Archive for the 'book' Category

10
Jul
14

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: The Songs of Eternity, 1994

 

 

NOW friends. These are really important photographs for me.

.
As Minor White’s artist book The Temptation of St. Anthony is Mirrors (1948) is a visual love poem to Tom Murphy, so my artist book The Songs of Eternity (1994) is a visual love poem to my then long-time partner Paul. Both are exceedingly rare books: there are two copies of White’s book and there is one copy of mine.

And yes, the prints are even more beautiful in the flesh (so to speak).

Marcus

 

I am scanning my negatives made during the years 1991 – 1997 to preserve them in the form of an online archive as a process of active memory, so that the images are not lost forever. These photographs were images of my life and imagination at the time of their making, the ideas I was thinking about and the people and things that surrounded me.

All images © Marcus Bunyan but can be used freely anywhere with the proper acknowledgement. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please remember these are just straight scans of the prints, all full frame, no cropping !

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

 

The Songs of Eternity

Images and poetry by M. Bunyan 1994

 

I stood at the edge of the precipice / and peered in as William Blake would say

The timepiece of eternity / swung hands through all the hours

so how naive I’ve been / not to see its powers

Did I deceive / or was I led

What a rude awakening / throughout my head

Many fabulous things were said /

many a doubt was in silence bled …

Nothing is certainty but the change – I was must be strong to attain

Depth, spirit, integrity and the rest

This affirmation I will confirm – not in conformity but in my own special way

Not this way nor that but my own path / that one day will whisper gently in my ear

Be strong, for we have much to say / when the sea becomes the sky.

Strong in your arms I become your scent

Lying in my bed the sheets of flowers enfold me

Trusting in my heart I know

Today    Yesterday    Tomorrow

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Shroud' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Shroud
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
The Songs of Eternity

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Paul, shadows' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Paul, shadows
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
I stood at the edge of the precipice / and peered in as William Blake would say

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Eternal timepiece' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Eternal timepiece
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
The timepiece of eternity / swung hands through all the hours

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Paul, head covered' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Paul, head covered
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
so how naive I’ve been / not to see its powers

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Pendent #1' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Pendent #1
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Did I deceive / or was I led

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Untitled
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
What a rude awakening / throughout my head

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Untitled
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Many fabulous things were said /

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Suspension #1' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Suspension #1
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
many a doubt was in silence bled …

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Chyralis' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Chrysalis
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Nothing is certainty but the change – I was must be strong to attain

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Décolleté' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Décolleté
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Depth, spirit, integrity and the rest

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Paul, doorway (for Georgia O'Keeffe)' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Paul, doorway (for Georgia O’Keeffe)
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
This affirmation I will confirm – not in conformity but in my own special way

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Pendent #2' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Pendent #2
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Not this way nor that but my own path / that one day will whisper gently in my ear

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Shadow, wreath' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Shadow, wreath
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Be strong, for we have much to say / when the sea becomes the sky.

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Madonna, male' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Madonna, male
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Strong in your arms I become your scent

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Suspension #2' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Suspension #2
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Lying in my bed the sheets of flowers enfold me

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Paul, wreath and hands' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Paul, wreath and hands
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Trusting in my heart I know

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan
Untitled
1994
From the series The Songs of Eternity
Silver gelatin photograph

.
Today    Yesterday    Tomorrow

 

 

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive page

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21
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Hans Richter: Encounters – “From Dada till today”‘ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 27th March - 30th June 2014

 

Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The oeuvre of Hans Richter (1888-1976) spanned nearly seven decades. Born in Berlin, he was one of the most significant champions of modernism. Berlin, Paris, Munich, Zurich, Moscow and New York were the major stations of his life. He was a painter and draughtsman, a Dadaist and a Constructivist, a film maker and a theoretician, as well as a great teacher. His great scroll collages remain icons of art history to this day. His work is characterised by a virtually unparalleled interpenetration of different artistic disciplines. The link between film and art was his major theme. Many of the most famous artists of the first half of the twentieth century were among his friends.

 

“One can also pursue politics with art.
Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.”

.
Hans Richter

 

 

Hans Richter. 'Ghosts Before Breakfast' 1928

 

Hans Richter
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk)
1928
B/W, 35mm
Approx. 7 minutes
© Estate Hans Richter

 

 

 

Hans Richter created the film Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk) in 1928. This was a silent experimental avant-garde film and it was the fifth film that he had made. The film is considered to be one of the first surrealist films ever made. Richter’s interest in Dadaism is shown directly in this work as he challenges the art standards of the time by presenting a theme of obscurity and fantasy. Clocks, legs, ladders, hats, and people undergo total irrational happenings in unusual settings. Men have beards magically appear and disappear before the viewer’s eyes. All strange manner of things are brought together by associative logic. The flying hats perform this function by continually reappearing in the sequence of shots to tie the film together. Richter tries to increase the viewer’s knowledge of reality of showing them surrealist fantasy. He accomplished this through his use of rhythm, and his use of the camera.

Rhythm is a very important element in all of Richter’s works. In this film rhythm is shown in the use of movement in the characters. All of the characters seem to move at the same space distance from one another and at the same speed. This clarifies a sense of rhythm and intensifies a sense of stability within the frame. The same number of characters or items also seems to preserve rhythm…. if there are three hats then in the next shot there are three men. The numbers do fluctuate, but a number would remain constant throughout a couple of shots. Shapes in the film also preserve rhythm. This can be seen in Richter’s bulls-eye scene, where the circles of the bulls-eye fill the screen and are spaced equally apart from one another. The target then breaks up and the circles the spread out in the frame to relocate in different areas continuing the rhythm.

The original score, attributed to Paul Hindemith, was destroyed in the Nazi purge of ‘degenerate art’.

 

Unknown artist. 'Hans Richter, Sergei Eisenstein and Man Ray, Paris' 1929

 

Unknown artist
Hans Richter, Sergei Eisenstein and Man Ray, Paris
1929
© Estate Hans Richter
© 2013 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

 

Joe/Narcissus (Jack Bittner) is an ordinary man who has recently signed a complicated lease on a room. As he wonders how to pay the rent, he discovers that he can see the contents of his mind unfolding whilst looking into his eyes in the mirror. He realises that he can apply his gift to others (“If you can look inside yourself, you can look inside anyone!”), and sets up a business in his room, selling tailor-made dreams to a variety of frustrated and neurotic clients. Each of the seven surreal dream sequences in the diegesis is in fact the creation of a contemporary avant-garde and/or surrealist artist (such as Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst et al). Joe’s waiting room is full within minutes of his first day of operation, “the first instalment of the 2 billion clients” according to the male narrator in voiceover, whose voice is the only one we hear in the non-dream sequences.

 

Hans Richter. 'Dreams That Money Can Buy' 1944-47

 

Hans Richter
Dreams That Money Can Buy
1944-47
Color, 16mm
Approx. 83 minutes
© Estate Hans Richter

 

HR Productions. Production still of 'Dreams That Money Can Buy' 1944-1947

 

HR Productions
Production still of Dreams That Money Can Buy
1944-1947
Left: Jack Bittner, Middle: Hans Richter
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto: HR Productions

 

 

Hans Richter (1888-1976) life’s work spans nearly 70 years. Born in Berlin, he is one of the most important protagonists of modernity. Berlin, Paris, Munich, Zurich, Moscow and New York are stages of his life. He was a painter and draftsman, Dadaist and Constructivist, filmmakers and theorists, and also a great teacher. His great scroll collages remain icons of art history to this day. His work is characterised by a virtually unparalleled interpenetration of different artistic disciplines. The link between film and art was his major theme. Many of the most famous artists of the first half of the 20th Century were his friends.

Hans Richter: Encounters from Dada to the Present is the title of one of his books, published in the 1970s. By that time in the West in postwar Germany there had been a rediscovery of this important artist, outlawed by the Nazis, whose work was shown in 1937 in the infamous exhibition “Degenerate Art”. For the first time since the 1980s, this big Berlin artist has a dedicated exhibition in his home town, with over 140 works, including his important films and about 50 works of those artists who were influenced by Hans Richter. Hans Richter worked with multimedia in an era when this term hadn’t even been invented. The movie he saw as part of Modern Art: “Film absolutely opens your eyes to what the camera is and what it can and wants to do.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has developed the exhibition with the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Centre Pompidou Metz. Timothy Benson has curated it. The program explains how Richter understood his cross-disciplinary work and what effect his work had on the art of the 20th century. In ten chapters, the exhibition describes the extensive work of the artist: Early Portraits / War and Revolution / Dada / Richter and Eggeling / Magazine “G” / Malevich and Richter / Film and Photo (FIFO) / Painting / Series / Confronting the Object. Important works of the avant-garde as well as films, photographs, and extensive documentary material make this exhibition an important artistic event.

Hans Richter was active in the broad field of the European avant-garde beginning in the 1910s. Not only art, but also the new medium of film interested him from the very start of his artistic career. In 1908 Hans Richter began his studies at the School of Fine Arts in Berlin. He switched to Weimar the following year. In 1910 he studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. Starting in 1913 he was associated with Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm and became acquainted with the artists of the “Brücke” and the “Blauer Reiter”. He distributed Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto” to hackney drivers in Berlin. In 1914 he also drew for Franz Pfemfert’s magazine Die Aktion and was called up to military service in the summer of that year. In 1916, having suffered severe wounds, he travelled to Zurich (“an island in a sea of fire, steel and blood”) where, together with Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and others, he founded the Dada movement, about which he would one day write: ” … it was a storm that broke over the art of that time just as the war broke over the peoples.”

