Archive for the 'book' Category

30
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 1st November 2014 – 16th February 2015

 

Exposing your/self

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Viva Michals! Viva Michals!

Magician, poet, storyteller, philosopher and dreamer.

Not for him the overblown statement (huge prints the size of billboards) but small, dark, rough prints assembled in photo-sequences, often incorporating text, that examine the human condition in every aspect. This is emotional work and Michals has a unique style and voice as an artist. You always know that you are looking at a sequence by Michals, for his signature is that distinctive.

As he says, his work goes beyond description, beyond surfaces, to reveal the subject – not as it looks but as it feels. In his sequences he usually achieves this by posing a question that has no answer, a question that is like a Zen koan…. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The grandfather ascends smilingly to heaven with little wings on his back as the child waves goodbye (if youth knew, if age could); the man as human condition turns into a galaxy; and the spirit leaves the body as it was left before.

Various Michals sequences, such as The Spirit Leaves The Body (1968, below), have a circular construction. Another sequence, Things are Queer (1973, below) is also a circular spatio-temporal enigma where instead of moving forward, the camera and the viewer are pulled backwards in a space-time continuum… where Michals forces you to question what reality really is. These two sequences are my personal favourites, and I had to scour the internet to find images for them as you rarely see them online.

His most famous sequence, the one that you see most often, is Chance Meeting (1970, below) – again an open-ended, intimate but puzzling encounter with a reflection of the self. Michals sequences are full of ghosts, uncommon intimacies, nubile females and delicious males (Michals is gay and has just celebrated his 54th anniversary with his partner). Dealing “with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time” his work peers inward to examine “his own thoughts and dreams, to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.”

All is not sunshine and light, and I feel that there is a nebulous, obsidian energy hovering not too far below the surface. The photographs have high contrast and the subjects are very closely framed, giving the sequences an almost claustrophobic quality, as though you are having the life, the energy gently yet forcibly manipulated around you. The photographs rarely breathe freely and you feel as though you are almost trapped within their spaces.

Then there is the text. Never used to excess in the sequences (the title does that job alone), the singular images are extended into a longer narrative by biting, poignant words – sentences that utter harsh truths and tell it how it really is. I can’t look at that image, and read that text, from A Letter from My Father (1960/1975, below) without thinking of my abusive father and wondering what happened to his love – whether he hadn’t hidden it, he just didn’t have any to start with. For any child in an adult who has been abused, this image cuts to the bone.

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Michals staged, narrative scenes take us on a journey into his reality, one which “has entered a realm beyond observation.” He poses difficult questions that force us to examine ideas beyond the world of phenomena, beyond the world of surfaces. He challenges our repressed inner lives and our idealised image of ourselves, disturbing the boundaries of personality, ego, and identity.1 He wrestles with Sartre’s noumenal world (the world of the subconscious, dreams), the “being-in-itself” or sometimes simply “the in-itself,” as Sartre calls it (what Kant called the noumenal world), where Sartre does not see man comfortably installed in the world.

“All of us, says Sartre, have a “pre-ontological comprehension” of being-in-itself, that is to say, an opaque, inarticulate, but very real sense of its presence and nature. The world is but a “varnish” on the surface of the being-in-itself; or, changing the metaphor, the world is but a “thin crust” of meaning which we impose upon being-in-itself. Ordinarily this thin crust of meaning conceals the in-itself and obscures our awareness of it, but the anguish of being is always there just below the surface of daily consciousness, and from time to time it breaks through to the surface, presenting being-in-itself without disguise.”2

This is what Michals attunes himself to, an examination of the in-itself, one that impacts on our internal poetic understandings of space and time. In his malleable daydreams Michals proffers a ‘releasement toward things’, the glimpsing of a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which enables the seeing of the ‘Thing Itself’. As Heidegger observes, 

“We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

It is Michals great skill as an artist and a human being that enables us the possibility of accessing some aspect of the mystery of our existence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. As discussed in Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, p. 405-406

2. Olsen, Robert. An Introduction to Existentialism. Dover Publications, New York, 1962, p. 39

3. Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56 quoted in Baracco, Mauro. “Completed Yet Unconcluded: The Poetic Resistance of Some Melbourne Architecture,” in van Schaik, Leon (ed.,). Architectural Design Vol. 72, No. 2 (‘Poetics in Architecture’). London: John Wiley and Sons, 2002, p. 74. Footnote 6.

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

 

 

“Who gives a fuck about what he had for breakfast? These are stylistic ticks. The digital has changed the paradigms of photography. I had an opening in Boston and this woman had a little camera with her and kept exclaiming, ‘Everything is a photograph!’ That’s the problem. The bar has been lowered so much in photography now…”

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“Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we’re going to go on forever just photographing more faces and more rooms and more places. Photography has to transcend description. It has to go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel?”

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“I don’t trust reality. So all of the writing on and painting on the photographs is born out of the frustration to express what you do not see.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker' 2004

 

Duane Michals
Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker
2004
12 Gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
5″ x 7″ each

 

This series of photographs was inspired by the poem The Windows by Constantine Cavafy

In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,

I wander round and round trying to find the windows.

But the windows are not to be found –
or at least I can’t find them.
And perhaps
it is better that way.

Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.

Who knows what new things it will expose?

 

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

 

Duane Michals
Chance Meeting
1970
Six gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

 

Duane Michals
Things are Queer
1973
Nine gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

 

Duane Michals
Grandpa Goes to Heaven
1989
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC

 

 

“The best part of us is not what we see, it’s what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at… We’re not our eyeballs, we’re our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they’re totally wrong… That’s why I consider most photographs extremely boring – just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It’s just boring. But that whole arena of one’s experience – grief, loneliness – how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see. It’s all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting in my room. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

“Opening November 1, 2014, at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is the definitive retrospective and the largest-ever presentation of this innovative artist’s work. Drawing from select loans and the museum’s holdings, which constitute the largest single collection of Michals’s output, and spanning six decades, the works in Storyteller include classic sequences from the early 1970s as well as rarely seen images from later in his career.

Born in 1932 and raised in a steelworker family in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Michals broke away from established traditions of documentary and fine art photography in the 1960s when he added handwritten messages and poems to prints, produced multi-image narrative sequences, and experimented with double- and triple-exposures. His work was poignant and unabashedly sentimental, flying in the face of the dominant photographic aesthetics of the time.

Storyteller unfolds in thematic groupings that range from portraiture to meditations on the mind’s interior world; from childhood and imagination to desire and death. Michals’s love of two very different cities, Pittsburgh and Paris, is evident in sections exploring the beauty, quirks, and particularities of these places. He has riffed on, critiqued, and crossed paths with countless artists, including René Magritte, Cindy Sherman, Joseph Cornell, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Andy Warhol, and others, and a section of the exhibition brings to light the admiration and acerbic wit in Michals’s engagements with other creative minds.

“The exhibition is designed to acquaint the visitor with the many themes that Michals explored over more than half a century,” says curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones. “Well known sequences such as Paradise Regained and Chance Meeting greet the viewer first, followed by engaging and sometimes surprising Children’s Stories. A section called The Mind’s Eye shows Michals’s absorption with photographing things that cannot actually be seen, such as A Man Going to Heaven or The Human Condition. We could not present Storyteller chronologically, because Michals revisits themes often. One theme, Painted Expression, shows how, in two distinct periods of his life – in the early 1980s and again in 2012 – Michals has picked up a brush to apply oil paint to both black-and-white photographic prints as well as most recently to 19th century tintypes, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind photographic works. His creative energy is boundless and readily apparent when seen in a large retrospective display.”

“I’m a storyteller,” he often states as he begins a talk in public – equally interested in the moments before and after the “decisive moment” (a term coined by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson). “When I began to do sequences, it wasn’t because I thought it was cool and the latest thing. I did it out of frustration with the still photograph.” He has observed that his practice aims to transcend mere appearances: “I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like… My reality has entered a realm beyond observation.” This approach can be seen throughout his career, from early, carefully staged sequences, to hand-painted gelatin silver prints and tintypes, revealing the artist’s hand at work long after the image is captured.

According to curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones, who organized Storyteller, “Duane Michals is a sensitive and provocative artist who has followed his own unique path. His way of staging narrative scenes, then recording them with a 35mm camera, represented a fresh approach to the medium. This, combined with an uncommon intimacy when dealing with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time, set him apart as an image-maker.”

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

CMOA, a fixture in Michals’s artistic upbringing, has acquired 139 of his works, ranging from his earliest images made in Russia in 1958 to hand-painted tintypes that he began creating in 2012. Michals, in turn, has always felt an attachment to Pittsburgh, a subject of many of his photographs, and of two books, the sequence The House I Once Called Home (2003) and poetry collection A Pittsburgh Poem (2013). Lending institutions to Storyteller include Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), Musée des Beaux Arts (Montreal), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and Museum of Modern Art (New York). Even longtime admirers of the artist may be unfamiliar with several of his bodies of work, and an examination of this full range is long overdue: while Michals has been championed in several solo exhibitions throughout Europe in the past decade, this is his first major museum exhibition in North America since 1998.

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

Presented alongside Storyteller will be the exhibition Duane Michals: Collector, which highlights works from Michals’s private art collection that are promised gifts to the museum. The eclectic array of objects, ranging from 1799 to 1999, and from Francisco de Goya to André Kertész to Mark Tansey, will be united by Michals’s unique take on the artists, the artworks, and their influence on his own practice. Organized by associate curator of fine arts Amanda Zehnder, Duane Michals: Collector will further contextualize his work from an unusually personal perspective.

Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals represents a refreshing, much-needed reexamination of a historically significant photographer. Michals’s pioneering photography infused the medium with a personal, critical approach that translates universally. In an art world that feels at times jaded and detached, his images retain the same moving, affecting impact that they commanded decades ago.”

Press release from the Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

Internationally-renowned photographer Duane Michals discusses his eight-decade life and career as a self-described “expressionist.” His work is known for its innovative narrative sequencing and iconic use of text and image. During a period when photography looked out to the world around us, Michals redefined the medium by peering inward to his own thoughts and dreams to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.

 

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

 

Duane Michals
The Spirit Leaves The Body
1968
Seven gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Young Girl’s Dream
1969
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'A Letter from My Father' 1960/1975

 

Duane Michals
A Letter from My Father
1960/1975
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965 (detail)

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat (detail)
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'This Photograph Is My Proof' 1967

 

Duane Michals
This Photograph Is My Proof
1967
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads' 1995

 

Duane Michals
Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads
1995
From the series Salute, Walt Whitman
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Lewis Wickes Hine. 'Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday' 1910

 

Lewis Wickes Hine
Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday
1910
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Duane Michals
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

 

Duane Michals. 'The Human Condition' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Human Condition
1969
Six gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Rigamarole' 2012

 

Duane Michals
Rigamarole
2012
Tintype with oil paint
The William T. Hillman Fund for Photography
Carnegie Museum of Art,Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

 

Carnegie Museum of Art
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Opening hours:
Monday: 10 am – 5 pm
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm
Friday: 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: noon – 5 pm

Carnegie Museum of Art website

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20
Jan
15

Images from ‘The Americans’ by Robert Frank

January 2015

 

I have scoured the internet for other images from The Americans by Robert Frank, in addition to the photographs in the recent posting Robert Frank in America Part 1 and Part 2 at the Cantor Arts Center. This new posting includes some seldom seen images from the book that are very hard to find online (especially the image Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona which echoes Walker Evans image A Child’s Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1936, Farm Security Administration).

