Archive for the 'book' Category

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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27
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962), The Question of Classicism’ at The Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 1st September 2013

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Six new images in this posting that I have not published before in a previous posting on this exhibition, at a different venue. I love her style and sensuality!

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Many thankx to The Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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LAG05_Laure-Albin-Guillot_Louis-Jouvet_WEB

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Louis Jouvet
c. 1925
Collections Roger-Viollet / Parisienne de Photographie
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Louis Jouvet (24 December 1887 – 16 August 1951) was a renowned French actor, director, and theatre director.

Overcoming speech impediments and sometimes paralyzing stage fright as a young man, Jouvet’s first important association was with Jacques Copeau’s Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, beginning in 1913. Copeau’s training included a varied and demanding schedule, regular exercise for agility and stamina, and pressing his cast and crew to invent theatrical effects in a bare-bones space. It was there Jouvet developed his considerable stagecraft skills, particularly makeup and lighting (he developed a kind of accent light named the jouvet). These years included a successful tour to the United States.

While influential, Copeau’s theater was never lucrative. Jouvet left in October 1922 for the Comédie des Champs-Élysées (the small stage of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées). In December 1923 he staged his single most successful production, the satire Dr. Knock, written by Jules Romains. Jouvet’s meticulous characterization of the manipulative crank doctor was informed by his own experience in pharmacy school. It became his signature and his standby; “Jouvet was to produce it almost every year until the end of his life”.

Jouvet began an ongoing close collaboration with playwright Jean Giraudoux in 1928, with a radical streamlining of Giraudoux’s 1922 Siegfried et le Limousin for the stage. Their work together included the first staging of The Madwoman of Chaillot in 1945, at the Théâtre de l’Athénée, where Jouvet served as director from 1934 through his death in 1951.

Jouvet starred in some 34 films, including two recordings of Dr. Knock, once in 1933 and again in 1951. He was professor at the French National Academy of Dramatic Arts. He had a heart attack while at his beloved Théâtre de l’Athénée and died in his dressing room on August 16, 1951. Jouvet is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. The Athénée theatre now bears his name. (Wikipedia)

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Louis Jouvet in a scene from Entrée des artistes (Marc Allegret, 1938)

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Off-print for the Mayoly-Spindler laboratory, Paris' c. 1940

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Off-print for the Mayoly-Spindler laboratory, Paris
c. 1940
Pivate collection, Paris

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Advertisement for the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre' c. 1940

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Advertisement for the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre
c. 1940
Private collection, Paris

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Jean Cocteau' 1939

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Jean Cocteau
1939
Private collection, Paris
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Trailer for Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau, narrated by Cocteau himself

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Hubert de Givenchy' 1948

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Hubert de Givenchy
1948
Collections Roger-Viollet / Parisienne de Photographie
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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The Fashion Designer and His Muse – Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy

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“Laure Albin Guillot (Paris, 1879-1962), a “resounding name that should become famous”, one could read just after World War II. Indeed, the French photographic scene in the middle of the century was particularly marked by the signature and aura of this artist, who during her lifetime was certainly the most exhibited and recognised, not only for her talent and virtuosity but also for her professional engagement.

The exhibition presented at the Musée de l’Elysée in collaboration with the Jeu de Paume gathers a significant collection of 200 original prints and books by Laure Albin Guillot, as well as magazines and documents of the period from public and private collections. A large number of the original prints and documents on show come from the collections of the Agence Roger-Viollet, in collab-oration with Parisienne de Photographie, which acquired Laure Albin Guillot’s studio stock in 1964. Made up of 52,000 negatives and 20,000 prints, this source has made it possible to question the oeuvre and the place that the photographer really occupies in history. The photographer’s work could appear as a counter-current to the French artistic scene of the 1920s to 40s, whose modernity and avant-garde production attract our attention and appeal to cur­rent tastes. It is however this photography, incarnating classicism and a certain “French style” that was widely celebrated at the time.

If Laure Albin Guillot’s photography was undeniably in vogue between the wars, her personality remains an enigma.