In 1918 he met Viking Eggeling, with whom he conducted his first film experiments as precursors of “abstract film”. Both dreamt of discovering a universal language within film which could promote peace among human beings. In 1919 Richter served as chairman of the “Action Committee for Revolutionary Artists” in the Munich Soviet Republic. He was arrested shortly after the entry of Reichswehr troops. His mother Ida secured his release.

Richter’s first film, Rythmus 21 in 1921 [see below], was a scandal – the audience attempted to beat up the pianist. Moholy-Nagy regarded it as “an approach to the visual realisation of a light-space-continuum in the movement thesis”. The film, which is now recognised as a classic, also attracted the attention of Theo van Doesburg, who invited Richter to work on his magazine De Stijl. In 1922 Richter attended two famous congresses where many of the most significant avant-gardists of the era assembled: The Congress of International Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf and the International Congress of Constructivists and Dadaists - the Dada movement was dismissed on this occasion. In 1923 Richter and other artists founded the short-lived but celebrated Magazine G: Material zur Elementaren Gestaltung (G: Materials for Elemental Form-Creation) (G for “Gestaltung”, i.e. design), which sought to build a bridge between Dadaism and Constructivism. Prominent contributors included Arp, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Mies van der Rohe, Schwitters and van Doesburg.

In 1927 Richter worked with Malevich, who was then visiting Berlin for his first large exhibition, on a – naturally, “suprematist” – film, which, however, was never completed due to the political situation.

 

 

 

Hans Richter’s first truly surrealist film was Rhythmus 21. Richter broke from conventions of the time when rather than attempting to visually orchestrate formal patterns, he focused instead on the temporality of the cinematic viewing experience. He emphasized movement and the shifting relationship of form elements in time. His major creative breakthrough, in other words, was the discovery of cinematic rhythm…

For Richter, rhythm, “as the essence of emotional expression”, was connected to a Bergsonian life force:

Rhythm expresses something different from thought. The meaning of both is incommensurable. Rhythm cannot be explained completely by thought nor can thought be put in terms of rhythm, or converted or reproduced. They both find their connection and identity in common and universal human life, the life principle, from which they spring and upon which they can build further. (Richter, Hans. “Rhythm,” in Little Review, Winter 1926, p. 21)

Completed by using stop motion and forward and backward printing in addition to an animation table, the film consists of a continuous flow of rectangular and square shapes that “move” forward, backward, vertically, and horizontally across the screen (Gideon Bachmann and Jonas Mekas. “From Interviews With Hans Richter during the Last Ten Years,” in Film Culture, No. 31, Winter 1963-4, p. 29). Syncopated by an uneven rhythm, forms grow, break apart and are fused together in a variety of configurations for just over three minutes (at silent speed). The constantly shifting forms render the spatial situation of the film ambivalent, an idea that is reinforced when Richter reverses the figure-background relationship by switching, on two occasions, from positive to negative film. In so doing, Richter draws attention to the flat rectangular surface of the screen, destroying the perspectival spatial illusion assumed to be integral to film’s photographic base, and emphasizing instead the kinetic play of contrasts of position, proportion and light distribution. By restricting himself to the use of square shapes and thus simplifying his compositions, Richter was able to concentrate on the arrangement of the essential elements of cinema: movement, time and light. Disavowing the beauty of “form” for its own sake, Rhythmus ’21 instead expresses emotional content through the mutual interaction of forms moving in contrast and relation to one another. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final “crescendo” of the film, in which all of the disparate shapes of the film briefly coalesce into a Mondrian-like spatial grid before decomposing into a field of pure light.

Suchenski, Richard. “Hans Richter” on the Senses of Cinema website [Online] Cited 19/06/2014.

 

Hans Richter. 'Neither Hand nor Foot' 1955/56

 

Hans Richter
Neither Hand nor Foot
1955/56
Paint and collages on board (with doorbell)
16 ½ x 18 ¼ in. (41.9 x 46.4 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter

 

Hans Richter. 'Justitia Minor' 1917/1960s

 

Hans Richter
Justitia Minor
1917/1960s
Assemblage (wood, copper, plastic, iron file and string, Christmas decoration)
24 x 18 x 10 in (61 x 45.7 x 25.4 cm)
Private Collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Houses' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Houses
1917
Ink wash on paper
8 ¼ x 6 ½ in. (20.9 x 16.5 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter Foto
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

“Influenced by cubism and its search for structure, but not satisfied with what it offered, I found myself between 1913-1918 increasingly faced with the conflict of suppressing spontaneous expression in order to gain an objective understanding of a fundamental principle with which I could control the ‘heap of fragments’ inherited from the cubists. Thus I gradually lost interest in the subject – in any subject – and focused instead on the positive-negative (white-black) opposition, which at least gave me a working hypothesis whereby I could organize the relationship of one part of a painting to the other.”

Richter, Hans. “Easel-Scroll-Film,” in Magazine of Art, No. 45 (February 1952), p. 82.

 

Unknown artist. 'Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter, Zurich' 1918

 

Unknown artist
Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter, Zurich
1918
© Estate Hans Richter

 

 

In 1929 Richter curated the film section of the famous FiFo exhibition (Film und Foto), a milestone in the history of the cinematic and photographic arts. More than 1,000 photos were presented – curated by, among others, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen for the USA and El Lissitzky for the USSR. More than sixty silent films were shown, including works by Duchamp, Egeling, Léger, Man Ray and Chaplin. This important exhibition, initiated by the German Werkbund (which was founded in 1907), was also shown in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, which in those days was called “the former Museum of Applied Arts” – a fact that is rarely mentioned in current photographic histories. On this occasion, Richter published his first film book: Film Enemies of Today, Film Friends of Tomorrow.

That same year, the first Congress of Independent Film was held in the remote Swiss castle of “La Sarraz”: Hans Richter was invited along with Sergei Eisenstein, Bela Balazs, Walter Ruttmann and others. He made a film with Eisenstein, which has since been lost. The Congress is still regarded as the first festival dedicated solely to film. Back then, the still young art of film-making had to struggle for recognition. Also in 1929 the SA (“Sturmabteilung” or Nazi “Brown Shirts”) declares him the first time a “Kulturbolschewisten” - a “cultural Bolshevik”.

In 1930 he travelled to Moscow to make the film Metal. But objections by the Soviet government prevented its completion. In 1933, when the Nazis seized power and Richter was living in Moscow, storm troopers sacked his Berlin flat and made off with his art collection. Fearing for his life, he was soon forced to flee Moscow without a penny to his name. In the Netherlands he made advertising films for Philips. He also worked for a number of chemical companies that were eager to invest in film as an advertising medium. He sought permanent residency in France and Switzerland. In Switzerland, he and Anna Seghers cooperated on a script, and in 1939 Jean Renoir arranged for him to create a major film project in Paris. But the outbreak of war prevented this film as well.

When the Swiss Foreign Police ask him to leave the country he succeeds in 1941, with emigration to the United States. Hilla Rebay, artist and once a member of Ricther’s famous Berlin “November Group” is at this time advisor to the New York art patron Solomon Guggenheim. With his help they can implement their idea of ​​a “Temple of Non-Objectivity” – the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (1939), later the Guggenheim. The museum provided Richter with the necessary invitation and a Jewish support fund for refugees sponsored his long journey. In 1942 Richter became a teacher for film – and later director – at the Institute of Film Techniques at the College of the City of New York. Until 1956 he trained students who were later counted among the great figures of American independent film, including Stan Brackhage, Shirley Clarke, Maya Deren and Jonas Mekas.

In 1940s America, after a fifteen-year pause, Richter began painting again. In 1943/44 he created his great scroll paintings and collages about the war: Stalingrad, Invasion and Liberation of Paris. After the war he made the episodic film Dreams That Money Can Buy, working alongside five of the most famous artists of the twentieth century: Léger, Ernst, Calder, Ray and Duchamp. In 1946 he presented his first great American art exhibition in Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery.

In the 1950s, Richter returned to Europe for the first time following his emigration to deliver lectures. Portions of his art collection, which he had left behind in Germany following his move to Moscow, were returned to him. Numerous exhibitions led to the rediscovery of Hans Richter’s works in Western Europe as well. He worked in Connecticut during the summers and spent his winters in Ascona near his artist friends. Richter experienced an extraordinarily prolific creative phase during which – after he set aside his painting utensils in the late 1960s – many works appeared using special collage techniques. In 1971 he became a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts. By the time of his death in Switzerland in 1976, his work was shown and appreciated in many exhibitions in Western Europe. Now, for the first time in over thirty years, Hans Richter can be rediscovered in an exhibition from Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Hans Richter. 'Blue Man' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Blue Man
1917
Oil on canvas
61 x 48.5 cm
© Kunsthaus Zürich, Geschenk Frida Richter, 1977
© Estate Hans Richter

 

Hans Richter. 'Visionary Portrait' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Visionary Portrait
1917
Oil on canvas
53 x 38 cm
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto: Galerie Berinson

 

Hans Richter. 'Triptych in Gray, Red, and Green' (detail) 1959

 

Hans Richter
Triptych in Gray, Red, and Green (detail)
1959
Oil on canvas on boards
Three parts, each: 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. (39.4 x 49.5 cm); all: 20 ½ x 49 ½ in. (52 x 125.7 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black,Gray, and White)' 1943

 

Hans Richter
Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black,Gray, and White)
1943
Oil on canvas
29 ½ x 15 ½ in. (74.9 x 39.4 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Orchestration of Colors' 1923/1970

 

Hans Richter
Orchestration of Colors
1923/1970
Serigraph on linen
54 x 16 in. (137.2 x 40.6 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter Foto
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

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18
Jun
14

Exhibition and videos: ‘Richard Mosse: The Enclave’ – winner of Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 11th April – 22nd June 2014

 

Men are bastards. War is bastardry.

