Archive for the 'fashion photography' Category

01
Mar
15

Review: ‘Richard Avedon People’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th December 2014 – 15th March 2015

Curator: Dr Christopher Chapman

 

 

You can tell a lot about a person from their self-portrait. In the case of Richard Avedon’s self-portrait (1969, below), we see a man in high key, white shirt positioned off centre against a slightly off-white background, the face possessing an almost innocuous, vapid affectation as though the person being captured by the lens has no presence, no being at all. The same could be said of much of Avedon’s photography. You can also tell a lot about an artist by looking at their early work. In the exhibition there is a photograph of James Baldwin, writer, Harlem, New York 1945, celebrated writer and close friend of the artist, which evidences Avedon’s mature portrait style: the frontal positioning of Afro-American Baldwin against a white background will be repeated by Avedon from the start to the end of his career. This trope, this hook has become the artist’s defining signature.

Spread across two floors of the exhibition spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, the exhibition hangs well. The tonal black and white photographs in their white frames, hung above and below the line against the white gallery walls, promote a sense of serenity and minimalism to the work when viewed from afar. Up close, the photographs are clinical, clean, pin sharp and decidedly cold in attitude. Overall the selection of work in the exhibition is weak and the show does not promote the artist to best advantage. There are the usual fashion and portrait photographs, supplemented by street photographs, photographs at the beach and of mental asylums, and distorted photographs. While it is good to see a more diverse range of work from the artist to fill in his back story none of these alternate visions really work. Avedon was definitely not a street photographer (see Helen Levitt for comparison); he couldn’t photograph the mentally ill (see Diane Arbus’ last body of work in the book Diane Arbus: Untitled, 1995) and his distorted faces fail miserably in comparison to Weegee’s (Athur Fellig) fabulous distortions. These are poor images by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said there are some arresting individual images. There is a magical photograph of Truman Capote, writer, 1955 which works because of the attitude of the sitter; an outdoors image of Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965 (below) in which the musician has this glorious presence when you stand in front of the image – emanating an almost metaphysical aura – due to the light, low depth of field and stance of the proponent. Also top notch is a portrait of the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, Paris, France, July 25, 1961in which (for once), the slightly off-white background and the pallid colour of the dancer’s lithe body play off of each other, his placement allowing him to float in the contextless space of the image, his striking pose and the enormousness of his member drawing the eyes of the viewer. All combine to make a memorable, iconic image. Another stunning image is a portrait of the artist Pablo Picasso, artist, Beaulieu, France, April 16, 1958where the artist’s large, round face fills the picture plane, his craggy features lit by strong side lighting, illuminating the whites of his eyes and just a couple of his eyebrow hairs. Magnificent. And then there are just two images (see below) from the artist’s seminal book In the American West. More on those later. 

Other portraits and fashion photographs are less successful. A photograph of Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967 (below), high contrast, cropped close top and bottom, is a vapid portrait of the fashion/model. The image of Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964 (below) is, as a good friend of mine said, a cruel photograph of the actress. I tend to agree, although another word, ‘bizarre’, also springs to mind. In some ways, his best known fashion photograph, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955 (below) is a ripper of an image… until you observe the punctum, to which my eyes were drawn like a moth to a flame, the horrible shackles around the legs of the elephants.

Generally, the portraiture and fashion photographs are a disappointment. If, as Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper states, “Avedon’s portraiture is a search for authenticity in the age of the fake,”1 then Avedon fails on many levels. His deadpan portraits do not revive or refresh the life of the sitter. In my eyes their inflection, the subtle expression of the sitter, is not enough to sustain the line of inquiry. I asked the curator and a representative from the Avedon Foundation what they thought Avedon’s photographs were about and both immediately said, together, it was all about surfaces. “Bullshit” rejoined I, thinking of the portrait of Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957 (below), in which the photographer pressed the shutter again and again and again as the actress gallivanted around his studio being the vivacious Marilyn, only hours later, when the mask had dropped, to get the photograph that he and everyone else wanted, the vulnerable women. This, and only this image, was then selected to be printed for public consumption, the rest “archived, protected by the Avedon Foundation, never allowed off the negative or the contact sheet.”2 You don’t do that kind of thing, and take that much time, if you are only interested in surfaces.

On reflection perhaps both of us were right, because there is a paradox that lies at the heart of Avedon’s work. There is the surface vacuousness and plasticity of the celebrity/fashion portrait; then the desire of Avedon to be taken seriously as an artist, to transcend the fakeness of the world in which he lived and operated; and also his desire to always be in control of the process – evidenced by how people had to offer themselves up to the great man in order to have their portrait taken, with no control over the results. While Avedon sought to be in touch with the fragility of humanity – the man, woman and child inside – it was also something he was afraid of. Photography gave him control of the situation. In his constructed images, Avedon is both the creator and the observer and as an artist he is always in control. This control continues today, extending to the dictions of The Richard Avedon Foundation, which was set up by Avedon during his lifetime and under his tenants to solely promote his art after he passed away.

When you look into the eyes of the sitters in Avedon’s portraits, there always seems to be a dead, cold look in the eyes. Very rarely does he attempt to reveal the ambiguity of a face that resists artistic production (see Blake Stimson’s text below). And when he does it is only when he has pushed himself to do it (MM, BD). Was he afraid, was he scared that he might have been revealing too much of himself, that he would have “lost control”? If, as he said, there is finally nothing but the face – an autograph, the signature of the face – then getting their autograph was a way to escape his mundane family life through PERFORMANCE. Unfortunately, the performance that he usually evinces from the rich and famous, this “figuring” out of himself through others through control of that performance – is sometimes bland to the point of indifference. Hence my comment on his self-portrait that I mentioned at the start of this review. It would seem to me that Avedon could not face the complex truth, that he could bring himself, through his portraits, to be both inside and outside of a character at one and the same time… to be vulnerable, to be frightened, to loose control!

If he shines himself as a self-portrait onto others, in a quest or search for the human predicament, then his search is for his own frightened face. Only in the Western Project which formed the basis for his seminal book In the American West - only two of which are in the exhibition – does Avedon achieve a degree of insight, humanity and serenity that his other photographs lack and, perhaps, a degree of quietude within himself. Created after serious heart inflammations hindered Avedon’s health in 1974, he was commissioned in 1979 “by Mitchell A. Wilder (1913-1979), the director of the Amon Carter Museum to complete the “Western Project.” Wilder envisioned the project to portray Avedon’s take on the American West. It became a turning point in Avedon’s career when he focused on everyday working class subjects such as miners soiled in their work clothes, housewives, farmers and drifters on larger-than-life prints instead of a more traditional options with famous public figures… The project itself lasted five years concluding with an exhibition and a catalogue. It allowed Avedon and his crew to photograph 762 people and expose approximately 17,000 sheets of 8 x 10 Tri-X Pan film.”3

In his photographs of drifters, miners, beekeepers, oil rig workers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, carneys and alike the figure is more frontally placed within the image space, pulled more towards the viewer. The images are about the body and the picture plane, about the minutiae of dress and existence and the presence and dignity of his subjects, more than any of his other work. In this work the control of the sitter works to the artist’s advantage (none of these people had ever had their portrait taken before and therefore had to be coached) and, for once, Avedon is not relying on the ego of celebrity of the transience of fashion but on the everyday attitudes of human beings. Through his portrayal of their ordinariness and individuality, he finally reveals his open, exposed self. The project was embedded with Avedon’s goal to discover new dimensions within himself… “from a Jewish photographer from out East who celebrated the lives of famous public figures to an aging man at one of the last chapters of his life to discovering the inner-worlds, and untold stories of his Western rural subjects… The collection identified a story within his subjects of their innermost self, a connection Avedon admits would not have happened if his new sense of mortality through severe heart conditions and aging hadn’t occurred.”4 Definitively, this is his best body of work. Finally he got there. 

Printed on Agfa’s luscious Portriga Rapid, a double-weight, fiber-based gelatin silver paper which has a warm (brown) colouration for the shadow areas and lovely soft cream highlights, the prints in the exhibition are over six-feet high. The presence of Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980 – freckles highlighted by the light, folds of skin under the armpit – and Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979 – visceral innards of the rattlesnake and the look in his eyes – are simply stunning. Both are beautiful prints. In the American West has often been criticised for its voyeuristic themes, for exploiting its subjects and for evoking condescending emotions from the audience such as pity while studying the portraits, but these magnificent photographs are not about that: they are about the exchange of trust between the photographer and a human being, about the dignity of that portrayal, and about the revelation of a “true-self” as much as possible through a photograph – the face of the sitter mirroring the face of the photographer.

