Archive for the 'american photographers' Category

14
Jul
15

Thomas Eakins photography

July 2015

 

Please click on the photography for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

 

 

For Eakins, the camera was a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing, a tool the modern artist should use to train the eye to see what was truly before it.

 

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In the 1880s, through a series of technical advances that greatly simplified its practice, photography had expanded from being the province solely of the specialist into an activity accessible to the millions. To define photography as a discipline distinct from its casual, commercial, and scientific applications became the overriding goal of many American artists in the last two decades of the century, who claimed for it a place commensurate with those artistic endeavors that celebrated the complex, irreducible subjectivity of their makers. The photographs of Thomas Eakins are a perfect example of this development.

In addition to being an accomplished painter, watercolorist, and teacher, Thomas Eakins was a dedicated and talented photographer. Working with a wooden view camera, glass plate negatives, and the platinum print process, he distinguished himself from most other painters of his generation by mastering the technical aspects of the new medium and requiring his students to do the same. For Eakins, the camera was a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing (43.87.23; 43.87.19), a tool the modern artist should use to train the eye to see what was truly before it.

Although it is not known from whom or when Eakins learned photography, it is clear that by 1880 he had already incorporated the camera into his professional and personal life. The vast majority of photographs attributed to Eakins are figure studies (nude and clothed) and portraits of his pupils (43.87.17), extended family (including himself) (43.87.23), and immediate friends (41.142.2). More than 225 negatives survive in the Bregler collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and approximately 800 images are currently attributed to Eakins and his circle – ample proof of the intensity with which Eakins worked with the camera.

Eakins did not generally use photographs as a preparatory aid to painting, although there are a small number of oils which have direct counterparts in existing photographs: the Amon Carter Museum’s The Swimming Hole [below] and the Metropolitan’s Arcadia [below] being the foremost examples. To the contrary, Eakins saw a different role for photography – one related to his extraordinary interest in knowing the figure and improving his sensitivity to complex figure-ground relationships. Committed to teaching close observation through the practice of dissection and preparatory wax and plaster sculpture, Eakins introduced the camera to the American art studio. At first his photographs were likely quick studies of pose and gesture; later, perhaps during the process of editing and cropping the negatives, and then making enlarged platinum prints, he saw the photographs as discrete works of art on paper, at their best on equal status with his watercolors.

The artistic freedom of the classical world that Eakins strove to bring to life in his academic programs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (and in his Arcadian paintings) also appears as an important element in many of his nude studies (43.87.19) with the camera. These photographs, far more than the paintings, celebrate the male physique; even today, more than a century after their creation, their unabashed frontal nudity still has the power to shock contemporary eyes.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

 

The great American painter and photographer Thomas Eakins was devoted to the scientific study of the human form and committed to its truthful representation. While teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Eakins made at least two excursions with his students in order to make a series of nudes out of doors. This photograph was probably made during the summer of 1883 at Manasquan Inlet at Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Although neither of the figures in this study play the pipes, the photograph seems related to the unfinished oil Arcadia, in the Metropolitan’s collection [below]. Posed at the edge of a lake, with hands behind their backs, or dangling, the figures seem to float, lost in thought. They are neither athletes nor swimmers contemplating a dip in the water, but two common men – professor (Eakins) and student (J. Laurie Wallace) – each an Adam. Direct and revealing, such photographs celebrate the body and increase our understanding of Eakins’ refined naturalism and his respect for the essential beauty and complexity of the human form. (Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

 

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) 'Arcadia' c. 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Arcadia
c. 1883
Oil on canvas
98.1 × 114.3 cm (38.6 × 45 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)  'Swimming / The swimming hole' 1885

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Swimming / The swimming hole
1885
Oil on canvas
27.625 × 36.625 in (70.2 × 93 cm)
Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Thomas Eakins 'Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace
1883

 

Thomas Eakins 'Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace
1883

 

Thomas Eakins. 'Wrestlers' 1899

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Wrestlers
1899
Oil on canvas
48 3/8 x 60 in. (122.87 x 152.4 cm)
Image: Museum Associates/LACMA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Image Library

 

 

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12
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Lee Miller’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 16th August 2015

Curator: Walter Moser

 

 

Leave artist’s alone

It takes some time to form an opinion as to the merit of Lee Miller’s work, given the amount of photographs available online, including the ones available on the Lee Miller Archives website. It is also difficult to separate the muse/socialite from the artist, the icon from the person.

Certainly there are unforgettable photographs, such as the haunting SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany (1945, below). Once seen, never forgotten. But then there are the usual fashion photographs for Vogue that are no different from anyone else, a lot of pretty average social documentary photographs, some excellent and not so excellent portraits of friends and artists, and some surreal offerings that sometimes hit the mark.

Only so often do her photographs raise themselves above the mundane. This is not the fault of Lee Miller, but the fault of people claiming that someone is more than they are. The fault of people in control of her image. And that all comes down to money and power.

Instead of limiting access to her photographs, if her work was just left to breathe – just letting Lee Miller be nothing, in a Zen sense – just let the work be what it is, then she and the work might attain more credibility than it has at the moment. If Lee Miller was not set up as this icon, if she just is, then the work would be all the better for it. Icon and artist need to be separated. Let’s see more of the work freely available, for only then can we truly understand, believe.

At the moment I have the feeling that this is a rather mediocre photographer being made out to be more than she was.

Marcus

 

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

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977) is considered one of the most fascinating artists of the 20th century. In only 16 years, she produced a body of photographic work of a range that remains unparalleled, and that unites the most divergent genres. Miller’s oeuvre extends from surrealistic images to photography in the fields of fashion, travelling, portraiture and even war correspondence; the Albertina presents a survey of the work in its breadth and depth, with the aid of 100 selected pieces.

Lee Miller began her artistic career as a surrealist photographer in the Paris of 1929. She alienated motifs by using narrow image frames and applying experimental techniques like solarisation, so that it would be possible to see paradox reality. Travel photography, in which she translated the landscape into modernistic and ambiguous shapes, originated in Egypt in 1934.

As one of just a handful of female photojournalists, she began to photograph the disastrous consequences of the Second World War back in 1940. Lee Miller photographed the attack on London by the German Luftwaffe (“the Blitz”), as well as the eventual liberation of Paris. Her reporting led her to Vienna via Salzburg in 1945 where she photographed a cityscape destroyed by war, as well as the hardships in the children’s hospitals. In this exhibit, the focus is specifically placed on the vast bulk of this unpublished group of works.

 

 

Lee Miller | Surrealist Photography from Albertina Vienna.

 

Lee Miller | War Photography from Albertina Vienna.

 

Lee Miller. 'Floating Head (Mary Taylor), New York Studio, New York, USA' 1933

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Floating Head (Mary Taylor), New York Studio, New York, USA
1933
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Man Ray. 'Portrait of Lee Miller, Paris, France' 1929

 

Man Ray
Portrait of Lee Miller, Paris, France
1929
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015
Courtesy Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Untitled (Exploding Hand), Paris, France' c. 1930

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Untitled (Exploding Hand), Paris, France
c. 1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Self Portrait, New York Studio, New York, USA' 1932

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Self Portrait, New York Studio, New York, USA
1932
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Paris' 1944

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Paris
1944
Silver gelatin print
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Picnic, Ile Sainte Marguerite, France' 1937

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Picnic, Ile Sainte Marguerite, France [Man Ray second from right]
1937
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Nude bent forward' 1930

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Nude bent forward
1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition text

 

Lee Miller exhibition texts

 

Lee Miller. 'Fire Masks, London, England' 1941

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Fire Masks, London, England
1941
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Irmgard Seefried, Opera Singer, Singing an Aria from Madame Butterfly, Vienna Opera House, Vienna, Austria' 1945

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Irmgard Seefried, Opera Singer, Singing an Aria from Madame Butterfly, Vienna Opera House, Vienna, Austria
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller with David E. Scherman. 'Lee Miller in Hitler's Bathtub, Munich, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller with David E. Scherman
Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub, Munich, Germany
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Luxembourg' 1944

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Luxembourg
1944
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany' 1945

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
SS Guard in Canal, Dachau, Germany
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'Scharnhorst Boy, Vienna, Austria' 1945

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Scharnhorst Boy, Vienna, Austria
1945
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Lee Miller. 'The latest hat model, Vogue Studios, London, April 1942' 1942

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
The latest hat model, Vogue Studios, London, April 1942
1942
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Man Ray. 'Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller' c. 1929

 

Man Ray
Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller
c. 1929
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015

 

Lee Miller. 'Solarized Portrait of an unknown model' 1930

 

Lee Miller (1907-1977)
Solarized Portrait of an unknown model
1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved

 

Man Ray and Lee Miller. 'Neck (Portrait of Lee Miller), Paris, France' c. 1930

 

Man Ray and Lee Miller
Neck (Portrait of Lee Miller), Paris, France
c. 1930
© Lee Miller Archives England 2015. All Rights Reserved
© MAN RAY TRUST / ADAGP, Paris / Bildrecht Wien 2015

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am – 9 pm

Albertina website

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05
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘In Light of the Past’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 26th July 2015

Curators: The curators of In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art are Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, and Diane Waggoner, associate curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

 

 

What a great title for an exhibition. Photography always evidences light of the past, we live in light of the past (the light of the Sun takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth) and, for whatever reason, human beings never seem to learn from mistakes, in light of the past history of the human race.

My favourites in this postings are the 19th century photographs, to which I am becoming further attuned the more I look at them. There is almost a point when you become psychologically enmeshed with their light, with the serenity of the images, a quality that most contemporary photographs seem to have lost. There is a quietness to their presence, a contemplation on the nature of the world through the pencil of nature that is captivating. You only have to look at Gustave Le Gray’s The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts (1856-1858, below) to understand the everlasting, transcendent charisma of these images. Light, space, time, eternity.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National 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.

The Collection of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (110kb Word doc)

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane' 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
A Scene in York: York Minster from Lop Lane
1845
Salted paper print
16.2 x 20.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Edward J. Lenkin Fund, Melvin and Thelma Lenkin Fund and Stephen G. Stein Fund, 2011

 

A British polymath equally adept in astronomy, chemistry, Egyptology, physics, and philosophy, Talbot spent years inventing a photographic process that created paper negatives, which were then used to make positive prints – the conceptual basis of nearly all photography until the digital age. Calotypes, as he came to call them, are softer in effect than daguerreotypes, the other process announced in 1839. Though steeped in the sciences, Talbot understood the ability of his invention to make striking works of art. Here the partially obstructed view of the cathedral rising from the confines of the city gives a sense of discovery, of having just turned the corner and encountered this scene.