Paradoxically, very little research has been carried out into the work and career of this artist. Her first works were seen in the salons and publications of the early 1920s, but it was essentially during the 1930s and 40s that Laure Albin Guillot, artist, professional and institutional figure, dominated the photographic arena. As an independent photographer, she practised several genres, including portraiture, the nude, landscape, still life and, to a lesser degree, documentary photography. Technically unrivalled, she raised the practice to a certain elitism. A photographer of her epoch, she used the new means of distribution of the image to provide illustrations and advertising images for the press and publishing industry.

She was notably one of the first in France to consider the deco­rative use of photography through her formal research into the infinitely tiny. With photomicrography, which she renamed “micro­graphie”, Laure Albin Guillot offfered new creative perspectives in the combination of art and science. Finally, as member of the Société des artistes décorateurs, the Société française de photo­graphie, director of photographic archives for the Direction générale des Beaux-Arts (forerunner of the Ministry of Culture) and director of the project for the Cinémathèque nationale, president of the Union féminine des carrières libérales, she emerges as one of the most active personalities and most aware of the photographic and cultural stakes of the period.

Organised in four parts, the exhibition explores the various aspects of Laure Albin Guillot’s work

Portraits

Laure Albin Guillot began her career in the early 1920s with portraits and fashion photography. Already, her trademark was elegance, her method was quite systematic and she used various artifices: pared-back decor, close-ups, limited depth of field, simple lighting. The sought-after effect of interiority and intimacy was accentuated by inspired poses that translate the sitter’s character as is done by painters. She accepted being compared to the pictorialists. At the start she was quite close to them in her form and technique, following an aesthetic whose expression was facilitated by her use of lenses that blur (Opale and Eïdoscope). Her sessions were short (never more than twenty minutes), the lamps were positioned to sup­plement each other and not a detail was left in the shadow thanks to a weaker lighting facing the first; while claiming not to go beyond a certain naturalism, she improved the natural: contours are softened, the diffused light is flattering.

In the exercise of the nude, the photographer privileged the mas­tery of form over inspiration, she sought a poetic purity, a dema­terialisation of the body through the power of the spirit; her nudes are constructed by light, they tend towards the ideal. In complete contrast to the importance of character in the portrait, its reduction to a visual form makes the model into a collection of lines, the face is pushed into the corners, almost rubbed out. Laure Albin Guillot did not practise a fragmented language, she proposed fluid forms that appear simple but in reality are highly worked. The reference to statuary is assumed and provides a wide variety of uses for the photographs, each containing several.

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A Decorative Art

After 1918, Paris rediscovered its artistic vocation and the “French style” triumphed at the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts indus­triels et modernes. Alongside the artists and craftsmen, Laure Albin Guillot exhibited an exceptional series of portraits of decorators. She herself made some kakemonos starting from stylised photographs and, inspired by Japanisation, she had some of her photographs inserted into lacquered wood as screens or fire guards.

In 1931, her book Micrographie décorative won her instant international recognition; the work is a visual curiosity, playing on the ambi­guity between the origins of the photographic subject and the nature of the reproduced image. The twenty plates of diatoms, minerals and plants taken through a microcope are as much aesthetic proposi­tions as the magisterial culmination of a reflection shared with her late husband, himself a collector of microscopic preparations. This much publicised publication triggered a series of glowing articles that enthused on the fusion between science and art. The micrographs were declined in wallpaper, silks, bindings and assorted objects. In the debate between partisans and detractors of photogra­phy as art, she provided her answer: according to her, photography is a decorative art. Micrographie décorative was to be published with a preface by Paul Léon, Director of Fine Art, in homage to Albin Guillot, deceased in 1929.

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Advertising Photography

In 1933, Laure Albin Guillot published Photographie publicitaire (Advertising Photography). This book is one of the rare theoretical works written by a French photographer between the wars. At the time she was known for her portraits, her decorative proposals, her fashion photographs and advertising images. But she was also an institutional figure, director of both the photographic archives of the Beaux-Arts (the future Ministry of Culture) and the Cinémathèque nationale.

Laure Albin Guillot was fully aware of the media and commercial stakes developing around the cinema, radio and the illustrated press. Based on her own experience, she tried with this book to define the role that photography could play in the world of advertising that was taking shape. From the end of the 1920s, she carried out a large number of adver-tising illustrations. She thus elaborated a repertory of simple, effec­tive and easily understandable visual diagrams. A large proportion of her work concerned luxury products such as fine watchmaking, jewellery or fashion. But she also carried out numerous advertise­ments for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, the newest and most dynamic industrial sectors of the time.