It is great to be able to gather all of these images together in one meta-resource, instead of spending hours looking for the work. The posting also makes visible the magnificent breadth of vision of the artist, and what a great eye he had for the unfolding scene.

Influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting and the graphic tonality of dark and light, Frank presents a dystopian vision of America where death, loneliness, discrimination and alienation are never far from the surface, both in the rich and poor. You only have to compare the two images Cafeteria, San Francisco and Charity Ball, New York City to eyeball the difference between the haves and the have nots.

There is not a bad image amongst them, testament to Frank’s rigorous selection process for the book, in which he already had a strong idea of the images he wanted to use and the sequencing and layout of the book when he went to the publisher. I particularly like the irony of the atomic bomb at the bottom of the image Hoover dam, Nevada (1955).

Marcus

 

“I sometimes feel that I would like to see you more in closer to people. It seems to me that you are ready now to begin probing beyond environment into the soul of man. I believe you made a fine decision in taking yourself and family away from the tenseness of the business of photography there. You must let every moment of the freedom you are having contribute to your growing and growing. Just as the microscope and the telescope seek a still closer look at the universe, we as photographer must seek to penetrate deeper and closer into our brothers. Please excuse if this sounds like preaching. It is dictated by an interest and affection for you and yours.”

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Letter dated April 2, 1952 from Edward Steichen to Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Las Vegas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Las Vegas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Candy Store, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Candy Store, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Coffee Shop, Railway Station' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Coffee Shop, Railway Station
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Men's room, railway station, Memphis' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Men’s room, railway station, Memphis
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ranch Market, Hollywood' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ranch Market, Hollywood
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Assembly line, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly line, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Robert Frank was trying to capture facets of American culture within his collection The Americans. Included within American culture is the institution of family, as well as more subtle features like the influence of race. These features of American culture seem to be the focus of the photograph Belle Isle, Detroit. This photo includes the contrast of the black child versus the white child. The white child is near the center of the foreground in the photograph, is wrapped in blankets, and is being held by a woman that we can presume to be it’s mother. This contrasts with the black child, who is in the background, standing on it’s own feet, and is wearing much less clothing. It is unclear who is responsible for the black child, as nobody in the photograph seems concerned with this child. Everybody’s gaze is focused on something else. The contrast of the two children represents the effect of race in 1950’s America. White children grew up under a sheltered upbringing , unaware of the privilege that they held by being white (Shaw and Lee, 75). This privilege is represented in the photograph by the white child being held and wrapped in blankets. Black children held no such privilege, and were cast into a world of racialized injustice from birth. Black people were oppressed systematically by lawmakers, and in cooperation by white people who flaunted their privilege whether they were conscious of this or not. This oppression is represented by the lack of attention and care the black child is receiving, in addition to it’s lack of clothing. Oppression was something that stood out to Frank when he came to the United States. Referencing oppression of blacks in an interview conducted in 2000, Frank said that an initial thought when coming into this country was “there is a lot here that I do not like and that I would never accept.” (Frank et al., 110)

It is important to consider the historical point at which this photograph was taken. This photo was taken in 1955, which was near the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement for African-Americans. This could have been something that Frank considered while taking photographs. In the middle of this photo is a pregnant woman who appears to be of mixed ethnicity. Her expression is perplexed as if she is in deep thought, with her arms crossed. This begs the question, what is she thinking about? She could be contemplating the fate of her unborn child. Her pregnancy makes her a symbol of things to come. With the Civil Rights Movement in progress, it is unclear what kind of world her child will be born into and grow up in. As a mixed child, the child probably won’t have white skin, and it raises the question how big an effect race will have on this child’s life. In a world of changing times, the uncertainty of the future is something that looms in the back of our heads. The pregnant woman stands as a symbol of the future, and her perplexed expression is representative of the uncertainty associated with the future. Frank wanted to capture what was a historical period filled with uncertainty and hope with the fate of the Civil Rights Movement hanging in the balance.”

Extract from Chris Watson. “Oppression versus Privilege in Belle Isle, Detroit,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“I developed a tremendous contempt for LIFE, which helped me. You have to be enraged. I also wanted to follow my own intuition and do it my own way, and to make concessions – not make a LIFE story. That was another thing I hated. Those goddamned stories with a beginning and an end. If I hate all those stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end then obviously I will make an effort to produce something that will stand up to those stories but not be like them”

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Robert Frank

 

Robert Frank. 'Chattanooga, Tennessee' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chattanooga, Tennessee
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“There are two different ways of viewing the photo that may offer differing messages, though they combine to form one broad theme. Viewing the photo as a whole shows five men, separated from the viewer by a lively decoration, looking upon some event nearby. Their mostly large bodies and tall hats, separated by the sky in the background, creates an image like that of great towers side by side. We view them from below as a common person in comparison to their superior position and stature. Capturing the size of this group with the other men in hats behind the main characters relates that this is not a picture of only the men in the foreground, but instead of their class as a whole. This creates the essence of numerical strength and the authority that these men supposedly carry with them in their high positions, though some closer inspection offers a slightly different view. Studying the features of these men allows us to become more familiar with them as people, which one might quickly overlook amidst their uniformity.

The two rightmost men offer the most evidence as characters in this scene, both displaying facial expressions of greatly varying emotions. The man furthest to the right has his lips puckered and his eyes closed, perhaps kissing the air towards some unseen figure. He is not focused on the event as the others are. He could be seen as leaning from his position above to play with someone below him, despite everyone else’s attention being elsewhere. This man represents the sort of pomp and carelessness of those who are above the struggles of the lower classes. The second man, however, is practically opposite to the first. His eyes are squinted, focusing on the event. His face is grim and he stands up straight. This man stands out amongst these elite, not wearing any ribbon, a tall hat, or even a suit. This lack of formal attire ironically serves to highlight his importance. He might be of a position higher than simply upper-class business owners or politicians, possibly a mayor. Regardless, his colder features are easily applied to the group as a whole, as are the “superior” and somewhat unaware features of the first man. Adding together these elements with those taken from the entire section gives us a picture of the rich and powerful as a sizable mob of men, some of which are as large and powerful as they are cold, and others which look down at the masses below with playful, unengaged eyes.”

Extract from Bryan Squires. “Men of Great Stature and Power,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'City Hall, Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Hall, Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s photograph, number 81 from The Americans collection entitled City Hall – Reno, Nevada, features a young couple in the center of the frame. They take up about a fourth of the frame, however their central location helps show their close proximity to one another. Their proximity, as well as the young man’s arms wrapped around the young woman, creates an intimate feel to the photograph. The intimate feel, as well as the title of the photograph, suggests that an elopement took place. It also looks as if the photographer is above the couple and looking down on them. This makes it seem as if the couple was unaware that the photo was being taken. The couple seems to be looking down at maybe another photographer or a friend or family member who has come to support their marriage at City Hall. Their formal attire shows the importance of this occasion to the young man and woman and their smiling faces show the perceived happiness of the occasion as well. Frank used a 35mm Leica camera, which was loose, fast and cinematic, and was able to create a photo that was a “dark, shadowed, seemingly casual, grainy glimpse” that showed criticism towards the American society (Glenn). In this photo in particular, the contrast between black and white could symbolize both the happiness and anger that marriage brings…

Approximately 50% of marriages ended in divorce in the 1950s (“Nevada Divorces.”). The young couple’s City Hall marriage could show the impulsivity of young people in the United States, and their rebellion against traditional church weddings. Traditionally, young men would ask the father of the bride for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Then, the parents and extended family would all attend a big church wedding to show their support for couple and the couple’s future. The photograph shows no evidence of any family members or friends present and it is not located in a church. This could be an example of the start of the rebellious stage of young people in the United States. Young adults began to stray from the norm of the traditional, conservative lifestyle of the previous generations.  Ironically though, while this photo shows a young couple getting married in Nevada, Reno was known as the “divorce colony” in the 1950s (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). After only 6 weeks of residence by one member of the couple, a citizen could get a divorce if they summoned their spouse to Reno (“Nevada Divorces.”). This meant that divorces were quicker and easier then they had ever been before. Hundreds of divorces took place daily and the population of Nevada grew immensely during this time period.  Also, gambling was legalized during this time period as well (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). The aftermath of divorce can be seen in other photographs from Frank’s collection such as Casino – Elko, Nevada. The women who were forced to move to Nevada in order to get a divorce were often times seen casinos after their divorce where they were gambling and drinking. This shows the shift from the idea of motherhood and the American Dream, to a rebellious and nontraditional lifestyle. The young couple in this photograph ironically chose to get married in the City Hall in Reno, Nevada. City Hall is one of the same places where thousands of people would go get divorces throughout the year.  While the couple may seem content and hopeful about their future, Robert Frank chooses this ironic situation to show that the look of hope and feeling of bliss you experience when you first get married is fleeting. The look of hope only lasts for so long.”

Extract from Caroline M. “The Simplicity of Marriage,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Convention hall, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Convention hall, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Luncheonette, Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Luncheonette, Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Motorama, Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Motorama, Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Picnic ground, Glendale, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Picnic ground, Glendale, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park - Ann Arbor, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park – Ann Arbor, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park, Cleveland, Ohio' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park, Cleveland, Ohio
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Santa Fe, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St. Petersburg, Florida' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St. Petersburg, Florida
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Store Window, Washington DC' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Store Window, Washington DC
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Television studio, Burbank, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Television studio, Burbank, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yale Commencement - New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yale Commencement – New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yom Kippur - East River, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yom Kippur – East River, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Glancing at the photograph Yom Kippur, East River, New York City, one might not pay it much attention. However at a longer glance the picture becomes intriguing. The thing that draws interest is why would anyone take a picture of the back of people’s heads? All that can be seen in the photo is the river, a little boy wearing a Yakama, and a man in a grey suit wearing a hat. There are about four other men, wearing black, out of focus to the left, all with their backs turned as well. That’s it. There is really nothing else to the picture. It almost seems like an amateur photograph. However with a little background knowledge, it is clear that Robert Frank knew exactly what he was doing when he took this photo, and created an image that would spark the realizations of oppression and discrimination…

Jewish immigration was not something that was unfamiliar to Americans, however the immigration that occurred after the Second Great War was different. “Once the United States entered World War II, the State Department practiced stricter immigration policies out of fear that refugees could be blackmailed into working as agents for Germany” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). For these reasons and several others, the American public opinion was very confused about Jewish Immigrants, even after America opened its doors for them to enter the country after the war. This led to Jewish people feeling excluded, and extremely misunderstood expanding throughout the rest of the century. By looking at the photo that captured, the viewer can sense the feeling of discrimination and vulnerability from the subjects of the photo. The photo reflects this because they all have their back turned towards the camera, most of them are looking down, and they all just seem very alone. The angle of the photograph is inferring that the Jewish people were not particularly welcomed or understood in American society.