While it is fantastic to see these images in Victoria, the first time any Avedon photographs have been seen in this state (well done The Ian Potter Museum of Art!), the exhibition could have been so much more if it had only been more focused on a particular outcome, instead of a patchy, broad brush approach in which everything has been included. I would have been SO happy to see the whole exhibition devoted to Avendon’s most notable and influential work (think Thomas Ruff portraits) – In the American West. The exhibition climaxes (if you like) with three huge, mural-scale portraits of Merce Cunningham (1993, printed 2002), Doon Arbus, writer, New York, 2002 and Harold Bloom, literary critic, New York City, October 28, 2001 (printed 202), big-statement art that enlarges Avedon’s work to sit alongside other sizeable contemporary art works. Spanning floor to ceiling in the gallery space these overblown edifices, Avedon’s reaction to the ever expanding size of postmodern ‘gigantic’ photography, fall as flat as a tack. At this scale the images simply do not work. As Robert Nelson insightfully observes, “To turn Avedon’s portraiture into contemporary art is technically and commercially understandable, but from an artistic point of view, the conflation of familiarity to bombast seems to be faking it one time to many.”5

Finally we have to ask what do artists Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and Richard Avedon have in common? Well, they were all based in New York; they are all white, middle class, and reasonably affluent; they were either gay, Jewish or Catholic or a mixture of each; they all liked mixing with celebrities and fashion gurus; and they all have foundations set up in their honour. Only in New York. It seems a strange state of affairs to set up a foundation as an artist, purely to promote, sustain, expand, and protect the legacy and control of your art after you are gone. This is the ultimate in control, about controlling the image of the artist from the afterlife. Foundations such as the Keith Haring Foundation do good work, undertaking outreach and philanthropic programs, making “grants to not-for-profit groups that engage in charitable and educational activities. In accordance with Keith’s wishes, the Foundation concentrates its giving in two areas: The support of organizations which provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children and the support of organizations which engage in education, prevention and care with respect to AIDS and HIV infection.”6 I asked the representative of The Richard Avedon Foundation what charitable or philanthropic work they did. They offer an internship program. That’s it. For an artist so obsessed with image and surfaces, for an artist that eventually found his way to a deeper level of understanding, it’s about time The Richard Avedon Foundation offered more back to the community than just an internship. Promotion and narcissism are one thing, engagement and openness entirely another.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 2,335

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Many thankx to The Ian Potter 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.

 

1. Robert Nelson. “Pin sharp portraits show us real life,” in The Age newspaper, Friday January 2, 2014, p. 22.
2. Andrew Stephens. “Fame and falsehoods,” in Spectrum, The Age newspaper, Saturday November 29, 2014, p. 12.
3. Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015
4. Whitney, Helen. “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light.” American Masters, Season 10, Episode 3, 1996 quoted in Anon. “Richard Avedon,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015.
5. Robert Nelson op cit.,
6. Anon. “About” on The Keith Haring Foundation website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

 

American photographer Richard Avedon (1923-2004) produced portrait photographs that defined the twentieth century. Richard Avedon People explores his iconic portrait making practice, which was distinctive for its honesty, candour and frankness.

One of the world’s great photographers, Avedon is best known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards. The full breadth of Avedon’s renowned work is revealed in this stunning exhibition of 80 black and white photographs dating from 1949 to 2002. Avedon’s instantly recognisable iconic portraits of artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders feature alongside his less familiar portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West. With uncompromising rawness and tenderness, Avedon’s photographs capture the character of individuals extraordinary in their uniqueness and united in their shared experience of humanity.

Richard Avedon People pays close attention to the dynamic relationship between the photographer and his sitters and focuses on Avedon’s portraits across social strata, particularly his interest in counter-culture. At the core of his artistic work was a profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual in society. The exhibition reveals Avedon’s sensitivity of observation, empathy of identification and clear vision that characterise these portraits.

Text from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

“There is no truth in photography. There is no truth about anyone’s person.” –

“There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth.”

“Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern is… the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own.”

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Richard Avedon

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Richard Avedon People' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Richard Avedon People at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, February 2015

 

 

“Photography has had its place in the pas de deux between humanism and antihumanism, of course, and with two complementary qualities of its own. In the main, we have thought for a long time now, it is photography’s capacity for technological reproduction that defines its greater meaning, both by indexing the world and through its expanded and accelerated means of semiosis. This emphasis on the proliferation of signs and indices has been part of our posthumanism, and it has turned us away consistently from readings that emphasise photography’s second, humanist quality, its capacity to produce recognition through the power of judgment and thus realise the experience of solidarity or common cause.

In keeping with the framing for this collection of writings, we might call the first of these two qualities photography’s ‘either/and’ impulse and the second its ‘either/or’. Where the first impulse draws its structuring ideal from deferring the moment of judgment as it moves laterally from one iteration to the next, one photograph to the next, the second develops its philosophical ground by seeing more than meets the eye in any given photograph or image as the basis of judgment. For example, this is how Kierkegaard described the experience of a ‘shadowgraph’ (or ‘an inward picture which does not become perceptible until I see it through the external’) in his Either/Or:

Sometimes when you have scrutinised a face long and persistently, you seem to discover a second face hidden behind the one you see. This is generally an unmistakable sign that this soul harbours an emigrant who has withdrawn from the world in order to watch over secret treasure, and the path for the investigator is indicated by the fact that one face lies beneath the other, as it were, from which he understands that he must attempt to penetrate within if he wishes to discover anything. The face, which ordinarily is the mirror of the soul, here takes on, though it be but for an instant, an ambiguity that resists artistic production. An exceptional eye is needed to see it, and trained powers of observation to follow this infallible index of a secret grief. … The present is forgotten, the external is broken through, the past is resurrected, grief breathes easily. The sorrowing soul finds relief, and sorrow’s sympathetic knight errant rejoices that he has found the object of his search; for we seek not the present, but sorrow whose nature is to pass by. In the present it manifests itself only for a fleeting instant, like the glimpse one may have of a man turning a corner and vanishing from sight.

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Roland Barthes was trying to describe a similar experience with his account of the punctum just as Walter Benjamin did with his figure of the angel of history: ‘His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events [in the same way we experience photography’s ‘either/and’ iteration of images], he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet’. As Kierkegaard, Barthes, and Benjamin suggest, the old humanist experience of struggle with the singular experience of on-going failure to realise its hallowed ideals only ever arose in photography or anywhere else fleetingly, but it is all but invisible to us now.”

Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or, volume I, 1843, 171, 173 quoted in Blake Stimson. “What was Humanism?” on the Either/And website [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Andy Warhol, artist, Candy Darling and Jay Johnson, actors, New York, August 20, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, New York, May 8, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York' 1954

 

Richard Avedon
Mae West, actor, with Mr. America, New York
1954
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949' 1949

 

Richard Avedon
New York Life #5, Lower West Side, New York City, September 9, 1949
1949
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Richard Avedon People celebrates the work of American photographer Richard Avedon (1923 to 2004), renowned for his achievements in the art of black and white portraiture. Avedon’s masterful work in this medium will be revealed in an in-depth overview of 80 photographs from 1949 to 2002, to be displayed at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne from 6 December 2014 to 15 March 2015.

Known for his exquisitely simple compositions, Avedon’s images express the essence of his subjects in charming and disarming ways. His work is also a catalogue of the who’s who of twentieth-century American culture. In the show, instantly recognisable and influential artists, celebrities, and countercultural leaders including Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Malcolm X, are presented alongside portraits of the unknown. Always accessible, they convey his profound concern with the emotional and social freedom of the individual.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Kelly Gellatly said, “Richard Avedon was one of the world’s great photographers. He is known for transforming fashion photography from the late 1940s onwards, and his revealing portraits of celebrities, artists and political identities.

“People may be less familiar, however, with his portraiture works that capture ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and the people of America’s West,” Gellatly continued. “Richard Avedon People brings these lesser-known yet compelling portraits together with his always captivating iconic images. In doing so, the exhibition provides a rounded and truly inspiring insight into Avedon’s extraordinary practice.”

Avedon changed the face of fashion photography through his exploration of motion and emotion. From the outset, he was fascinated by photography’s capacity for suggesting the personality and evoking the life of his subjects. This is evidenced across the works in the exhibition, which span Avedon’s career from his influential fashion photography and minimalist portraiture of well-known identities, to his depictions of America’s working class.

Avedon’s practice entered the public imagination through his long association with seminal American publications. He commenced his career photographing for Harper’s Bazaar, followed by a 20-year partnership with Vogue. Later, he established strong collaborations with Egoiste and The New Yorker, becoming staff photographer for The New Yorker in 1992.

Richard Avedon People is the first solo exhibition of Avedon’s work to be displayed in Victoria following showings in Perth and Canberra. The exhibition was curated by the National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator, Dr Christopher Chapman, in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation over the course of two years. The Foundation was established by Avedon in his lifetime and encourages the study and appreciation of the artist’s photography through exhibitions, publications and outreach programs.

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Dr Christopher Chapman

Dr Christopher Chapman is Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery where he has produced major exhibitions exploring diverse experiences of selfhood and identity. He joined the Gallery in 2008 and was promoted to Senior Curator in 2011. He works closely with the Gallery’s management team to drive collection and exhibition strategy. Working in the visual arts field since the late 1980s, Christopher has held curatorial roles at the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia. He has lectured in visual arts and culture for the Australian National University and his PhD thesis examined youth masculinity and themes of self-sacrifice in photography and film.