Bastardry: the unpleasant behaviour of a bastard (objectionable person).

 

 

“Beauty is effective, the sharpest tool in the box. If you can seduce the viewer and you can make them feel aesthetic pleasure regarding a landscape in which human rights violations happen all the time, then you can put them into a very problematic place for themselves – they feel ethically compromised and they feel angry with themselves and the photographer for making them feel that. That moment of self awareness is a very powerful thing.”

.
Richard Mosse

 

 

 

Richard Mosse, winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 for his exhibition The Enclave at the Venice Biennale Irish Pavillion.

 

 

Mosse documents a haunting landscape touched by appalling human tragedy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 5.4 million people have died of war related causes since 1998. Shot on discontinued military surveillance film, the resulting imagery registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, and renders the jungle warzone in disorienting psychedelic hues. At the project’s heart are the points of failure of documentary photography, and its inability to adequately communicate this complex and horrific cycle of violence, “through six monumental double-sided screens ‘forcing’ the viewer to interact from an array of different viewpoints.”

 

 

 

“This desperate situation echoes the barbarity of the Belgian occupation of the Congo that provided the backdrop for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899)… Mosse had Conrad’s allusiveness in mind when he chose to employ a type of infrared film called Aerochrome, developed during the Cold War by Kodak in consultation with the United States government…

Mosse renders the viewer’s point-of-view identical with that of the camera, immersing us in these scenes, while Frost’s score leaves a buzzing, ringing sound in our ears. Occasionally we stumble across a body lying on the ground in a village, or by the side of a road like a dead animal. It would be gruesome, perhaps unbearable, if it weren’t for the views of the tropical landscape and the ubiquitous pink that gives the action such an unearthly touch.

Even as we feel the looming violence of this place the pink backdrop transforms each segment into a stage set, in a deliberate refusal of the ‘realism’ claimed by conventional photojournalism. Instead of the black-and-white certainties of a world in which good and evil are easily identified, we are plunged into a bright pink nightmare, our every move fraught with danger.

Mosse is seeking to engage the senses, not simply the intellect, but that flood of pink sends mixed messages. It’s an ingratiating colour – a colour that tries too hard, lapsing into camp and kitsch. Such impressions are difficult to reconcile with the subject matter of this installation but Mosse makes no attempt to ease our disorientation. The work is his response to a bewildering, intractable conflict that doesn’t recognise anybody’s rules.”

Extract from Richard Mosse & William Kentridge” by John McDonald.

 

 

Jonh Kelly meet Richard Mosse, an artist whose beautiful, provocative film installations and photographs are challenging the accepted norms of war photography.

 

 

Richard Mosse. 'Man-size, North Kivu, eastern Congo' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Man-size, North Kivu, eastern Congo
2012
Digital C print
72 x 90 inches

 

Richard Mosse. 'Safe From Harm, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Safe From Harm, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2012
Digital C print
48 x 60 inches

 

 

“The uniqueness of the military film stock is its register of an invisible spectrum of infrared light, turning green landscape into an array of glaring colours… The result is that Mosse’s landscapes appear cancerous, we notice that life is extinct, that something deadly has swept through an otherwise idyllic world…

The Congolese National Army, rebel militia, and warring tribes fight over ownership of the land, their violence extending to rape of women, murdering civilian populations, all in the interests of staking a claim to the land. A struggle that is never actually seen in Mosse’s photographs is nevertheless made undeniable by the aesthetic struggle of unnatural colours in what might otherwise be an untouched world. These hills are blanketed in violence and corruption…

Mosse’s images visually penetrate and make manifest the insidious spread of disease, war and violence, all of which is begun by greed.”

Frances Guerin “Richard Moss, The Enclave,” on the Fx Reflects blog

 

Richard Mosse. 'Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2012
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Men of Good Fortune, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2011

 

Richard Mosse
Men of Good Fortune, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2011
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Nowhere To Run, South Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2010

 

Richard Mosse
Nowhere To Run, South Kivu, Eastern Congo
2010
Digital C print

 

 

“The photograph I was initially drawn to in the exhibition, Men of Good Fortune (2011), is a picturesque composition of gentle grassy slopes, pastoral figures and trees that might have been artfully placed by a Capability Brown. These hills were originally inhabited by Congolese tribes who grew crops and hunted for bush meat, until they were driven out by pastoralists who cut down the forest for grazing. Richard Mosse’s camera renders this landscape’s history of intimidation and human rights abuses in shocking pink, like superficially healthy teeth subjected to a plaque disclosing tablet. Nowhere to Run (2010) shows another vista of unearthly pink hills, which seem to have undergone the kind of transformation J. G. Ballard described in The Crystal World. This rose quartz-coloured terrain is, according to the caption, ‘rich in rare earth minerals like gold, cassiterite and coltan, which are extracted by artisanal miners who must pay taxes to the rebels.’

Of course one question these photographs raise is whether the aesthetic pleasure they provide is a distraction from what is really happening in The Enclave.”

Andrew Ray “The Enclave” on the Some Landscapes blog

 

Richard Mosse. 'Ruby Tuesday, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2011

 

Richard Mosse
Ruby Tuesday, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2011
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Of Lillies and Remains' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Of Lillies and Remains
2012
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Suspicious Minds' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Suspicious Minds
2012
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'A Dream That Can Last' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
A Dream That Can Last
2012
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2010

 

Richard Mosse
We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2010
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Even Better Than The Real Thing, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2011

 

Richard Mosse
Even Better Than The Real Thing, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2011
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
2012
Digital C print

 

Richard Mosse. 'Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo' 2012

 

Richard Mosse
Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo
2012
Digital C print
35 x 28 inches

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street,
London W1F 7Lw

Opening hours:
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Thursday 10.00 – 20.00
Sunday 11.30 – 18.00

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15
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s-1940s’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 22nd June 2014

 

Dutch East Indies and Indonesian photography, and more broadly Asia-Pacific photography, has been a burgeoning area of interest, research and collecting for some time now. Although this is far from my area of expertise, with the quality of the work shown in this posting, you can understand why. Since 2005, “the National Gallery of Australia’s Asian photographs collection has grown to nearly 8000 and in excess of 6500 prints are from Indonesia.”

Absolutely beautiful tonality to the prints. They seem to have a wonderful stillness to them as well.

On a personal note, Gael Newton, Senior Curator, Photography at the National Gallery of Australia is retiring. I would like to thank her for promoting, researching and writing about all forms of photography over the years and to congratulate her on significantly extending the NGA’s photography collection. A job well done.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Gael Newton and the National Gallery of Australia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Woodbury & Page. 'Batavia roadstead' c. 1865

 

Woodbury & Page
established Jakarta 1857-1900
Batavia roadstead
c. 1865
Albumen silver photograph
19.4 x 24.5 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

Dirk Huppe Indonesia 1867-1931 O Kurkdjian & Co Established Surabaya, Java 1903-1935 'Mature canes, fertilized with artificial guano Java Fertilizer Co.,' Semarang 1914

 

Dirk Huppe
Indonesia 1867-1931
O Kurkdjian & Co 
Established Surabaya, Java 1903-1935
Mature canes, fertilized with artificial guano, Java Fertilizer Co.,
Semarang 1914
Carbon print photograph
74.6 x 99.6 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

S. Satake Japanese, working Indonesia 1902 - c. 1937 'Eruption' Java c. 1930

 

S. Satake
Japanese, working Indonesia 1902 – c. 1937
Eruption
Java c. 1930
Gelatin silver photograph
16.2 x 21.8 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

 

“While Indonesia might be the second most popular destination for outbound Aussies, the history of the Indonesian archipelago’s diverse peoples and the colonial era Dutch East Indies, remains unfamiliar. In particular the rich heritage of photographic images made by the nearly 500 listed photographers at work across the archipelago in the mid 19th – mid 20th century, is poorly known, both in the region and internationally.

The Gallery began building its Indonesian photographic collection in 2006. It is unique in the region: the largest and most comprehensive collection excluding the archives of the Dutch East Indies in the Netherlands. It was not until the late 1850s with the arrival of photographs printed on paper from a master glass negative, that images of Indonesia – the origin of nutmeg, pepper and cloves, much desired in the West – began circulating worldwide.

Australia had a minor role in the history of photography in Indonesia. A pair of young British photographers, Walter Woodbury and James Page (operators of the Woodbury & Page studios located in the Victorian goldfields and Melbourne) arrived in Jakarta in 1857. From around 1900 a trend toward more picturesque views and sympathetic portrayals of indigenous people appeared. Old images were given new life as souvenir prints and sold through hotels and resorts or used for cruise ship brochures.