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Books and Bibliophile Editions

Laure Albin Guillot’s work was published extensively. The photogra­pher did not work only for the press but also for book publishers, whether it was a matter of portraits of writers for the frontispiece of novels or photographs used here and there in collective works. Between 1934 and 1951, she illustrated no less than eleven books of varying type and subject: novel, school textbook, guide to the Musée du Louvre, prayer book, etc.

In parallel, in collaboration with Paul Valéry, Henry de Montherlant, Marcelle Maurette and Maurice Garçon, she made sumptuous “artist’s books” combining literature and photography. It was with a real strategy of promoting her work that the photographer undertook these works, which were mostly sold by subscription. Their fabrica­tion, luxury and rarity made them true collectors’ pieces at a time when a photography market did not exist (“I made photography an accepted part of bibliophilia,” she would write at the end of her life).

Exhibitions and artist’s books were intimately linked in her method: their publication was heralded by the presentation at a salon or a gal­lery of sets of prestigious proofs (the large majority pigmented proofs from Ateliers Fresson). Thus, the large-format prints exhibited in this section showing roads or landscapes were probably destinated to appear in albums finally not published.”

Press release from the The Musée de l’Elysée website

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Micrography, Hippuric Acid' c. 1931

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Micrography, Hippuric Acid
c. 1931
Collection société française de photographie
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Untitled' c. 1935-1940

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Untitled
c. 1935-1940
Collection du Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Paris, 2012
Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Nude Study' c. 1940

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Nude Study
c. 1940
Collections Roger-Viollet / Parisienne de Photographie
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Nude Study' 1939

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Nude Study
1939
Bibliothèque nationale de France
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Nude Study' c. 1938

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Nude Study
c. 1938
Collections Roger-Viollet / Parisienne de Photographie
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962) 'Les tierces alternées', illustration for 'Les préludes de Claude Debussy' 1948

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Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962)
Les tierces alternées, illustration for Les préludes de Claude Debussy
1948
Musée français de la photographie / Conseil général de l’Essonne, Benoît Chain
© Laure Albin Guillot / Roger-Viollet

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Claude Debussy – Prelude No.10: La cathedrale engloutie – Krystian Zimerman

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The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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19
Aug
13

Opening speech: ‘John Cato Retrospective’ and book launch at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale by Dr Marcus Bunyan

Opening: 17th August 2013

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

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It was an emotional time on Saturday afternoon as I opened the  John Cato Retrospective. I hope I did John and Dawn, their family and everyone proud. I burst into tears after the speech… I got a lovely email from Senga Peckham today which was very much appreciated:

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“Dear Marcus

Thank you so much for your excellent speech on Saturday. It was strong, heartfelt and beautiful.

Up there with the microphone you were probably not aware of the sentiment in the space. Many tears were shed. The grand daughters were so happy to be there. They were near me during your talk and extremely emotional. Many others were too. It was more of a wake really than an exhibition opening and book launch. Some people had travelled a long way and everyone wanted to be there. The warmth and tenderness was palpable and will be remembered for a long time.

Thank you for being such a major part of it and for putting your heart into each word.

Senga Peckham”

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Many thankx to BIFB for asking me to officially open the John Cato Retrospective and to launch the new book.

Visit the John Cato websiteView some of his images; Photographers David Callow and Andrew Chapman’s video tribute to John Cato (18 mins 39 secs) can be viewed on Vimeo (Password is Cato)

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John Cato Retrospective opening speech

It is a great pleasure to be here today to officially open the John Cato Retrospective and to launch a book that will have a major contribution to a continuing assessment of John’s work and is also an honouring, a mark of respect and admiration. These brief words are not about the many sides of John and all his aspects and careers – for that you will have to look elsewhere – but they are a short introduction to the personal and wider cultural need for John’s work.

My friendship with John and Dawn goes back to when I was studying photography at RMIT University in the early 1990s. John became a mentor when I held my first three solo photography exhibitions at the Photographers Gallery in Punt Road between 1991 and 1994. After I had finished my Phd in 2001, I co-curated a retrospective of his work at the very same gallery.