This photo displays a very powerful message of discrimination towards a group of people who were just trying to get by during this time period. This photo perfectly correlates with the rest of Robert Frank’s The Americans as it hold the same themes of corruption in American society as the rest of the photos do. Robert Frank’s Jewish background gave him the knowledge he needed, while the sufferings and oppression his people went through gave him a view that was able to let Frank see the perfect opportunity to capture this beautiful moment.”

Extract from “Post WWII Jewish Immigrants: Discrimination in America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Indianapolis' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Indianapolis
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Covered car, Long Beach, California' 1955-1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car, Long Beach, California
1955-1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (2005)

 

Robert Frank. 'Drugstore, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drugstore, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s collection, The Americans, was an exploration of the “underlying racism, isolation, and conformity” throughout the culture of the 1950s (Tannenbaum). While traveling the country, Frank photographed an average drug store lunch counter in the Detroit, Michigan, which intrinsically displays these major themes that he had wanted to portray to Americans. In Drug store – Detroit, Frank shows the public a more realistic view of society during this time period. He displays the issues of segregation and discrimination in a way that could no longer be avoided by society. This issue of segregation created isolation among Americans by splitting them into groups of racial differences and difference in beliefs about discrimination. These disputes also played a huge role in the conformist society highly associated with the 1950s by creating clear-cut social rules for a segregated society. Frank presented these ideas about racism, segregation, and isolation to Americans in a way they had never seen before. The documenting of these issues in Drug store – Detroit helped spark that changes that were reflected in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s…>

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas unanimously ruled the “separate but equal” unconstitutional, producing the most significant legal development in American civil rights since 1896 (Schwartz). This decision alone created a stronger resistance against desegregation among the public than ever before (Schwartz). Other events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Martin Luther King Jr. and the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 piled onto the tension of this decision (Vox). Violence eventually broke out between the black and white communities, and a crisis was emerging that Americans could no longer ignore (Schwartz). Drug store – Detroit clearly represents the tension among the people during this time period. The all white men at the counter are definably separated from the black women working and serving them. The men at the counter and the women working are not interacting, also creating a divided between them, and mirroring the reality of the 1950s. The men sitting at the counter are conforming to this segregated society, and none of them look like they are willing to break the unspoken social rules. Almost all of the men at the counter have intense, distant looks on their faces. They are disconnected with the world around them, disconnected with each other. None of them are speaking. They have fell into the isolationist culture created from their segregated society. Many of the men looked distressed and irritated, almost like the tensions growing within their once seemingly flawless culture have taken a toll on them. The racial tensions of the 1950s were growing, becoming a greater part of society against the desire of Americans. It was one of the largest domestic issues they were faced with after World War II, crushing the world they had worked so hard to maintain (Day 120).”

Extract from “The Influence on the Civil Rights Movement,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 285, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Political Rally, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Political Rally, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident - U.S. 91, Idaho' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident – U.S. 91, Idaho
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hoover dam, Nevada' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hoover dam, Nevada
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Newburgh, NY' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Newburgh, NY
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Movie premiere, Hollywood' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Movie premiere, Hollywood
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“When thinking of the romanticized American Cowboy, one often pictures the gallon hat wearing lone ranger whose primary objective is to kill the baddies and live a life of solidarity with his trusty steed. In Robert Frank’s collection The Americans, Rodeo, New York City is representative of the idea of the aggrandized American cowboy. His face hidden allows viewers to place themselves in his shoes and become the irresistible John Wayne character that lives a life of commendable seclusion while working with the elusive Native American who barely speaks (but serves as a trusty sidekick) to bust outlaws. Unlike the Bonanza cowboy, however, Robert Frank captures the image of an actual cowboy – a lanky man wearing a gaudy hat and belt buckle, a plaid shirt tucked into well worn jeans tucked into signature cowboy boots. Instead of gazing at the horizon on the open range, he is seen lounging in the city. The legendary American cowboy is clearly indicative of American nationalism, but importantly represented the idea of the individual – rules or authority did not restrain the cowboy – he could simply ride his horse away from all responsibility. The cowboy was not only an image that was emulated by the public, but also beheld by some as what was wrong with society…

For some, the image of the cowboy was not a heroic fictive character. People like Sherman Alexie, a well-known Native American writer who grew up watching as his people were turned into brutish, barely human entities on television, provide different perspectives on the what it mean to be an “American cowboy.” For people of color watching Western shows, which were extremely popular in the 1950s, the cowboy character was the only “good guy.” … Turning Native Americans into negatively portrayed characters only further perpetuated the racialized persecution present during the 1950s – all people of color were stripped of basic humanity and turned into social deviants.

This photo, taken in the 1950s, was captured during a time in which America was front and center of the “world stage… the country had emerged victorious from World War II, saving the world for democracy” (Rodeo, New York City). The idea of independence is inherent to American nationalism – there is a sense of national pride that the government doesn’t have full control over everyday life. Instead, the nation could place more focus on the greater task at hand: becoming “heroes” saving other countries in “distress” and punishing bureaucratic deviants – embodying the cowboy image of “true justice.” Not only is the cowboy indicative of nationalism, but also America’s growing individualistic society. The longing for individual autonomy is so great that the romanticized cowboy, who is one with nature; far from government created social constraints and industrialization, was created.”

Extract from “A History of the American Cowboy,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Georgetown, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Georgetown, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office - Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office – Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chicago' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chicago
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chinese cemetery, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chinese cemetery, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Factory, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Factory, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hotel lobby, Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hotel lobby, Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Jehovah's Witness, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Jehovah’s Witness, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Cafeteria, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Cafeteria, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Charity Ball, New York City' 1955–56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charity Ball, New York City
1955–56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Casino, Elko, Nevada' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Casino, Elko, Nevada
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“”American sexuality”, as Alfred Kinsey refers to it, was widely more ambitious and active during the 1950’s than most American citizens believed (Brown and Fee). In this photograph, the woman is overtly portrayed as a sexual icon through the use of a heavy and penetrating light from above. Frank included the illumination from this light methodically in order to show the importance of the sexual image that the woman represents. This sexual image is enforced further through the non-illumination of the surrounding men, who are used by Frank as a means of expressing the woman’s control over her environment. In the years before Frank’s photographs, American society would have strictly seen the woman in this image as inferior and lewd due to her sexual promiscuity. However, additions to American sex culture such as Playboy magazine and the sensationalizing of Cosmopolitan allowed for a more open creation and interpretation of sexuality in America (Beekmen, Cami).

Frank’s photograph pulls heavily on the connection between gambling and sex, a connection that has become engrained in American society and culture. Gambling, an almost sexual act in and of itself, is expressed as an action for the sexually diverse and active through this photograph. Frank’s attempt at “simplifying American sex culture” and keeping it from “confounding with other American ideals” shows through the nature of this photograph (Tucker, Anne). Gambling and sex were intertwined ideals in the 1950’s to the extent where they were often found in conjunction with each other. Frank was able to present both ideals in one photograph and allow them to enforce the prevalence of the other without confounding and obscuring the true meaning of each.”

Extract from “Through the Lens of Robert Frank: Sex Culture in a Post-War America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bank - Houston, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bank – Houston, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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08
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Joel Meyerowitz Retrospective’ at NRW-Forum Düsseldorf

Exhibition dates: 27 September 2014 – 11th January 2015

 

Meyerowitz really comes into his own in the ’70s. Luscious colours and lascivious compositions in which the attention of the photographer is directed towards the relationship between object, light and time. The image becomes an object of fetishistic desire.

The hyperreal colours and placement of figures are crucial to this ocular obsession. Look at the image Gold corner, New York City (1974) and observe the precise, choreographed placement of the figures and how the colours flow, from orange/brown to green/blue and onto turquoise/red and polka dot, the central figure’s eyes shielded under a wide-brimmed hat, hand to head, model style. This is colour porn for the eyes. And Meyerowitz does it so well… the stretch of thigh and shadow in Los Angeles Airport, California (1976), the classic red of Truro (1976) or the bare midriff and raised yellow heel in New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave (1974).

The best of these photos give you a zing of excitement and a surge of recognition – like a superlative Stephen Shore or an outstanding William Eggelston. At his best Meyerowitz is mesmerising.

Marcus

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

 

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Ballston Beach, Truro, Cape Cod
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Los Angeles Airport, California' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Los Angeles Airport, California
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Dairyland, Provincetown' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Dairyland, Provincetown
1976

 

 Joel Meyerowitz. 'Truro' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Truro
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Red Interior, Provincetown, Massachusetts' 1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Red Interior, Provincetown, Massachusetts
1977

 

 

“Joel Meyerowitz is a “street photographer” in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, who influenced him greatly at the beginning of his career. Since the mid-seventies he has photographed exclusively in colour.

The artist was born in 1938 in the Bronx. He initially studied art, history of art and medical illustration at the Ohio State University. Back in New York City he began his career in 1959 as an Art Director and Designer. Particularly impressed by an encounter with the photographer Robert Frank, he started taking photographs in 1962 and in the same year he left the agency, devoting himself from this point on, exclusively to photography. He travelled through New York City and capturing the mood of the streets. He soon developed his distinctive sensitivity and his candid, people-focussed style, a very unique visual language. In 1966, he embarked on an 18 month trip through Europe, which both profoundly affected and also influenced him and can be described as an artistic turning point. Meyerowitz photographed many of his works from a moving car. These works were displayed in 1968 in his first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: Photographs from a moving car, curated by the photography legend John Szarkowski. From the late seventies onward, Joel Meyerowitz concentrated exclusively on colour photography. In the first half of the seventies, he created numerous unique works of “street photography”. In order to further improve the image quality, the artist took another crucial step: in the mid 1970s he changed from the 35mm format to the 8 x 10″ plate camera.

In 1979, his first book Cape Light was published by Phaidon Verlag. The picture book sold over 100,000 copies and is to this day regarded as a milestone in colour photography. 17 further publications followed, most recently in 2012 with a comprehensive two-volume edition Taking my Time, a retrospective of 50 years of his photography, also published by Phaidon Verlag.

A few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, Meyerowitz began to document its destruction and reconstruction. As the only photographer, he received unrestricted access to the site of the incident. It resulted in over 8000 photographs for the The World Trade Center exhibition, which was displayed in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.

Joel Meyerowitz’ works have been and will be shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world; several times in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. On 27 September, the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf opens the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist. In addition, the works are represented in many international collections, including in the Museum of Modern Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art.”