A particular feature of Garden of the East is the display of family albums. Both amateur and professional images in the Indies were bound in distinctive Japanese or Batik-patterned cloth boards as records of a colonial lifestyle. Hundreds of these once-treasured narratives of now lost people ended up in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 80s in estate sales of former Dutch colonial and Indo (mixed race) family members who had returned or immigrated after the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

S. Satake Japanese, working Indonesia 1902 - c. 1937 'Women on road to Buleleng Bali' c. 1928

 

S. Satake
Japanese, working Indonesia 1902 – c. 1937
Women on road to Buleleng
Bali c. 1928
Gelatin silver photograph
16.2 x 22.0 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

Woodbury & Page established Jakarta 1857-1900 'Gusti Ngurah Ketut Jelantik, Prince of Buleleng with his entourage in Jakarta in 1864 on the visit of Governor-General LAJW Sloet van de Beele' 1864

 

Woodbury & Page
established Jakarta 1857-1900
Gusti Ngurah Ketut Jelantik, Prince of Buleleng with his entourage in Jakarta in 1864 on the visit of Governor-General LAJW Sloet van de Beele
1864
Albumen silver photograph
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

 

Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s-1940s is the first major survey in the southern hemisphere of the photographic art from the period spanning the last century of colonial rule until just prior to the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. The exhibition provides the opportunity to view over two hundred and fifty photographs, albums and illustrated books of the photography of this era and provides a unique insight into the people, life and culture of Indonesia. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue reveals much new research and information regarding the rich photographic history of Indonesia. Garden of the East is on display in Canberra only.

The exhibition is comprised of images created by more than one hundred photographers and the majority have never been exhibited publicly before. The works were captured by photographers of all races, making images of the beauty, bounty, antiquities and elaborate cultures of the diverse lands and peoples of the former Dutch East Indies. Among these photographers is the Javanese artist Kassian Céphas, whose genius as a photographer is not widely known at this time, a situation which the National Gallery of Australia hopes to address by growing the collection of holdings from this period and by continuing to stage focused exhibitions such as Garden of the East.

As was the case in other Southeast Asian ports, the most prominent professional photographers at work in colonial Indonesia came from a wide range of European backgrounds until the 1890s, when Chinese photography studios began to dominate. The exhibition focuses on the leading foreign studios of the time, in particular Walter B Woodbury, one of the earliest photographers at work in Australia in the 1850s as well as the Dutch East Indies. However Garden of the East also includes images created by lesser known figures whose work embraced the new art photography styles of the early twentieth century including: George Lewis, the British chief photographer at the Surabaya studio founded by Armenian Ohannes Kurkdjian, the remarkable German amateur photographer Dr Gregor Krause; American adventurer and filmmaker André Roosevelt; and the only woman professional known to have  worked in the period, Thilly Weissenborn, whose works were intertwined with the tourist promotion of Java and Bali in the 1930s. Chinese studios are well-represented, although little is known of their founders and many employed foreign photographers.

Frank Hurley is the sole Australian photographer represented in the exhibition. Hurley is noted as the only Australian known to have worked in Indonesia before the Second World War and toured Java in mid-1913, on commission to promote tourist cruises from Australia to the Indies for the Royal Packet Navigation Company.

“We are delighted to host this exhibition and believe that Australia’s geographic, political and cultural position in the Asia-Pacific region makes it very appropriate that the National Gallery of Australia should celebrate the rich and diverse arts of our region,” said Ron Radford AM, Director, National Gallery of Australia. “A dedicated Asia-Pacific focused policy has been long-held by the Gallery, but it was not until 2005 that we focused on early photographic art of the region. Progress, however, has been rapid and all the photographs in Garden of the East have been recently acquired for the National Gallery’s permanent collection,” he said.

“From a small holding in 2005 of less than two hundred photographs from anywhere in Asia, of which only half a dozen were by any Asian-born photographers, the National Gallery of Australia’s Asian photographs collection has grown to nearly 8000 and in excess of 6500 prints are from Indonesia,” Ron Radford said.

Garden of the East presents images, both historic and homely and is a ‘time travel’ opportunity to visit the Indies through more than two hundred and fifty works on show, made by both professional and amateur family photographers. Images as diverse as the Indonesian archipelago itself, which was once described by nineteenth century travel writers as the Garden of the East,” said Gael Newton, Senior Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Australia and exhibition Curator.

Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s-1940s follows the large 2008 survey exhibition Picture Paradise: Asia-Pacific photography 1840s-1940s [the website includes an excellent essay - Marcus]. This was the first of the new Asia-Pacific collection focus exhibitions. In 2010, the Gallery staged an early photographic portrait exhibition to coincide with a conference hosted in partnership with the Australian National University entitled Facing Asia. A number of other small Asian collection shows have also been held since 2011.

The National Gallery of Australia is delighted to stage this exhibition to coincide with the Focus Country Program, an initiative organised by the Australian Government’s key cultural diplomacy body, the Australia International Cultural Council. The AICC has chosen Indonesia as its Focus Country for 2014 and will organise a series of events across the Indonesian archipelago to promote Australian arts and culture, as well as our credentials in sport, science, education and industry. This exhibition will also mark the 40th anniversary of dialogue relations between Australia and the Association of South East Asian Nations. The National Gallery of Australia is proud to be presenting an exhibition of Indonesian photography in celebration of Australia’s close cultural relations with Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific region.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Kassian Céphas Indonesia 1845-1912 'Man climbing the front entrance to Borobudur' Central Java 1872

 

Kassian Céphas
Indonesia 1845-1912
Man climbing the front entrance to Borobudur
Central Java 1872
Albumen silver photograph
22.2 x 16.1 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

Kassian Céphas Indonesia 1845-1912 'Young Javanese woman' c. 1885

 

Kassian Céphas
Indonesia 1845-1912
Young Javanese woman
c. 1885
Albumen silver photograph
13.7 x 9.8 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

 

“Garden of the East: photography in Indonesia 1850s-1940s offers the chance to see images from the last century of colonial rule in the former Dutch East Indies. It includes over two hundred photographs, albums and illustrated books from the Gallery’s extensive collection of photographic art from our nearest Asian neighbour.

Most of the daguerreotype images from the 1840s, the first decade of photography in Indonesia, are lost and can only be glimpsed in reproductions in books and magazines of the mid nineteenth century. It was not until the late 1850s that photographic images of Indonesia – famed origin of exotic spices much desired in the West – began circulating worldwide. British photographers Walter Woodbury and James Page, who arrived in Batavia (Jakarta) from Australia in 1857, established the first studio to disseminate large numbers of views of the country’s lush tropical landscapes and fruits, bustling port cities, indigenous people, exotic dancers, sultans and the then still poorly known Buddhist and Hindu Javanese antiquities of Central Java.

The studios established in the 1870s tended to offer a similar inventory of products, mostly for the resident Europeans, tourists and international markets. The only Javanese photographer of note was Kassian Céphas who began work for the Sultan in Yogyakarta in the early 1870s. In late life, Céphas was widely honoured for his record of Javanese antiquities and Kraton performances, and his full genius can be seen in Garden of the East.

Most of the best known studios at the turn of the century, including those of Armenian O Kurkdjian and German CJ Kleingrothe, were owned and run by Europeans. Chinese-run studios appeared in the 1890s but concentrated on portraiture. Curiously, relatively few photographers in Indonesia were Dutch. From the 1890s onward, the largest studios increasingly served corporate customers in documenting the massive scale of agribusiness, particularly in the golden economic years of the Indies in the early to mid twentieth century. From around 1900, a trend toward more picturesque views and sympathetic portrayals of indigenous people appeared. This was intimately linked to a government sponsored tourist bureau and to styles of pictorialist art photography that had just emerged as an international movement in Europe and America. As photographic studios passed from owner to owner, old images were given new life as souvenir prints sold at hotels and resorts and as reproductions in cruise-ship brochures.

Amateur camera clubs and pictorialist photography salons common in Western countries by the 1920s were slower to develop in Asia and largely date to the postwar era. Locals, however, took up elements of art photography. Professionals George Lewis and Thilly Weissenborn (the only woman known from the period) and amateurs Dr Gregor Krause and Arthur de Carvalho put their names on their prints and employed the moody effects and storytelling scenarios of pictorialist photography. Krause was one of the most influential photographers. He extensively published his 1912 Bali and Borneo images in magazines and in two books in the 1920s and 1930s, inspiring interest in the indigenous life and landscape as well as the sensuous physical beauty of the Balinese people.

Postwar artists and celebrities – including American André Roosevelt, who used smaller handheld cameras – flocked to the country to capture spontaneity and daily life around them, to affirm their view of Bali as a ‘last paradise’ , where art and life were one. In 1941, Gotthard Schuh published Inseln der Götter (Islands of the gods), the first modern large-format photo-essay on Indonesia. While romantic, the collage of images and text in Schuh’s book presented a vital image of the diverse islands, peoples and cultures that were to be united under the flag of the Republic of Indonesia in 1949.

A particular feature of Garden of the East is a selection of family albums bound in distinctive Japanese or Batik patterned cloth boards as records of a colonial lifestyle (for the affluent) in the Indies. Hundreds of these once treasured narratives of now lost people ended up in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s in estate sales of former Dutch colonial and Indo (mixed race) family members who had returned or immigrated after the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia.”