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins
Piwac, Vernal Falls, 300 feet, Yosemite
1861
Albumen print
39.9 x 52.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and David Robinson, 1995

 

The westward expansion of America opened up new opportunities for photographers such as Watkins and William Bell. Joining government survey expeditions, hired by railroad companies, or catering to tourists and the growing demand for grand views of nature, they created photographic landscapes that reached a broad audience of scientists, businessmen, and engineers, as well as curious members of the middle class. Watkins’s photographs of the sublime Yosemite Valley, which often recall landscape paintings of similar majestic subjects, helped convince Congress to pass a bill in 1864 protecting the area from development and commercial exploitation.

 

Charles Nègre. 'Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris' before February 1852

 

Charles Nègre
Market Scene at the Port of the Hotel de Ville, Paris
before February 1852
Salted paper print
14.7 x 19.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2003

 

Eugène Cuvelier. 'Belle-Croix' 1860s

 

Eugène Cuvelier
Belle-Croix
1860s
Albumen print
Image: 25.4 x 34.3 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gail and Benjamin Jacobs for the Millennium Fund, 2007

 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, some photographers in France, hired by governmental agencies to make photographic inventories or simply catering to the growing demand for pictures of Paris, drew on the medium’s documentary abilities to record the nation’s architectural patrimony and the modernization of Paris. Others explored the camera’s artistic potential by capturing the ephemeral moods of nature in the French countryside. Though photographers faced difficulties in carting around heavy equipment and operating in the field, they learned how to master the elements that directly affected their pictures, from securing the right vantage point to dealing with movement, light, and changing atmospheric conditions during long exposure times.

 

Gustave Le Gray. 'The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts' 1856-1858

 

Gustave Le Gray
The Pont du Carrousel, Paris: View to the West from the Pont des Arts
1856-1858
Albumen print
37.8 x 48.8 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus. 'Toulon, Train Station' c. 1861

 

Édouard-Denis Baldus
Toulon, Train Station
c. 1861
Albumen print
27.4 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1995

 

 

In Light of the Past: Celebrating 25 Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, on view in the West Building from May 3 through July 26, 2015, will commemorate more than two decades of the Gallery’s robust photography program. Some 175 of the collection’s most exemplary holdings will reveal the evolution of the art of photography, from its birth in 1839 to the late 1970s. In Light of the Past is one of three stellar exhibitions that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art’s commitment to photography acquisitions, exhibitions, scholarly catalogues, and programs.

In Light of the Past includes some of the rarest and most compelling photographs ever created,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “It also honors the generous support of our donors who have enabled us to achieve this new place of prominence for photography at the Gallery.”
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About the exhibition

In Light of the Past begins with exceptional 19th-century salted paper prints, daguerreotypes, and albumen prints by acclaimed early practitioners such as William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894, and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901). It also displays works by American expeditionary photographers, including William Bell (1830-1910) and Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916).

The exhibition continues with late 19th- and early 20th-century American pictorialist photographs by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Clarence H. White (1871-1925), Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), and Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), among others, as well as European masters such as Eugène Atget (1857-1927). The exhibition also examines the international photographic modernism of artists such as Paul Strand (1890-1976), André Kertész (1894-1985), Marianne Brandt (1893-1983), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), and Ilse Bing (1899-1998) before turning to the mid-20th century, where exceptional work by Walker Evans (1903-1975), Robert Frank (b. 1924), Harry Callahan (1912-1999), Irving Penn (1917-2009), Lee Friedlander (b. 1934), and Diane Arbus (1923-1971) will be on view.

The exhibition concludes with pictures from the 1960s and 1970s, showcasing works by photographers such as Robert Adams (b. 1937), Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), and William Eggleston (b. 1939), as well as Mel Bochner (b. 1940) and Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), which demonstrate the diverse practices that invigorated photography during these decades.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'The Letter' c. 1850

 

Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
The Letter
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
Plate: 20.3 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1999

 

Working together in Boston, the portrait photographers Southworth and Hawes aimed to capture the character of their subjects using the daguerreotype process. Invented in France and one of the two photographic processes introduced to the public in early 1839, the daguerreotype is made by exposing a silver-coated copper plate to light and then treating it with chemicals to bring out the image. The heyday of the technique was the 1840s and 1850s, when it was used primarily for making portraits. The daguerreotype’s long exposure time usually resulted in frontal, frozen postures and stern facial expressions; this picture’s pyramidal composition and strong sentiments of friendship and companionship are characteristic of Southworth and Hawes’s innovative approach.

 

Clarence H. White. 'The Hillside' c. 1898

 

Clarence H. White
The Hillside
c. 1898
Gum dichromate print
20.8 x 15.88 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2008

 

The Photo-Secession

At the turn of the century in America, Alfred Stieglitz and his colleague Edward Steichen led the movement to establish photography’s status as a fine art. In 1902 Stieglitz founded an organization called the Photo-Secession, consisting of young artists who shared his belief in the creative potential of the medium. Many of the photographers featured here were members of the group, including Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Through the exhibitions Stieglitz organized in his New York gallery, called 291, and the essays he published in his influential quarterly, Camera Work, he and the Photo-Secession promoted the pictorialist aesethetic of softly textured, painterly pictures that elicit emotion and appeal to the imagination. Occasionally the photographers’ compositions refer to other works of art, such as Steichen’s portrait of his friend Auguste Rodin, whose pose recalls one of the sculptor’s most famous works, The Thinker. Influenced by the modern European and American painting, sculpture, and drawing he exhibited at 291, Stieglitz lost interest in the Photo-Secession in the early 1910s and began to explore a more straightforward expression.

 

Eugène Atget. 'Saint-Cloud' 1926

 

Eugène Atget
Saint-Cloud
1926
Albumen print
22.2 x 18.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

Using a cumbersome camera mounted on a tripod, Atget recorded the myriad facets of Paris and its environs at the turn of the century. Transforming ordinary scenes into poetic evocations, he created a visual compendium of the objects, architecture, and landscapes that were expressive of French culture and its history. He sold his photographs to artists, architects, and craftsmen, as well as to libraries and museums interested in the vanishing old city. Throughout his career he returned repeatedly to certain subjects and discovered that the variations caused by changing light, atmosphere, and season provided inexhaustible subjects for the perceptive photographer.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty' June 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
June 1866
Albumen print
36.1 x 26.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Century Fund, 1997

 

Ensconced in the intellectual and artistic circles of midcentury England, Cameron manipulated focus and light to create poetic pictures rich in references to literature, mythology, and history. Her monumental views of life-sized heads were unprecedented, and with them she hoped to define a new mode of photography that would rival the expressive power of painting and sculpture. The title of this work alludes to John Milton’s mid-seventeenth-century poem L’Allegro. Describing the happy life of one who finds pleasure and beauty in the countryside, the poem includes the lines:

Come, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne). 'Figure 63, "Fright" from "Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)" (1862)' 1854-1855

 

Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amant Duchenne (de Boulogne)
Figure 63, “Fright” from “Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (Mechanism of human physiognomy)” (1862)
1854-1855
Albumen print
21.5 × 16 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

A neurologist, physiologist, and photographer, Duchenne de Boulogne conducted a series of experiments in the mid-1850s in which he applied electrical currents to various facial muscles to study how they produce expressions of emotion. Convinced that these electrically-induced expressions accurately rendered internal feelings, he then photographed his subjects to establish a precise visual lexicon of human emotions, such as pain, surprise, fear, and sadness. In 1862 he included this photograph representing fright in a treatise on physiognomy (a pseudoscience that assumes a relationship between external appearance and internal character), which enjoyed broad popularity among artists and scientists.

 

Lewis Hine. 'An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)' 1910

 

Lewis Hine
An Anaemic Little Spinner in a New England Cotton Mill (North Pownal, Vermont)
1910
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 19.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2015

 

Trained as a sociologist and initially employed as a teacher, Hine used the camera both as a research tool and an instrument of social reform. One of the earliest and most influential social documentary photographers of his time, he made many pictures under the auspices of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization formed in 1904 to promote better working conditions for children. Hine’s focus on the thin, frail body of this barefoot twelve-year-old spinner, who stands before rows of bobbins in the mill where she worked, was meant to illustrate the unhealthy effects of her employment. Photographs like this one were crucial to the campaign to change American child labor laws in the early twentieth century.

 

 

In Light of the Past: Twenty-Five Years of Photography at the National Gallery of Art

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate laid the foundation of the photography collection of the National Gallery of Art in 1949 with their donation of 1,650 Stieglitz photographs, an unparalleled group known as the Key Set. Yet the Gallery did not start actively acquiring photographs until 1990, when it launched an initiative to build a collection of works by European and American photographers from throughout the history of the medium and mount major exhibitions with scholarly publications. Now including nearly fifteen thousand prints, the collection encompasses the rich diversity of photographic practice from fine art to scientific and amateur photography, as well as photojournalism. It is distinguished by its large holdings of works by many of the medium’s most acclaimed masters, such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Ilse Bing, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Robert Adams, among others.

In Light of the Past celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1990 initiative by presenting some of the Gallery’s finest photographs made from the early 1840s to the late 1970s. It is divided into four sections arranged chronologically. The first traces the evolution of the art of photography during its first decades in the work of early British, French, and American practitioners. The second looks at the contributions of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers, from Stieglitz and the American pictorialists to European masters such as Eugène Atget. The third section examines the international photographic modernism of the 1920s and 1930s, and the fourth features seminal mid-twentieth-century photographers. The exhibition concludes with pictures representing the varied practices of those working in the late 1960s and 1970s.
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The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography

In 1839 a new means of visual representation was announced to a startled world: photography. Although the medium was immediately and enthusiastically embraced by the public at large, photographers themselves spent the ensuing decades experimenting with techniques and debating the nature of this new invention. The works in this section suggest the range of questions addressed by these earliest practitioners. Was photography best understood as an art or a science? What subjects should photographs depict, what purpose should they serve, and what should they look like? Should photographers work within the aesthetics established in other arts, such as painting, or explore characteristics that seemed unique to the medium? This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicolored reality in a monochrome medium. They often explored the same subjects that had fascinated artists for centuries – portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and still lifes – but they also discovered and exploited the distinctive ways in which the camera frames and presents the world.
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Photography at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth century, improvements in technology and processing, along with the invention of small handheld cameras such as the Kodak, suddenly made it possible for anyone of middle-class means to take photographs. Many amateurs took up the camera to commemorate family, friends, and special events. Others, such as the sociologist Lewis Hine, used it as a tool for social and political change. Partially in response to the new ease of photography, more serious practitioners in America and Europe banded together to assert the artistic merit of the medium. Called pictorialists, they sought to prove that photography was just as capable of poetic, subjective expression as painting. They freely manipulated their prints to reveal their authorial control, often resulting in painterly effects, and consciously separated themselves from amateur photographers and mechanized processes.
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Photography Between the Wars

In the aftermath of World War I – the first modern, mechanized conflict – sweeping changes transformed photography. Avant-garde painters, graphic designers, and journalists turned to the medium, seeing it as the most effective tool to express the fractured, fast-paced nature of modernity and the new technological culture of the twentieth century. A wide variety of new approaches and techniques flourished during these years, especially in Europe. Photographers adopted radical cropping, unusual angles, disorienting vantage points, abstraction, collage, and darkroom alchemy to achieve what the influential Hungarian teacher László Moholy-Nagy celebrated as the “new vision.” Other photographers, such as the German August Sander or the Americans Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Walker Evans, sought a more rigorous objectivity grounded in a precise examination of the world.
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Postwar Photography

Photography thrived in the decades after World War II, invigorated by new ideas, practices, and expanding venues for circulating and displaying pictures. Immediately after the war, many photographers sought to publish their pictures in illustrated magazines, which prospered during these years. Some, such as Gordon Parks, made photographs highlighting racial, economic, and social disparities. Others, such as Louis Faurer, Sid Grossman, and Robert Frank, turned to the street to address the conditions of modern life in pictures that expose both its beauty and brutality. Using handheld cameras and available light, they focused on the random choreography of sidewalks, making pictures that are often blurred, out of focus, or off-kilter.

