced were abstract and subsequent photographers have sought out abstract compositions in their work.” 

One highlight of the exhibition is a selection of works by the iconic Australian photographer David Moore, who experimented with abstract photography alongside his more well-known figurative work. In Moore’s Blue collage (1983) the process of cutting bands of colour from existing photographs to create a new composition celebrates the artist’s imagination above and beyond the camera’s ability to capture content.

Artists include Andrew Browne, John Cato, Jo Daniell, John Delacour, Peter Elliston, Joyce Evans, Chantel Faust, Susan Fereday, Anthony Figallo, George Gittoes, John Gollings, Graeme Hare, Melinda Harper, Paul Knight, Peter Lambropoulos, Bruno Leti, Anne MacDonald, David Moore, Grant Mudford, Harry Nankin, Ewa Narkiewicz, John Nixon, Rose Nolan, Jozef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, Robert Owen, Wes Placek, Susan Purdy, Scott Redford, Jacky Redgate, Wolfgang Sievers, David Stephenson, Mark Strizic and Rick Wood.”

Press release from the MGA website

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David Moore
Australia 1927-2003
Sun patterns within the Sydney Opera House
1962
Gelatin silver print, printed 2005
37.75 x 25.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the Estate of David Moore

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David Moore
Australia 1927-2003
Sisters of Charity, Washington DC
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 19.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the Estate of David Moore

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Robert Owen
born Australia 1937
Street, Burano, Italy
1978
Silver dye bleach print
20.0 x 25.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

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Robert Owen
born Australia 1937
Green Sheet, Burano, Italy
1978
Silver dye bleach print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
© courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery, Melbourne

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Scott Redford
born Australia 1962
Urinal (Broadbeach)
2000-01
from the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

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Scott Redford
born Australia 1962
Urinal (Surfer’s Paradise)
2000-01
from the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

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Scott Redford
born Australia 1962
Urinal (Fortitude Valley)
2000-01
from the Urinals series 1988-2001
Chromogenic print
Collection of the artist
© courtesy of the artist

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“Redford’s photographs of urinals… dialogue with art historical motifs that precede discourses of minimal art and postmodern understandings of the abject. In representing the site of male urination, they evoke the oxidation paintings of Andy Warhol, who directed young men to piss onto canvases prepared with copper oxide, resulting in compelling abstract imagery…. All of that is in Redford’s photographs and at the same time they are completely empty and quiet and contemplative… They are pure sensory experience like rainfall, even transcendent in their purity. They are concerned with beauty, but they are beyond debates about beauty. They are indifferent and in this they are transcendent.’

Chapman, Christopher. “Scott Redford’s urinals,” in Redford, Scott et.al. Bricks are Heavy (exhibition catalogue). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, pp. 6-7.

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue-Fri: 10am-5pm
Sat-Sun: 12pm-5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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22
Sep
12

Review: ‘Jenny Reddin: The Art of Catastrophe’ at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 29th September 2012

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“Each epoch dreams the one to follow, creates it in dreaming”

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Jules Michelet

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“Each epoch dreams of itself as annihilated by catastrophes”

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Theodor Adorno

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A star is born

The origin of the word catastrophe is Greek (kata + strophein) and its literal meaning was “overturn”. According to its definition, it is an event that causes trauma due to its capacity to destroy most of a community. Catastrophes are extreme events that affect a large number of victims in the affected community, and are easily identified as events that cause physical suffering.1 The use of words such as disaster (origin in the Italian word disastro (dis + astro, “bad star”)) and catastrophe create the idea of a “disaster taxonomy,” one which is based on the principle that there are variable emotional responses that depend on the type of disaster, the degree of personal impact, the size of the group affected, and the geographical and temporal range of the event.2 These pure words define the event itself and the havoc they wreak without incorporating the perceptions of the victims; in other words they are an objective reflection on the subjective performativity of the act itself.