Text from the National Gallery of Australia Artonview 76 Summer 2013

 

portrait of a javanese woman

 

Sem Céphas (Indonesia 1870 – 1918)
Portrait of a Javanese woman
c.1900
Gelatin silver photograph, colour pigment hand painted photograph
image
38.5 x 23.8 cm
Purchased 2007
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Gotthard Schuh. 'Inseln der Götter' (Islands of the gods) [book cover] 1941

 

Gotthard Schuh
Inseln der Götter (Islands of the gods) [book cover]
1941
Hardcover w/dust jacket
154pp, text in German
Plates in photogravure
28.5 x 22.5 cm

 

Thilly Weissenborn Indonesia 1902 - Netherlands 1964 'A dancing-girl of Bali, resting' c. 1925

 

Thilly Weissenborn
Indonesia 1902 – Netherlands 1964
A dancing-girl of Bali, resting
c. 1925
Photogravure
21.1 x 15.9 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

Unknown photographer Working Bali 1930s 'I Goesti Agoeng Bagoes Djelantik, Anakagoeng Agoeng Negara, Karang Asem' Bali 1931

 

Unknown photographer
Working Bali 1930s
I Goesti Agoeng Bagoes Djelantik, Anakagoeng Agoeng Negara, Karang Asem
Bali 1931
Gelatin silver photograph
14.0 x 9.7 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia

 

 

National Gallery of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra
Australian Capital Territory 2600
T: (02) 6240 6411

Opening hours:
Open daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
(closed Christmas day)

National Gallery of Australia website

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981″ identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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08
Apr
14

Exhibition and book launch preview: ‘In the Folds of Hills’ by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff at The Field Institute, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st – 8th May 2014
Exhibition opening and book launch: Thursday 1st May, 6 – 8.30 pm

To be opened by Robert McFarlane
Stories by Charlotte Laemmle

 

One of my favourite contemporary Australian photographers has a new book and exhibition!

Hopefully a review to follow but having seen a digital copy of the book, the sensitivity of the work feels admirable… unrecalled stories and photographs of people’s lives and the environments in which they live.

The book retails for $60 AUD and will be available in selected book stores nationally and online at www.inthefoldsofhills.com. It is being published by Pearce Press and includes a foreword by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and an essay by Robert McFarlane.

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

 

Foreword

In the Folds of Hills depicts a life in the secluded valleys around Lima, a little over 100 kms from Melbourne, Victoria. Kristian Laemmle-Ruff not only has great technical control of his craft, but translates this skill into truly artistic photographs.

His images of ordinary objects from everyday life invite the viewer to slow down and contemplate. These photos create a narrative that offers us insight into the way these people live.

The portfolio focuses on individuals who have lived most, if not all their lives in this area. They would all be hard-working and modest in their possessions. Their individual characters shine through the photographs with a rugged determination and strength.

In the Folds of Hills will come to have historic significance because it captures aspects of Australian rural life, which in many parts of this country are fast disappearing.

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH

 

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'In the Folds of Hills' book cover 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
In the Folds of Hills book cover
2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'Barn in the Mist' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Barn in the Mist
2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'Lima East Valley' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Lima East Valley
2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'Ralph Pearce' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Ralph Pearce
2014

 

 

Photographer’s Note

This project began with a curiosity to discover something that is quietly going unnoticed. As our cities grow and society increasingly relies on technological advances, there remain those older generations whose lives are still rooted in a past era: the early to mid 20th century. This was an era where small-scale labor-intensive livelihoods could thrive. In the face of changing needs and corporate competition these kinds of livelihoods, such as the family-owned farm, are disappearing.

Susan Sontag wrote in her book On Photography that “a beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feelings because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists … Photography is a twilight art.” This photo-series also lingers in some kind of twilight zone and has a sense of urgency; indeed one person has passed away since being photographed.

I first intended to capture day-to-day life and work in these secluded rural valleys. With subject matter so steeped in romanticism, I felt a need to explore beyond the ‘countryside’ clichés and idealisation common in the attitudes of city people. After meeting the subjects and gaining their trust, I sensed personal stories that needed to be told. To my surprise these stories were told not so much in the words spoken, but rather in the person’s material surrounds. Domestic interiors scattered with objects became allegories for human experience. These environments were full of memory.

It wasn’t uncommon for someone to still live in the house they were born in. An empty chair, a leaning barn, a clock ticking on the wall: these once mundane objects became potent symbols of their owner’s past, their hopes and their reality. Some objects suggested loss and melancholia, others embodied feelings of pride and even humour.

In the Folds of Hills is an exploration of the wisdom and rich humanity found in the characters living and working on this land. In celebrating and acknowledging them and their stories, the photo-narratives also offer a somewhat poetic insight into their inner worlds.

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'On Mother's Bed' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
On Mother’s Bed
2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'Old Flowers' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Old Flowers
2014

 

 

Ralph Pearce

Ralph’s knowledge and understanding of this part of the world is humbling. Rainfall patterns, geography and vegetation are things that matter to Ralph. He invites us to climb into his ute and drives to a stand of fabled Lima stringybarks. Few now exist in the valley. Our gentle giant is very much at home amongst the tall timbers that have been his livelihood for so many years.

“I still love mucking about in the bush,” chuckles Ralph with a twinkle in his eye. He shows us his tools, most importantly his axes, and carefully describes their variations and uses. The sheds back at the homestead hold a treasury of farming history and Ralph proudly shows us the old dairy, his shearing shed and a faithful companion, a Honda 110 motorbike. The land continues to give Ralph what he needs. His vegetable patch is impressive and the old gnarled fruit trees bear their gifts seasonally. Once a fortnight Ralph drives to Benalla for groceries and a chat. Every second Tuesday evening he travels to the nearby Moorngag Hall for a round of cards with friends from the district. Charlie Jensen, his childhood mate, collects him.

When next we visit Ralph he shows us around the rest of his house. His mother was clearly a significant influence. She died in 1985 aged ninety-eight and was blind for the last nine years of her life. Ralph cared for her. Her suitcase, packed for hospital, still sits in her room. Little has changed in the house since she died.

ABC Radio keeps Ralph informed. And informed he is. Television has never made an appearance in this house. Ralph speaks to us with the wisdom of someone who has seen many fashions and many politicians come and go. One cannot help but be touched by the simplicity and integrity of this man’s life. Ralph is a quiet gentleman, unassuming, self-reliant and comfortable within his skin. (Extract from stories by Charlotte Laemmle from the book In the Folds of Hills)

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. 'Ralph's oven' 2014

 

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Ralph’s oven
2014

 

 

The Field Institute at The Compound Interest (Centre for the Applied Arts)
15-25 Keele Street, Collingwood, Victoria

Opening hours:
Wed – Fri 11.00 am – 6.00 pm
Sat 12 am – 5pm

Field Institute website

The Compound Interest website

In the Folds of Hills website

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28
Jan
14

Artwork: Hamzeh Carr. ‘And none hath sought for this as I will seek’ 1926

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In the flesh, the colouring and radiance of these plates has to be seen to be believed.

I shall be posting more of these stunning works. Please click on the artwork for a larger version of the image.

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Hamzeh Carr. 'And none hath sought for this as I will seek' 1926

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Hamzeh Carr
And none hath sought for this as I will seek
1926
from Sir Edwin Arnold. The Light of Asia. London: John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd, 1926, p.81
Limited edition of 3,000 copies

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28
Nov
13

Vale Saul Leiter: the world will be less colour-full, less abstract, less sensual without him

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“Seeing is a neglected enterprise,” Mr. Leiter often said

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“I am not immersed in self-admiration,” he said. “When I am listening to Vivaldi or Japanese music or making spaghetti at 3 in the morning and realize that I don’t have the proper sauce for it, fame is of no use.”

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“He broke all the rules when it came to composing a photograph,” said Mr. Leiter’s assistant, Margit Erb, who confirmed his death, at his home. “He put things into the abstract, he paid attention to color, he threw foregrounds out of focus, which made the photographs feel very voyeuristic. He applied a painterly mentality that the photography world had not seen.”

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His art was enough.

Marcus

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Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Taxi
1956

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“”In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview for a monograph published in Germany in 2008. “One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.” …

Unplanned and unstaged, Mr. Leiter’s photographs are slices fleetingly glimpsed by a walker in the city. People are often in soft focus, shown only in part or absent altogether, though their presence is keenly implied. Sensitive to the city’s found geometry, he shot by design around the edges of things: vistas are often seen through rain, snow or misted windows.

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Mr. Leiter says in [the film] “In No Great Hurry.””

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Read the obituary of this wonderful artist at “Saul Leiter, Photographer Who Captured New York’s Palette, Dies at 89″ on the New York Times website, November 27, 2013

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Saul Leiter. 'Foot on El' 1954

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Saul Leiter
Foot on El
1954

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More images

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna, January – May 2013
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter Retrospective’ at The House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg, February – April 2012
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter: New York Reflections’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, October 2011 – March 2012

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24
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Ed Ruscha’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 9th April – 29th September 2013

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“Yes, there’s a certain power to a photograph. The camera has a way of disorienting a person, if it wants to and, for me, when it disorients, it’s got real value.”

“My pictures are not that interesting, nor the subject matter. They are simply a collection of “facts;” my book is more like a collection of “Ready-mades.””