Text from the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf website

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1965

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1965

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'London, England' 1966

 

Joel Meyerowitz
London, England
1966

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'JFK Airport, New York City' 1968

 

Joel Meyerowitz
JFK Airport, New York City
1968

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Paris, France' 1967

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Paris, France
1967

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave' 1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave
1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Dusk, New Jersey' 1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Dusk, New Jersey
1978

 

 

“Joel Meyerowitz (born 1938 in New York) is, along with William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, one of the most important representatives of American New Colour Photography of the 1960s / 70s. After a first encounter with Robert Frank 1962, Meyerowitz decided to give up his job as art director in New York and to devote himself to photography. In particular, his photographs of street scenes of American cities, which he takes with his 35mm camera as fleeting moments, make him a precursor of street photography and his works icons of contemporary photography.
“Watching Life is all about Timing”

A first turning point in his photography was his annual trip to Europe in 1966/67, a trip which allowed him to critically question his color photography. As early as 1968, he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of works created in Europe under the title From a moving car. His first book, Cape Light (1978), in which he examines achromatic variations of light at Cape Cod, is now regarded as a milestone in photography. In addition to his film camera, which he always carries with him, Meyerowitz has been working since the late 1970s with the 8 x 10 plate camera, which allows him to capture the relationship between object, light and time in a new and more accurate way for him.
“Time is what Photography is About”

The exhibition at the NRW-Forum presents the entire photographic spectrum of 50 years of his photography for the first time in Germany. In addition to the early black / white and color photographs of the 1960s / there will be years works from all business groups such as Cape Light, Portraits, Between the Dog and the Wolf and Ground Zero series, presented to allow the visitor a photographic and cultural image-comparison between Europe and the USA. In addition, the first documentary about the life and work of the photographer, created over a period of three years in France, Italy and the United States, will have its world premiere.”

Text from the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf website

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Gold corner, New York City' 1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Gold corner, New York City
1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Madison Avenue, New York City' 1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Madison Avenue, New York City
1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Provincetown' 1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Provincetown
1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Roseville Cottages, Truro, Massachusetts' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Roseville Cottages, Truro, Massachusetts
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Cape Cod' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Cape Cod
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Pool, Dusk, Sun in Window, Florida' 1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Pool, Dusk, Sun in Window, Florida
1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Bay Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts' 1985

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Bay Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts
1985

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Five more found, New York City' 2001

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Five more found, New York City
2001

 

 

NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft
Ehrenhof 2, 40479 Düsseldorf
Tel.: +49 (0)211 – 89 266 90

Opening hours:
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Friday until 22.00

NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft website

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02
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Nicholas Nixon: Forty Years of The Brown Sisters’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2014 – 4th January 2015

Organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography

 

This is the most successful, long running group portrait series in the history of photography. I have always liked the images because of their stunning clarity, delicate tonality and wonderful arrangement of the figures. Much as they shield their privacy, as a viewer I feel like I have grown up with these women, the sisters I never had. Some images are more successful than others, but as a body of work that focuses on the “face” we present to the world, they are without peer.

Just imagine being these women (and being the photographer), taking on this project and not knowing where it would lead, still not knowing where it will lead. There is a fascinating period in the photographs between 1986 and 1990, as we see the flush of youth waning, transitioning towards the beginning of middle age. As they grow older and closer I feel that I know their characters. I look for that inflection and nuance of presentation that make them more than just faces, more than just photographic representation. The lines on their faces are the handwriting of their travails and I love them all for that.

In each photograph they are as beautiful as the next, not in a Western sense, but in the sense of archetypal beauty, the Platonic form of all beauty – the beauty of women separated from the individuality of the object and considered by itself. In each of these images you can contemplate that form through the faces of these women – they are transcendent and pure. It is as if they live beyond space and time, that the photographs capture this sense of the sublime. Usually the sublime is regarded as beyond time… but not here. A simply magnificent series.

Marcus

 

PS. Let’s hope that there are more images from the series that we can eventually see and that there are some platinum prints being produced. The images deserve such a printing.

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

 

“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like. …

These subjects are not after attention, a rare quality in this age when everyone is not only a photographer but often his own favorite subject. In this, Nixon has pulled off a paradox: The creation of photographs in which privacy is also the subject. The sisters’ privacy has remained of utmost concern to the artist, and it shows in the work. Year after year, up to the last stunning shot with its triumphant shadowy mood, their faces and stances say, Yes, we will give you our image, but nothing else.”

.
Susan Minot. “Forty Portraits in Forty Years: Photographs by Nicholas Nixon,” on the New York Times website, October 2014

 

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut' 1975

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut
1975
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts' 1978

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts
1978
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.' 1980

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.
1980
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass' 1983.

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass.
1983
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.' 1986

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.
1986
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts.' 1988

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts
1988
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.' 1990

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.
1990
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.' 1994

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.
1994
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

“In August 1974, Nicholas Nixon made a photograph of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters. He wasn’t pleased with the result and discarded the negative. In July 1975 he made one that seemed promising enough to keep. At the time, the Brown sisters were 15 (Mimi), 21 (Laurie), 23 (Heather), and 25 (Bebe). The following June, Laurie Brown graduated from college, and Nick made another picture of the four sisters. It was after this second successful picture that the group agreed to gather annually for a portrait, and settled on the series’ two constants: the sisters would always appear in the same order – from left to right, Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie – and they would jointly agree on a single image to represent a given year. Also significant, and unchanging, is the fact that each portrait is made with an 8 x 10″ view camera on a tripod and is captured on a black-and-white film negative.

The Museum has exhibited and collected the Brown Sisters from the beginning; since 2006, acquiring the series both as lusciously tactile contact prints and as striking 20 x 24″ enlargements (a new scale for Nixon). This installation – featuring all 40 images – marks the first time the Museum has displayed these larger prints.

In his first published statement about photography, written the year he made the first of the Brown Sisters portraits, Nixon remarked, “The world is infinitely more interesting than any of my opinions about it.” If he was modest about his opinions, though, his photographs clearly show how the camera can capture that infinitely interesting world. And to the attentive viewer, these silent records, with their countless shades of visual and emotional gray, can promote a new appreciation of an intangible part of it: the world of time and age, of commitment and love.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.' 1995

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.
1995
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts' 1999

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts
1999
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.' 2000

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.
2000
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.' 2004

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.
2004
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Dallas' 2008

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Dallas
2008
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2010

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2010
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2011

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2011
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Boston' 2012

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Boston
2012
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts' 2014

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts
2014
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
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New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

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01
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 2

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi

 

The lunatic sublime of America

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

 

“This desire of Frank’s to hold the shape of his feelings in what he made is an ambition found in all Romantic art, one that his style brilliantly encompasses and describes. There is a wonderful illusion of speed trapped in his photographs, a sense of rapidity usually created not by the movement of Frank’s subjects, but by the gesture that he made as he framed his pictures. To photographers who have followed Frank, this autographic gesture incorporates a mystery, one that is distorted, and certainly not explained, by saying that he “shot on the run” or “from the hip.” For the beauty of this gesture is that, caught by such speed, his subjects remain clear, fully recognized, as if the photographer had only glanced at what he wanted to show, but was able to seize it at the moment it unhesitantly revealed itself.”

.
Tod Papageorge. “Walker Evans And Robert Frank: An Essay On Influence.”

 

 

Robert Frank. 'New York' City 1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1951
Gelatin silver print Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Miami' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Miami
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1950-1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1950-1951
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Hollywood' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Hollywood
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

 

“Frank’s photos highlight everything from prosperity to poverty, multitudes to desolation, new life to finality of death, and happiness to sorrow which all occur during our lifetimes making his photos easy for the viewers to understand and relate…

Furthermore, Frank was able to emphasize some of the issues of his era, especially segregation, patriotism, and generational gaps. For example, the New Orleans photo on the cover shows a trolley car obviously segregated with white riders in the front and black riders in the back. However, Frank also shows blacks and whites working side by side in an assembly line photo taken in Detroit as well as a black nurse holding a white baby in Charleston, South Carolina with undertones of hope for equality further highlighted by the photo taken in Detroit bar of Presidents Lincoln and Washington bookending an American flag…

American patriotism seems to be a universal theme throughout Frank’s photos as well. Many of the photos in the book contain an American flag which shows the high level of patriotism felt by Americans in the era after defeating Germany and Japan in the Second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War with the rising Soviet Union as a communist superpower. Flags are hung on an apartment building during a parade in Hoboken, on the wall in a Navy Recruiting Station in Butte, Montana, hanging outdoors during a Fourth of July celebration in Jay, New York, on the wall in the Detroit bar, hanging from the building in a political rally in Chicago, and there are star lights in the background of a club car headed to Washington DC.

The most important theme within Frank’s photos is that of “Americans.” Frank photographed people from different cultures, including blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and whites; celebrating different religious and civil ceremonies from funerals to weddings. He included biker groups, prostitutes, celebrities, high-class socialites, rural farmlands, cowboys, soldiers, teenagers, politicians, families, senior citizens, children, gamblers, and travelers among others within the photos. This variety of people from different backgrounds living and socializing in different settings is truly American in that it is a blend of all different types of people living together as one nation.”

Cindy Coffey 2013

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral - St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Funeral – St. Helena, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank. 'Movie Premier - Hollywood' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Movie Premier – Hollywood
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1951
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Political Rally - Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Political Rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Bill Brandt. 'Parlourmaid at the Window in Kensington' 1935

 

Bill Brandt
Parlourmaid at the Window, Kensington
1935 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print

 

 

“The first critics of The Americans condemned its content; recent critics have attacked it by attempting to describe Frank’s photographic style. Possibly reacting to the variations in cropping that appear in the later editions of the book, or, more probably, looking for the “snapshot aesthetic” under any available stone, they have assumed this style to be haphazard and contemptuously casual. One writer, for example, has said that Frank “produced pictures that look as if a kid had taken them while eating a Popsicle and then had them developed and printed at the corner drugstore.”

The things in Frank’s pictures which have bothered these critics – occasional blur, obvious grain, the use of available light, the cutting off of objects by the frame – are all, however, characteristic of picture journalism, and, arguably, of the entire history of hand-camera photography: Erich Salomon’s work, for example, done for the most part in the twenties, could be discussed in similar terms. The form of Frank’s work, then, is not radical in the true sense of the word: it does not strike to the root of the tradition it serves. The stylistic exaggerations which occur in his pictures serve only to retain that sense of resident wildness we recognize in great lyric poetry – they are present to call attention not to themselves, but to the emotional world of Frank’s subjects, and to his response to those subjects. When, in the statement he wrote shortly before The Americans was published, Frank said: “It is important to see what is invisible to others. Perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph,” he was expressing his belief that both his perceptions (it is significant that he does not mention an intervening camera in these sentences) and the photographs which result from them are essentially unmediated and true.

This desire of Frank’s to hold the shape of his feelings in what he made is an ambition found in all Romantic art, one that his style brilliantly encompasses and describes. There is a wonderful illusion of speed trapped in his photographs, a sense of rapidity usually created not by the movement of Frank’s subjects, but by the gesture that he made as he framed his pictures. To photographers who have followed Frank, this autographic gesture incorporates a mystery, one that is distorted, and certainly not explained, by saying that he “shot on the run” or “from the hip.” For the beauty of this gesture is that, caught by such speed, his subjects remain clear, fully recognized, as if the photographer had only glanced at what he wanted to show, but was able to seize it at the moment it unhesitantly revealed itself.