A National Portrait Gallery of Australia exhibition presented in partnership with the Richard Avedon Foundation, New York.

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, musician, Central Park, New York, February 20, 1965
1965
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955' 1955

 

Richard Avedon
Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955
1955
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957' 1957

 

Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York, May 6, 1957
1957
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia' c. 1963

 

Richard Avedon
Civil rights demonstration, Atlanta, Georgia
c. 1963
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969' 1969

 

Richard Avedon
Self portrait, New York City, July 23, 1969
1969
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993' 1993

 

Richard Avedon
Michelangelo Antonioni, film director, with his wife Enrica, Rome, 1993
1993
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

“Insights into the crossover of genres and the convergence of modern media gave Avedon’s work its extra combustive push. He got fame as someone who projected accents of notoriety and even scandal within a decorous field. By not going too far in exceeding known limits, he attained the highest rank at Vogue. In American popular culture, this was where Avedon mattered, and mattered a lot. But it was not enough.

In fact, Avedon’s increasingly parodistic magazine work often left – or maybe fed – an impression that its author was living beneath his creative means. In the more permanent form of his books, of which there have been five so far, he has visualized another career that would rise above fashion. Here Avedon demonstrates a link between what he hopes is social insight and artistic depth, choosing as a vehicle the straight portrait. Supremacy as a fashion photographer did not grant him status in his enterprise – quite the contrary – but it did provide him access to notable sitters. Their presence before his camera confirmed the mutual attraction of the well-connected.”

Max Kozloff. “Richard Avedon’s “In the American West”,” on the ASX website, January 24, 2011 [Online] Cited 01/03/2015

 

Richard Avedon. 'Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964' 1964

 

Richard Avedon
Elizabeth Taylor, cock feathers by Anello of Emme, New York, July 1964
1964
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967' 1967

 

Richard Avedon
Twiggy, dress by Roberto Rojas, New York, April 1967
1967
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979' 1979

 

Richard Avedon
Boyd Fortin, thirteen-year-old, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979
1979, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

Richard Avedon. 'Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980' 1980

 

Richard Avedon
Sandra Bennett, twelve year old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980
1980, printed 1984-85
From the project the Western Project and the book In the American West
© The Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin & Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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06
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 100 Years of Leica Photography’ at Deichtorhallen Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2014 – 11th January 2015

Curator: Hans-Michael Koetzle

 

A photographic revolution. So much more than just photojournalism… and it has a nice sound as well.
“Indiscreet discretion” as the photographer F. C. Gundlach puts it. Some memorable photographs here.

Marcus

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

 

 

Oskar Barnack. 'Wetzlar Eisenmarkt' 1913

 

Oskar Barnack
Wetzlar Eisenmarkt
1913
© Leica Camera AG

 

Ernst Leitz. 'New York II' 1914

 

Ernst Leitz
New York II
1914
© Leica Camera AG

Just a few months before the outbreak of the First World War, Ernst Leitz II travelled to the USA. While there, he was able to capture photos, using a second model of the “Liliput” camera developed by Oskar Barnack, which most certainly would be found in a history of street photography.

 

Oskar Barnack. 'Flood in Wetzlar' 1920

 

Oskar Barnack
Flood in Wetzlar
1920
© Leica Camera AG

From around the time of 1914, Oskar Barnack must have carried a prototype camera with him, particularly during his travels – the camera first received the name Leica in 1925. Perhaps his most famous sequence of images, because it has been shown continually since, is the striking series of the floods in Wetzlar, Germany, in 1920

 

'Ur-Leica' 1914

 

Ur-Leica
1914
© Leica Camera AG

 

Oskar Barnack invents the Ur-Leica

Designed by Oskar Barnack, the first functional prototype of a new camera for 35 mm perforated cinema film stock was completed in March 1914.
The camera consisted of a metal housing, had a retractable lens and a focal plane shutter, which is not overlapped, however. A bolt-on lens cap that was swiveled during film transport, prevented incidental light. For the first time film advance and shutter cocking were connected to a camera – double exposures were excluded. The camera has gone down in the history of photography under the name Ur-Leica.

 

Ilse Bing. 'Self-portrait in Spiegeln' 1931

 

Ilse Bing
Self-portrait in Spiegeln
1931
© Leica Camera AG

 

Anton Stankowski. 'Greeting, Zurich, Rüdenplatz' 1932

 

Anton Stankowski
Greeting, Zurich, Rüdenplatz
1932
© Stankowski-Stiftung

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris' 1932

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris
1932

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1934

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Girl with Leica
1934

Jewgenija Lemberg, shown here, was a lover of the photographer Alexander Rodchenko for quite some time. In 1992, a print of this photo brought in a tremendous 115,000 British pounds at a Christie’s auction in London. Alexander Rodchenko was continually capturing Jewgenija Lemberg in new, surprising and bold poses – until her death in a train accident. 

 

Heinrich Heidersberger. 'Laederstraede, Copenhagen' 1935

 

Heinrich Heidersberger
Laederstraede, Copenhagen
1935
© Institut Heidersberger

 

Robert Capa. 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936' 1936

 

Robert Capa
Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936
1936

At the age of 23 and equipped with his Leica, Robert Capa embedded himself in the Spanish Civil War while on assignment for the French press. On 5 September 1936, he managed to capture the perhaps most well-known war photo of the 20th century. 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Sunday on the banks of the River Marne' Juvisy, France 1938

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Sunday on the banks of the River Marne
Juvisy, France 1938

This photo was taken two years after the large-scale strikes that ultimately led to a fundamental improvement in social conditions. Against this backdrop, the picnic in nature is also, above all, a political message – convincing in a formal, aesthetic way, and inherently consistent and suggestive at the same time.

 

Jewgeni Chaldej. 'The Flag of Victory' 1945

 

Jewgeni Chaldej
The Flag of Victory
1945
© Collection Ernst Volland and Heinz Krimmer, Leica Camera AG

Although this scene was staged, it loses none of its impact as an image and in no way hampers the resounding global response that it has achieved. The Red Army prevailed – there’s nothing more to convey in such a harmonious picture.

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt. 'VJ Day, Times Square, NY, 14. August 1945'

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt
VJ Day, Times Square, NY, 14. August 1945
© Alfred Eisenstaedt, 2014

This photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine and grew to become one of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s most well-known images. “People tell me,” he once said, “that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.”

 

W. Eugene Smith. 'Guardia Civil, Spain' 1950

 

W. Eugene Smith
Guardia Civil, Spain
1950
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 32.1 cm

W. Eugene Smith’s image of Guardia Civil is also a symbol of an imperious, backward Spain under the rule of Franco. For two months, W. Eugene Smith went scouting for a village and photographed it with the residents’ consent. What he shows us is a strange world: rural, archaic, as if on another planet. 

 

Inge Morath. 'London' 1950

 

Inge Morath
London
1950

Inge Morath’s photo titled “London” is well spotted, clearly composed and yet complicated in its arrangement. It also tells of a structure of domination, of hierarchies and traditions which certainly were more stable in England than in other European countries. 

 

Franz Hubmann. 'Regular at the Café Hawelka, Vienna' 1956/57

 

Franz Hubmann
Regular guest at the Café Hawelka, Vienna
1956/57
© Franz Hubmann. Leica Camera AG

We shall never discover who the man is in this photo. Franz Hubmann, more or less while walking by the table, captured the guest gently balancing a cup with the tips of his fingers – viewed from above without the use of flash, without any hectic movement, and not at all staged.

 

Frank Horvat. 'Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes' 1958

 

Frank Horvat
Givenchy Hat For Jardin des Modes, Paris
1958
Abzug 1995 / Haus der Photographie / Sammlung F.C. Gundlach Hamburg

 

F.C. Gundlach. 'Fashion reportage for 'Nino', Port of Hamburg' 1958

 

F.C. Gundlach
Fashion reportage for ‘Nino’, Port of Hamburg
1958
© F.C. Gundlach

 

Hans Silvester. 'Steel frame assembly' about the end of the 1950s

 

Hans Silvester
Steel frame assembly
about the end of the 1950s
Silver gelatin, vintage print
© Hans Silvester / Leica AG

 

 

 

“The exhibition EYES WIDE OPEN: 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY illuminates across fourteen chapters various aspects of recent small-format photography, from journalistic strategies to documentary approaches and free artistic positions, spanning fourteen chapters. Among the artists whose work will be shown are Alexander Rodchenko, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Christer Strömholm, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, William Klein, William Eggleston, René Burri, Thomas Hoepker and Bruce Gilden. Following its premiere in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, the exhibition will travel to Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna and Munich.

Some 500 photographs, supplemented by documentary material, including journals, magazines, books, advertisements, brochures, camera prototypes and films, will recount the history of small-format photography from its beginnings to the present day. The exhibition, which is curated by Hans-Michael Koetzle, follows the course of technological change and photographic history.