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Ed Ruscha

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Cultural curiosities. A language of the street.

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. The rest I sourced from the internet (and spent hours cleaning) to make a better posting about the exhibition. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Contact sheet for Pacific Coast Highway' 1974

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Contact sheet for Pacific Coast Highway
1974
Inkjet print
32.8 x 48.2 cm (12 15/16 x 19 in.)
The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
© Edward Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Camera-ready Maquette for Every Building on the Sunset Strip' 1966

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Camera-ready Maquette for Every Building on the Sunset Strip
1966
Gelatin silver print on board
63.5 x 92.1 cm (24 15/16 x 36 1/4 in.)
The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
© Edward Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Beeline, Holbrook, Arizona' 1962

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Beeline, Holbrook, Arizona
1962
Gelatin silver print
11.7 x 12.1 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Shell, Daggett, California' 1962

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Shell, Daggett, California
1962
Gelatin silver print
11.9 x 12 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Standard, Figueroa Street, Los Angeles' 1962

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Standard, Figueroa Street, Los Angeles
1962
Gelatin silver print
12.4 x 14.6 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) 'Standard, Amarillo, Texas' 1962

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
Standard, Amarillo, Texas
1962
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 12.1 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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“In Focus: Ed Ruscha, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, at the Getty Center, April 9 – September 29, 2013, offers a concentrated look at Ruscha’s deep engagement with Los Angeles’s vernacular architecture and the urban landscape. The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in Los Angeles, and opens simultaneously with Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, another exhibition presented at the Getty Museum as part of this regional initiative. The Overdrive exhibition also contains images by Ruscha.

One of the most influential American artists working today, Ed Ruscha moved to Los Angeles in 1956 and continues to live and work in the city, incorporating local architecture, streets, and even the city’s attitude into paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs that are known for their graphic directness. Beginning in the 1960s, he began publishing photobooks and using photographs to document thoroughfares in the Los Angeles area.

“Throughout his career, photography has played an important role in Ruscha’s exploration of the vernacular architecture, urban landscape, and car culture of Los Angeles,” commented Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “By bringing together photographs from our collection and archival materials from the Getty Research Institute, we have been able to present a much richer understanding of Ruscha’s work and process.”

Highlighting an important joint acquisition of the artist’s work by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute in 2011, this exhibition features a selection of vintage prints related to Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965), the original camera-ready maquettes for Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), and contact sheets from this documentation of the Pacific Coast Highway (1974). The exhibition is co-­curated by Virginia Heckert, curator in the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum, and John Tain, assistant curator in Collection Development at the Getty Research Institute.

“Gas stations and apartment buildings are among the quintessentially Southern Californian motifs that feature in Ruscha’s work,” says Heckert. “The Getty Museum’s acquisition of photographs made in conjunction with his photo books of the early 1960s gives us the opportunity to share his enthusiasm for the logos, signage, and language that enliven even the most banal architecture.”

Adds Tain, “What’s exciting about the photography that came out of Ruscha’s documentation of the Sunset Strip is that it really altered the sense of what was possible with street photography, which had always been from the viewpoint of the pedestrian. Today we have the Google Maps roving fleet of camera cars, but Ruscha was doing this kind of photography more than forty years ago.”

The exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to appreciate Ruscha’s photographs not as halftone reproductions in modest, mass-produced books, but as prints of the period. One of the best known images included in the exhibition is Standard, Amarillo, Texas (1962), which Ruscha used as the basis for his iconic oil painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1963). Other unpublished images from the iconic series of gasoline stations will be on view as well. Also included are the original camera-ready maquettes and press pulls for Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Ruscha’s fourth and arguably best-known photobook. Due to light sensitive annotations, each panel will be on view for eight weeks. The complete set of three maquettes will be on view during the first week of the exhibition only, April 9-14.

On display for the first time is a selection of contact sheets of the Pacific Coast Highway, representing a small sample of this monumental undertaking. Ruscha’s documentation captures the dramatically different landscapes of both the view west toward the Pacific Ocean and the view east toward the cliffs. The Pacific Coast Highway is just one of several streets that Ruscha has photographed over the past four and a half decades, beginning in 1965 with Sunset Boulevard. These contact sheets are part of Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles archive, including thousands of photographic negatives, proof sheets, contact prints, and related documents and ephemera, which was acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 2011. Nearly sixty photographs were acquired by the Getty Museum at the same time, making the Getty a preeminent resource for understanding the role of photography in Ruscha’s practice.

In Focus: Ed Ruscha is co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, and features 50 works from both collections.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '708 S. Barrington Ave. [The Dolphin]' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
708 S. Barrington Ave. [The Dolphin]
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 11.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '1018 S. Atlantic Blvd.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
1018 S. Atlantic Blvd.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
10.8 x 11.1 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '1323 Bronson' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
1323 Bronson
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 12 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '1555 Artesia Blvd.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
1555 Artesia Blvd.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.1 x 11.4 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '4489 Murietta Ave.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
4489 Murietta Ave.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.4 x 11.4 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '5947 Carlton Way' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
5947 Carlton Way
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.9 x 12 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '6565 Fountain Ave.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
6565 Fountain Ave.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 11.8 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '10433 Wilshire Blvd.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
10433 Wilshire Blvd.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.7 x 11.8 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '818 Doheny Dr.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
818 Doheny Dr.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
11.6 x 11.7 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937) '3919 N. Rosemead Blvd.,' 1965

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Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937)
3919 N. Rosemead Blvd.,
1965
Gelatin silver print
12 x 12 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Ed Ruscha

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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02
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Max Ernst’ at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

Exhibition dates: 26th May – 8th September 2013

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Many thankx to the Fondation Beyeler for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version of the art.

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Max Ernst. The Entire City La ville entière 1935/36

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Max Ernst
The Entire City
La ville entière
1935/36
Oil on canvas
60 cm x 81 cm
Kunsthaus Zurich
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Kunsthaus Zurich

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Max Ernst.  Nature at Dawn (Evensong) La nature à l’aurore (Chant du soir) 1938

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Max Ernst
Nature at Dawn (Evensong)
La nature à l’aurore (Chant du soir)

1938
Oil on canvas
81 cm x 100 cm
Private collection
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich

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Max Ernst. 'Painting for Young People' 1943

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Max Ernst
Painting for Young People
1943
Oil on canvas
60.5 cm x 76.5 cm
The Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, Berlin
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Jochen Littkemann, Berlin

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Max Ernst. Woman, Old Man, and Flower Weib, Greis und Blume 1924

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Max Ernst
Woman, Old Man, and Flower
Weib, Greis und Blume
1924
Oil on canvas
97 cm x 130 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © 2013, Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

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Max Ernst. 'Oedipus Rex' 1922

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Max Ernst
Oedipus Rex
1922
Oil on canvas
93 cm x 102 cm
Private collection
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich

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This work is innately Freudian just in name, let alone in content. The Oedipus complex is one of the most well recognized components of Freudian theory and it is seen in this work names after it in many ways. The first is through the process of condensation. This can be seen as the bird headed man, which shows up in many of Ernst’s images: the association in this image between the man and the bird is the desire of man to be free from the inhibitions imposed upon him by society, and despite the fact that these two still retain their separate identities, they are consistent with Freud’s ideas. In the case of this work, the head is removed from the body, showing a detachment from true feeling and true understanding of life. Another Freudian idea is the use of the joke, which is seen in the treatment of several of the objects in this work. Such as the contrast and juxtaposition of the wall, the over-sized fingers, upside down eyes on the birds, and the balloon in the aft of the painted collage. Several other associations relating this work to Freud can be drawn as well.

This work has intense sexual undercurrents. The nut represents the female and the crack in the nut is a symbol for the vulva. The cracking of the nut by the hands of a male is a metaphor for sexual intercourse and also gender roles in traditional patriarchal cultures. The idea of the treatment of woman and of her place within society is also visible in another piece by Ernst, The Tottering Woman. In this piece, he addresses the constraints in which woman are held in the world and the patriarchy that she must deal with on a daily basis. It also touches upon the objectification of woman as well. Hoffman also theorizes that the squeezing of the nut has implications of sadomasochistic roles as the nut is being dominated and crushed, the spike is punishing the hand equally and finally, once forced open, the “nut” could always snap back shut, injuring the index finger and thereby is a signifier of neurotic sexual attachment. The bird head in towards the back of the picture plane is tethered by some sort of rope, which could be seen as societal restrictions on deviant sexuality and possibly is a reaction to the taboo associated with incest. Additionally, the arrow as it pierces the shell of the nut could be seen as a phallic signifier or also as a representation for the idea of love and then a refutation of the existence of love within the constraints of sexual desire and sexuality. The imagery in this piece by Ernst is intensely psychosexual in nature and content and can be seen mostly in those terms.

In defense of picking Oedipus Rex to write about in the context of collage, it is true that it is an oil painting, but its imagery was taken from print sources and then was transposed into the work by the act of painting them. The nut squeezing image was taken from an article entitled “Experience sur l’elasticite, faite avec une noix,” from the popular 19th century French Magazine La Nature.