In the later 1950s and 1960s a number of photographers pushed these ideas further, mining the intricate social interactions of urban environments. Unlike photographers from the 1930s, these practitioners, such as Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus, sought not to reform American society but to record it in all its complexity, absurdity, and chaos. By the late 1960s and 1970s, other photographers, such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, looked beyond conventional notions of natural beauty to explore the despoliation of the urban and suburban landscape. Their pictures of tract houses, highways, and motels are stripped of any artistic frills, yet they are exquisitely rendered and replete with telling details. Also starting in the 1960s, many conceptual or performance artists working in a variety of media embraced what they perceived to be photography’s neutrality and turned to it as an essential part of their experiments to expand traditional notions of art. In the late 1960s, improvements in color printing techniques led others, such as William Eggleston, to explore the artistic potential of color photography.

 

Edward Steichen. 'An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain' 1921

 

Edward Steichen
An Apple, A Boulder, A Mountain
1921
Platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

After World War I, Steichen became disillusioned with the painterly aesthetic of his earlier work and embarked on a series of experiments to study light, form, and texture. Inverting an apple, he demonstrated how a small object, when seen in a new way, can assume the monumentality and significance of a much larger one. His close-up scrutiny of a natural form closely links this photograph with works by other American modernists of the 1920s, such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Paul Strand. 'People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue' 1916

 

Paul Strand
People, Streets of New York, 83rd and West End Avenue
1916
Platinum print
Image: 24.2 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990

 

Strand was introduced to photography in high school by his teacher Lewis Hine, who instilled in him a strong interest in social issues. In 1907, Hine took his pupil to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York, which launched Strand’s desire to become a fine art photographer. By the early 1910s, influenced by Stieglitz, he began to make clearly delineated portraits, pictures of New York, and nearly abstract still lifes. Strand came to believe that photography was a gift of science to the arts, that it was an art of selection, not translation, and that objectivity was its very essence.

 

American 20th Century. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

American 20th Century
Untitled
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 5.7 x 10 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Robert E. Jackson, 2007

 

Snapshots

After World War I, a parade of technological improvements transformed the practice of photography. With smaller cameras, faster shutter speeds, and more sensitive film emulsions, both amateurs and more serious practitioners could now easily record motion, investigate unexpected angles and points of view, and work in dim light and inclement weather. The amateur’s less staid, more casual approach began to play an important role in the work of modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity and instantaneity, seeking to capture the cacophony and energy of modern life. Blurriness, distorted perspectives, and seemingly haphazard cropping-once considered typical amateur mistakes-were increasingly embraced as part of the modern, vibrant way of picturing the world.

 

Robert Frank. 'City of London' 1951

 

Robert Frank
City of London
1951
Gelatin silver print
23 x 33.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Purchased as a Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1991

 

Robert Frank. 'Woman/Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank
Woman/Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print in bound volume
Image: 35.1 x 25.4 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank Collection, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Robert Frank, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990

 

 

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Frank made several handbound volumes of photographs, exploring different ways to link his pictures through non-narrative sequences. While in Zurich in October 1952, he assembled pictures taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in a book called Black White and Things. With a brief introductory quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” – the photographs are arranged in a sophisticated sequence that uses formal repetition, conceptual contrasts, and, as here, witty juxtapositions to evoke a range of ideas …

While in Zurich in October of 1952, Frank assembled photographs taken in Europe, South America, and the United States in the preceding years into a bound book called Black White and Things. Designed by Frank’s friend Werner Zryd, and with only a brief introductory statement describing the three sections, the photographs appear in a sophisticated sequence that relies on subtle, witty juxtapositions and powerful visual formal arrangements to evoke a wide range of emotions.

Frank made three copies of this book, all identical in size, construction, and sequence. He gave one copy to his father, gave one to Edward Steichen, and kept one. The book that belonged to his father is now in a private collection; Steichen’s copy resides at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and in 1990 Frank gave his copy to the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 21 x 31.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001

 

Roy DeCarava. 'Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.' 1963

 

Roy DeCarava
Mississippi Freedom Marcher, Washington, D.C.
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 33 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999

 

Lee Friedlander. 'New York City' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
New York City
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13.3 x 20.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Trellis Fund, 2001

 

Heir to the tradition of documentary photography established by Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, Friedlander focuses on the American social landscape in photographs that can seem absurd, comical, and even bleak. In dense, complex compositions, he frequently depicts surprising juxtapositions that make the viewer look twice. He has made numerous self-portraits, yet he appears in these pictures in oblique and unexpected ways, for example reflected in a mirror or window. The startling intrusion of Friedlander’s shadow onto the back of a pedestrian’s coat, at once threatening and humorous, slyly exposes the predatory nature of street photography.

 

Giovanni Anselmo. 'Entering the Work' 1971

 

Giovanni Anselmo
Entering the Work
1971
Photographic emulsion on canvas
Image: 49 x 63.5 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Glenstone in honor of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2008

 

 

Conceptual Photography

In the 1960s, many painters and sculptors questioned the traditional emphasis on aesthetics and turned to creating art driven by ideas. Photography’s association with mechanical reproduction appealed to them as they sought to downplay the hand of the artist while promoting his or her role as idea maker. Some conceptual artists, such as Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner, used photographs to explore an interest in perspective, scale, and mathematics. Others turned to photography as a tool to record performances and artistic undertakings, the resulting pictures acting as an integral part of those projects.

Anselmo was a member of the Italian Arte Povera group, which sought to break down the separation of art and life through experimental performances and the use of natural materials such as trees and leaves. To make this work, Anselmo set his camera up with a timed shutter release, and raced into view so that his running figure creates a modest yet heroic impression on the landscape.

 

Robert Adams. 'Colorado Springs, Colorado' 1974

 

Robert Adams
Colorado Springs, Colorado
1974
Gelatin silver print, printed 1983
Image: 15.2 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2006

 

For more than forty years, Adams has recorded the changing American landscape, especially the ongoing settlement of the West. Although he has photographed roads, tract houses, and strip malls that have utterly transformed the landscape, he has also captured the beauty that remains and indeed, that refuses to die, as in his poetic picture of morning fog over California hills. He is convinced, as he wrote in 1974, that “all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty.”

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.02 × 27.31 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 2014

 

One of the most iconic photographs by the pioneering photojournalist Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana was published on the cover of the inaugural issue of Life magazine on November 23, 1936. A striking representation of the machine age, the photograph depicts the stark, massive piers for an elevated highway over the spillway near the dam. The two men at the bottom of the print indicate the piers’ massive scale while revealing the vulnerable position of the worker in the modern industrial landscape.

 

György Kepes. 'Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf' 1937-1938

 

György Kepes
Juliet with Peacock Feather and Red Leaf
1937-1938
Gelatin silver print with gouache
15.7 × 11.6 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, 2014

 

Trained as a painter at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Kepes was an influential designer, educator, aesthetic theorist, and photographer. In 1930 he moved to Berlin, where he worked with László Moholy-Nagy, but eventually settled in Chicago and later Cambridge, Massachusetts. Created soon after his arrival in America, this startling photograph is both an intimate depiction of Kepes’s wife and a study of visual perception. Like the red leaf that seems to float above the image, the peacock feather – its eye carefully lined up with Juliet’s – obscures not only her vision but also the viewer’s ability to see her clearly.

 

Irving Penn. 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950
Platinum/palladium print, 1977
Overall: 55.1 x 37 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Irving Penn, 2002

 

One of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of his time, Penn made pictures marked by refinement, elegance, and clarity. Trained as a painter and designer, he began to photograph in the early 1940s while working at Vogue; more than 150 of his photographs appeared on the cover of the magazine during his long career. A perfectionist, Penn explored earlier printing techniques, such as a late nineteenth-century process that used paper coated with solutions of platinum or palladium rather than silver, to achieve the subtle tonal range he desired.

 

 

National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

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Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

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14
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 15th November 2014 – 21st June 2015

 

The more I see of this man’s work, the more I admire it.

A sense of history, truth and injustice; a sense of beauty, colour and disenfranchisement; above all, a sense of composition and knowing the right time to take a photograph to tell the story. It’s all there, right in front of us, in almost every photograph. Photographs of institutionalised racism and the American apartheid, “the state of being apart”, laid bare for all to see.

From the languid curl and mass of the red sofa on which Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama (1956) sit, which makes them seem very small and which forms the horizontal plane, intersected by the three generations of family photos from top to bottom – youth, age, family … to the blank stare of the nanny holding the white child while the mother looks on in Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia (1956). I love the amorphous mass of black at the right hand side of the this image. From the neon delightful, downward pointing arrow of ‘Colored Entrance’ in Department Store, Mobile, Alabama (1956) to the ‘WHITE ONLY’ obelisk in At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama (1956). And so the story flows on like some great river, unstoppable, unquenchable…

But then we have two of the most intimate moments of beauty that brings me to tears as I write this, the two photographs at the bottom of the posting Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama (1956). Just look at the light that Parks uses, this drawing with light. And then the use of depth of field, colour, composition (horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements) that leads the eye into these images and the utter, what can you say, engagement – no – quiescent knowingness on the children’s faces (like an old soul in a young body). This is a wondrous thing.