According to an entry in the workshop records, by March 1914 at the latest, Oskar Barnack, who worked as an industrial designer at Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar, completed the first functional model of a small-format camera for 35mm cinema film. The introduction of the Leica (a combination of “Leitz” and “Camera”) which was delayed until 1925 due to the war, was not merely the invention of a new camera; the small, reliable and always-ready Leica, equipped with a high-performance lens specially engineered by Max Berek, marked a paradigm shift in photography. Not only did it offer amateur photographers, newcomers and emancipated women greater access to photography; the Leica, which could be easily carried in a coat pocket, also became a ubiquitous part of everyday life. The comparatively affordable small-format camera stimulated photographic experimentation and opened up new perspectives. In general, visual strategies for representing the world became more innovative, bold and dynamic. Without question, the Leica developed by Oskar Barnack and introduced by Ernst Leitz II in 1924 was something like photography’s answer to the phenomenological needs of a new, high-speed era.

The exhibition EYES WIDE OPEN: 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY will attempt for the first time to offer a comprehensive overview of the change in photography brought about by the invention and introduction of the Leica. Rather than isolating the history of the camera or considering it for its own sake, it will examine the visual revolution sparked by the technological innovation of the Leica. The exhibition will take an art- and cultural-historical perspective in pursuit of the question of how the photographic gaze changed as a result of the Leica and the small-format picture, and what effects the miniaturization of photography had on the work of amateurs, artists and photojournalists. Not least, it will also seek to determine what new subjects the camera addressed with its wide range of interchangeable lenses, and how these subjects were seen in a new light: a new way of perceiving the world through the Leica viewfinder.

Among the featured photographers are those who are internationally known for their work with Leica cameras as well as amateurs and artists who have not yet been widely associated with small-format photography, including Ilja Ehrenburg, Alfons Walde, Ben Shahn and George Grosz. Important loans, some of which have never been shown before, come from the factory archives of Leica Camera AG in Wetzlar, international collections and museums, as well as private lenders (Sammlung F. C. Gundlach, Sammlung Skrein, Sammlung WestLicht).”

Press release from the Deichtorhallen Hamburg website

 

 

Robert Lebeck. 'The stolen sword, Belgian Congo Leopoldville' 1960

 

Robert Lebeck
The stolen sword, Belgian Congo Leopoldville
1960
© Robert Lebeck/ Leica Camera AG

When a young Congolese man grabs the king’s sword from the backseat of an open-top car on 29 June 1960, Robert Lebeck manages to capture the image of his life. The photo became a metaphor for the end of the descending dominance by Europeans on the African continent. 

 

Christer Strömholm. 'Nana, Place Blanche, Paris' 1961

 

Christer Strömholm
Nana, Place Blanche, Paris
1961
© Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate, 2014

 

Ulrich Mack. 'Wild horses in Kenya' 1964

 

Ulrich Mack
Wild horses in Kenya
1964
© Ulrich Mack, Hamburg / Leica Camera AG

Ulrich Mack travelled to Africa to discover the continent as a reporter – a continent that had been battered by warmongers and massacres. But all this changed: as if in a state of ecstasy, Ulrich Mack photographed a herd of wild horses, virtually throwing himself down under the animals

 

Claude Dityvon. "L'homme à la chaise" [The man in the chair], Bd St. Michel, 21 May 1968

 

Claude Dityvon
“L’homme à la chaise” [The man in the chair], Bd St. Michel, 21 May 1968
1968
© Chris Dityvon, Paris

 

Fred Herzog. 'Man with Bandage' 1968

 

Fred Herzog
Man with Bandage
1968
Courtesy of Equinox Gallery, Vancouver
© Fred Herzog, 2014

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Mount Rushmore, South Dakota' 1969

 

Lee Friedlander
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
1969
Haus der Photographie / Sammlung F.C. Gundlach Hamburg

 

Nick Út: The Associated Press. 'Napalm attack in Vietnam' 1972

 

Nick Út: The Associated Press
Napalm attack in Vietnam
1972
© Nick Út/AP/ Leica Camera AG

 

Eliott Erwitt. 'Felix, Gladys and Rover' New York City, 1974

 

Eliott Erwitt
Felix, Gladys and Rover
New York City, 1974

Elliott Erwitt’s passion focused on dogs – for him, they were the incarnation of human beings, with fur and a tail. His photo titled “New York City” was taken for a shoe manufacturer. 

 

René Burri. 'San-Cristobál' 1976

 

René Burri
San-Cristobál
1976

 

Martine Franck. 'Swimming pool designed by Alain Capeilières' 1976

 

Martine Franck
Swimming pool designed by Alain Capeilières
1976

 

Wilfried Bauer. From the series "Hong Kong", 1985

 

Wilfried Bauer
From the series Hong Kong
1985
Originally published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung # 307, 17.01.1986
© Nachlass Wilfried Bauer/Stiftung F.C. Gundlach

 

Rudi Meisel. 'Leningrad' 1987

 

Rudi Meisel
Leningrad
1987

 

Jeff Mermelstein. 'Sidewalk' 1995

 

Jeff Mermelstein
Sidewalk
1995
© Jeff Mermelstein

 

Michael von Graffenried. From the series 'Night in Paradise', Thielle (Switzerland) 1998

 

Michael von Graffenried
From the series Night in Paradise, Thielle (Switzerland)
1998
© Michael von Graffenried

 

Bruce Gilden: 'Untitled', from the series "GO", 2001

 

Bruce Gilden
Untitled, from the series “GO”
2001
© Bruce Gilden 2014/Magnum Photos

Bruce Gilden is an avid portrait photographer, without his photos ever appearing posed or staged. His image of humanity arises from the flow of life, the hectic everyday goings-on or – like in “Go” – the deep pit of violence, the Mafia and corruption. 

 

François Fontaine. 'Vertigo' from the 'Silenzio!' series 2012

 

François Fontaine
Vertigo from the Silenzio! series
2012

 

Julia Baier. From the series "Geschwebe," 2014

 

Julia Baier
From the series Geschwebe
2014
© Julia Baier

 

 

Deichtorhallen Hamburg
House of Photography
Deichtorstr. 1-2
D – 20095 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Every first Thursday of the month 11 am – 9 pm

Deichtorhallen Hamburg website

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30
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Horst: Photographer of Style’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 6th September 2014 – 4th January 2015

Curator: Susanna Brown, Curator of Photographs at the V&A

 

 

Steichen, Penn, Avedon, Newman – and then there is Horst, master of them all. Style, elegance, lighting, framing, colour but above all panache – the guts and talent to push it just that little bit further.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.”

.
Horst, 1984

 

 

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

 

Installation images of Horst – Photographer of Style at the V&A
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

“This autumn, the V&A will present the definitive retrospective exhibition of the work of master photographer Horst P. Horst (1906-1999) – one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. In his illustrious 60-year career, German-born Horst worked predominantly in Paris and New York and creatively traversed the worlds of photography, art, fashion, design, theatre and high society.

Horst: Photographer of Style will display 250 photographs, alongside haute couture garments, magazines, film footage and ephemera. The exhibition explores Horst’s collaborations and friendships with leading couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris; stars including Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward; and artists and designers such as Salvador Dalí and Jean-Michel Frank. Highlights of the exhibition include photographs recently donated to the V&A by Gert Elfering, art collector and owner of the Horst Estate, previously unpublished vintage prints, and more than 90 Vogue covers by Horst.

The exhibition will also reveal lesser-known aspects of Horst’s work: nude studies, travel photographs from the Middle East and patterns created from natural forms. The creative process behind some of his most famous photographs, such as the Mainbocher Corset, will be revealed through the inclusion of original contact sheets, sketches and cameras. The many sources that influenced Horst – from ancient Classical art to Bauhaus ideals of modern design and Surrealism in 1930s Paris – will be explored.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A said: “Horst was one of the greatest photographers of fashion and society and produced some of the most famous and evocative images of the 20th century. This exhibition will shine a light on all aspects of his long and distinguished career. Horst’s legacy and influence, which has been seen in work by artists, designers and performers including Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and Madonna, continues today.” 

Horst’s career straddled the opulence of pre-war Parisian haute couture and the rise of ready-to-wear in post-war New York and his style developed from lavish studio set-ups to a more austere approach in the latter half of the 20th century. The exhibition will begin in the 1930s with Horst’s move to Paris and his early experiments in the Vogue studio. Among his first models and muses were Lisa Fonssagrives, Helen Bennett and Lyla Zelensky. Vintage black and white photographs from the archive of Paris Vogue will be displayed alongside garments in shades of black, white, silver and gold by Parisian couturiers such as Chanel, Lanvin, Molyneux and Vionnet.

The exhibition will then focus on Horst’s Surreal-inspired studies and collaborations with Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli. Fashion photographs will be shown with trompe l’oeil portraits and haunting still lifes. Horst excelled at portraiture and in the 1930s he captured some of Hollywood’s brightest stars: Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Noël Coward, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, to name a few.