Catastrophes fascinate humans as they clearly show them the limits of their own existence. The dystopian catastrophe challenges the temporal linearity of a utopian dreaming in which the darkness of the lived moment is illuminated by the anticipatory daydreams of the “not-yet-conscious” future. What catastrophe codes is a dialectical relation to Utopianism, a rejection of the holistic vision of an anticipatory consciousness of a utopian future. As Matthew Charles observes,

“The catastrophic signifies the dialectical intrusion of the whole of history (including the present in which it is represented) into the construction epoch, and by extension the whole of the epoch into the life of the artist, and the whole life of the artist into a particular work. Benjamin’s messianic account of the experience of truth imposes the theological concepts of the infinite, fulfilled and perfected state of the world into the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon. In this way, the intrusion of the historical Absolute contributes to the catastrophic ruination of the work.”3

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As can be seen in the Jenny Reddin’s artist statement, the whole of the artist’s history is bound up in the creation of the work. The infinite possibilities of a subjective understanding of truth are bound together with the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon, that of the art of catastrophe, the objective presentation of ruination, in the art itself. Reddin’s anticipatory daydreams become an anticipatory illumination as an image, a constellation, a configuration tied closely to the idea of the concrete/fluid utopic/dystopic landscapes of the body and the earth. Reddin’s paintings work at both a macro and micro level, a phenomenon that is cross-disciplinary like the phenomenon of catastrophe itself. The work reminds me of cellular structures at the micro level (cross-sections of diseased kidneys, the veins of the heart or scientific slides of blood cells) and of aerial views of the earth at the macro level (alluvial deltas and views of open cast mines). They balance beauty with serendipity, the manipulation of the “flow” of paint (from one point in time to many points) that captures light, the light of the cosmos and of the subconscious. These magnificent works of art have emerged from the artist’s life – much as Immanuel Velikovsky argued that the planet Venus is a former “comet” which was ejected from Jupiter – in an act of catastrophic creation. They are dreaming of the future and yet also dreaming of catastrophe. 

Running with these ideas you might argue that these dream images are both an act of emergence and an emergency, a catastrophe. For some thinkers the sociology of emergences aims to identify and enlarge the signs of possible future experiences, under the guise of tendencies and latencies, that are actively ignored by hegemonic rationality and knowledge. For Ernst Bloch the concept of The Not Yet, “is the way in which the future is inscribed in the present. It is not an indeterminate or infinite future, rather a concrete possibility and a capacity that neither exists in a vacuum nor are completely predetermined. Subjectively, the Not Yet is anticipatory consciousness, a form of consciousness that is extremely important in people’s lives. Objectively, the Not Yet is, on the one hand, capacity (potency) and, on the other, possibility (potentiality).”4

Here the field of possibility has a dimension of darkness (disaster) as it originates in the lived moment whilst the sociology of emergences inquires into the alternatives that are contained in the horizon of concrete, utopian possibilities in order to identify therein the tendencies of the future (the Not Yet): the light of the future. Hence these images contain both emergency (of the catastrophe, of the lived moment) and an emergence (into the future). A (bad) star is born. I also believe that in this artist another star has been born, one that will shine strongly in future dreamings.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Anita Traverso Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs of the paintings in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Jenny Reddin
Caught in an Effervescent Breeze
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Ms. Broadhurst’s Poppy
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
A Shifting Reality
2012
Mixes media on linen
137 x 122 cm

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“At the heart of a catastrophe there is a massive burst of energy. Jenny Reddin’s works seek to capture that energy in an alchemic process that involves the dissolving of pigments in various solutions and pouring the viscous mixes onto prepared structures. Due to the varying specific gravities the pigments drop out at different rates offering alternately dry, textured or smooth, mirror-like fields. This series presents works inspired by the natural phenomenon and the interaction of the human form, capturing the juxtaposition of the beauty of the Australian country with the ongoing cycle of natural catastrophe.”

Text from the gallery website

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“I have been painting for around 14 years. At a time when I should have been at Art School, I was studying for a bachelor of business. When I should have been exhibiting my work, I was running a consulting practice and managing people. It wasn’t until my husband and I adopted a little girl from India that I was able to take the time to explore my creative side. I have been painting ever since.

Catastrophe plays an important role in my life. I am an idea, act, plan person in everything I do. It’s how I live my life and it’s how I paint. I had to make a decision early on in my painting career that I either learned to celebrate the spontaneous nature of catastrophes or go mad trying to paint in a conventional manner. I found also that it was becoming increasingly important for me to find my own style and form of expression. I would cringe when people would compliment me by telling me that a work looked just like a Fred Williams or a John Olsen.

To a large extent, I have had to learn to paint from the subconscious. The more deliberate and planned I am at the commencement of a work, the less spontaneous and evocative the result. I go through what feels like long periods where the works are muddy and unsatisfying and I have to rip off the canvas and start again. I usually find when I take the time to analyse why, I have been trying to force an outcome and then all of a sudden, as my consciousness steps back and my subconscious takes over, they work.