Notice how the photographer has pre-exposed the sheet of film so that the highlights in both images do not blow out. Pre-exposing the film lessens the contrast range allowing shadow detail and highlight areas to be held in balance. Also notice how in both images the photographer lets the eye settle in the centre of the image – in the photograph of the boy, the out of focus stairs in the distance; in the photograph of the three girls, the bonnet of the red car – before he then pulls our gaze back and to the right of the image to let the viewer focus on the faces of his subjects. In both photographs we have vertical elements (a door jam and a telegraph post) coming out of the red colours in the images and this vertically is reinforced in the image of the three girls by the rising ladder of the back of the chair. Masterful image making, this push and pull, this bravura art of creation.

Surely, Gordon Parks ranks up there with the greatest photographers of the 20th century.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the High Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Many thanx also to Carlos Eguiguren for sending me his portrait of Gordon Parks taken in New York in 1985, which reveals a wonderful vulnerability within the artist.

 

 

Carlos Eguiguren. 'Gordon Parks, New York' 1985

 

Carlos Eguiguren
Gordon Parks, New York
1985
4 x 5 transparency film
© Carlos Eguiguren

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

This portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton Sr., aged 82 and 70, served as the opening image of Parks’s photo essay. The well-dressed couple stares directly into the camera, asserting their status as patriarch and matriarch of their extensive Southern family. Photography is featured prominently within the image: a framed portrait, made shortly after the couple was married in 1906, hangs on the wall behind them, while family snapshots, including some of the Thorntons’ nine children and nineteen grandchildren, are proudly displayed on the coffee table in the foreground.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia
1956
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Department Store, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Department Store, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Joanne Wilson, one of the Thorntons’ daughters, is shown standing with her niece in front of a department store in downtown Mobile. The pair is impeccably dressed in light, summery frocks. The jarring neon of the “Colored Entrance” sign looming above them clashes with the two young women’s elegant appearance, transforming a casual afternoon outing into an example of overt discrimination. Notice the fallen strap of Wilson’s slip. Though this detail might appear discordant with the rest of the picture, its inclusion may have been strategic: it allowed Parks to emphasize the humanity of his subjects.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

A group of children peers across a chain-link fence into a whites-only playground with a Ferris wheel. Although they had access to a “separate but equal” recreational area in their own neighborhood, this photograph captures the allure of this other, inaccessible space. The children, likely innocent to the cruel implications of their exclusion, longingly reach their hands out to the mysterious and forbidden arena beyond. The pristinely manicured lawn on the other side of the fence contrasts with the overgrowth of weeds in the foreground, suggesting the persistent reality of racial inequality.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

The Jim Crow laws established in the South ensured that public amenities remained racially segregated. These laws applied to schools, public transportation, restaurants, recreational facilities, and even drinking fountains, as shown here. The photograph documents the prevalence of such prejudice, while at the same time capturing a scene of compassion. Here, a gentleman helps one of the young girls reach the fountain to have a refreshing drink of water.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“RARE PHOTOS BY GORDON PARKS PREMIERE AT HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

Featuring works created for Parks’ powerful 1956 Life magazine photo essay that have never been publicly exhibited.

The High Museum of Art presents rarely seen photographs by trailblazing African American artist and filmmaker Gordon Parks in Gordon Parks: Segregation Story on view November 15, 2014 through June 21, 2015.

The exhibition, presented in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, features more than 40 of Parks’ color prints – most on view for the first time – created for a powerful and influential 1950s Life magazine article documenting the lives of an extended African-American family in segregated Alabama. The series represents one of Parks’ earliest social documentary studies on color film. The High will acquire 12 of the color prints featured in the exhibition, supplementing the two Parks works – both gelatin silver prints – already owned by the High. These works augment the Museum’s extensive collection of Civil Rights era photography, one of the most significant in the nation.

Following the publication of the Life article, many of the photos Parks shot for the essay were stored away and presumed lost for more than 50 years until they were rediscovered in 2012 (six years after Parks’ death). Though a small selection of these images has been previously exhibited, the High’s presentation brings to light a significant number that have never before been displayed publicly. As the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, Parks published some of the 20th century’s most iconic social justice-themed photo essays and became widely celebrated for his black-and-white photography, the dominant medium of his era. The photographs that Parks created for Life’s 1956 photo essay The Restraints: Open and Hidden are remarkable for their vibrant color and their intimate exploration of shared human experience.

The images provide a unique perspective on one of America’s most controversial periods. Rather than capturing momentous scenes of the struggle for civil rights, Parks portrayed a family going about daily life in unjust circumstances. Parks believed empathy to be vital to the undoing of racial prejudice. His corresponding approach to the Life project eschewed the journalistic norms of the day and represented an important chapter in Parks’ career-long endeavor to use the camera as his “weapon of choice” for social change. The Restraints: Open and Hidden gave Parks his first national platform to challenge segregation. The images he created offered a deeper look at life in the Jim Crow South, transcending stereotypes to reveal a common humanity.

“Parks’ images brought the segregated South to the public consciousness in a very poignant way – not only in color, but also through the eyes of one of the century’s most influential documentarians,” said Brett Abbott, exhibition curator and Keough Family curator of photography and head of collections at the High. “To present these works in Atlanta, one of the centers of the Civil Rights Movement, is a rare and exciting opportunity for the High. It is also a privilege to add Parks’ images to our collection, which will allow the High to share his unique perspective with generations of visitors to come.”
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A Day in the Life

For The Restraints: Open and Hidden, Parks focused on the everyday activities of the related Thornton, Causey and Tanner families in and near Mobile, Ala. The images present scenes of Sunday church services, family gatherings, farm work, domestic duties, child’s play, window shopping and at-home haircuts – all in the context of the restraints of the Jim Crow South.

Key images in the exhibition include:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile Alabama (1956)
  • Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama (1956)
  • Department Store, Mobile Alabama (1956)
  • Airline Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia (1956)
  • Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama (1956)
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About Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas. He grew up poor and faced racial discrimination. Parks was initially drawn to photography as a young man after seeing images of migrant workers published in a magazine, which made him realize photography’s potential to alter perspective. Parks became a self-taught photographer after purchasing his first camera at a pawnshop, and he honed his skills during a stint as a society and fashion photographer in Chicago. After earning a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for his gritty photographs of that city’s South Side, the Farm Security Administration hired Parks in the early 1940s to document the current social conditions of the nation.

By 1944, Parks was the only black photographer working for Vogue, and he joined Life magazine in 1948 as the first African-American staff photographer. In 1970, Parks co-founded Essence magazine and served as the editorial director for the first three years of its publication. Parks later became Hollywood’s first major black director when he released the film adaptation of his autobiographical novel The Learning Tree, for which he also composed the musical score, however he is best known as the director of the 1971 hit movie Shaft. Parks received the National Medal of Arts in 1988 and received more than 50 honorary doctorates over the course of his career. He died in 2006.
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About The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” The Foundation is a division of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.”

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Store Front, Mobile Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Store Front, Mobile Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Willie Causey, Jr., with Gun During Violence in Alabama, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Black Classroom, Shady Grove, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Black Classroom, Shady Grove, Alabama
1956
Promised gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Although this photograph was taken in the 1950s, the wood-paneled interior, with a wood-burning stove at its center, is reminiscent of an earlier time. Parks’s photograph of the segregated schoolhouse, here emptied of its students, evokes both the poetic and prosaic: springtime sunlight streams through the missing slats on the doors, while scraps of paper, rope, and other detritus litter the uneven floorboards. One of the Thorntons’ daughters, Allie Lee Causey, taught elementary-grade students in this dilapidated, four-room structure. After Parks’s article was published in Life, Mrs. Causey, who was quoted speaking out against segregation, was suspended from her job. She never held a teaching position again.

 

 

High Museum of Art
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N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309

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Thursday – 10 am – 5 pm
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Saturday – 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday – 12 noon – 5 pm

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10
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem MA

Exhibition dates: 7th March – 21st June 2015

 

I couldn’t resist. Another posting on the work of this extraordinary artist. I particularly like The Bewitched Bee (1986) and Who is Sidney Sherman?, replete with blond wig and fag hanging out of the mouth accompanied by very funny and perceptive text.

There is also a very interesting piece of writing on life and photography included in the posting, Real Dreams, from 1976.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Bewitched Bee
1986
Thirteen gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text
5 x 7 in. (12.7 x 17.8 cm)

 

Michals uses photography to spin what amount to Ovidian legends, as in The Bewitched Bee, a sequence of thirteen images in which a young man stung by a bee grows antlers, wanders through the woods, and finally drowns in a sea of leaves.

 

 

“The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals, the first major U.S. retrospective of the artist’s work in 20 years.  Through image sequences, multiple exposures and the overlay of handwritten messages and pigment, Duane Michals (b. 1932) pioneered distinctly new ways of creating and considering photographs. The last half-century of this artist’s prolific, trailblazing career is explored in a carefully selected presentation of more than 65 works. Organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art, Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is on view at PEM from March 7 through June 21, 2015.

Michals’ career has been fueled by his enduring curiosity about the human experience and has been defined by its continual creative exploration and reinvention. A self-taught practitioner, he emerged on the photographic scene in the 1960s, at a time when Ansel Adams’ austere mountain ranges and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic street scenes ruled the day. Rather than journey outward to depict nature or patiently wait to capture a decisive moment, Michals sought a new method of expression for his  psychological and imaginative vision. He worked with friends and acquaintances to stage sequences of photographs that sought to express things that cannot be seen directly, such as metaphysical  reflections on the passage from life to death. Later, he added handwritten text to the images’ margins, further challenging the prevailing sanctity of the single pure photograph.

“For Michals, the need to authentically express himself trumped any interest in being accepted into the mainstream art world. His work charts fresh territory, creatively mixing philosophical rigor, surreal witticism and childlike playfulness with an unabashed sentimentality and nostalgic longing,” says Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense. “In Michals’ photographs we encounter an uncommon vulnerability as well as a resolute search for meaning and human connection.”

Raised in a steelworking family outside of Pittsburgh, Michals has explored familial and personal identity as a recurring theme. In a rarely exhibited 30-photograph sequence titled The House I Once Called Home (2003), the artist explores the abandoned three-story brick house where he spent his childhood. Each image is paired with poetic verse of remembrance and reflection to create an intimate photographic memoir and metaphysical scrapbook. Recent photographs are superimposed on historic images as the series toggles through time, space and memory. The home’s current dilapidated state contrasts with reveries of a formerly bustling family home and a rumination on the passage of time and the inevitable succession of generations.