Horst travelled widely throughout the 1940s and 1950s to Israel, Iran, Syria, Italy and Morocco. An escape from the world of fashion and city environs, his little-known travel photographs reveal a fascination for ancient cultures, landscapes and architecture. On display will be works taken in Iran such as the Persepolis Bull, Horst’s powerful image of a vast sculpture head amidst the ruins of a once magnificent palace, and images documenting the annual migration of the nomadic Qashqai clan.

Detailed studies of natural forms such as flowers, minerals, shells and butterfly wings from the project Patterns From Nature, will be shown alongside a series of kaleidoscopic collages made by arranging photographs in simple repeat; his intention was that these dynamic patterns could be used as designs for textiles, wallpaper, carpets, plastics and glass.

Horst was admired for his dramatic lighting and became one of the first photographers to perfect the new colour techniques of the 1930s. A short film of him at work in the Vogue studios during the 1940s will be shown with an introduction to his peers including Lee Miller, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn. The advent of colour enabled a fresh approach and Horst went on to create more than 90 Vogue covers and countless pages in vivid colour. A selection of 25 large colour photographs, newly printed from the original transparencies from the Condé Nast Archive, will demonstrate Horst’s exceptional skill as a colourist. These prints feature Horst’s favourite models from the 1940s and 50s, such as Carmen Dell’Orefice, Muriel Maxwell and Dorian Leigh, and will be shown together with preparatory sketches, which have never previously been exhibited.

In the early 1950s, Horst created a series of male nudes for an exhibition in Paris for which the models were carefully posed and dramatically lit to accentuate their musculature. The series evokes the classical sculpture that Horst so admired throughout his career. During the 1960s and 1970s, Horst photographed some of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious homes for House and Garden and Vogue under the editorship of his friend Diana Vreeland. A three-sided projection and interactive screens will present these colourful studies. Among the most memorable are the Art Deco apartment of Karl Lagerfeld, the three lavish dwellings of Yves Saint Laurent and the Roman palazzo of artist Cy Twombly.

In the latter years of Horst’s life, his early aesthetic experienced a renaissance. The period also witnessed a flurry of new books, exhibitions, and television documentaries celebrating his work. Horst produced new, lavish prints in platinum-palladium for museums and the collector’s market, selecting emblematic works from every decade of his career, which will be showcased as the finale to the exhibition.”

Press release from the V&A

 

Behind the scenes at American Vogue, 1946 from Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Showing clips from the publication house’s cutting room floor, as well as editors at work, this never-before-seen footage shot from late 1946 to early 1947 gives a fascinating insight into the history of fashion publishing. This film is comprised of outtakes from the documentary Fashion Means Business. Dorian Leigh models the latest American designs in the Condé Nast studio for Horst and his assistant Vassilov, overseen by Vogue editors Muriel Maxwell and Priscilla Peck. The photographs are selected with editor Jessica Daves and art director Alexander Liberman, and the page layout finalised with Marcel Guillaume and Liberman.

With permission from HBO Archives/The March of Time. Provided by Condé Nast Archive

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Chanel, Vogue France' 1935

 

Horst P. Horst
Chanel, Vogue France
1935
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

A fore-runner of the timeless look of Chanel, here in brown and white check rayon with collar, cuffs and lapels in white piquè that matches the buttoned top.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain' 1938

 

Horst P. Horst
Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain
1938
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst
Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Lisa with Turban, New York' 1940

 

Horst P.Horst
Lisa with Turban, New York
1940
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show' 1946

 

Horst P. Horst
Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show
1946
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Birthday Gloves, New York' 1947

 

Horst P. Horst
Birthday Gloves, New York
1947
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lillian Marcuson in Dior's belted two-piece suit in black rustic wool, called 'Milieu du Siècle'' 1949

 

Horst P. Horst
Lillian Marcuson in Dior’s belted two-piece suit in black rustic wool, called ‘Milieu du Siècle’
1949
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Nina de Voe' 1951

 

Horst P. Horst
Nina de Voe
1951
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lillian Marcuson, New York' 1950

 

Horst P. Horst
Lillian Marcuson, New York
1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Outfit by Tina Leser' Vogue, April 1950

 

Horst P. Horst
Outfit by Tina Leser
Vogue, April 1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Bombay Bathing Fashion' 1950

 

Horst P.Horst
Bombay Bathing Fashion
1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

Model (unidentified) and Dorian Leigh (r) in bathing suit and sleeveless shirt cover-up by Carolyn Schnurer 1951 Vogue

 

Haute Couture

When Horst joined Vogue in 1931, Paris was still the world’s undisputed centre of high fashion. Photography had begun to eclipse graphic illustration in fashion magazines and the publisher Condé Montrose Nast devoted large sums to improving the quality of image reproduction. He insisted that Vogue photographers work with a large format camera, which produced richly detailed negatives measuring ten by eight inches.

The creation of a Horst photograph was a collaborative process, involving the talents of the photographer and model, the art director, fashion editor, studio assistants and set technicians. The modelling profession was still in its infancy in the 1930s and many of those who posed under the hot studio lights were stylish friends of the magazine’s staff, often actresses or aristocrats.

By the mid 1930s, Horst had superseded his mentor George Hoyningen-Huene as Paris Vogue‘s primary photographer. His images frequently appeared in the French, British and American editions of the magazine. Many of the photographs on display in the exhibition are vintage prints from the company’s archive.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dress by Hattie Carnegie' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst
Dress by Hattie Carnegie
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dress by Hattie Carnegie' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst
Dress by Hattie Carnegie
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst
Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst
Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli' 1947

 

Horst P. Horst
Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli
1947
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Millicent Rogers in a Charles James gown and a gold necklace of her own design' Vogue, February 1, 1949

 

Horst P. Horst
Millicent Rogers in a Charles James gown and a gold necklace of her own design
Vogue,
February 1, 1949
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst in Colour from Victoria and Albert Museum

 

This film reveals the process of creating new colour prints for the exhibition Horst: Photographer of Style. Horst was quick to master new colour processes, introduced in the late 1930s, and he created hundreds of vibrant fashion photographs for Vogue.

The V&A team worked closely with specialists at the Condé Nast Archive and expert printer Ken Allen to select and print from Horst’s early transparencies, which date from the 1930s to the 1950s. The film includes insights into Horst’s dynamic approach from model Carmen Dell’Orefice and Vogue’s International Editor at Large, Hamish Bowles.​

 

Fashion in Colour

The 1930s ushered in huge technical advancements in colour photography. Horst adapted quickly to a new visual vocabulary, creating some of Vogue’s most dazzling colour images. In 1935 he photographed the Russian Princess Nadejda Sherbatow in a red velveteen jacket for the first of his many Vogue cover pictures.

The occupation of Paris transformed the world of fashion. The majority of French ateliers closed and many couturiers and buyers left the country. Remaining businesses struggled with extreme shortages of cloth and other supplies. The scarcity of French fashions in America, however, enabled American designers to come into their own.

Horst’s colour photographs are rarely exhibited because few vintage prints exist. Colour capture took place on a transparency which could be reproduced on the magazine page without the need to create a photographic print. The size of the new prints displayed in this room of the exhibition echoes the large scale of a group of Horst images printed in 1938 at the Condé Nast press.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Marlene Dietrich, New York' 1942

 

Horst P. Horst
Marlene Dietrich, New York
1942
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Gloria Vanderbilt age 17 wearing a dress by Howard Greer, New York' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst
Gloria Vanderbilt age 17 wearing a dress by Howard Greer, New York
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

At 17, in Beverly Hills wearing a tabletop dress by Howard Greer. Tabletop dresses looked good from the waist up when stars were photographed sitting in restaurants and nightclub

 

Stage and Screen

Horst’s portraits spanned a wide cross-section of subjects, from artists and writers to presidents and royalty. In the 1930s, he became aware of a new focus for his work. As he later noted in his book Salute to the Thirties (1971), glamorous Hollywood movie stars were imperceptibly assuming the place left vacant by Europe’s vanishing royal families. With the approach of the Second World War, the escapism offered by theatre and cinema gained in popularity. Horst began to photograph these new, classless celebrities, both in costume and as themselves.

The first well-known star Horst photographed was the English performer Gertrude Lawrence, then appearing in Ronald Jeans’ play Can the Leopard…? at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Horst’s first portrait of a Hollywood actress, Bette Davis, appeared in Vogue‘s sister magazine Vanity Fair in 1932.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Round the Clock, New York' 1987

 

Horst P. Horst
Round the Clock, New York
1987
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Platinum

The 1980s witnessed a flurry of new books, exhibitions and television documentaries about Horst. He produced new prints for museums and the collector’s market, selecting emblematic works from every decade of his career to be reprinted in platinum-palladium, sometimes with new titles. This was a complex and expensive technique, employing metals more expensive than gold. Failing eyesight finally forced him to stop working in 1992.