Catastrophe is a piece that was painted early this year. It is a good example of the elements that I am looking for in my work, drama and light. The dramatic effect is created by dissolving pigments in viscous solvent solutions and then pouring them onto prepared canvas supports. I often pour two and three colours together so that they bump into each other creating riverlets and craters as the pigments drop out of solution at different rates. Light is captured by manipulating the flow of paint to trap sections of blank, white canvas which to my eye increase the sense of drama and luminance of the work.

It’s hard to say who inspires my work because I am unaware of anyone else painting in quite the same way. What I take from other artists would be honesty and integrity from artists such as Andy Goldsworthy; simplicity of form from the likes of Anthony Gormley and Antonio Tapies; the love of limited palette from Godwin Bradbeer; the beauty of gesture and rhythm from Yvonne Audette and Susan Rothenburg.”

Jenny Reddin’s opening speech at the exhibition The Art of Catastrophe

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Jenny Reddin
Space within space within space
2012
Oil in linen
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Amillaria
2012
Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Suspended Journey
2012
Oil on linen
138 x 97 cm

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1. Braga, Luciana L., Fiks, Jose P., Mari, Jair J. and Mello, Marcelo F. “The importance of the concepts of disaster, catastrophe, violence, trauma and barbarism in defining posttraumatic stress disorder in clinical practice,” in BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:68 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012

2. Ibid.,

3. Charles, Matthew. “The Future is History: Dreams of Catastrophe in Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin,” Proceedings of the No Future
conference, Institute of Advanced Studies, Durham University, 25-27 March 2011 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

4. Anon. “Sociology of Emergences,” on the P2P Foundation website [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

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Anita Traverso Gallery
7, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Anita Traverso Gallery website

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21
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Eva Besnyö 1910-2003: The Sensuous Image’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 23rd September 2012

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“Ranging from the experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, July 1940, Besnyö explored the different terrains that photography was opening up, while at the same time helping to define them. The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

John Yau. “Something Special About Her, Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume” on the Hyperallergic website, July 8th 2012

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin photograph
Private Collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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One of the purposes of this blog is to bring relatively unknown artists into the spotlight. Eva Besnyö is one such artist. Leaving the repressive atmosphere of Hungary in 1930, Besnyö joined László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa) in Berlin before, sensing the danger of National Socialism, she moved to the Netherlands in 1932. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 Besnyö survived four long years in hiding before obtaining false papers in 1944 that allowed her to emerge into the open. She was Jewish.

Exploring elements of the New Vision and New Objectivity in her work, Besnyö explored “the different terrains that photography was opening up” through various bodies of work: “ranging from experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam.” As John Yau observes in the quote at the top of the posting, “The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

Continuing the conversation from my recent review of the work of Pat Brassington (where I noted that curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work – and that the work produced in this style is not necessarily their best), Besnyö can be seen to be a transmogrifying artist, one that experimented and investigated the same themes through different subject matter – hence no signature body of work. One of my friends observed that this kind of art making could be mistaken for a strange form of nihilism (in which nothing in the world has a real existence). It could be argued that the artist keeps changing subject matter, just dabbling really, pleasing herself with the images that she took, without committing to a particular style. Without seeing the 120 vintage prints it is hard to make a judgement.

From the work posted here it would seem that for Besnyö, observation and exploration of the lines of sight of life were the most critical guide to her art. In other words her shifting viewpoints create a multi-dimensional narrative that coalesces in a holistic journey that challenges our point of view in a changing world. As Victor Burgin notes in Thinking Photography, “The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’)” (1982, pp.146). The frame of mind of our points of view…. this is what Eva’s work challenges, the reproduction of our own ideology. Her morphology (the philosophical study of forms and structures) challenges the cameras and our own point of view. As Paul Virilio observes,

“In calling his first photographs of his surroundings ‘points of view’, around 1820, their inventor, Nicéphore Nièpce came as close as possible to Littré’s rigorous definition: ‘The point of view is a collection of objects to which the eye is directed and on which it rests within a certain distance.'” (Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.19.)

Besnyö changes the collection of objects to which the eye is directed as she also changes the distance and feeling of the objects upon which the eye rests. Notice how in most of the photographs the human subjects all have their back to the camera or are looking away from the instrument of objectification (or looking down into it). Even in the two self portraits Besnyö – formal in one with bobbed hair and skirt, wild in the other with a shock of tousled hair – she avoids the gaze of the camera. Like most of her subjects she remains hard to pin down. What Besnyö does so well (and why she isn’t just pleasing herself) is to construct a mythology of the city, a mythology of life which resonates through the ages. She creates a visual acoustics (if you like), a vibration of being that is commensurate with an understanding of the vulnerability of existence.