Michals’ lifelong adventure with photography began on a trip to Russia in 1958. Borrowing a camera from a friend, he discovered a way to interact with people and tell stories. Shortly thereafter, Michals moved to New York City where he supported himself through work as a commercial photographer for Vogue, Esquire and Life magazines and took portraits of notable artists including Meryl Streep, Sting and Willem de Kooning. In the 1960s, Michals began his earliest experimental narrative sequences that were exhibited in 1970 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The curator of the show, William Burback,  noted that “the mysterious situations Michals invents are posed and theatrical. Yet, they are so common to the urban condition that we have the illusion of remembering scenes and events experienced for the first time.” Later he began adding text to his photographs such as This Photograph Is My Proof (from 1974), which allowed him to tell stories and address feelings that could not be fully explored by photography alone.

Rather than take cues from his photographic contemporaries, Michals considers surrealist painters such as René Magritte, Balthus and Giorgio de Chirico to be his artistic heroes. Scratching out universal truths from the mystery of human experience, Michals has explained that his works are, “about questions, they are not about answers.” Over the decades, he has been at the forefront of exploring sexual identity and the struggles for gay rights. In his 1976 work, The Unfortunate Man, a model arches his back in anguish while the accompanying text reads: The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved. It was declared illegal by the law. Slowly his fingers became his toes and his hands gradually became feet. He wore shoes on his hands to disguise his pain. It never occurs to him to break the law.

One of the constants of Michals’ career – from his classic narrative sequences to his more recent series of hand-painted tintypes – has been his preference for intimately scaled images with tactile surface treatments. These works, with their universal themes of memory, dreams, desire and mortality, draw the viewer closer and insist on their full engagement at an emotional level. Commenting on why Michals includes handwritten text on his images, he has said: “I love the intimacy of the hand. It’s like listening to someone speaking.”

Press release from the PEM website

 

Duane Michals. 'Andy Warhol' 1972

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Andy Warhol
1972
© Duane Michals; The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. From the series 'I Remember Pittsburgh' 1982

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
From the series I Remember Pittsburgh
1982
Nine gelatin silver prints
Greenwald Photograph Fund and Fine Arts Discretionary Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Sting' 1982

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Sting
1982
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery and the artist

 

Duane Michals. 'The Great Photographers of My Time #2' 1991

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Great Photographers of My Time #2
1991
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'The Unfortunate Man' 1976

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Unfortunate Man
1976
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte at His Easel' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Magritte at His Easel
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text

 

Duane Michals. 'Georgette and Rene Magritte' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Georgette and Rene Magritte
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text

 

Duane Michals. 'Self Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday' 1972

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Self Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday
1972
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Primavera' 1984

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Primavera
1984
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

 

Duane Michals. From the series 'The House I Once Called Home' 2002

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
From the series The House I Once Called Home
2002
Thirty gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Randy Duchaine. 'Duane Michals, portrait with red nose' 2015

 

Randy Duchaine
Duane Michals, portrait with red nose
2015
Photo courtesy of Randy Duchaine

 

 

Real Dreams

by Duane Michals

Nothing is what I once thought it was. You are not what you think you are. You are nothing you can imagine.
I am a short story writer. Most often photographers are reporters. I am an orange.
They are apples.
One of the biggest cliches in photography is to say that he is a personal photographer.
We must touch each other to stay human. Touch is the only thing that can save us.
I use photography to help me explain my experiences to myself.
Some photographers literally shoot everything that moves, hoping somehow, in all that confusion to discover a photograph. The difference between the artist and the amateur is a sense of control. There is a great power in knowing exactly what you are doing, even when you don’t know.
We are all stars. We just don’t know it.
I practice being Duane Michals everyday – that’s all I know.
Most portraits are lies. People are rarely what they appear to be, especially in front of a camera. You might know me your entire lifetime and never reveal yourself to me. To interpret wrinkles as character is insult not insight.
Was there ever a 1956? What did I do in June 1971? What happened in 1956? I think that there was 1932.
The history of photography has not been written. You will write it. No one has photographed a nude until you have. No one has photographed a sequence or green pepper till you have. Nothing has been done until you do it.
There are no answers anymore.
Get (Edward) Weston off your back, forget (Diane) Arbus, (Robert) Frank, (Ansel) Adams, (Clarence) White, don’t look at photographs. Kill the Buddha.
I am my own hero.
Photography books have titles like “The Photographer’s Eye” or “The Vision of So and So” or “Seeing Photographers” – as if photographers didn’t have minds, only eyes.
Everything is going; yes, even you must go. Right now you are going. Right now!
I find myself talking to photographs. I see a photograph of a women and I ask, “Is that all you’re going to tell me?” I can see the long hair and costume. Is she a witch, a mother, kind, consuming? Does she believe anything? I want more.
As I write this, at this moment, thousands of people are dying, thousands are being born, the earth is totally alive with Spring lust, stars are exploding – my God!
It is the great unknowing that we all live in, that we call life, that I find overwhelming. And I think that I will never know, never.
I am the limits of my work. You are the limits of yours. This is a journey. We do not live here. When I say “I,” I mean We.
As soon as I say “now,” it becomes “then.”
It is very easy for photographers to fake. Just go out and photograph twenty Pizza Huts.
That’s all there is, change.
Some influences open doors and liberate, other influences close doors and suffocate.
Photography, particularly, is suffocating.
I believe in the imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.

Photographers tell me what I already know. The recognition of the beautiful, bizarre, or boring (the three photographic B’s) is not the problem. You would have to be a refrigerator not to be moved by the beauty of Yosemite. The problem is to deal with one’s total experience, emotionally as well as visually. Photographers should tell me what I don’t know.
I find the limitations of still photography enormous. One must redefine photography, as it is necessary to redefine one’s life in terms of one’s own needs. Each generation should redefine the language and all its experiences in terms of itself.
The key word is expression – not photography, not painting, not writing. You are the event, not your parents, friends, gurus. Only you can teach yourself.
Everything we experience is in our mind. It is all mind. What you are reading now, hearing now, feeling now…
We’re all afraid of dying. We’ve already died. Look at your high school graduation picture, she’s dead! Just now, you died.
It is essential for me to be silly. If one is serious, one must also be foolish, to survive.
Trying to communicate one true feeling on my own terms is a constant problem.
I am compulsive in my preoccupation with death. In some way I am preparing myself for my own death. Yet if someone would put a gun to my stomach, I would pee my pants. All my metaphysical speculations would get wet.
When you look at my photographs, you are looking at my thoughts.
I am very attracted to the person of Stefan Mihal. He is the man I never became. We are complete opposites, although we were born at the same moment. If we should meet, we would explode. We are like matter and anti-matter. He is my shadow. I saved myself from him.
I only photograph what I know about, my life, I do not presume to know who blacks are or what they feel or bored suburban families or transvestites. And I never believe photographs of them staring into a camera.
I take nothing for granted. I can count on nothing. I am not sure where I once was certain. I don’t know what will be left by the time I’m fifty. That’s ok.
The sight of these words on a page pleases me. It’s like some sort of trail I’ve left behind, clues, strange marks made, that prove I was once here.
When I was about 9 ( the year my brother Tim was born), I would sit on the edge of my bed and be very still, long after the family had gone to sleep. I would try to find the “I” of “me.” I thought that if I would be very quiet, I might find that place inside that was “I.” I am still looking.
We are all a mental construction. Change our chemistry, our point of reference and reality changes.
I am a professional photographer and a spiritual dilettante: I would prefer to be a professional mystic and a dilettante photographer.
I remember the first time I sensed being lonely. I was about five at the time, living with my grandmother, and my best friend Art went away with his family. The afternoon loomed long and empty. I missed someone, I was empty. There was a lacking.
Only I am my enemy. My fear can stop me.
Never try to be an artist. Just do your work and if the work is true, it will become art.
“We must pay attention so as not to be deceived by the familiar.”
Things are what we will them to become.
It is important to stay vulnerable. To permit pain, to make mistakes, not to be intimidated by touching. Mistakes are very important, if we’re alert.
None of my photographs would have existed without my inventing them. These are not accidental encounters, witnessed on the street. I am responsible whether (Henri Cartier-) Bresson was there or not, those people would have had their picnic along the Seine. They were historical events.

There is not one photography. There is no photography. The only value judgment is the work itself. Does it move, touch, fill me?
Any one who defines photography frightens me. They are photo-fascists, the limiters.
They know! We must struggle to free ourselves constantly, not only from ourselves but especially from those who know.
It seems I am waiting for something to happen: and when it does, it will be difficult for me to imagine that I had ever been the person who is writing this. I will be someone else.
I am not interested in the perfect print. I am interested in a perfect idea. Perfect ideas survive bad prints and cheap reproductions. They can change our lives.
(If Duane wants to take pictures, he should do a study of laborers and farm workers and unwed mothers and make some social changes. Do something else – something noble. That’s what I’d do. – Stefan Mihal)
We have a way of making the most extraordinary experiences ordinary. We actually work at destroying miracles.
The best artists give themselves in their work. (Rene) Magritte was a gift, (Eugene) Atget, (Thomas) Eakins, (Odilon) Redon, (Bill) Brandt, (August) Sander(s), Balthus, (Giorgio) De Chirico, (Walt) Whitman, Cavafy. That’s all that there is to give. I am my gift to you, and you are your gift to me.
Most photographers photograph other people’s lives, seldom their own.
We must free ourselves to become what we are.
Photography describes to well.
Our parents protect us from death. But when they die, there is no one to stand between us and death.
I once thought that time was horizontal, and if I looked straight ahead, I could see next Thursday. Now I think it is vertical and diagonal and perpendicular. It’s all very confusing.
People believe in the reality of photographs, but not in the reality of paintings. That gives photographers an enormous advantage. Unfortunately, photographers also believe in the reality of photographs.
The most important sentences usually contain two words: I want, I love, I’m sorry, please forgive, please touch, I need, I care, thank you.
Everything is subject for photography, especially the difficult things of our lives: anxiety, childhood hurts, lust, nightmares. The things that cannot be seen are the most significant. They cannot be photographed, only suggested.
I would like to talk to William Blake and Thomas Eakins.

Duane Michals June 20, 1976 September 1, 1976

 

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Madame Schrödinger’s Cat
1998
From the series Quantum
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

 

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Paradise Regained
1968
Courtesy of the artis
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

“Everything I did grew out of my frustration with the medium, the silence of the still picture,” he says, so he found the “wiggle room.” With sequences, he could add drama before and after the decisive moment. Having his subjects move created ethereal images and an awareness of time’s passage. Layering negatives challenged preconceptions.