Horst’s platinum-palladium prints are treasured for their nuanced tones, surface quality and permanence. His style had experienced a renaissance in 1978 when Francine Crescent, French Vogue‘s editor in chief, had invited him to photograph the Paris collections. Horst’s work for her echoed his atmospheric, spot-lit studies of the 1930s. His use of the platinum process for creating new and reproducing early works ensured his mastery of light, mood and composition would be enjoyed by a new audience.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Male Nude #3' 1952, printed 1980s

 

 

Horst P. Horst
Male Nude #3
1952, printed 1980s
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Still Life' Nd

 

Horst P. Horst
Still Life
Nd
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Male Nude' 1952

 

Horst P. Horst
Male Nude
1952
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Male Nudes

In the early 1950s Horst produced a set of distinctive photographs unlike much of his previous output. These male figure studies were exhibited for the first time in Paris in 1953 and reprinted using the platinum-palladium process in the 1980s. The studies exemplify Horst’s sense of form. All emphasis is on the idealised human body, expressive light and shadow. Monumental and anonymous nudes resemble classical sculptures. As Mehemed Agha (1929-78), art director of American Vogue, commented:

“Horst takes the inert clay of human flesh and models it into the decorative shapes of his own devising. Every gesture of his models is planned, every line controlled and coordinated to the whole of the picture. Some gestures look natural and careless, because carefully rehearsed; the others, like Voltaire’s god, were invented by the artist because they did not exist.”

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Salvador Dali's costumes for Leonid Massine's ballet 'Bacchanale'' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst
Salvador Dali’s costumes for Leonid Massine’s ballet Bacchanale
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lisa Fonssagrives hands, New York' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst
Lisa Fonssagrives hands, New York
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Odalisque I' 1943

 

Horst P. Horst
Odalisque I
1943
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Bunny Hartley' Vogue, 1938

 

Horst P.Horst
Bunny Hartley
Vogue,
1938
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lisa Fonssagrives "I Love You"' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst
Lisa Fonssagrives “I Love You”
1937
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Surrealism

The Surrealist art movement explored unique ways of interpreting the world, turning to dreams and the unconscious for inspiration. During the 1930s Surrealism escaped its radical avant-garde roots and transformed design, fashion, advertising, theatre and film. Horst’s photographs of this period feature mysterious, whimsical and surreal elements combined with his classical aesthetic. He created trompe l’oeil still lifes, photographed the surreal-infused dress designs of his friend Elsa Schiaparelli and collaborated with the artist Salvador Dalí. He shared with the Surrealists a fascination with the representation of the female body, often fragmenting and eroticising the human form in his images.

His most celebrated photograph of the era is Mainbocher Corset (1939). Decades after the photograph was made, Main Bocher himself expressed his admiration for Horst’s virtuosity, writing,

“Your photographs are sheer genius and delight my soul … each one is perfect by itself.”

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage' 1945

 

Horst P. Horst
Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage
1945
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Patterns from Nature

Horst’s second book, Patterns from Nature (1946), and the photographs from which it originated, are a surprising diversion from the high glamour of his fashion and celebrity photographs. These close-up, black and white images of plants, shells and minerals were taken in New York’s Botanical Gardens, in the forests of New England, in Mexico, and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

This personal project was partly inspired by photographs of plants by Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). Horst was struck by “their revelation of the similarity of vegetable forms to art forms like wrought iron and Gothic architecture.” Horst’s interest was also linked to the technical purity of ‘photographic seeing’, a philosophy associated with the New Objectivity movement of the 1920s and ’30s. Practitioners took natural forms out of their contexts and examined them with such close attention that they became unfamiliar and revelatory.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'View of ruins at the palace of Persepolis, Persia' 1949

 

Horst P. Horst
View of ruins at the palace of Persepolis, Persia
1949
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Travel

In the summer of 1949, Horst journeyed to the Middle East with his partner Valentine Lawford, then political counsellor at the British Embassy in Tehran. They travelled by road from Beirut to Persepolis, where Horst was able to photograph parts of the ancient Persian city that had only recently been uncovered. Afterwards, Horst visited the newly established State of Israel on a photographic assignment for Vogue.

The trip left a strong impression on Horst and he returned in the spring of 1950. He spent a week with Lawford at the relatively remote south-eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, before documenting the annual migration of the Qashqa’i clan. Horst and Lawford were invited by Malik Mansur Khan Qashqa’i to spend ten days with his tribe as they travelled by camel and horse, in search of vegetation for their flocks.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Yves Saint Laurent poses in the apartment's grand salon for a November 1971 'Vogue' photo spread' 1971

 

Horst P. Horst
Yves Saint Laurent poses in the apartment’s grand salon for a November 1971 ‘Vogue’ photo spread
1971
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Living in Style

In 1947 Horst acquired five acres of land in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, part of the estate once owned by the designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. On the land he described as ‘everything I had ever dreamed of’, Horst built a unique house and landscaped garden. British diplomat Valentine Lawford visited for the first time in 1947, with Noël Coward, Christopher Isherwood, and Greta Garbo. It was the beginning of a relationship with Horst that would last until Lawford’s death in 1991.

They welcomed many friends and visitors to Long Island, including the dynamic editor Diana Vreeland. She left Harper’s Bazaar for Vogue in 1962 and soon put the couple to work on Vogue‘s ‘Fashions in Living’ pages. The homes and tastes of everyone from Jackie Onassis to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol and Karl Lagerfeld featured in their articles. Horst’s creative chemistry with Vreeland brought him a new lease of life.

 

Roy Stevens. 'Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives' 15 May 1941

 

Roy Stevens
Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives
15 May 1941
© Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

 

In the Studio

During the 1940s Horst worked primarily in the Condé Nast studio on the 19th floor of the Graybar Building, an Art Deco skyscraper on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. The busy studio was well equipped with a variety of lights and props and Horst worked closely with talented art director Alexander Liberman. Like Horst, he had found refuge in the artistic circles of Paris and New York, and enjoyed a long career with Condé Nast.

By 1946 dressing the American woman had become one of the country’s largest industries, grossing over six billion dollars a year. The staff of Vogue expanded accordingly. In 1951 Horst found a studio of his own, the former penthouse apartment of artist Pavel Tchelitchew, with high ceilings and a spectacular view over the river. Horst developed a new approach to photography in response to the abundance of daylight and for a time his famous atmospheric shadows disappeared.

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

Opening hours:
The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays

Victoria and Albert Museum website, Horst web page

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22
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Irving Penn, Resonance’ at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice

Exhibition dates: 13th April – 31st December 2014

Curated by Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery

 

 

Irving Penn’s platinum photographs fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. I could think of better things to spend my money on…

I have never been a fan – of his cigarette butts, fruit dishes, vanitas as well as animal skulls and ethnographic photos. There are just too clinically cold and dead for me. Other people may love them, but for work that supposedly investigates the ephemerality and brevity of human existence Penn tightens his essentially reductive approach until the conceptual (and formal) noose strangles the subject.

Irving Penn’s Worlds in a Small Room (where he set up baffles and stood “mudpeople” and other tribespeople), his masks, and his platinum prints of cigarette butts are his claim to fame. They were champoined by the US East Coast and commercial interests. They are not terrible, but I don’t believe they are deserving of their fame – well, they are terrible in a way because they are just sort of mildly pathetic really. The work was deliberately made to attract the limelight too, at least in the vibe I get from them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Irving Penn: The Enduring Power of Formal Simplicity

“Irving Penn was one of the most significant and prolific photographers of the 20th century whose signature blend of classical elegance, cool minimalism and monumentality still command our attention… Penn’s visual innovations, compositional originality and intensity, his diversity and range, his meticulous perfectionism and his technical precision and insistence on clean spare elegant compositions are his trademarks… A remarkable sixty-year career was filled with amazing commissioned images which could not have been sustained without a relentless sense of precision and unyielding attention to details as well as a restless sense of curiosity… Penn’s approach from the beginning was essentially reductive – he described it as a ‘tightening process – the plastic search.’  He preferred the simple studio backdrop in order to concentrate on preserving the ‘sanctity of the document’… Penn’s legacy is his prodigious insatiable breadth of work blurring the worlds of commerce and fine art. He was constantly questioning the meaning of time, of life and its fragility.

.
Diana Edkins April 2014

 

 

Irving Penn. 'Lion (Front View)' Prague 1986

 

Irving Penn
Lion (Front View)
Prague, 1986
Copyright © by The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn. 'Poppy: Showgirl' London, 1968

 

Irving Penn
Poppy: Showgirl
London, 1968
Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

 

Irving Penn. 'Cuzco Children' 1948

 

Irving Penn
Cuzco Children
1948
Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

 

 

“The exhibition Irving Penn, Resonance, curated by Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery, brings together on the second floor of Palazzo Grassi 130 photographs, taken between the end of the 1940s and the mid-1980s. The exhibition is a collection of 90 platinum prints, 30 gelatin silver prints, 4 colorful dye transfer prints and 17 internegatives, which will be shown to the public for the first time.

It tackles the themes dear to Irving Penn and which, beyond their apparent diversity, all capture every facet of ephemerality. This is true of the selection of photographs from the series small trades, taken in France, England and the United States in the 1950s. It is also the case for the portraits taken between the 1950s and the 1970s of celebrities from the world of art, cinema, and literature. Exhibited alongside ethnographic photographs of the people of Dahomey and of tribesmen from New Guinea and Morocco, they strongly underline the brevity of human existence, whether affluent or resourceless, famous or unknown.