Many a weekend my partner and I travelled down to Carrum to see John and Dawn for lunch and afternoon tea, to talk about the things that matter in life – music, literature, art, love, loss – and to talk about my latest prints. They were the most glorious couple with such wonderful energy and they were so generous with their friendship and advice. John could smell bullshit a mile away and he would tell you, but he would also encourage you to look deeper into yourself and the world for the answers you were seeking. As James McArdle said to me recently, “He was a teacher determined to seek out the aptitudes and endowments of each student who came before him; his teaching and mentorship involved a deep empathy with each student’s approach. He was almost clairvoyant in being able to very quickly identify one’s strengths and it was on those he would concentrate, unafraid to express criticism; but only in terms of how a certain fault might detract from a certain strength.”1

And I will add, all of this with a warmth and affection that opened up a pathway to his insights.

John had strength of character in spades, always backed up by the vivacious Dawn. Imagine having a successful commercial career in Melbourne in the 1960s and giving it all away – to become an artist, a photographic artist at that! Imagine the courage it would have taken, in that time and place, to abandon all that had been successful in your life and follow another path, a path full of doubt and self-discovery, a journey that ultimately enabled him to help others through his teaching. As another friend of mine said to me recently, “In 1970 where did you go to see a fine art photograph on exhibition in a non-institutional gallery in Melbourne? The only place was the doorway to the John Cato / Athol Shmith / Paul Barr studio in Collins Street. You would never know which of the three photographers would have a print placed in that doorway.”

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According to Helen Ennis there has always been a distaste for self-reflective and contemplative modes of thinking in Australia, and photography has overwhelmingly been about ‘things’, “including actions and events, which have a concrete reality and a verifiable, independent existence… For most of the twentieth century inward-looking approaches, whether symbolist, surrealist or abstract, never really took hold.”2

John’s work is different. He was a groundbreaking artist. He was one of the first Australian photographers to create musical tone-poems – not traditional photo-essays as for magazines, but spiritual expositions about Self. In his internal meditation upon subject matter his concern was for the ‘felt’ landscape. He sought to express his relationship with the earth, air and water, aware of the contradictions in contemporary settler relations with the land. His photographs are not about the ‘when’ or ‘where’ but about a feeling in relation to the land, the spirit and the universe.

In this sense (that the photograph is always written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. John exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land and not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land. His photographs are photographs of the imagination as much as they are of place, rid of ego and become just the world. He created visions that placed the individual in harmony with the earth and in the process became not just a citizen of Australia but also a citizen of the world.

In this transformative act the artist not only awakens the reasoning mind but more importantly the soul. This is what John’s work does; it awakens the soul. His Alcheringa, his dreaming (for that is what Alcheringa means), was to pursue poetic truth in the world and it is his “gift” to us, to those that remain looking at his work. John commented that he would rather have questions than answers – I’m sure he would want to say that, and he would want to believe it – but it is my feeling that very deep down he was searching for the more beautiful answer – rather than just the beautiful question.

A very good friend of mine asked me recently whether I thought that John Cato was a great photographer. I have been thinking about that question ever since and my answer is this: he was a great photographer, one of Australia’s greatest, a great teacher and together with the sparkly-eyed Dawn, a wonderful human being. One measure of a photographer’s greatness is the amount of time he is prepared to spend helping others, and John spent a lot of time imparting his hard-earned wisdom.

As an artist, John has for too long been ignored by notable institutions that cannot accept the wonder in his work. There is an inexplicable coolness toward John and guardedness when talking about his work, as though people are afraid of saying anything about it at all. Well, let me say it for them: John’s work is magnificent. It is to the great credit of the people who have organized this exhibition and the publication of this book that finally, John might start to get the recognition he so strongly deserves.

John Cato unquestionably deserves a place in the pantheon of significant and influential Australian photographers for he is right up there with the very best of them. May the cosmos bless him.

© Dr Marcus Bunyan

August 2013

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1. James McArdle email to the author 28th July 2013
2. Ennis, Helen. “Introduction,” in Ennis, Helen. Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p.9.