Language, Michals says, has always been associated with photographs. A newspaper caption might tell you that 20 inches of snow fell on Boston or Vladimir Putin arrived by plane at the Olympics. “I write about what cannot be seen,” he says. “My text picks up where the photograph fails. This Photograph is my Proof, a “nice picture” of his cousin and new bride at Michals’ grandmother’s house, is metaphorically “out of focus” until Michals adds the text.

Michals uses a pen nib and ink to enhance his visual stories, writing in cursive or all capitals depending on his mood. “I like the handwriting, the texture.” He also collects original manuscripts. He describes himself as an intimist, a lover of diaries, books (he has three libraries at home in New York City), small pictures and intimacy. “My photographs whisper into the viewers’ eyes rather than shout. They say, ‘Come closer. I’ll tell you a secret.'”

Michals says he’s taken many professional risks, especially when presenting issues born of the gay community like isolation and illegal behavior. “Remember, 20 or 30 years ago, marriage wasn’t even on the table,” he says. (Michals and Fred Gorrée, his partner of nearly 56 years, married in 2011, just days after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York.)

Unlike Robert Mapplethorpe, whom he says is more hardcore, Michals tends toward sentimentality and the legitimacy of the love between people of the same gender. “I’m not a typical gay person any more than I’m a typical person or photographer.”

That disdain for following established paths might explain why Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson are not among his heroes. “My sources for inspiration were anybody who contradicted my mind and opened my imagination,” Michals says, like Lewis Carroll, Magritte, Joseph Cornell and surrealists in general. “Ansel Adams did not open my imagination. He dealt with Yosemite and sunsets. I was interested in metaphysical ideas, what happens when you die.”

Extract from Lisa Kosan. “Meet Duane Michals.” 2nd March 2015

 

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Who is Sidney Sherman?
2000
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

 

Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970-3783 USA
T: 978-745-9500, 866-745-1876

Opening hours:
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm.
Closed Mondays

Peabody Essex Museum website

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03
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860′ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 25th February – 7th June 2015

Curators: Carol Jacobi, Curator, British Art 1850-1915, Tate Britain, Simon Baker, Curator, Photography and International Art, Tate, and Hannah Lyons, Assistant Curator, 1850-1915, Tate

 

 

“Salt prints are the very first photographs on paper that still exist today. Made in the first twenty years of photography, they are the results of esoteric knowledge and skill. Individual, sometimes unpredictable, and ultimately magical, the chemical capacity to ‘fix a shadow’ on light sensitive paper, coated in silver salts, was believed to be a kind of alchemy, where nature drew its own picture.”

 

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These salted paper prints, one of the earliest forms of photography, are astonishing. The delicacy and nuance of shade and feeling; possessing a soft, luxurious aesthetic that is astounding today… but just imagine looking at these images at the time they were taken. The shock, the recognition, the delight and the romance of seeing aspects of your life and the world around you, near and far, drawn in light – having a physical presence in the photographs before your eyes. The aura of the original, the photograph AS referent – unlike contemporary media saturated society where the image IS reality, endlessly repeated, divorced from the world in which we live.

The posting has taken a long time to put together, from researching the birth and death dates of the artists (not supplied), to finding illustrative texts and biographies of each artist (some translated from the French). But the real joy in assembling this posting is when I sequence the images. How much pleasure does it give to be able to sequence Auguste Salzmann’s Terra Cotta Statuettes from Camiros, Rhodes followed by three Newhaven fishermen rogues (you wouldn’t want to meet them on a dark night!), and then the totally different feel of Fenton’s Group of Croat Chiefs. Follow this up with one of the most stunning photographs of the posting, Roger Fenton’s portrait Captain Mottram Andrews, 28th Regiment (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot of 1855 and you have a magnificent, almost revelatory, quaternity/eternity.

Marcus

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

 

 

'Salt and Silver' at Tate Britain

 

 

This is the first exhibition in Britain devoted to salted paper prints, one of the earliest forms of photography. A uniquely British invention, unveiled by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839, salt prints spread across the globe, creating a new visual language of the modern moment. This revolutionary technique transformed subjects from still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of daily life into images with their own specific aesthetic: a soft, luxurious effect particular to this photographic process. The few salt prints that survive are seldom seen due to their fragility, and so this exhibition, a collaboration with the Wilson Centre for Photography, is a singular opportunity to see the rarest and best early photographs of this type in the world.

“The technique went as follows: coat paper with a silver nitrate solution and expose it to light, thus producing a faint silver image. He later realized if you apply salt to the paper first and then spread on the silver nitrate solution the resulting image is much sharper. His resulting photos, ranging in color from sepia to violet, mulberry, terracotta, silver-grey, and charcoal-black, were shadowy and soft, yet able to pick up on details that previously went overlooked – details like the texture of a horse’s fur, or the delicate silhouette of a tree.” (Huffington Post)

 

Paul Marés. 'Ox cart in Brittany' c. 1857

 

Paul Marés
Ox cart in Brittany
c. 1857
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

One of the most beautiful photographs in this exhibition is Paul Marès Ox Cart, Brittany, c. 1857. At first it seems a picturesque scene of bucolic tranquillity, the abandoned cart an exquisite study in light and tone. But on the cottage wall are painted two white crosses, a warning – apparently even as recently as the 19th century – to passers-by that the household was afflicted by some deadly disease. Photography’s ability to indiscriminately aestheticise is a dilemma that has continued to present itself ever since, especially in the fields of reportage and war photography.

Florence Hallett. “Salt and Silver, Tate Britain: Early photographs that brim with the spirit of experimentation,” on The Arts Desk website, Wednesday, 25 February 2015

 

Calvert Jones. 'The Fruit Sellers' c. 1843

 

Calvert Jones (Welsh, December 4, 1804 – November 7, 1877)
The Fruit Sellers
c. 1843
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

David Hill and Robert Adamson. 'Five Newhaven fisherwomen' c. 1844

 

David Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
Five Newhaven fisherwomen

c. 1844
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

David Hill and Robert Adamson. 'The Gowan [Margaret and Mary Cavendish]' c. 1843-1848

 

David Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
The Gowan [Margaret and Mary Cavendish]
c. 1843-184
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

 

“Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 is the first major exhibition in Britain devoted to salt prints, the earliest form of paper photography. The exhibition features some of the rarest and best early photographs in the world, depicting daily activities and historic moments of the mid 19th century. The ninety photographs on display are among the few fragile salt prints that survive and are seldom shown in public. Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 opens at Tate Britain on 25 February 2015.

In the 1840s and 50s, the salt print technique introduced a revolutionary new way of creating photographs on paper. It was invented in Britain and spread across the globe through the work of British and international photographers – artists, scientists, adventurers and entrepreneurs of their day. They captured historic moments and places with an immediacy not previously seen, from William Henry Fox Talbot’s images of a modern Paris street and Nelson’s Column under construction, to Linnaeus Tripe’s dramatic views of Puthu Mundapum, India and Auguste Salzmann’s uncanny studies of statues in Greece.

In portraiture, the faces of beloved children, celebrities, rich and poor were recorded as photographers sought to catch the human presence. Highlights include Fox Talbot’s shy and haunting photograph of his daughter Ela in 1842 to Nadar’s images of sophisticated Parisians and Roger Fenton’s shell-shocked soldiers in the Crimean war.

William Henry Fox Talbot unveiled this ground-breaking new process in 1839. He made the world’s first photographic prints by soaking paper in silver iodide salts to register a negative image which, when photographed again, created permanent paper positives. These hand-made photographs ranged in colour from sepia to violet, mulberry, terracotta, silver-grey, and charcoal-black and often had details drawn on like the swishing tail of a horse. Still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of modern life were transformed into luxurious, soft, chiaroscuro images. The bold contrasts between light and dark in the images turned sooty shadows into solid shapes. Bold contrasts between light and dark turned shadows into abstract shapes and movement was often captured as a misty blur. The camera drew attention to previously overlooked details, such as the personal outline of trees and expressive textures of fabric.

In the exciting Victorian age of modern invention and innovation, the phenomenon of salt prints was quickly replaced by new photographic processes. The exhibition shows how, for a short but significant time, the British invention of salt prints swept the world and created a new visual experience.

Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860 is organised in collaboration with the Wilson Centre for photography. It is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator, British Art 1850-1915, Tate Britain, Simon Baker, Curator, Photography and International Art, Tate, and Hannah Lyons, Assistant Curator, 1850-1915, Tate. ‘Salt and Silver’ – Early Photography 1840-1860 is published by Mack to coincide with the exhibition and will be accompanied by a programme of talks and events in the gallery.”

Press release from the Tate website

 

William Fox Talbot. 'Scene in a Paris Street' 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot  (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Scene in a Paris Street
1843
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

By 1841, Talbot had dramatically reduced, from many minutes to just seconds, the exposure time needed to produce a negative, and on a trip to Paris to publicise his new calotype process he took a picture from his hotel room window, an instinctive piece of photojournalism. The buildings opposite are rendered in precise and exquisite detail, the black and white stripes of the shutters neat alternations of light and shade. In contrast to the solidity of the buildings are the carriages waiting on the street below; the wheels, immobile, are seen in perfect clarity, while the skittish horses are no more than ghostly blurs.

Florence Hallett. “Salt and Silver, Tate Britain: Early photographs that brim with the spirit of experimentation,” on The Arts Desk website, Wednesday, 25 February 2015

 

James Robertson and Felice Beato. 'Pyramids at Giza' 1857

 

James Robertson (British, 1813 – 1888) and Felice Beato (Italian-British, 1832 – 29 January 1909)
Pyramids at Giza
1857
Photograph, salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

 

James Robertson (1813 – 1888) was an English photographer and gem and coin engraver who worked in the Mediterranean region, the Crimea and possibly India. He was one of the first war photographers.

Robertson was born in Middlesex in 1813. He trained as an engraver under Wyon (probably William Wyon) and in 1843 he began work as an “engraver and die-stamper” at the Imperial Ottoman Mint in Constantinople. It is believed that Robertson became interested in photography while in the Ottoman Empire in the 1840s.

In 1853 he began photographing with British photographer Felice Beato and the two formed a partnership called Robertson & Beato either in that year or in 1854 when Robertson opened a photographic studio in Pera, Constantinople. Robertson and Beato were joined by Beato’s brother, Antonio on photographic expeditions to Malta in 1854 or 1856 and to Greece and Jerusalem in 1857. A number of the firm’s photographs produced in the 1850s are signed Robertson, Beato and Co. and it is believed that “and Co.” refers to Antonio.