The exhibition path, which encourages dialogue and connections between works that differ in subject matter and period of time, gives prominence to still life photography from the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s: they are composed of cigarette ends, fruit dishes, vanitas as well as animal skulls photographed at the Narodni National Museum in Prague in 1986 for the series Cranium Architecture.

This broad overview of Irving Penn’s work puts relatively unknown images side-by-side with the most iconic ones, thereby revealing the particular ability to synthesize that characterizes this photographer: in his work, modernity is not necessarily in opposition with the past and the way he exerts control over every step of the process, from the studio to the printing (to which he dedicates a lot of attention and unprecedented care), enables one to come nearer to the truth of things and people, through a constant questioning of the meaning of time, of life and of its fragility.

 

Irving Penn

Irving Penn was born in 1917 in Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1934 he enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art where he studied design with Alexey Brodovitch. In 1938 he began a career in New York as a graphic artist – then, after a year painting in Mexico, he returned to New York City and began work at Vogue magazine where Alexander Liberman was art director.

Liberman encouraged Penn to take his first color photograph, a still life which became the October 1, 1943 cover of Vogue, beginning a fruitful collaboration with the magazine that lasted until his death in 2009. In addition to his editorial and fashion work for Vogue, Penn also worked for other magazines and for numerous commercial clients in America and abroad.

He published many books of his photographs including: Moments Preserved (1960); Worlds in a Small Room (1974); Inventive Paris Clothes (1977); Flowers (1980); Passage (1991); Irving Penn Regards The Work of Issey Miyake (1999); Still Life (2001); Dancer (2001); Earthly Bodies (2002); A Notebook At Random (2004); Dahomey (2004); Irving Penn: Platinum Prints (2005); Small Trades (2009); and two books of drawings and paintings.

Penn’s photographs are in the collections of major museums in America and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which honored him with a retrospective exhibition in 1984. This exhibition was circulated to museums in twelve countries. Irving Penn made a donation, in 1997, to the Art Institute of Chicago of prints and archival material. In November of that year, the Art Institute mounted a retrospective that also toured to 5 museums around the world beginning at The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.”

Press release from the Palazzo Grassi website

 

Irving Penn. 'Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett)' New York, 1950

 

Irving Penn
Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett)
New York, 1950
Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

 

Irving Penn. 'Truman Capote (1 of 2)' New York, 1965

 

Irving Penn
Truman Capote (1 of 2)
New York, 1965
Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

 

Irving Penn. 'Deep-Sea Diver (C)' New York, 1951

 

Irving Penn
Deep-Sea Diver (C)
New York, 1951
Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

 

 

Palazzo Grassi
Dorsoduro, 2 
30123
Venezia
, Italy

Opening hours:

Palazzo Grassi website

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16
Dec
14

Edmund Pearce Gallery to close

 

One of the few dedicated commercial photography galleries in Melbourne has decided to close its doors. Such a pity “that the depth and breadth of the Australian market is not sufficient to sustain a commercial space dedicated to photography.”

Many thankx to Tim Bruce and Jason McQuoid for their stirling efforts over the last three years… we will miss you !!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Press release

“Edmund Pearce to close Flinders Lane gallery space. After three years of operation the directors of Edmund Pearce have decided to close their gallery space in Flinders Lane following the final exhibition of 2014.

Dedicated to the appreciation and understanding of photography, Edmund Pearce has hosted over 100 exhibitions and special projects since February of 2012. The gallery has taken immense pleasure in supporting and promoting the work of both emerging and established artists. This has added to critical discourse and lifted the standards of contemporary photo-media practice here in Australia.

The decision to close has not come easily for the directors; most importantly due to the impact it will have on its artists and loyal patrons. Despite the strength and diversity of the gallery’s programme, it has become clearly evident that the depth and breadth of the Australian market is not sufficient to sustain a commercial space dedicated to photography.

Edmund Pearce expresses its gratitude to all of the exhibiting artists, collectors, curators, writers, interns, volunteers and patrons who have made the gallery such a well-respected and exciting venture. Directors Tim Bruce and Jason McQuoid are proud of the cultural impact the gallery has achieved in such a short period of time and will continue to be passionate advocates of Melbourne’s vibrant cultural landscape.”

 

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04
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘RealSurreal. Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography Das Neue Sehen 1920-1950. Siegert Collection’ at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Exhibition dates: 15th November 2014 – 6th April 2015

The artists
Eugène Atget – Herbert Bayer – Hans Bellmer – Aenne Biermann – Brassaï – František Drtikol – Jaromír Funke – Florence Henri – André Kertész – Germaine Krull – Herbert List – Man Ray – László Moholy-Nagy – Albert Renger-Patzsch – August Sander – Josef Sudek – Maurice Tabard – Raoul Ubac – Umbo – Wols – and others

 

Thought photography

Here are some names to conjure with (above). And what an appropriate word “conjure” is to illuminate these images:

: to charge or entreat earnestly or solemnly

: to summon by or as if by invocation or incantation

: to affect or effect by or as if by magic

: to practice magical arts

: to use a conjurer’s tricks

: to make you think of (something)

: to create or imagine (something)

 

For what is photography, if not magic?

These images are conjured from both the imagination of the artist… and reality itself. One cannot live, be magical, without the other. “Beneath the surface of visible things the irrational, the magical, and the contradictory could be discovered and explored.”

Still waters run deep.

 

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Watch a 6 minute video about the exhibition on Vimeo (in German).

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Self-Portrait' 1926/27

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Self-Portrait
1926/27
Gelatin silver paper, 16.9 x 22.8 cm
photo: Christian P. Schmider, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann and Jürgen Wilde / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Brassaï. 'Occasional Magic (Sprouting Potato)' 1931

 

Brassaï
Occasional Magic (Sprouting Potato)
1931
Gelatin silver paper
28.8 x 23 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmider, Munich
© ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN

 

František Drtikol. 'Circular Segment (Arc)' 1928

 

František Drtikol
Circular Segment (Arc)
1928
Carbon print
21.3 x 28.7 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© František Drtikol – heirs, 2014

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer
The Doll
1935
Gelatin silver paper
17.4 x 17.9 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Grete Stern. 'The Eternal Eye' c. 1950

 

Grete Stern
The Eternal Eye
c. 1950
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
39.5 x 39.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Estate of Grete Stern courtesy Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires, 2014

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'RealSurreal' at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

 

Installation views of the exhibition RealSurreal at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

 

 

“Is a photograph a true-to-life reproduction of reality, or is it merely a staged image? This year – the 175th anniversary of the invention of photography – the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg responds to this question with a comprehensive survey of avant-garde photography between 1920 and 1950. The exhibition RealSurreal presents around 200 masterpieces from the eminent Siegert Collection in Munich. This collection, which has never been shown in its entirety, contains photographs from the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement, covering everything from New Objectivity to Surrealism in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia.

Das Neue Sehen (New Vision)

Notions about photography’s visual veracity are as old as the art itself. As early as the nineteenth century there were arguments as to whether or not photography – with its mechanical ability to record ‘reality’ – was better suited to portray life more comprehensively and truthfully than other visual arts of the period. An inevitable reaction to what were considered photography’s shortcomings was Pictorialism, which approached photography according to the conventions of painting, in an attempt to lend it more artistic credibility. But around 1920 a new generation of international photographers began reconsidering the specific characteristics of photography as tools for developing it into a more modern method of appropriating reality. Rapid progress in technologising modern society affected the adoption of and attitudes toward photography: convenient cameras that used rolls of film came onto the market in greater numbers, making it easy for even the greenest of amateurs to take photographs. Photographs were increasingly used as illustrations in mass media, and in advertising, leading to a rising demand for accomplished images and professional image makers. These developments also changed the public’s visual habits, so that the New Vision arose as an expression of the perception of this new media-fabricated reality. Positions ranged from the precise recordings of what was seen in portrait and industrial photography, via the use of new framings and perspectives at the Bauhaus, all the way to the photomontage and technical experiments such as the photogram and solarisation, as well as Surrealism’s staged images.

The Mechanical Eye

Photographers of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement wanted to show the world as it was. For Albert Renger-Patzsch, photography was the “most dependable tool” for objectively reproducing the visible things of this world, especially the results of modern technology, and in this respect, it was superior to the subjective perception of the human eye. László Moholy-Nagy went a step further, with his famous verdict that “the illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” To the camera he attributed the crucial function of technically expanding human perception. Whilst adequately depicting machines, mass society, and modern metropolitan life: “the photographic apparatus can perfect or supplement our Photographs were increasingly used as illustrations in mass media.” Unusual aspects and viewpoints led to striking images. From a bird’s-eye perspective, buildings and streets became compositions made up of lines and planes, while a low-angle shot could create an unforeseen dynamic and greatly enlarging an object resulted in magical dissociations.