Despite the grace of this notational style (or perhaps because of it), Frank seems to have felt that movement within the frames of his photographs would only disturb their sense, and, with a few exceptions, ignored the use of dramatic gesture and motion in The Americans (a fact which again suggests his feeling about Cartier-Bresson’s work). In two of his pictures of convention delegates, and in one of a woman in a gambling casino, he shows emphatic hand gestures. In another photograph, he looks down onto a man striding forward under a neon arrow, and, in yet another, describes two girls skipping away from his camera. Otherwise, his subjects move, if at all, toward, and, in a single memorable case, by him – studies in physiognomy, rather than disclosures of a gathering beauty.

The characteristic gestures in his pictures are the slight, telling motions of the head and upper body: a glance, a stare , a hand brought to the face, an arched neck, pursed lips. They suggest that Frank, like Evans, believed significance in a photograph might be consonant with the repose of the things it described. His pictures, of course, are not acts of contemplation – they virtually catalogue the guises of anxiety – but they are stilled, and their meanings found not in broad rhythms of gesture and form, but in the constellations traced by the figures or objects they show, and the short, charged distances between them.

One of the unacknowledged achievements of The Americans is the series of group portraits – odd assemblages of heads, usually seen in profile, that gather in quick, serried cadences and push at the cutting edges of their frames. In the soft muted light that illuminates them, these heads are drawn with the sculptural brevity of those found on worn coins. But, even in this diminishment, as they cluster and fill the shallow space of Frank’s pictures, they assume the unfurling, cursive shapes of great Romantic art.

As this book shows, these photographs beautifully elaborate Evans’ hand-camera pictures, pictures which are not as judgmental as Frank’s, but also not as formally complex and moving. Although Frank’s most literal recastings of American Photographs occur when he is remembering Evans’ viewcamera pictures – for example, a gas station, a parked car, a statue = these extravagant translations of the older photographer’s bluntest work eloquently reveal one aspect of Frank’s extraordinary gifts as a photographer.”

Tod Papageorge. “Walker Evans And Robert Frank: An Essay On Influence.”

Download the complete essay (100kb pdf)

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar - Gallup, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Bar – Gallup, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Target Collection of American Photography, gift of Target Stores

 

Robert Frank. 'Salt Lake City, Utah' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Salt Lake City, Utah
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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31
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 1

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi

 

The lunatic sublime of America

This is the first part of a bumper two-part posting.

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is one of the most important photographic artists of the twentieth century. He was born in Switzerland but he emigrated to American in 1947. He soon gained a job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. He honed his craft as a photographer in England where he took formal, classical images of British life during a trip to Europe and South America in 1947.

He became friends with Edward Steichen and Walker Evans, and it was Evans who supported him in his Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1955 which enabled him “to travel across the United States and photograph all strata of its society. Cities he visited included Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana;Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Butte, Montana; and Chicago, Illinois. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. 83 of these were selected by him for publication in The Americans.”1

In The Americans, Frank documents, “the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave his photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.2

Originally published as Les Américains in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, and finally in 1959 in the United States by Grove Press, reaction in America was initially hostile. They American critics did not like Frank’s shoot from the hip style of photography, nor the mirror that was being held up to their society, especially by a Jewish foreigner. Over time The Americans came to be seen as a seminal work of American photography and social history. Like many artists, Frank only took photographs for a relatively short period of time, before moving on to become a filmmaker.

One cannot forget the era in which Frank took these photographs – that of McCarthyism and “the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression against communists, as well as a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.”3 Americans were suspicious of foreigners, especially ones with cameras, and this was still the era of racial segregation pre the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

With regard to the structure of the photographs, their origin is based in classicism. This was Frank’s training. It was his skill as an artist, his intuitive and prescient vision of America – how he saw America like no one else before him had – that enabled him to ramp up the intensity, shoot from weird angles, low lighting, cropping, depth of field, unusual focus – and focus on the iconography of America as never seen before: jukeboxes, American flags, cars, highways, death, racial segregation – that was so revolutionary. But he could not have done that without his formal training. You only have to look at the comparison between the photographs of Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Formal and elegant in Evans Church Organ and Pews (1936) and Downtown street, New Orleans (December 1935) with lines vertical and clean… and then Frank, with hardly a straight line or neat angle to be seen. But the one does inform the other, otherwise Frank’s photographs would just become snapshots, vernacular photographs with very little meaning. Which they are not.

This is one of the most powerful, lyrical, humanist photo essays of a country that has ever been taken. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”4 As an artist, Frank became the great connector for he is the critical link in the chain that stretches from Lewis Hine through Walker Evans… and on to Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz.

As an artist you marvel at his intuition and inspiration, to look at the world as no one else had done before, to push the boundaries of medium and message. To photograph people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media and thrust them into the white, bright, happy world of 1950s consumerist America saying: this is what this country is really like, this is my “impression” of you in all your fleeting madness, “America as an often bleak and lonely place.” You only have to look at the “eye” in U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (1956, below) or look at the photograph of the grave by the side of the road to know that you are in Blue Velvet territory (David Lynch, director 1986, the title is taken from The Clovers’ 1955 song of the same name). I am not sure yet how one world pierces the other but believe me they surely do.

Marcus

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

 

 

“It was the vision that emanated from the book that lead not only me, but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape, in a sense, the lunatic sublime of America.”

.
Joel Meyerowitz

 

“Like a boxer trains for a fight, a photographer by walking the streets, and watching and taking pictures, and coming home and going out the next day, the same thing again, taking pictures. It doesn’t matter how many he takes, or if he takes any at all, it gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of, or what is the right thing to do and when.”

.
Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Walker Evans. 'Main St., Ossining, New York' 1932

 

Walker Evans
Main St., Ossining, New York
1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Drive-In Movie - Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drive-In Movie – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bequest of Morgan Garwood

 

Robert Frank. 'Barber shop through screen door - McClellanville, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Barber shop through screen door – McClellanville, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

 

“In 1955 and 1956, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled throughout the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship, photographing ordinary people in their everyday lives. His book The Americans – 83 photographs, mostly from those travels, published in 1959 – repudiated the bland good cheer of the magazines with an image of the country that was starkly at odds with the official optimism of postwar prosperity. The book became a landmark of photographic history; but Frank soon turned to filmmaking, and the rest of his early photographic career was largely forgotten. An important group of unknown or unfamiliar photographs in the Cantor Arts Center’s collection provides the core of the exhibition Robert Frank in America, which sheds new light on the making of The Americans and presents, for the first time, Frank’s American photographs from the 1950s as a coherent body of work.

“We are delighted that the Cantor’s collection has provided the basis for a fresh look at one of the great achievements of 20-century photography,” said Connie Wolf, John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “We are also deeply grateful to Robert Frank, who has generously contributed to the project.”

The exhibition Robert Frank in America, on view September 10, 2014 through January 5, 2015, features 130 photographs drawn primarily from the Cantor’s collection as well as from other public and private collections and from Frank himself. Peter Galassi, former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is the exhibition’s guest curator and author of the accompanying publication.

 

The Exhibition’s Development from the Cantor’s Collection

In the summer of 2012, Wolf invited Galassi to offer his thoughts on one of the museum’s hidden treasures: more than 150 photographs by Robert Frank given to the Cantor in the mid-1980s by Stanford alumnus Bowen H. McCoy and his colleague Raymond B. Gary. This remarkable collection spans the full range of Frank’s photographic career before he turned to filmmaking in the early 1960s. It is especially rich in Frank’s American work of the 1950s, including scores of photographs that are unknown or unfamiliar even to scholars. Wolf and Galassi saw an opportunity to share this work with Stanford students, faculty, scholars at large and the general public.

Research began at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where more than two decades ago the artist established the archive of his photographic career prior to 1970. Studying more than 1,000 contact sheets enabled Galassi to determine the locations and dates of dozens of previously unidentified photographs in the Cantor collection. He then selected works for the exhibition so as to identify Frank’s major themes and artistic strategies. The compelling sequence of The Americans poetically weaves diverse images into a seamless whole, but Robert Frank in America groups related pictures to explore the pictorial strategies that Frank developed as he worked, and also to highlight important subjects – people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media.

Frank repeatedly photographed isolated figures so that they seemed trapped by pictorial forces, for example. This powerful metaphor for Frank’s vision of lonely individuals imprisoned by social circumstances is announced in the first picture, The Americans, where the flag obliterates a spectator’s face (Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955). In Robert Frank in America, that photograph is juxtaposed with another that uses the identical pictorial scheme but a different subject; the interior of a bar (New York City, 1955).

“Although The Americans is famous – partly because it is famous – Robert Frank’s American work of the 1950s has never been considered as a whole,” said Galassi. “The full range of the work shows just how Frank turned the vocabulary of magazine photojournalism on its head and used it to speak in a personal, poetic voice.”

Inviting Galassi to organize the exhibition was part of the museum’s renewed commitment to collecting, studying and presenting photography, Wolf says. The Cantor has been adding to its already strong holdings, presenting innovative exhibitions of work by distinguished artists and providing a valuable opportunity for Stanford students and faculty to work directly with photographs. Leland Stanford’s commission more than a century ago for Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering work on animal locomotion serves as a foundation for the museum’s extensive collection today.

 

Exhibition catalogue

The major catalogue accompanying this exhibition is published by the Cantor Arts Center in association with international publisher Steidl, with whom Frank has worked closely on most of his books. All 130 photographs in the exhibition are reproduced as full-page tritone plates. Galassi’s extensive essay traces the evolution of Frank’s work from his arrival in the United States in 1947 until he abandoned his first photographic career in the early 1960s. The text provides a thorough outline of the photographic context in which Frank at first sought success as a magazine photojournalist as well as a detailed analysis of the methods and strategies that lie behind The Americans. The essay features 24 illustrations, including an unprecedented map of Frank’s 1955-56 Guggenheim travels, which locates the sites of nearly all of the photographs in The Americans and in Robert Frank in America. The 200-page book, with a foreword by Connie Wolf, is designed by Katy Homans, New York.

 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zürich, Switzerland. The conclusion of World War II ended his vulnerability (his father was a German-born Jew) and enabled him to escape what he regarded as a narrow, antiquated culture. Soon after reaching New York in March 1947, he was hired by Harper’s Bazaar, but his distaste for photographing fashion led him to quit after six months. Over the next five or six years, in Europe and the United States, Frank aimed to establish himself as a freelance photojournalist, with limited success. A Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded in March 1955 and renewed a year later, freed him to pursue his work independently, and he soon began to travel in hopes of making a book. Les Américains was published by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958 and, as The Americans, by Grove Press in New York in 1959. The latter included an introduction by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road.

Film and video have formed a central aspect of Frank’s work since 1959, when he collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Alfred Leslie on Pull My Daisy. In 1972, however, he resumed making photographs, often using Polaroid positive-negative materials and incorporating text and multiple images. That same year he published the first of several editions of The Lines of My Hand, a book that surveyed his career in all mediums and initiated reconsiderations of his early photographic career. The first full-scale retrospective of his photographs was organized at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1986. In 1990, a major gift by Frank established the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which has since presented two major exhibitions, each accompanied by an important book: Robert Frank: Moving Out (1994) and Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” (2009).”