In late 1854 or early 1855 Robertson married the Beato brothers’ sister, Leonilda Maria Matilda Beato. They had three daughters, Catherine Grace (born in 1856), Edith Marcon Vergence (born in 1859) and Helen Beatruc (born in 1861). In 1855 Robertson and Felice Beato travelled to Balaklava, Crimea where they took over reportage of the Crimean War from Roger Fenton. They photographed the fall of Sevastopol in September 1855. Some sources have suggested that in 1857 both Robertson and Felice Beato went to India to photograph the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion, but it is more probable that Beato travelled there alone. Around this time Robertson did photograph in Palestine, Syria, Malta, and Cairo with either or both of the Beato brothers.

In 1860, after Felice Beato left for China to photograph the Second Opium War and Antonio Beato went to Egypt, Robertson briefly teamed up with Charles Shepherd back in Constantinople. The firm of Robertson & Beato was dissolved in 1867, having produced images – including remarkable multiple-print panoramas – of Malta, Greece, Turkey, Damascus, Jerusalem, Egypt, the Crimea and India. Robertson possibly gave up photography in the 1860s; he returned to work as an engraver at the Imperial Ottoman Mint until his retirement in 1881. In that year he left for Yokohama, Japan, arriving in January 1882. He died there in April 1888. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

John Beasly Greene. 'El Assasif, Porte de Granit Rose, No 2, Thébes' 1854

 

John Beasly Greene (French-American, 1832 – 1856)
El Assasif, Porte de Granit Rose, No 2, Thébes
1854
Salted paper print from a waxed plate negative

 

A French-born archeologist based in Paris and a student of photographer Gustave Le Gray, John Beasly Greene became a founding member of the Société Française de Photographie and belonged to two societies devoted to Eastern studies. Greene became the first practicing archaeologist to use photography, although he was careful to keep separate files for his documentary images and his more artistic landscapes.

In 1853 at the age of nineteen, Greene embarked on an expedition to Egypt and Nubia to photograph the land and document the monuments and their inscriptions. Upon his return, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard published an album of ninety-four of these photographs. Greene returned to Egypt the following year to photograph and to excavate at Medinet-Habu in Upper Egypt, the site of the mortuary temple built by Ramses III. In 1855 he published his photographs of the excavation there. The following year, Greene died in Egypt, perhaps of tuberculosis, and his negatives were given to his friend, fellow Egyptologist and photographer Théodule Devéria. (Text from the Getty Museum website)

 

James Robertson. 'Base of the Obelisk of Theodosius, Constantinople' 1855

 

James Robertson (British, 1813 – 1888)
Base of the Obelisk of Theodosius, Constantinople
1855
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Nelson’s Column Under Construction, Trafalgar Square' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Nelson’s Column Under Construction, Trafalgar Square
1844
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Nelson's Column Under Construction, Trafalgar Square' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Nelson’s Column Under Construction, Trafalgar Square
1844
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

 

Exhibition of intriguing images that charts the birth of photography

Another week, another photography show about death. It’s not officially about death, mind you; it’s officially about the years 1840 to 1860, when photographers made their images on paper sensitised with silver salts. The process was quickly superseded, but the pictures created this way have a beautiful artistic softness and subtlety of tone, quite apart from the fact that every single new photograph that succeeded represented a huge leap forward in the development of the medium. You see these early practitioners start to grasp the scope of what might be possible. Their subjects change, from ivy-covered walls and carefully posed family groups to more exotic landscapes and subjects: Egypt, India, the poor, war.

By the time you get to Roger Fenton’s portrait Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards of 1855 you have an inkling of how photography is changing how we understand life, for ever. Balgonie is 23. He looks 50. His face is harrowed by his service in the Crimean War, his eyes bagged with fatigue, fear and what the future may hold. He survived the conflict, but was broken by it, dying at home two years after this picture was taken. That is yet to come: for now, he is alive.

This sense of destiny bound within a picture created in a moment is what is new about photography, and you start to see it everywhere, not just in the images of war. It’s in William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Great Elm at Lacock: a huge tree against a mottled sky, battered by storms. It’s in John Beasly Greene’s near-abstract images of Egyptian statuary, chipped, cracked, alien. And it’s in the portraits of Newhaven fisherwomen by DO Hill and Robert Adamson (their cry was ‘It’s not fish, it’s men’s lives’). In a world where death is always imminent, photography arrives as the perfect way to preserve life, and the perfect way to leave your mark, however fleeting.

Chris Waywell. “Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860,” on the Time Out London website

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet. 'Horse and Groom' 1855

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet (French – Lyon, 31 January 1814 – Charly, 12 August 1889)
Horse and Groom
1855
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

Around 1850 Frénet meets in Lyon personalities involved in the nascent photography, and he has to discover this technique to reproduce the frescoes he painted in Ainay. Curious, he is passionate about this new medium that offers him a respite space in the setbacks he suffers with his painting.

Frénet applies the stereotyped views taken of the time involving heavy stagings and is one of the first to practice the instant, the familiar and intimate subject. Five years before Nadar he produces psychological portraits and engages in close-up. He sees photography as an art, that opinion has emerged in the first issue of the magazine La Lumière (The Light), body of the young and ephemeral gravure company founded in 1851. Frénet open a professional practice photography in 1866 and 1867 in Lyon. Unknown to the general public, his photographic work was discovered in 2000 at the sale of his photographic collection, many parts are purchased by the Musée d’Orsay. (Translated from the French Wikipedia)

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Cloisters, Lacock Abbey' 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Cloisters, Lacock Abbey
1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877) was a British scientist, inventor and photography pioneer who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, precursors to photographic processes of the later 19th and 20th centuries. Talbot was also a noted photographer who made major contributions to the development of photography as an artistic medium. He published The Pencil of Nature (1844), which was illustrated with original prints from some of his calotype negatives. His work in the 1840s on photo-mechanical reproduction led to the creation of the photoglyphic engraving process, the precursor to photogravure. Talbot is also remembered as the holder of a patent which, some say, affected the early development of commercial photography in Britain. Additionally, he made some important early photographs of Oxford, Paris, Reading, and York.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Study of China' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Study of China
1844
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Plaster Bust of Patroclus' before February 1846

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
Plaster Bust of Patroclus
before February 1846
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

Roger Fenton. 'Cossack Bay, Balaclava' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Cossack Bay, Balaclava
1855

 

Roger Fenton. It is likely that in autumn 1854, as the Crimean War grabbed the attention of the British public, that some powerful friends and patrons – among them Prince Albert and Duke of Newcastle, secretary of state for war – urged Fenton to go the Crimea to record the happenings. He set off aboard HMS Hecla in February, landed at Balaklava on 8 March and remained there until 22 June. The resulting photographs may have been intended to offset the general unpopularity of the war among the British people, and to counteract the occasionally critical reporting of correspondent William Howard Russell of The Times. The photographs were to be converted into woodblocks and published in the less critical Illustrated London News. Fenton took Marcus Sparling as his photographic assistant, a servant known as William and a large horse-drawn van of equipment…

Despite summer high temperatures, breaking several ribs in a fall, suffering from cholera and also becoming depressed at the carnage he witnessed at Sebastopol, in all Fenton managed to make over 350 usable large format negatives. An exhibition of 312 prints was soon on show in London and at various places across the nation in the months that followed. Fenton also showed them to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and also to Emperor Napoleon III in Paris. Nevertheless, sales were not as good as expected. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Auguste Salzmann. 'Terra Cotta Statuettes from Camiros, Rhodes' 1863

 

Auguste Salzmann (French, born April 14, 1824 in Ribeauvillé (Alsace) and died February 24, 1872 in Paris)
Terra Cotta Statuettes from Camiros, Rhodes
1863
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

David Hill and Robert Adamson. 'Newhaven fishermen' c. 1845

 

David Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
Newhaven fishermen
c. 1845
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

Roger Fenton. 'Group of Croat Chiefs' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Group of Croat Chiefs
1855
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

Roger Fenton. 'Captain Mottram Andrews, 28th Regiment (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Captain Mottram Andrews, 28th Regiment (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot
1855
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

Roger Fenton. 'Cantiniére' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Cantiniére
1855
Salted paper print from a glass plate negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

A woman who carries a canteen for soldiers; a vivandière.

 

Roger Fenton. 'Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards
1855
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

Roger Fenton. 'Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards
1855
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

 

If I had to choose a figure it would be the Franco-American, archaeological photographer John Beasly Greene. His career was short and dangerous, he died at 24, but he challenged the trend towards clarity that dominated his field. Instead, he used the limits of the medium – burn-out, shadow, halation and the beautiful grainy texture of the print itself – to explore the poetic ambiguity of Egyptian sites.

This revolutionary photographic process transformed subjects, still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of daily life into images. It brings it’s own luxurious aesthetic, soft textures, matt appearance and deep rich red tones, the variations seen throughout this exhibition is fascinating to observe. It’s also an incredible opportunity to view the original prints in an exhibition format, which has never been done before on a scale like this before.

The process starts with dipping writing paper in a solution of common salt, then partly drying it, coating it with silver nitrate, then drying it again, before applying further coats of silver nitrate, William Henry Fox Talbot pioneered what became known as the salt print and the world’s first photographic print! The specifically soft and luxurious aesthetic became an icon of modern visual language.

The few salt prints that survive are rarely seen due to their fragility. This exhibition is extremely important to recognise this historical process as well as a fantastic opportunity to see the rarest and best up close of early photographs of this type in the world.

Anon. “Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860,” on the Films not dead website

 

Félix Nadar. 'Mariette' c. 1855

 

Félix Nadar (French, 6 April 1820 – 23 March 1910)
Mariette
c. 1855
Photograph, salted paper print from a glass plate negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon]. Tournachon’s nickname, Nadar, derived from youthful slang, but became his professional signature and the name by which he is best known today. Poor but talented, Nadar began by scratching out a living as a freelance writer and caricaturist. His writings and illustrations made him famous before he began to photograph. His keenly honed camera eye came from his successful career as a satirical cartoonist, in which the identifying characteristic of a subject was reduced to a single distinct facet; that skill proved effective in capturing the personality of his photographic subjects.

Nadar opened his first photography studio in 1854, but he only practiced for six years. He focused on the psychological elements of photography, aiming to reveal the moral personalities of his sitters rather than make attractive portraits. Bust- or half-length poses, solid backdrops, dramatic lighting, fine sculpturing, and concentration on the face were trademarks of his studio. His use of eight-by-ten-inch glass-plate negatives, which were significantly larger than the popular sizes of daguerreotypes, acccentuated those effects.

At one point, a commentator said, “[a]ll the outstanding figures of [the] era – literary, artistic, dramatic, political, intellectual – have filed through his studio.” In most instances these subjects were Nadar’s friends and acquaintances. His curiosity led him beyond the studio into such uncharted locales as the catacombs, which he was one of the first persons to photograph using artificial light. (Text from the Getty Museum website)

For more information on this artist please see the MoMA website.