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Installation photographs of John Cato Retrospective at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, John Cato family and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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John Cato book cover

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John Cato Retrospective book cover

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

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

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01
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part I’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany

Exhibition dates: 9th June 9 2013 – 17th May 2015

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Another group of interesting colonial African photographs from The Walther Collection. Similar in scope to the 20 volume series The American Indian (1906 – 1930) by ethnologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis which “documented as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared,” (Wikipedia), A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s 11 volume series The Bantu Tribes of South Africa (1928 – 1954), “set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa.” Disappearance and loss are the all to ready themes of these recorders of vanishing races.

“Santu Mofokeng’s ‘The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950′ introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations “ (media release). In this work Mofokeng juxtaposes images of “civilized” natives – images urban black working- and middle-class families had commissioned, requested, or tacitly sanctioned without evidence of coercion – with text that spurns, questions or challenges official integrationist policies taking their model from colonial officials and settlers. “The images depicted here reflect their sensibilities, aspirations and their self-image.”

The artist asks:

“Are these mere solemn relics of disrupted narratives or are these images expressive of the general human predicament?”

“Who is gazing”

“Who are these people?”

“What were their aspirations?”

“Did these images serve to challenge prevailing western perceptions of the African?”

“Do these images serve as testimony of mental colonisation?”

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. See the full work and read the accompanying text of Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950.

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Part I: The Black House: Santu Mofokeng and A.M. Duggan-Cronin

“A juxtaposition of A. M. Duggan-Cronin’s The Bantu Tribes of South Africa and Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 introduces the concept of the photographic archive as both a repository of documents and an assemblage of representations. Duggan-Cronin, an Irish South African who lived in the mining town of Kimberley, set out to depict what he considered the disappearing indigenous populations of South Africa. His monumental study, entitled The Bantu Tribes of South Africa, published between 1928-1954, includes photographs, descriptive captions, and anthropological essays. In addition to presenting all eleven Bantu Tribes books, a complete sequence of photogravure plates from The Nguni: Baca, Hlubi, Xesibe (1954) will be on view, alongside a selection of vintage gelatin-silver prints by Duggan-Cronin, which had previously circulated as individual objects.

In contrast to Duggan-Cronin’s renowned and contested ethnographic vision of African heritage, Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950 portrays the modern self-representation of African subjects. In the early 1990s, the artist collected family studio portraits from late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century South Africa and transformed the images into a slide show, complete with narratives about the sitters. He also produced a series of gelatin-silver print reproductions of the portraits, which are on view together with a selection of the project’s original vintage prints and Mofokeng’s research notes. Envisioned as a “counter-archive,” The Black Photo Album challenges fixed ideas most often associated with images of Africans.

By placing these two bodies of work alongside one another, Part I of Distance and Desire opens up the question of the “African Archive,” understood here not so much as an official repository of documents and objects but as a contested assemblage of representations that have helped to construct and project a dominant image of Africans that is now under pressure and revision.”

Press release from The Walther Collection website

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at me: 1890-1950' 1997

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
The Late Chief Jonathan Molapo
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Woman of Middle Age at Moitšupeli’s
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'A Morolong Youth' South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
A Morolong Youth
South Africa, early twentieth century

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Bomvana Initiates' 1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Bomvana Initiates
1930

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin. 'Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman' 1936

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A.M. Duggan-Cronin
Ovambo (Ogandjera) Woman
1936

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Bishop Jacobus G. Xaba and his family? Photographer: Deale, Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony, c. 1890s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Moeti and Lazarus Fume)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Scholtz Studio, Lindley, Ouma Maria Letsipa, née van der Merwe, with her daughter Minkie, Orange River Colony, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, South Africa, early twentieth century)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elizabeth and Jan van der Merwe, Johannesburg, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, Elliot Phakane, Bethlehem Location, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified photographer, c. 1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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Santu Mofokeng. 'The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950' 1997

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Santu Mofokeng
The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950
1997
(Unidentified subjects, Clifton Studio, Braamfontein c.1900s)
© Santu Mofokeng / Courtesy of Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

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The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday by appointment and with guided tour only
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

Santu Mofokeng The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950

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17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

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“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

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Johsel Namkung

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“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

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Mark Tobey

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“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

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Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

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This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

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Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here - it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

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In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

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Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

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 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

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Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

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“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

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Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

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Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

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Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

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Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

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Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

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Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

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Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

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Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

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“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

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1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

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Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

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Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

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Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

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Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

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Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

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Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

.

Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

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Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

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Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

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Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

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Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

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joshel-camera

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Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

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1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

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Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective 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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