Press release from the Cantor Arts Center

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of Marti Meyerson Hooper

 

Robert Frank. 'Café - Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Café – Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

Walker Evans. 'Church Organ and Pews' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Church Organ and Pews
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Canal Street - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Canal Street – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Central casting - Hollywood' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Central casting – Hollywood
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Charleston, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charleston, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

 

Guggenheim proposal summary

“To photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of a civilization and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.”

 

The full statement

“I am applying for a Fellowship with a very simple intention: I wish to continue, develop and widen the kind of work I already do, and have been doing for some ten years, and apply it to the American nation in general. I am submitting work that will be seen to be documentation - most broadly speaking. Work of this kind is, I believe, to be found carrying its own visual impact without much work explanation. The project I have in mind is one that will shape itself as it proceeds, and is essentially elastic. The material is there: the practice will be in the photographer’s hand, the vision in his mind. One says this with some embarrassment but one cannot do less than claim vision if one is to ask for consideration.

“The photographing of America” is a large order - read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity. What I have in mind, then, is observation and record of what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere. Incidentally, it is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere - easily found, not easily selected and interpreted. A small catalog comes to the mind’s eye: a town at night, a parking lot, a supermarket, a highway, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none, the farmer and his children, a new house and a warped clapboard house, the dictation of taste, the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights, the faces of the leaders and the faces of the followers, gas tanks and postoffices and backyards.

The uses of my project would be sociological, historical and aesthetic. My total production will be voluminous, as is usually the case when the photographer works with miniature film. I intend to classify and annotate my work on the spot, as I proceed. Ultimately the file I shall make should be deposited in a collection such as the one in the Library of Congress. A more immediate use I have in mind is both book and magazine publication.”

 

Robert Frank. 'Covered car - Long Beach, California' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car – Long Beach, California
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, John Spencer Fund

 

Robert Frank. 'Elevator - Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Elevator – Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Florida' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Florida
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The artist, courtesy Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank. 'Iowa' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Iowa
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

 

“I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: “To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation.”

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others – perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind – something has been accomplished.

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all – even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

Robert Frank, U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958

 

Robert Frank. 'Lusk, Wyoming' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Lusk, Wyoming
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Main Street - Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Main Street – Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Walker Evans. 'Downtown street, New Orleans' December 1935

 

Walker Evans
Downtown street, New Orleans
December 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Lent by Peter Steil

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' early 1950s

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, John and Lisa Pritzker

 

Robert Frank. 'Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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27
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘photobooks. Spain 1905-1977′ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 27th May 2014 – 5th January 2015

Artists: Francesc Català-Roca, Colita (Isabel Steva Hernández), Joan Colom, Salvador Costa, Ramón Masats, Xavier Miserachs, Francisco Ontañón, José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas, Leopoldo Pomés, Alfonso Sánchez Portela

Curatorship: Horacio Fernández

 

 

This is one of those eclectic exhibitions that this site likes to promote. What a fascinating subject, something that I knew nothing about. The posting is especially for my colleague Professor Martinez Alfredo-Exposito, Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics at The University of Melbourne.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'photobooks. Spain 1905-1977' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'photobooks. Spain 1905-1977' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'photobooks. Spain 1905-1977' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'photobooks. Spain 1905-1977' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition photobooks. Spain 1905-1977 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia

 

Álvaro Bartolomé, Joaquín del Palacio. Momentos. Madrid: edición del autor, 1944

 

Álvaro Bartolomé, Joaquín del Palacio
Momentos
Madrid: edición del autor
1944

 

Enrique Palazuelo. S/T. Nuevas escenas matritenses, ca. 1957 / copia póstuma, 2013. Copia de exposición

 

Enrique Palazuelo
Sans Titre. Nuevas escenas matritenses
c. 1957 / copia póstuma, 2013
Copia de exposición

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'Llegada a Barcelona' (Arriving at Barcelona) 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Llegada a Barcelona (Arriving at Barcelona)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
34.8 x 47.5 cm

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'La Vía Layetana entre las calles Junqueras y Condal' 1950 / copia póstuma, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
La Vía Layetana entre las calles Junqueras y Condal
1950 / copia póstuma, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
36.9 x 45.3 cm

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'La Vía Layetana, Barcelona' (The Via Layetana, Barcelona), 1950

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
La Vía Layetana, Barcelona (The Via Layetana, Barcelona)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'Monumento a Colón' (Columbus Monument) 1949 / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Monumento a Colón (Columbus Monument)
1949 / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
With frame: 114 x 88 cm

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'Calle Muntaner' (Muntaner Street) 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Calle Muntaner (Muntaner Street)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
47.5 x 32.8 cm

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'Las Ramblas con lluvia' (The Ramblas in the Rain) 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Las Ramblas con lluvia (The Ramblas in the Rain)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
47.7 x 37.5 cm

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'Vestíbulo de la tienda, Barcelona' (Shop Vestibule, Barcelona) 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Vestíbulo de la tienda, Barcelona (Shop Vestibule, Barcelona)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca. 'El hombre del saco' (The Bogeyman) 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003

 

Francesc Català-Roca (Valls, Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
El hombre del saco (The Bogeyman)
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper
47.8 x 35.7 cm

 

 

“The Exhibition photobooks. Spain 1905-1977 presents a journey through the history of the photobook in Spain, setting off at the beginning of the 20th century and ending in the mid seventies, via a selection from the Museo Reina Sofía Collection, contextualised and accompanied by an assortment of complementary material.

For a long time the aesthetic consideration of photography has been limited to individual images that are able to work in a similar way to paintings or etchings, a blueprint developed by historians and museum curators alike to assemble a canon of ‘masterpieces’ for studios or exhibitions. Yet this model is not the only one, and many photographers cannot synthesise their work in a single image, devising it instead in a series. Both models give rise to two coherent histories of photography: one comprised of photos to hang on walls, with a limited number of copies and on sale at art galleries; the other in book form, possibly with a reissue, available in bookstores. By and large, photographers prefer the last option: “pictures on walls and photos in books” (Cartier-Bresson).

A photobook is a publication made up of photographs ordered as a set of images, with plots and complex meanings, and the medium used by some of the most pre-eminent photographers to produce their greatest work; a tried-and-tested model to present, communicate and read photos. Photobooks are becoming more widely recognised as the best medium for presenting series of photographs.

As far as Spain is concerned, the history of photo books is determined by the avatars of its own national history, for instance the Civil War and the transition to democracy, the focus of some of the finest work produced. In addition to propaganda, changes to the image and social role of peasants and, above all, women, are also prominent issues that are explored. The relationship between literature and photography is another characteristic of Spanish photobooks, which also include works in closer proximity to the international history of the format, such as publications on urban matters.

The study of photobooks is leading to a reinterpretation of the history of photography in diverse countries, as well as in Spain. Along with well-known photographers (the likes of José Ortiz Echagüe, Alfonso, Francesc Català-Roca, Ramón Masats, Xavier Miserachs, Francisco Ontañón and Colita), the exhibition features a considerable number of practically unknown frontline artists who in their day actually published first-rate photography collections, as is the case with photographers like Antonio Cánovas, the collective work of Misiones Pedagógicas (Teaching Missions), José Compte, Enrique Palazuelo, Luis Acosta Moro and Salvador Costa.

Curated by Horacio Fernández, the exhibition photobooks. Spain 1905-1977 is in collaboration with Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) to present part of the line of investigation and acquisition carried out by the Museo Reina Sofía concerning photobooks. The exhibition, which coincides with the PHE2014 festival, is concluded with the publication of a catalogue raisonné, jointly published by the Museo Reina Sofía, AC/E and RM.”

Text from the Museo Reina Sofía website

 

Enrique Palazuelo (fotografías) y Camilo José Cela (texto). Nuevas escenas matritenses. Madrid, Alfaguara, 1965-66

 

Enrique Palazuelo (fotografías) y Camilo José Cela (texto)
Nuevas escenas matritenses
Madrid, Alfaguara
1965-66

 

Colita (fotografías) y Maria Aurèlia Capmany (texto). Antifémina. Madrid, Editorial Nacional, 1977

 

Colita (fotografías) y Maria Aurèlia Capmany (texto)
Antifémina
Madrid, Editorial Nacional
1977

 

Colita (Isabel Steva Hernández). 'Novios gitanos. Barcelona' (Gypsy Couple. Barcelona) 1962 / Later print, 2011

 

Colita (Isabel Steva Hernández)
Novios gitanos. Barcelona (Gypsy Couple. Barcelona)
1962 / Later print, 2011
Gold-toned chlorobromide print on paper
17.9 x 18 cm

 

Joan Colom. 'Raval' 1958 (circa) / Vintage print

 

Joan Colom
Raval
1958 (circa) / Vintage print
Gelatin silver print on paper
23.5 x 11 cm

 

Joan Colom published his series on Barcelona’s Chinatown in the magazine AFAL (1962) with an autobiography: “Age: 40. Profession: Accountant. Hobbies: Apart from photography, obviously, none.” Of his method, Colom said: “I have decided to only work with subjects that I have predetermined.” Oriol Maspons adds the technical details: “Everything was taken using a Leica M2, shot from the hip without framing or focusing. A real photographer’s work. More than a year on the same subject.” The series had been exhibited with some success (and controversy) at the Sala Aixelá in Barcelona the previous year, under the title El carrer (The Street). In 1964 it was finally published by Lumen in one of the finest photo-books in their Palabra e Imagen collection, “Izas, rabizas y colipoterras”, designed by Oscar Tusquets and Cristian Cirici. Camilo José Cela contributed a text based around Colom’s (surreptitious but captionless) photos that was full of broad, cruel humour, pitilessly mocking the women, photographed by Colom and judged by Cela. Somewhat ahead of her time, one of the women actually sued the photographer, the only result of which was the photo-book’s withdrawal from bookshops, and Colom’s retirement from photography for years. From the 1980s onwards public obscurity became public recognition, which has continued to grow.

Horacio Fernández

 

Joan Colom. 'No Title' 1958 / Vintage print

 

Joan Colom (Barcelona, Spain, 1921)
No Title
1958 / Vintage print
From the series El carrer (The Street)
Gelatin silver print on paper
27 x 21 cm

 

Joan Colom (Barcelona, Spain, 1921) 'No Title' 1958

 

Joan Colom (Barcelona, Spain, 1921)
No Title
1958 / Vintage print
From the series El carrer (The Street)
Gelatin silver print on paper
23.2 x 16.2 cm

 

Joan Colom (Barcelona, Spain, 1921) 'No Title' 1958

 

Joan Colom (Barcelona, Spain, 1921)
No Title
1958 / Vintage print
From the series El carrer (The Street)
Gelatin silver print on paper
23.2 x 16.2 cm

 

 

photobooks. Spain 1905-1977 is a history of Spanish photography through a selection of its best photobooks, many of them little known. The exhibition, organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), is the result of a line of acquisitions and research undertaken by the Museum’s Department of Collections with the collaboration of Horacio Fernández, curator of the exhibition.