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Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [boy with a violoncello, Balaton, Hungary]
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 24.3 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Gypsies
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Der Monteur am Ladenfenster
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
20.1 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam.
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Starnberger Straße
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Shadow play]
Hungary 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [dockers on the Spree]
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Vertigo #3]
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö (1910–2003) is one of those women who found in photography not just a profession but also a form of liberation, and of those cosmopolitan avant-garde artists who chose Europe as their playing field for both play and work. Immediately after her photographic training in the studio of József Pécsi in Budapest, Eva Besnyö left the repressive, antiprogressive environment of her native Hungary for ever. Then aged 20, she decided, like her compatriots László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), to go to Berlin. As soon as she arrived in autumn 1930, she discovered there a dynamic photographic scene, open to experimentation and placed under the double sign of the New Vision and the New Objectivity, whose modern language would allow her to develop her personal style.

Of Jewish origins, Eva Besnyö, who foresaw the threat of National Socialism, moved to the Netherlands in 1932 where she met again her companion the film director John Fernhout. There she was welcomed into the circle of international artists around the painter Charley Toorop, and rapidly became known in Amsterdam, where she had her own photographic studio. A solo exhibition at the Kunstzaal van Lier in 1933 gained the attention notably of the Dutch followers of the “Neues Bauen” (New Building), whose architecture she recorded, in a highly personal manner, over a long period. The invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 marked a dramatic turning point in Eva Besnyö’s life. If she managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy, the traces of this experience would remain acute throughout the postwar decades. During the 1950s and 60s, her family life led her to abandon street photography for commissions. Finally, in the twilight of her career, the photographer militated in the Dolle Mina feminist movement, whose street actions she chronicled in the 1970s.

With more than 120 vintage prints, some modern prints and numerous documents, this first French retrospective devoted to Eva Besnyö aims to show the public the different facets of her work, which is situated between New Vision, New Objectivity and social documentary, at the crossroads between poetry and political activism.

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With other eyes

In 1929, during her second year of apprenticeship to József Pécsi, portrait and advertising photograper in Budapest, Eva Besnyö received the book of photographs Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), published a few months earlier in Munich. Its author, Albert Renger-Patzsch, is the precursor of New Objectivity in photography. While pictorialism reigned in Hungary, Eva Besnyö discovered the world with other eyes: from up close and under unexpected angles. With these new models in mind and her Rolleiflex in hand, she strode along the banks of the Danube in search of subjects and daring viewpoints, showing concern for a precise, close-up description of the most diverse objects, as well as a taste for fragmentation and for the repetition of the motif in the frame.

As soon as she finished her studies, Eva Besnyö went to Berlin on the advice of the painter and photographer György Kepes – and against the wishes of her father who would have preferred that she chose Paris. The Berlin years, between 1930 and 1932, were for her those of a political and aesthetic awakening. Besides the influence of the revolutionary aesthetic of Russian cinema, she came under that of the New Vision, which took off with László Moholy-Nagy and his book Painting Photography Film (1925), using a whole stylistic grammar, advocating downward perspectives or low-angle shots, a taste for the isolated object and its repetition, as well as optical manipulations revealing an unknown, but very real, world. The activity of the town or the empty crossroads of Starnberger Straße, portraits and images of summer on the banks of Lake Wannsee count among Besnyö’s most successful compositions.

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Worker and social photography

At the Marxist Workers’ School in Berlin, Eva Besnyö schooled her social and political conscience. In her circle of friends gathered around fellow Hungarian György Kepes, she discussed passionately the role of the workers’ movements. In Berlin, as earlier in Budapest, Eva Besnyö took her camera to the principal sites of trade and business, where she photographed labourers hard at work: dockers on the Spree, coalmen in the street, fitters perched on ladders; in the city centre, she followed the workers at Alexanderplatz, in around 1930 the largest construction site in Europe. In Hungary, where she returned from time to time from Berlin, she carried out an extraordinary documentary project on the people of Kiserdö, in the suburbs of Budapest. Blessed with a heightened political awareness, she had already understood by 1932 that, as a Jew, her future was not in this country, and left Berlin for Amsterdam.