 

Lodoisch Crette Romet. 'A Lesson of Gustave Le Gray in His Studio' 1854

 

Lodoisch Crette Romet (1823 – 1872)
A Lesson of Gustave Le Gray in His Studio [Antoine-Emile Plassan]
1850-1853
242 x 177 mm
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet. 'Women and girls with a doll' c. 1855

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet (French – Lyon, 31 January 1814 – Charly, 12 August 1889)
Women and girls with a doll
c. 1855
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

John S. Johnston. 'One of Dr Kane’s Men [possibly William Morton]' c. 1857

 

John S. Johnston (American, c. 1839 – December 17, 1899)
One of Dr Kane’s Men [possibly William Morton]
c. 1857

 

John S. Johnston was a late 19th-century maritime and landscape photographer. He is known for his photographs of racing yachts and New York City landmarks and cityscapes. Very little is known about his life. He was evidently born in Britain in the late 1830s, and was active in the New York City area in the late 1880s and 1890s. He died in 1899.
.

William Morton. “Belief in the Open Polar Sea theory subsided until the mid-1800s, when Elisha Kent Kane set forth on a number of expeditions north with hopes of finding this theorized body of water. On an 1850s expedition organized by Kane, explorer William Morton, believing he discovered the Open Polar Sea, described a body of water containing

Not a speck of ice…As far as I could discern, the sea was open…The wind was due N(orth) – enough to make white caps, and the surf broke in on the rocks in regular breakers.

Morton, however, did not find the Open Polar Sea – he found a small oasis of water. Morton’s quote is likely tinged with a desire to raise the spirits of his boss, Kane, who saw the Polar Sea as a possible utopia, an area brimming with life amidst a harsh arctic world. (Text by Keith Veronese)

 

David Hill and Robert Adamson. 'Thought to be Elizabeth Rigby' c. 1844

 

David Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
Thought to be Elizabeth Rigby
c. 1844
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative

 

Jean-Baptiste Frenet. 'Thought to be a Mother and Son' c. 1855

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet (French – Lyon, 31 January 1814 – Charly, 12 August 1889)
Thought to be a Mother and Son
c. 1855
Photograph, salted paper print from a collodion negative transferred from glass to paper support

 

William Fox Talbot. 'The Photographer's Daughter, Ela Theresa Talbot' 1843-44

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
The Photographer’s Daughter, Ela Theresa Talbot
1843-44

 

Roger Fenton. 'Portrait of a Woman' c. 1854

 

Roger Fenton (British, 28 March 1819 – 8 August 1869)
Portrait of a Woman
c. 1854
Photograph, salted paper print from a glass plate negative

 

John Wheeley Gough. 'Gutch Abbey Ruins' c.1858

 

John Wheeley Gough (British, 1809 – 1862)
Gutch Abbey Ruins
c. 1858
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

John Wheeley Gough Gutch (1809 – 1862) was a British surgeon and editor. He was also a keen amateur naturalist and geologist, and a pioneer photographer.

In 1851, Dr. Gutch gave up his medical practice to become a messenger for Queen Victoria, and he began photographing the many cities he visited on his diplomatic missions. During a trip to Constantinople, he became seriously ill, resulting in permanent partial paralysis that ended his public service career. While undergoing experimental treatments in Malvern, England, Dr. Gutch again turned to photography as a cure for his melancholy. His works were exhibited throughout London and Edinburgh from 1856-1861, and he became a frequent contributor to the Photographic Notes publication. Dr. Gutch’s camera of choice was Frederick Scott Archer’s wet-plate camera because he liked the convenience of developing glass negatives within the camera, which eliminated the need for a darkroom. However, the camera proved too cumbersome for him to handle, and had to be manipulated by one of his photographic assistants. His photographs were printed on salt-treate paper and were placed into albums he painstakingly decorated with photographic collages.

Dr. Gutch’s “picturesque” photographic style was influenced by artist William Gilpin. Unlike his mid-nineteenth century British contemporaries who recorded urban expansion, he preferred focusing on ancient buildings, rock formations, archaeolgical ruins, and tree-lined streams. In 1857, an assignment for Photographic Notes took him to Scotland, northern Wales, and the English Lake District, where he photographed the lush settings, but not always to his satisfaction. Two years’ later, he aspired to photograph and document the more than 500 churches in Gloucestershire, a daunting and quite expensive task. He fitted his camera with a Ross Petzval wide-angle lens and managed to photograph more than 200 churches before illness forced him to abandon the ambitious project. Fifty-three-year-old John Wheeley Gough Gutch died in London on April 30, 1862. (Text from the Historic Camera website)

 

William Fox Talbot. 'The Great Elm at Lacock' 1843-45

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 11 February 1800 – 17 September 1877)
The Great Elm at Lacock
1843-45
Photograph, salted paper print from a paper negative
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7887 8888

Opening hours:
10.00 am – 18.00 pm daily

Tate Britain website

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27
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15

Exhibition: ‘Hal Fischer, Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014′ at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zürich

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 7th June 2015

 

I remember coming out in 1975, six years after Stonewall, that seismic event that was the out and proud culmination of the resistance to oppression that had been building since the Second World War. Pre-disco, pre-Heaven night club (opened in December 1979) young gay men like me went to pubs in the Soho and Earl’s Court district of London and to places like Bang! nightclub on Tottenham Court Road (opened 1976). I used to wear an earring in my left ear, keys on the left, handkerchiefs to all the fetish nights at Heaven, and speak a queer language that secretive gay men had to speak in straight places… Polari (or alternatively Parlare, Parlary, Palare, Palarie, Palari; from Italian parlare, “to talk”).

“Polari is a form of cant slang used in Britain by actors, circus and fairground showmen, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins, but it can be traced back to at least the nineteenth century and possibly the sixteenth century… Polari is a mixture of Romance (Italian or Mediterranean Lingua Franca), London slang, backslang, rhyming slang, sailor slang, and thieves’ cant… It was a constantly developing form of language, with a small core lexicon of about 20 words (including bona, ajax, eek, cod, naff, lattie, nanti, omi, palone, riah, zhoosh (tjuz), TBH, trade, vada), and over 500 other lesser-known words.

Polari was used in London fishmarkets, the theatre, fairgrounds and circuses, hence the many borrowings from Romany. As many homosexual men worked in theatrical entertainment it was also used among the gay subculture, at a time when homosexual activity was illegal, to disguise homosexuals from hostile outsiders and undercover policemen. It was also used extensively in the British Merchant Navy, where many gay men joined ocean liners and cruise ships as waiters, stewards and entertainers. On one hand, it would be used as a means of cover to allow gay subjects to be discussed aloud without being understood; on the other hand, it was also used by some, particularly the most visibly camp and effeminate, as a further way of asserting their identity.” (Text from Wikipedia)

For example “vada the bona omi” was a “look at the good man”, “spark out on his palliass” was “flat out on his back”, and “he had huge lallies” which was “he had huge legs” (more terms can be found on the Polari – British gay slang web page). Another favourite was “trolling the Dilly” which means “to cruise or walk about Pica/dilly” where the rent boys (known as Dilly boys) used to line up against the railings looking for customers or “trade”. In this context “trolling” could be seen as a form of gay flâneur. Wikipedia states that Polari had begun to fall into disuse amongst the gay subculture by the late 1960s, but in my experience this is not true. Within my circle of friends it was still in constant use into the early 1980s. The language was very useful in pubs in London where sailors, ruff trade, and the theatre crowd mixed in Soho, were you could comment to a gay friend on a man that you thought attractive and anyone overhearing your conversation would not know what you were talking about.

All this must seem rather quaint now, but the archetypal images of gay men have not changed much over the intervening years. There is still the natural young gay man, the bear, the leatherman (or those that just wear leather for dance parties, just for show and not for attitude), the S/M scene, still the handkerchief code (still seen though rarely these days), the armband on the left or right for active or passive, still the gay jocks but now much more the gym preened bunnies. Everything old is new again… it’s just less heterogeneous.

Marcus

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

All photographs by Hal Fischer from Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014, Courtesy Hal Fischer, and Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles © Hal Fischer

 

In 1977, Hal Fischer produced his photo-text project Gay Semiotics, first as a series of silver gelatin prints and then as a book published by NFS Press. The project explored the growing visibility of the male gay community in the Castro district of San Francisco, particularly its street style and so-called ‘hanky codes’ indicating different sexual preferences. Fisher’s series was one of the earliest attempts to explore a queer semiotics, offering a playful engagement with male self-fashioning and archetypes. Gay Semiotics is both a marker of the self-confidence and creativity of the San Francisco gay community before the emergence of HIV/AIDS and an important contribution to West Coast conceptual photography.

 

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Blue Handkerchief, Red Handkerchief
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Keys
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Leather Apparel
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Gag Mask
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Amyl Nitrite
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Earring
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

 

JBW: Gay Semiotics is an attempt to map some of the discourse of structuralism onto the visual codes of male queer life in the Castro. How did you come to structuralism?

HF: Thanks to Lew Thomas, in graduate school I began reading things like Jack Burnham’s The Structure of Art and Ursula Meyer’s Conceptual Art. Those were two key texts. Of course, structuralism came late to photography, when you consider that Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation came out in 1966. Reading Burnham, going on to read Claude Lévi-Strauss, all that was crucial. I learned about signifiers, and thought, this is going on all around me.

JBW: You’re doing several things in Gay Semiotics. On the one hand, you’re parsing a signification system that arose out of a nonverbal, erotic exchange, and you’re also deconstructing gay male self-fashioning and photographing “archetypes.” It is thus a photo-project about the history of photography and its long legacy of ethnographic typing.

HF: I can’t say I was conscious of it at the time, but one of the first photographers who influenced me was August Sander. I mean, I LOVED Sander. I still do. I probably was a fascist in an earlier life, because I’m definitely into types, and I’m definitely into archetyping. I don’t really think it’s that awful a thing to do; it can be very informative. I was also interested in the Bechers and the notion of repetition.

JBW: So the work is also about genre.

HF: Yes. It’s also about personal desire; it’s a lexicon of attraction.”

Extract from Julia Bryan-Wilson speaking with Hal Fischer. Aperture magazine #218, Spring 2015

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Signifiers for a Male Response
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Basic Gay
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Jock
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Forties Trash
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Hippie
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Uniform
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Leather
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Leather
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Urbane
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Western
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Classical
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Natural
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Dominance
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Sadism & Masochism
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Submisison
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Bondage Device Cross
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Bondage Device Open End Table Rack
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Bondage Device Meat Hoist
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur 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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