This exhibition offers a new perspective on Spanish photography during its most important period through the work of photographers like Luis Acosta Moro, AlfonsoJalón Ángel, Antonio Cánovas, Robert Capa, Francesc Català-Roca, Colita, Joan Colom, José Compte, Salvador Costa, Ramón Masats, Xavier Miserachs, Misiones Pedagógicas, Fernando Nuño, Francisco Ontañón, José Ortiz Echagüe, Joaquín del Palacio, Enrique Palazuelo and Leopoldo Pomés.

photobooks. Spain 1905-1977 shows works published in Spain between 1905 and 1977 – in different styles, in limited or mass editions, printed using refined techniques or on inexpensive paper, for all audiences or for minorities. They are about people, things, behaviors, and ideas. photobooks were few and far between at the start of the twentieth century, increased in number during the war, and reached their height of development in the sixties. They subsequently grew scarce, only to make a triumphal comeback in the new century, represented in the Museum’s Library in the show Books that are Photos, Photos that are Books. Together they make up a specialized collection that is unique in its kind and embodies the Museo Reina Sofia’s commitment to all aspects of photographic images.

The works on display, most of which are little known, provide a fresh insight into Spanish photography. photobooks probes the broad and suggestive relationships between photography, publishing, design and literature, popular art and culture, history and politics, and public and private life. In the pages of these works is a plural history of the profound transformation of Spanish society. Thanks to the collective work of photographers, publishers, designers and writers, the themes presented in photobooks include the image of woman, seen from perspectives as different as the submission to patriarchal culture in the works of Cánovas and Compte and the militant feminism of Colita. Another major topic is the representation of the Spanish Civil War from both sides, with books like Madrid, which deals with the victims of the bombings during the siege of the capital, contrasting with Jalón Ángel’s portraits of soldiers on the side of the uprising. The war is followed by the sadness and harshness of the dictatorship, shown in photobooks by Joaquín del Palacio and Alfonso.

The relationship between photography and literature emerges throughout the exhibition, starting with the book by Cánovas mentioned above. From the period of the Civil War, special attention is merited by the photobooks of Antonio Machado, Miguel Hernández and Arturo Barea. In the sixties, the Lumen publishing house brought out the Palabra e Imagen (Word and Image) collection, designed by Oscar Tusquets, with extraordinary contributions by writers like Aldecoa, Cela, Delibes, Vargas Llosa and Caballero Bonald, and photographers like Masats, Maspons, Miserachs and Colita. One outstanding work in this section is Nuevas escenas matritenses (New Scenes of Madrid), with photos by Enrique Palazuelo.

Urban culture is also present in the photobooks of Alfonso, Català- Roca, Miserachs and Ontañón. Mention should be made too of the books on the end of the dictatorship by Nuño and the Diorama and Foto FAD teams, which show the gradual disappearance of the old identifying features of Spanish society under the influence of tourism and the global economy.

Apart from displaying some photographs autonomously, the show also features systems that allow visitors to view the plural content of each work exhibited, since it is in the work as a whole, as a coherent sequence of images, that the true entity of the photobook resides.

 

The first Spanish photobooks

“What a history painter would have painted I photographed,” wrote Antonio Cánovas of ¡Quién supiera escribir!… (If Only I Knew How to Write!…), his adaptation of a poem by Ramón de Campoamor about women’s dependence in a patriarchal world. Using actors and sets, Cánovas recreated a group of tableaux vivants or living pictures subtitled like films, which were as novel as photobooks in 1905. The photographic poem came out in two editions: one in postcards, which was a great commercial success; and a limited edition printed using the technique of the finest twentieth-century photobooks, photogravure.

José Ortiz Echagüe’s photobook Spanische Köpfe, later published as España, tipos y trajes (Spain: Types and Costumes), is the first instalment of an extensive photographic project to document folk culture by seeking out tradition. His aim was to preserve ways of life that were dying out; to show situations from the past: “In wandering through the little villages, I talk to the people, select models one by one, start the difficult task of dressing them in the typical garb.” The result was photographs that were chiefly aesthetic, close to the paintings of Sorolla or Zuloaga, but also political, as they visualized concepts (people, race, collective identity…) used by different ideologies.

With the Misiones Pedagógicas (Educational Missions), the Second Republic set out to bring urban life closer to the rural world through culture. The ‘missionaries’ were university students who took the theater, music, art, and the cinema to villages. Some of them, such as José Val del Omar and Guillermo Fernández, photographed the audiences, capturing shots that are devoid of local character. Instead of seeking references to the past, they hint at a better future represented by the people’s curious gazes: the photographs chosen for the photobook Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas (Educational Missions Trust) are intended to disseminate democratic values and confidence in progress.

 

José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas. 'Sermón en la aldea' (Village Sermon) 1903

 

José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas (Guadalajara, Spain, 1886 – Madrid, Spain, 1980)
Sermón en la aldea (Village Sermon)
1903
Carbondir on laid paper
40.5 x 38.7 cm

 

One of José Ortiz Echagüe’s objectives is to achieve “the strange feeling of travelling to a different time.” He comes very close in one of his earliest photographs, Sermón en la aldea (Village Sermon), taken at the parish church of Viguera, a village in La Rioja, using a Photosphere 9 x 12 camera. With artistic photographs, what really matters is the quality of the copies, which in this case are numerous and have varying dates. Ortiz Echagüe made them himself in a laboratory using a personal variant on the technique known as direct carbon, developed under the name of “Carbondir”: a fine pigment print method which is complicated, slow and absolutely artisanal, that results in velvety blacks and clouds of pointillist faded half-colours. The specifics of the carbon direct method mean that Ortiz Echagüe’s prints approach the quality of chalcography, one of the aspirations of less imaginative artistic photography. However, these prints get further from photography the closer they get to engravings. As early as 1923 a review was criticising the disappearance of “what there originally may have been of photography” in his prints, and the artist’s excesses as he “scraped, eliminated, rubbed, smudged, lightened and darkened it.”

Horacio Fernández

 

José Ortiz Echagüe. 'Puertas Lagarteranas' (Women of Lagartera) 1920-1923 (circa)

 

José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas (Guadalajara, Spain, 1886 – Madrid, Spain, 1980)
Puertas Lagarteranas (Women of Lagartera)
1920-1923 (circa)
Carbondir on laid paper
49.8 x 33.1 cm

 

In 1929 José Ortiz Echagüe’s first photo-book came out in Berlin, Spanische Köpfe (Spanish Heads), published in Madrid in 1930 as Tipos y Trajes de España (Characters and Costumes of Spain), a title which, by 1971, would reach twelve editions. The photos needed to be set up, as the author wrote in 1925: “As I walk around the little villages, I talk to the people, I choose the models and then, one by one, I start the job of dressing them in traditional costumes. Having overcome the models’ objections to dressing up in their ancestors’ clothes, I get them together in a setting that I have chosen beforehand, which might be a typical square, the little church or a nearby hillside, from which one can see the village with its majestic castle which is included to create a wonderful backdrop. The sun has just come out, or is about to go down: its rays light the characters perfectly.” Ortiz Echagüe’s references are paintings by Ignacio Zuloaga and Joaquín Sorolla, particularly the Visión de España (Vision of Spain) series from New York’s Hispanic Society of America. Sorolla’s aim was to observe “without symbolisms or literature, the psychology of every region.” Ortiz Echagüe, on the other hand, is content to “perpetuate in graphic documents unalterable by time’s passage, all that Spanish attire has been and continues to be.” Lagartera, a village in the province of Toledo famous for its crafts, was one of his favourite places for photography, particularly with its unusual festival clothing, which the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset does not believe to be native. In the prologue to Tipos y trajes, he writes: “Lagartera attire is common to almost all Europe: with slight differences, it can be found across the whole of the central and Northern part of the continent.”

Horacio Fernández

 

José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas (Guadalajara, Spain, 1886 - Madrid, Spain, 1980) 'Lagarteranas en misa' (Women of Lagartera at Mass) 1920-1923 (circa)

 

José Ortiz Echagüe Puertas (Guadalajara, Spain, 1886 – Madrid, Spain, 1980)
Lagarteranas en misa (Women of Lagartera at Mass)
1920-1923 (circa)
Carbondir on laid paper
46.9 x 33.4 cm

 

 

Both sides of the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War was photogenic. Dozens of photographers engaged in documenting it. Media all over the world published images of the war, which were used by the both sides to convey their own virtues and the atrocities committed by their opponents.

The collective photobook Madrid is a visual account of the consequences of a siege: destruction, homeless people, the exodus of refugees. The effects of the bombings on the civilian population are captured in montages and photographs by Luis Lladó, Robert Capa, Hans Namuth, Chim, and Margaret Michaelis, among others. The faces of the child victims should be stressed – some appalling forensic photographs that were widely used in Republican propaganda and have been mentioned by Arturo Barea, Virginia Woolf, and Susan Sontag, among other writers.

A type of cultural propaganda characteristic of the Republican side was the publication of books combining words and pictures. Several came out during the war, among them Madrid baluarte de nuestra guerra de independencia (Madrid Bulwark of Our War of Independence), with texts by Antonio Machado; Miguel Hernández’s book of poems Viento del pueblo (Winds of the People); and Arturo Barea’s collection of stories titled Valor y miedo (Courage and Fear). All three feature photographs whose authorship is not credited, though we now know that they were taken by photographers such as Walter Reuter or designers such as Mauricio Amster.

The cult of personality was a salient feature of the Nationalist side’s propaganda. In 1939 the rebel military were presented as serious and efficient technicians in Jalón Ángel’s Forjadores de imperio (Empire Builders), a triumphal parade by no means epically portrayed and much less generous with the defeated. This collection of portraits of the men who had won a war was published in a luxury version designed to hang in public offices and in a popular version in postcard form for mass distribution.

The conservative values of the new fascist regime were conveyed in photographs. In Mujeres de la Falange (Women of the Falange, a collection of photographs by José Compte published in luxury magazines and as humble postcards) woman as mother, subordinate to man and an outsider to society and employment, was a compulsory role model, the only exception being that dictated by war itself, which required her to perform “heavy work with feminine grace for when the men return…”

 

The postwar years

The hardship of the postwar years is conveyed in a few photobooks that managed to slip past the censors. Literature with photos continued to be published in books such as Momentos (Moments), whose poems would be less sad without the ruins, deserted villages, and bare trees found in the photographs of Joaquín del Palacio (Kindel). Rincones del Viejo Madrid (Corners of Old Madrid), a collection of night shots by Alfonso, is an expressionist photobook printed in the opaque tones of the finest photogravure work. Alfonso portrays the capital as yet another victim – a frozen and sinister backdrop as dead as its missing inhabitants.

The book of poems titled Les fenêtres (The Windows) features many closed windows that also resemble abstract paintings in Leopoldo Pomés’s photos, which bring to mind a confined, stifling place. But in spite of everything, life carries on, as shown by the photos in Barcelona, the city of Francesc Català-Roca, who believed that “what words describe photography places on view”: images found in the street, as alive as the people in the photos, in a pleasant urban photobook.