Anon from Ernst: Chance, Collage and the Study of Freud

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Max Ernst. The Fireside Angel (The Triumph of Surrealism) L’ange du foyer (Le triomphe du surréalisme) 1937

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Max Ernst
The Fireside Angel (The Triumph of Surrealism)
L’ange du foyer (Le triomphe du surréalisme)
1937
Oil on canvas
114 cm x 146 cm
Private collection
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich

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This is one of the rare pictures by Max Ernst which refer directly to a political incident. He commented on this: “The Fireside Angel is a picture I painted after the defeat of the Republicans in Spain. This is, of course, an ironical title for a kind of clumsy oaf which destroys everything that gets in the way. That was my impression in those days of the things that might happen in the world. And I was right.” The Fireside Angel is depicted as an avenging character from the Bible. Its destructive potential is stressed by its aggressive coloring. In the figure of the angel, blind traumatizing force is expressed, against which mankind is defenseless. Since there is no hope for negotiations with an inhuman force, the blind aggressor seems even more frightening.

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“With the exhibition of over 160 of his works at the Fondation Beyeler in cooperation with the Albertina, Vienna, the “artist of the century” Max Ernst (1891-1976) will be given the first comprehensive retrospective in Switzerland since his death as well as the first held in a German-speaking country since 1999.

Max Ernst is one of Modernism’s most versatile artists. After his beginnings as a rebellious Dadaist in Cologne, he moved to Paris in 1922, where he soon became one of the pioneers of Surrealism. He was interned twice as an enemy alien during the Second World but was released thanks to the intervention of the poet Paul Éluard, who was his friend. In 1941 Max Ernst fled to the USA, where he found new stimuli for his work as well as providing new impulses for the generation of young American artists. A decade later he returned to a Europe that had been devastated by the war and where the once highly esteemed Max Ernst seemed to have been forgotten, only to be rediscovered as one of the 20th century’s most multifaceted artists. In 1958, having renounced his German nationality in 1948 in order to take US citizenship, Max Ernst eventually became a French citizen.

Ernst was indeed one of the “artists of the century” – not only because of the high quality and wide range of his oeuvre but also because of the length of his creative career, which lasted around 60 years from 1915 to 1975. Active at a time of tremendous artistic, social, political and technical upheaval, he knew how to integrate these changes into his oeuvre, which therefore reflects key characteristics of the 20th century. The pleasure Max Ernst took in experimenting with different techniques made him a pioneer of multimedia expression. With no apparent effort, he combined in his work the themes, styles and techniques that were important to successive generations. His ceaseless quest for new forms of expression, questions and subjects is emblematic of modern man. Max Ernst appears to us as the artist who never wanted to find himself, as he once said: “A painter is lost when he finds himself”.

With his early Dadaist experience, his key position among the Surrealists and his prelude to action painting, Max Ernst travelled between worlds and cultures, moving to Paris from Cologne and from New York back to France. At a time of political unrest, he maintained his critical, creative gaze, seeking refuge in a country, the USA, which he scarcely knew but to which he nonetheless responded with curiosity and which provided him with important impulses for his late work. With exhibitions in New York, projects in Arizona and Touraine, participation in the Venice Biennale and Documenta, Max Ernst was an early 20th century example of the kind of “cultural and artistic nomad” who only later became a customary figure.

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Collage

As early as 1919, Max Ernst started working with the technique of collage, which he used to design or simulate new pictorial realities. He created his collages from illustrations taken from various novels, textbook catalogues, natural science journals and 19th century sales catalogues. He excised the fragments from wood engravings, using a scalpel in order to achieve cut edges that were perfectly exact and smooth. In around 1929/30 Max Ernst created his most famous collage novels La femme 100 têtes (Hundred-Headed Woman/ Headless Woman) and Rêve d’une petite fille qui voulut entrer au Carmel (A little Girl dreams of taking the Veil), which are among Surrealism’s most fascinating, enigmatic works.

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Frottage

In around 1925, Max Ernst began his Natural History series, in which he used the technique of frottage for the first time (the French word frotter means “to rub”) as a semi-automatic procedure. He placed objets trouvés he found outdoors, such as leaves and wood, under a sheet of paper and rubbed over them with a pencil. Then he took the structures that emerged and transformed them into fantastic pictures. In his frottages, Ernst breathes new life into lifeless objects, giving them another, to some extent uncustomary, significance. Max Ernst developed frottage while he was staying in Brittany. In his essay Beyond Painting he describes a kind of visionary revelation that caused him to use the wooden floor and other objects in his guest-house room as objects for his frottages.

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Grattage

Grattage is an artistic technique used by Max Ernst in painting that he developed in around 1927 as an extension of frottage. In a first phase, he applied several superimposed layers of paint to a canvas. Underneath the painting ground that he prepared in that way, he placed objects such as metal grids, wooden boards and string, the relief of which could be seen through the canvas. In order to transfer those structures to the picture, he scratched away the top layers of paint (gratter is the French word for “to scratch”). In a subsequent phase, he reworked the patterns that had become visible, transforming them into forests, shellflowers, birds and petrified cities.

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Decalcomania

Decalcomania is a transfer technique in which the damp pigment on a piece of glass or a sheet of paper is pressed against a canvas, leaving behind fine streaks, bubbles or marbled traces of paint when they are removed. In a subsequent phase, the artist reworks the complex surface structure. This artistic technique had already been developed in the 18th century and was used by other Surrealist artists too. Max Ernst adopted the technique in the late 1930s, using it to represent mysterious landscapes peopled by eery faces, figures and animals hiding in the thickets of nature.

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Oscillation

In around 1942, while an exile in the USA, Max Ernst started developing the technique of oscillation. He let paint drip out of a tin perforated with a number of holes, which he attached to a long string and swung to and fro over the canvas. This largely uncontrollable and, once again, semi-automatic procedure created reticulated compositions of circles, lines and points on the surface that were reminiscent of planets’ orbits. Oscillation was an innovative technique that not only extended the range of Surrealism’s artistic repertoire but also heralded Jackson Pollock’s Drip Painting.”

Press release from the Fondation Beyeler website

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Max Ernst. At the First Limpid Word Au premier mot limpide 1923

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Max Ernst
At the First Limpid Word
Au premier mot limpide
1923
Oil on plaster, transferred to canvas
232 cm x 167 cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Walter Klein, Düsseldorf

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At the First Limpid Word is one such puzzle. A monumental work, it formed part of the decoration of the house that Max Ernst shared with Paul Éluard and his wife Gala (who later became Dalí’s muse). It was only in the 1960s that the wall painting, which had been painted over, was rediscovered. This painting, “an allegory of seduction,” is such a simple composition but is filled with symbolism in color and subject.

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Max Ernst. 'Ubu Imperator' 1923

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Max Ernst
Ubu Imperator
1923
Oil on canvas
100 cm x 81 cm
Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat

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Like many of Ernst’s paintings during his Paris period (1922-1941), Ubu Imperator resembles a collage in painted form. The artist’s knowledge of Freudian theories, familiarity with myth and extreme wit are reflected in this early painting, which is now considered proto-Surrealist due to its strange juxtapositions.

In Ubu Imperator (1923), an anthropomorphic top dances in a vast, empty landscape. Such works captured early on the surrealist notion of estrangement and commitment to the subconscious, but also they seem surprisingly contemporary. The red Ubu Imperator marked the entry of Ernst in the articulated stage of surrealism by his use of a literary narrative that was sometimes personal, sometimes political. In this seminal work a spinning top, a red carcass with iron reinforcement, and human hands express an astonishing image of the Ubu Father, a grotesque symbol of authority invented by Alfred Jarry. Other paintings suggest Ernst’s impressions of ancient Buddhist temples (à la Angkor Wat) as inspired from his trip to Asia following the breakup of his famous ménage à trois with Gala and Paul Eluard. This structure and thickly overgrown plants appear in many of his engravings and grattage oil paintings, such as The Entire City (1935-36) and The Petrified City (1935). (Max Ernst: A Retrospective on The Brooklyn Rail website)

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Max Ernst. Approaching Puberty… (The Pleiades) La puberté proche... (les pléiades) 1921

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Max Ernst
Approaching Puberty… (The Pleiades)
La puberté proche… (les pléiades)
1921
Collage, gouache, and oil on paper, mounted on cardboard
24.5 cm x 16.5 cm
Private collection
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich

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The Pleiades, companions of Artemis, were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione born on Mount Cyllene. They are the sisters of Calypso, Hyas, the Hyades, and the Hesperides. The Pleiades were nymphs in the train of Artemis, and together with the seven Hyades were called the Atlantides, Dodonides, or Nysiades, nursemaids and teachers to the infant Bacchus. There is some debate as to the origin of the name Pleiades. Previously, it was accepted the name is derived from the name of their mother, Pleione. However, the name Pleiades may derive from πλεῖν(to sail) because of their importance in delimiting the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea. (Wikipedia)

For Ernst eroticism was another way of entering the unconscious, of escaping from convention, and possibly of tweaking bourgeois taste. But he was aware that adult sexuality had its limits, as is apparent in the exquisite Approaching Puberty… (1921). A photograph of a nude, faceless girl floats in a blue space stratified by horizontal lines, suggesting water or the sky. A few strangely disparate forms surround the girl, and the short text at the bottom ends, “The gravitation of the undulations does not yet exist.” The title, this line, and the fact that the girl floats in space rather than standing on the ground – as most of Ernst’s figures do – suggests that he sees in pubescence a kind of weightless freedom. In a related but nonsexual image, an Untitled c. 1921 collage, four schoolboys peer out of their classroom (from which a wall is missing) at a vast blue sky in which a hot-air balloon floats. A schoolmaster stands alone and ignored at his desk; next to him one of the boys balances a giant pencil on a pointer. What’s learned in school, Ernst seems to say, is far less important than visions of the sky. (“Max Ernst’s Theater of Reveries” by Fred Camper on the Chicago Reader website)