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New Vision and New Building

In 1933, the solo show devoted by the Kunstzaal van Lier to Eva Besnyö just one year after her arrival in Amsterdam aroused the enthusiasm of numerous architects – her principal clients in the years to come. Mostly members of the group de 8 in Amsterdam and the radical abstract collective Opbouw in Rotterdam, they discerned in her images, which emphasised the functional side of objects, their structure and their texture, a suitable approach for explaining their buildings.

Equipped with a Linhof 9 x 12 cm plate camera acquired especially for the purpose, Eva Besnyö went to building sites and photographed public and private buildings, notably the studios of the Dutch radio station AVRO at Hilversum, the Cineac cinema in Amsterdam and a summer house in Groet, in the north of the country. Become, in the 1930s, the preferred photographer of Dutch New Building, Eva Besnyö made most of her income at the time from architectural photography.

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Bergen and Westkapelle

From Amsterdam, where from 1935 to 1939 she shared a studio at Keizersgracht 522 with the photographer Carel Blazer and the architect Alexander Bodon, Eva Besnyö went regularly to Bergen and Westkapelle, two villages where many artists gathered. In Bergen, north of Amsterdam, Charley Toorop, Expressionist painter and mother of the film director John Fernhout, whom Eva had married in 1933, held an artistic salon in the De Vlerken studio. It was at Westkapelle, a centuries-old village built on a polder in Zealand, that the family often spent their holidays. In this landscape shaped by the natural elements, Eva Besnyö returned to a free photographic practice, with views of vast beaches of white sand, of black silhouettes against a background of old windmills and cut-out shadows.

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Rotterdam

In July 1940, Eva Besnyö photographed the old town of Rotterdam destroyed by German airforce bombing. Far from classic photo-journalism, these images of ruins and traces of devastation – from which, in retrospect, she distanced herself – are today silent, bare statements of the wounds and scars of history.

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Dolle Mina

The Dolle Mina feminist movement gathered both men and women, mainly from the student protest movement. In the 1970s, Eva Besnyö militated actively within it, alongside sympathisers of all ages. In a second phase, she focused on photographic documentation of the movement’s actions and activities, taking responsibility for sending out images daily, like a press agency.

Text by Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat, curators of the exhibition

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
1934
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Summer house in Groet, North Holland. Architects Merkelbach & Karsten]
1934
18.2 x 24.2 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Stadion, Berlin, 1931
1931
16.8 x 23.9 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Lieshout, The Netherlands]
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
25.3 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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“In 1930, when Eva Besnyö arrived in Berlin at the age of only twenty, a certificate of successful apprenticeship from a recognised Budapest photographic studio in her bag, she had made two momentous decisions already: to turn photography into her profession and to put fascist Hungary behind her forever.

Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.

Eva Besnyö had a keen political sense, evidenced by the fact that she fled in good time from anti-Semitic, National Socialist persecution, leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in autumn 1932. Supported by the circle surrounding woman painter Charley Toorop, filmmaker Joris Ivens and designer Gerrit Rietveld, Besnyö – meanwhile married to cameraman John Fernhout – soon enjoyed public recognition as a photographer. An individual exhibition in the internationally respected Van Lier art gallery in 1933 made her reputation in the Netherlands practically overnight. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing.” In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, eg. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The invasion of German troops in May 1940 meant that as a Jew, Eva Besnyö was compelled to go into hiding underground. She was attracted to a world view shaped by humanism in the post-war years, and her photographs became stylistically decisive for neo-Realism and immensely suitable for the moralising exhibition, the “Family of Man” (1955). The mother of two children, she had experienced the classic female conflict between bringing up children and a profession career as a crucial and very personal test. Consequentially, Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera.

This first retrospective exhibition, showing approximately 120 vintage prints, aims to introduce the public to the life and work of this emigrant and “Berliner by choice”, a convinced cosmopolitan and the “Grande Dame” of Dutch photography. “Like many other talents, that of Eva Besnyö was lost to Germany and its creative art as a direct consequence of the National Socialists’ racial mania.” (Karl Steinorth, DGPh, 1999)”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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Eva Besnyö
Narda, Amsterdam
1937
Private collection, Berlin
40 x 50 cm
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [The shadow of John Fernhout, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands]
1933
25.3 x 20.4 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
Berlin, 1931
17.4 x 17.4 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [John Fernout with Rolleiflex at the Baltic seaside]
1932
44.2 x 39.5 cm
Private collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Magda, Balaton, Hungary]
1932
40.5 x 30.6 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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