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 - Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998) 'No Title' 1964 (circa)

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 – Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
No Title
1964 (circa) / Vintage print
From the series Costa Brava Show
Gelatin silver print on paper
21.4 x 30.3 cm

 

Costa Brava Show (1966) is a photo-book by the photographer Xavier Miserachs, also the author of Barcelona. Blanc i negre (1964), another urban photo-book that travels paths opened up by William Klein. Miserachs claims that in Costa Brava Show “the incorporation of Pop Art elements is obvious, because this is an aesthetic movement that absolutely fascinated me.” And it is true that the subject matter really could not be more perfect for Pop Art: firstly, there is what Manuel Vázquez Montalbán describes as “the paradise of leisure”, secondly “the party (that) is the most baroque display of that leisure time” and finally a “peculiar eroticism”, noted by Josep Pla, who wrote introduction and claims that the photographs are “the best ever taken of what is known as the Costa Brava.” Basically, this is mass tourism as experienced and presented by Miserachs with excellent humour in 155 colour and black and white photographs, covering all the clichés and presaging the globalisation awaiting us all.

Horacio Fernández

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 - Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998) 'No Title' 1965 (circa)

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 – Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
No Title
1965 (circa) / Vintage print
From the series Costa Brava Show
Gelatin silver print on paper

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 - Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998) 'No Title' 1964 (circa)

 

Xavier Miserachs (Barcelona, Spain, 1937 – Badalona, Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
No Title
1964 (circa) / Vintage print
From the series Costa Brava Show
Gelatin silver print on paper
17.9 x 21.4 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'La actual M-30 (Madrid)' (The M-30 Ring Road Today [Madrid]) 1963 (May) / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
La actual M-30 (Madrid) (The M-30 Ring Road Today [Madrid])
1963 (May) / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
24.7 x 37.1 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Sans Titre (Madrid)' (No Title [Madrid]) 1963 (May) / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Sans Titre (Madrid) (No Title [Madrid])
1963 (May) / Posthumous print, 2013
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.6 x 38.4 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Sans Titre (Madrid)' (No Title [Madrid]) 1964-65 / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Sans Titre (Madrid) (No Title [Madrid])
1964-65 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.4 x 38.2 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Sans Titre (Madrid)' (No Title [Madrid]) 1964-65 / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Sans Titre (Madrid) (No Title [Madrid])
1964-65 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.7 x 38.4 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Sans Titre (Madrid)' (No Title [Madrid]) 1964 / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Sans Titre (Madrid) (No Title [Madrid])
1964 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.6 x 38.5 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) '600 en Casa de Campo con familia (Madrid)' (Outing to Casa de Campo in the 600, with Family [Madrid]) 1963 (May) / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
600 en Casa de Campo con familia (Madrid) (Outing to Casa de Campo in the 600, with Family [Madrid])
1964-65 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.5 x 37.7 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Parque Sindical (Madrid)' (Parque Sindical Sports Area [Madrid]) 1964 / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Parque Sindical (Madrid) (Parque Sindical Sports Area [Madrid])
1964 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.5 x 38.1 cm

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 - Madrid, Spain, 2008) 'Entierro (Madrid)' (Burial [Madrid]) 1967 / Posthumous print, 2013

 

Francisco Ontañón (Barcelona, Spain, 1930 – Madrid, Spain, 2008)
Entierro (Madrid) (Burial [Madrid])
1967 / Posthumous print, 2013
From the series Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid)
Selenium-toned chlorobromide print on fiber-based paper
25.5 x 38.1 cm

 

 

The 60’s: the golden decade of Spanish photography

Palabra e Imagen (Word and Image) was the creation of publisher Esther Tusquets and designer Oscar Tusquets. It was advertised by the Lumen publishing house as “a collection that is different from everything that has been done so far.” Its books “are not art books, they are not photography books, they are not literary works,” but “a new concept.” They all have a theme “and the writers, the photographer and those who plan and produce the book work on it as a team.” The aim was to present “an idea” using different means: “not just words but also the photography, the composition, the type of lettering, and the color of the paper can be used to express it.”

Palabra e Imagen was Spain’s main contribution to the history of photobooks. For fifteen years it was a laboratory for experimenting with different ways of publishing a collective work produced by writers, designers, photographers, and editors that attached equal importance to visual and textual readings – word and image.

The photographs are by Jaime Buesa, F. Català-Roca, Colita, Joan Colom, Julio Cortázar, Dick Frisell, Antonio Gálvez, Paolo Gasparini, Sergio Larrain, César Malet, Ramón Masats, Oriol Maspons, Xavier Miserachs, Francisco Ontañón, and Julio Ubiña. Prominent among the graphic designers, in addition to the collection’s creator Oscar Tusquets, are Mariona Aguirre, José Bonet, Lluís Clotet, Toni Miserachs, and Enric Satué. Finally, the authors of the texts include writers such as Rafael Alberti, Ignacio Aldecoa, Carlos Barral, Juan Benet, José María Caballero Bonald, Alejo Carpentier, Cavafis, Camilo José Cela, Julio Cortázar, Miguel Delibes, Federico García Lorca, Alfonso Grosso, Ana María Matute, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Julián Ríos, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Important photo-essays were published in the sixties, such as Los Sanfermines (The San Fermín Festivities) by Ramón Masats and Barcelona blanc i negre (Barcelona Black and White) by Xavier Miserachs, both of them masters of documentary photography. The first book was hailed as “the most personal photographic work that has been produced in Spain.” It is a “story told in pictures” that shows the expressive possibilities of the photobook and to what extent “a still photograph is not sufficient for a photographer who pursues a narration.” The second is a stroll through the streets of Barcelona in search of its inhabitants, and is more interested in life than in history. It is a “book to look at” that attempts a difficult combination of the subjective humanist photography of the previous decade and the new international urban photography based on the model established by William Klein, a “highly original way of hinting at cities” without succumbing to commonplaces or picturesqueness.

Also by Miserachs is Costa Brava Show, a photobook based on the mass phenomenon of tourism and featuring black-and-white photos on subjects such as young people enjoying themselves, sexual liberation, and the consequences of economic progress: chaotic town planning, corruption, and loss of authenticity. An equally critical intention underlies the photobook Vivir en Madrid (Living in Madrid), which is documentary in content and experimental in form – both the text and the pictures. Francisco Ontañón’s distant, stark photographs are kind to the common folk and critical of the privileged classes, but always humorous.

Nuevas escenas matritenses (New Scenes of Madrid) is a collection of 63 urban tales written by Camilo José Cela based on street photographs by Enrique Palazuelo that show an “incredible Madrid, where time stood still, oblivious and forgotten.” Published in several formats (from low to high culture: popular weekly and literary review; in normal and bibliophile editions), it tells stories invented from documentary photographs – a literary procedure that has been dubbed the ‘Celian picture-story.’ The photos make possible “hearing with new ears, seeing with different eyes what we believed to have been seen and heard forever.”

Luis Acosta Moro believed that the book of the future would be “a poem of short words and great pictures” of the kind embodied by his photobook Cabeza de muñeca (Doll’s Head), a symbolic work that alludes, among other themes, to the Civil War and the image of women. The publisher regarded it as a new type of book, a “film-novel-artistic essay.” The main subject is the model featured in all the pictures, sometimes dancing (or wrestling) with the photobook’s absolute author, who was responsible for everything: photographs, design, and text.

 

The 70’s: the last auteur photobooks

Los últimos días de Franco (The Last Days of Franco) is a photobook that is unique in both form and content: the funeral rites of the dictator. Live history is fleeting and the propaganda chiefs needed an official history capable of preserving “the living warmth of memories.” To achieve this, Fernando Nuño photographed videos. The result was a photobook consisting of television images that were second-hand but equally or more documentary than the original reports. “As they have been reproduced from video, [the photos] have the quality of a living document,” explains the book, a visual account that is completed with a second volume titled Los primeros días del Rey (The First Days of the King).

The second half of the seventies witnessed the transition to democracy, a highly politicized period in Spain. Two photobooks, Pintadas del referendum (Graffiti on the Referendum) and Pintades Pintadas (Graffiti), compile the propaganda of the day, in this case in the form of street graffiti – a subject also dealt with in French and Portuguese publications. The aim is to preserve the graffiti “as a necessary testament to and document of the vicissitudes of a people in pursuit of their future.” The authors are two short-lived groups of photographers, Equipo Diorama of Madrid and the Barcelona based Foto Fad.

The photobook Punk is pioneering in its portrayal of an international popular culture phenomenon. In Salvador Costa’s photographs taken from “close up and above the subject,” the scene is less important than the audience featured in the shots of ultramodern people, clothing, and rituals captured by the photographer, who was lucky enough to find a publisher capable of discovering more than just another short-lived fad in his photos.

Photographer Colita and writer Maria Aurèlia Capmany, collaborators on the Vindicación feminista magazine, are the authors of Antifémina (Antifemale), a photobook that set out to portray a type of woman “no one wants to look at” but who “is genuine and real, who is not twenty years old, who is not pretty.” To achieve this, Colita selected photos from her archives on themes such as old age, marriage, work, religion, prostitution, the body, marginalization, advertising, fashion, and the practice of making flirtatious remarks at women. Antifémina is a visual and political essay, a manifesto in favor of women but against ‘femininity,’ which is always “related to the passive role of women.”

 

CATALOGUE

A catalogue on this exhibition has been published by the Museo Reina Sofía, Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) and RM. This books includes a text written by the curator and Javier Ortiz-Echagüe, photographies of all the artworks shown and complete and individual information about each photobook by different specialized authors (Horacio Fernández, Javier Ortiz-Echagüe, Concha Calvo, Rocío Robles, Mafalda Rodríguez, Angélica Soleiman and Laura Terré).”

Press release from the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia website

 

VV.AA. Madrid. Barcelona, Industries Graphiques Seix i Barral, 1937

 

VV.AA.
Madrid
Barcelona, Industries Graphiques Seix i Barral
1937

 

Ramón Masats Tartera. 'Neutral corner' / Esquina neutral 1962 / copia de época

 

Ramón Masats Tartera
Neutral corner / Esquina neutral
1962 / copia de época

 

Mario Vargas Llosa, Xavier Miserachs. 'Los cachorros' Barcelona: Lumen, colección Palabra e Imagen 1967

 

Mario Vargas Llosa, Xavier Miserachs
Los cachorros
Barcelona: Lumen, colección Palabra e Imagen
1967

 

Salvador Costa i Valls. 'Sans Titre' (from the series 'Punk') 1977

 

Salvador Costa i Valls
Sans Titre (from the series Punk)
1977

 

Salvador Costa i Valls. 'Punk' Barcelona: Producciones Editoriales, colección Especial Star Book 1977

 

Salvador Costa i Valls
Punk
Barcelona: Producciones Editoriales, colección Especial Star Book
1977

 

 

Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia
Calle Santa Isabel, 52
28012 Madrid

Opening hours:
Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday Closed, including holidays
Wednesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Sunday 10.00 am – 7.00 pm

Museo Nacional Centro de Art Renia Sofia 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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