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Max Ernst. 'Napoleon in the Wilderness' 1941

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Max Ernst
Napoleon in the Wilderness
1941
Oil on canvas
46.3 cm x 38 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © 2013, Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

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In Max Ernst’s painting Napoleon in the Wilderness (1941), a strange whimsical trumpet appears in the hand of a female figure that seems to have sprung from the sinister rock and coral formations of a world in ruin. This painting formed part of suite of decalcomania works, in which Carrington’s semi-naked figure haunts a series of eerie landscapes, richly textured and abundant with mythological hybrid forms. Between periods of internment during the war, Ernst had managed to continue painting, producing haunting images of his abandoned lover in works that evoke his own sense of loss and grief in macabre scenes that promise both decay and renewal. (From Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis by Natalya Lusty)

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“The exhibition is a chronological presentation of all the major creative phases and groups of themes in Max Ernst’s work, opening with Capricorn, his most important sculpture. Max Ernst, who was born on 2 April 1891 in Brühl (Germany), first learnt about painting from his father. He had a conservative, middle-class upbringing, against which he soon rebelled. Starting in 1910, he studied art history as well as psychology, Romance languages and philosophy. Initially influenced by Expressionism and Futurism, he soon came in contact with other artists and art movements.

His early work City with Animals demonstrates this unique combination of different styles, displaying both Cubist and Futurist features. His encounter with Hans Arp (also represented in the Beyeler Collection along with the Surrealists Dalí, Giacometti and Miró) came at a time full of turmoil. Dada is born; the years after the First World War are a time of radical change, protest and experimentation.

Dada brings Max Ernst into contact with Surrealist artists. He ceases to be just a German artist and becomes a leading figure in the Surrealist art movement in Paris. There his works begin to acquire enigmatic qualities, for the unconscious and dreams are important elements of Surrealism, which it took over from psychoanalysis. Max Ernst remains an innovator, experimenting with frottage from the mid-1920s onwards. Hybrid creatures are created from different natural species; his interest in the natural sciences finds expression in his works.

At the First Limpid Word is one such puzzle. A monumental work, it formed part of the decoration of the house that Max Ernst shared with Paul Éluard and his wife Gala (who later became Dalí’s muse). It was only in the 1960s that the wall painting, which had been painted over, was rediscovered. The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Infant Jesus is an equally spectacular work, a scandal-provoking painting with blasphemous elements that deconstructs the traditional sacred image of the Madonna, representing a radical liberation from Ernst’s middle class roots. One whole room in the exhibition is developed to the theme of the forest, with a number of masterpieces from that series. Considerable importance is also attached to the series of Horde paintings from the late 1920s; the metamorphosed figures convey the theme of transformation. With the Flowers and Cities series (which focus on the antitheses of nature and culture), other important groups of themes are also presented.

Room 11 will contain a number of key works with the jungle paintings from the second half of the 1930s including Nature at Dawn with its dark, sinister character. Different traditions are echoed here, ranging from borrowings from Henri Rousseau to the Romanticism of a painter like Caspar David Friedrich. With The Robing of the Bride there is not only an obvious reference to Renaissance art but also a more differentiated context. The transformation of a woman into an animal and vice versa is an erotic motif that the painting conveys through a number of details. The Fireside Angel, on the other hand, thematises the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, with which many artists and intellectuals concerned themselves. With the brightly coloured, mask-like, terrifying dimension of its figure, which seems to fly towards the viewer as an unstoppable whirlwind between aggression and mockery, Max Ernst prefigures the political catastrophe that was to befall Europe.

Ernst’s late work displays thematic caesura – on the one hand, a poetical and sensuous contemplation using over-painting in the refined, technically innovative work The Garden of France and, on the other, Birth of a Galaxy, a splendid late work in which air, water, earth and light all rise into a starry firmament. As a free spirit – ironical, elegant and rebellious – and a man of many different facets, Max Ernst today remains an artist whose work is both accessible and complex. His works speak to us, evoking uncharted depths and hidden mysteries, as well as prompting reflection. Like mercury – which continuously changes shape in a fascinating way, hence being impossible to grasp – Max Ernst is still an exceptional artist almost forty years after his death, exemplary in his artistic independence and possessing an urge for freedom and a bold readiness for innovation in his work and life that preserve his oeuvre from stylistic opportunism and conventionality.

Max Ernst’s creativity in handling sources of imagery and inspiration, the breaks between his many phases and types of subject matter, are still capable of astonishing viewers today. Like a revolutionary of vision, he rearranged images and elements, and as a Surrealist established links between pictures and the viewer’s unconscious mind. What remained a constant was the persistence of Ernst’s rebellion. Like his life, he once said, his work was “not harmonious in the sense of classical composers.” A master of metamorphosis, Ernst was a searcher and discoverer, an honarary doctor of philosophy who increasingly expanded his range of investigation to include astronomy, ethnology, ornithology, mathematics and psychoanalysis, following up his love of the natural sciences and creative chance.”

Press release from the Fondation Beyeler website

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Max Ernst. The Robing of the Bride L'habillement de l’épousée / de la mariée 1940

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Max Ernst
The Robing of the Bride
L’habillement de l’épousée / de la mariée
1940
Oil on canvas
129.6 cm x 96.3 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York)
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York)

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The Robing of the Bride (1939-41; Venice, Guggenheim) employs Renaissance perspective devices and Cranach-like figures to represent a pagan marriage.

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Max Ernst. The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard and the Artist La Vierge corrigeant l’enfant Jésus devant trois témoins: André Breton, Paul Éluard et le peintre 1926

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Max Ernst
The Blessed Virgin Chastising the Infant Jesus before Three Witnesses: André Breton, Paul Éluard and the Artist
La Vierge corrigeant l’enfant Jésus devant trois témoins: André Breton, Paul Éluard et le peintre
1926
Oil on canvas
196 cm x 130 cm
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Peter Willi / ARTOTHEK

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Max Ernst. The Immaculate Conception L'immaculée conception 1929

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Max Ernst
The Immaculate Conception
L’immaculée conception
1929
Master illustration for La femme 100 têtes, chapter 1, plate 12
Collage on paper
14.2 cm x 14.5 cm
Private collection
© 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich

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Max Ernst La femme 100 têtes (1967) pt1

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This is a ‘free’ adaptation of Max Ernst’s collage book La femme 100 têtes, originally published in 1929. directed by Eric Duvivier. The book consisted of a surrealist picture per page, with a little legend. But the story depended on the ability of the reader to interpret the collages, and was not relying that much on the legends. The book was about a woman who was living among ghosts and ants, and was an allegory of the immaculate conception.

Thus, even if that movie is in french, with no subs, it is possible, and even encouraged, to view it as a collage in motion.

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'Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst with the cement sculpture Capricorne (Capricorn), Sedona, Arizona' 1948

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Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst with the cement sculpture Capricorne (Capricorn), Sedona, Arizona
1948
© 
2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Max Ernst Documentation, Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris / John Kasnetzis

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Dorothea Margaret Tanning (August 25, 1910 – January 31, 2012) was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer. She created ballet sets and costumes for George Balanchine’s Night Shadow, at the Metropolitan Opera House and others. She also appeared in Hans Richter’s avant-garde films. As an artist she was influenced by Dada and Surrealism and married fellow Surrealist Max Ernst.

As she recounts in her memoirs, Birthday and Between Lives, when Ernst visited her studio in 1942, they played chess, fell in love, and embarked on a life together that soon took them to Sedona, Arizona, and later to France. They met at a party in 1942 and after he would drop by Dorothea’s studio where she painted for a Surrealist movement exhibition of art by women for Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century. In that exhibition, Tanning’s work showed along with the work of Louise Nevelson and Gypsy Rose Lee. Soon after this encounter Ernst moved in with her.

They married in 1946, in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Hollywood, after Ernst’s divorce from Peggy Guggenheim. They remained married for 30 years until his death. In 1949, Tanning and Ernst moved to France, where they divided their time between Paris, Touraine and later Provence. They would often host guest such as Balanchine, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcel Duchamp, Pavel Tchelitchew and Dylan Thomas. In 1957 Tanning and Ernst moved to France again because Max Ernst was denied citizenship as a German during the McCarthy era. When speaking on her relationship with Ernst in an interview, Tanning said: “I was a loner, am a loner, good Lord, it’s the only way I can imagine working. And then when I hooked up with Max Ernst, he was clearly the only person I needed and, I assure you, we never, never talked art. Never.”

After Max Ernst died in 1979 Dorothea Tanning returned to the United States. (Wikipedia)

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'Max Ernst with rocking horse, Paris' 1938

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Max Ernst with rocking horse, Paris
1938
2013, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: Max Ernst Museum Brühl des LVR, Stiftung Max Ernst

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Fondation Beyeler
Beyeler Museum AG
Baselstrasse 77, CH-4125
Riehen, Switzerland

Opening hours:
10 am – 6 pm daily, Wednesdays until 8 pm

Fondation Beyeler 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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