The Real and the Surreal

Ultimately, the Surrealists identified in the “realistic” recording tool of photography yet another artistic means of “écriture automatique,” which André Breton also described as “thought photography.” Beneath the surface of visible things the irrational, the magical, and the contradictory could be discovered and explored. Documentary photographers such as Eugène Atget and Karl Blossfeldt became inspirational figures in this movement. Their work was printed in the Surrealist magazines, because a plant, staged and isolated in a photograph, could trigger all kinds of magical associations beyond its botanical context. Meanwhile manipulated and staged photographs benefitted from the truthfulness of “this is the way it was,” since they could only reinforce their mysterious statements. One of Surrealism’s most important artistic means – the combinatory creation (including, of course, the photomontage) – was particularly effective because heterogeneous visual elements were joined to form new, surprising contexts of meaning. Like Brassaï’s photographs of a nocturnal Paris, Karel Teige’s collages have a surreal quality which can also be found in a different form in Man Ray’s dreamlike photograms. Both staged photography and – with many experiments with photographic techniques, such as multiple exposures, negative printing, and solarisation – strove to achieve the melding of dream and reality, a goal postulated by Breton in his first Surrealist manifesto. In New Vision photography this could generally result in images that could “go either way,” depending on the viewpoint of the real/surreal photographer and observer; they could be seen as sober, objective reproductions of the visible world, or as imaginary, subjective reflections of reality.

The exhibition RealSurreal leads the visitor through Neues Sehen in Germany, Surrealism in Paris, and the avant-garde in Prague, alongside themes such as portraits, nudes, objects, architecture, and experimental. Opening with a prologue of exemplary nineteenth-century photographs which are compared and contrasted with Neues Sehen, one can literally experience the Neues Sehen in the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg via rare original prints by notable photographers, while rediscovering the broad spectrum and complexity of photographs from real to surreal. Besides approximately 200 photographs, the exhibition contains historical photography books and magazines, as well as rare artists’ books and examples of avant-garde cover design, making it possible to experience this new view of the world.

RealSurreal also features several famous clips from key films by Luis Buñuel, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, and others, shown continuously in a 45-minute loop, which highlight the fruitful interplay between avant-garde photography and the-then contemporary cinema. Important photographs and photo installations by Nobuyoshi Araki, Gilbert & George, Paul Graham, Andreas Gursky, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and James Welling, from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg’s collection, will also demonstrate that the artistic questions posed by Neues Sehen are still relevant today.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg website

 

Erwin Blumenfeld. 'Skull' 1932/33

 

Erwin Blumenfeld
Skull
1932/33
Solarisation on gelatin silver paper
29.6 x 24 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

 

Josef Sudek. 'Plaster Head' c. 1947

 

Josef Sudek
Plaster Head
c. 1947
Gelatin silver paper
23.5 x 17.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Estate of Josef Sudek

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Lonely Metropolitan' 1932/1969

 

Herbert Bayer
Lonely Metropolitan
1932/1969
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 28 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Photomontage on gelatin silver paper
35.3 x 27.9 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2014

 

Man Ray. 'Electricity' 1931

 

Man Ray
Electricity
1931
Photogravure
26 x 20.6 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Man Ray Trust, Paris/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

May Ray. 'Rayography (spiral)'1923

 

May Ray
Rayography (spiral)
1923
Photogram on gelatin silver paper
26.6. x 21.4 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, München
© Man Ray Trust, Paris/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition (Erica Brausen)' 1931

 

Florence Henri
Portrait Composition (Erica Brausen)
1931
Gelatin silver paper
39.9 x 29 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

Atelier Manassé. 'My Little Bird' c. 1928

 

Atelier Manassé
My Little Bird
c. 1928
Gelatin silver paper
21 x 16 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder, Munich
© IMAGNO/Austrian Archives

 

Genia Rubin. 'Lisa Fonssagives. Gown: Alix (Madame Grès)' 1937

 

Genia Rubin
Lisa Fonssagives. Gown: Alix (Madame Grès)
1937
Gelatin silver paper
30.3 x 21.5 cm
Photo: Christian P. Schmieder / Siegert Collection, Munich
© Sheherazade Ter-Abramoff, Paris

 

 

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Abteilung Kommunikation
Hollerplatz 1 38440
Wolfsburg
T: +49 (0)5361 2669 69

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Tuesday 11 am – 8 pm
Monday closed

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg website

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30
Nov
14

Review: ‘PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 17th October – 7th December 2014

Artists: Micky Allan, Pat Brassington, Virginia Coventry, Sandy Edwards, Anne Ferran, Sue Ford, Christine Godden, Helen Grace, Janina Green, Fiona Hall, Ponch Hawkes, Carol Jerrems, Merryle Johnson, Ruth Maddison, Julie Rrap, Robyn Stacey.

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

With the National Gallery of Victoria’s photography exhibition program sliding into oblivion – the apparent demise of its only dedicated photography exhibition space on the 3rd floor of NGV International; the lack of exhibitions showcasing ANY Australian artists from any era; and the exhibition of perfunctory overseas exhibitions of mediocre quality (such as the high gloss, centimetre deep Alex Prager exhibition on show at the moment at NGV International) – it is encouraging that Monash Gallery of Art consistently puts on some of the best photography exhibitions in this city. This cracker of an exhibition, the last show curated by Shaune Lakin before his move to the National Gallery of Australia (and his passionate curatorial concept), is no exception. It is one of the best photography exhibitions I have seen all year in Melbourne.

Most of the welcome, usual suspects are here… but seeing them all together is a feast for the eyes and the intellect. While most are social documentary based photographers what I like about this exhibition is that there is little pretension here. The artists use photography as both a means and an end, to tell their story – of mothers, of workers, of dancers, of lovers – and to depict a revolution in social consciousness. What we must remember is the period in which this early work appeared. In the 1970s in Australia there were no formal photography programs at university and photography programs in techs and colleges were only just beginning: Photography Studies College (1973) in South Melbourne, Prahran College of Advanced Education (Paul Cox, John Cato, 1974) and Preston Tech (c. 1973, later Phillip Institute) were all set up in the early 1970s. The National Gallery of Victoria photography department was only set up in 1969 (the third ever in the world) with Jenny Boddington, Assistant Curator of Photography, was appointed in 1972 (later to become the first full time photography curator). There were three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb). While some of the artists attended these schools and others were self taught, few had their own darkroom. It was not uncommon for people to develop their negatives and print in bathrooms, toilets, backyard sheds and alike – and the advise was to switch on the shower before printing to clear the dust out of the air, advise in workshops that people did no bat an eyelid at.

What these women did, as Julie Millowick (another photographer who should have been in this exhibition, along with Elizabeth Gertsakis and Ingeborg Tyssen for example) observes of the teaching of John Cato, was “bring to the work knowledge that extended far beyond picking up a camera or going into a darkroom. He [Cato] believed that you must bring to every image you create a wide depth of insight across social, cultural and historical concerns. John was passionate in his belief that an understanding of humanity and society was crucial to our growth as individuals, and ultimately our success as photographers.”1 And so it is with these artists. Never has there been a time in Australian photography when so much social change has been documented by so few for such great advantage. In all its earthiness and connection, the work of these artists is ground breaking. It speaks from the heart for the abused, for the disenfranchised and downtrodden. The work is not only for women by women, as Ponch Hawkes states, but also points the way towards a more enlightened society by opening the eyes of the viewer to multiple points of view, multiple perspectives.

There are few “iconic” images among the exhibition and, as Robert Nelson notes in his review in The Age, little pretension to greatness. One of the surprising elements of the exhibition is how the four photographs by Carol Jerrems (including the famous Vale Street, 1975), seem to loose a lot of their power in this company. They are out muscled in terms of their presence by some of the more essential and earthy series – such as Women at work by Helen Grace and Our mums and us by Ponch Hawkes – and out done in terms of their sensuality by the work of Christine Godden. These were my two favourite bodies of work: Our mums and us and Christine Godden’s sequence of 44 images and the series Family.

Hawkes’ objective series of mother/daughter relationships are deceptively simple in their formal structure (mother and daughter positioned in family homes usually looking directly at the camera), until you start to analyse them. Their unpretentious nature is made up of the interaction that Hawkes elicites from the pairing and the objet trouvé that are worn (the cowgirl boots in Ponch and Ida, 1976) or surround them (the carpet, the table, the plant and the painting in Mimi and Dany, 1976). This relationship adds to the power of the assemblage, juxtaposition of energy and form being a guiding principle in the construction of the image. While the environment might be ‘natural’ it is very much constructed, both physically and psychologically, by the artist.

The work of Christine Godden was a revelation to me. These small, intense images have a powerful magnetism and I kept returning to look at them again and again. There is sensitivity to subject matter, but more importantly a sensuality in the print that is quite overwhelming. Couple this with the feeling of light, space, form and texture and these sometimes fragmentary photographs are a knockout. Just look at the sensitivity of the hands in Untitled, c. 1976. To see that, to capture it, to reveal it to the world – I was almost in tears looking at this photograph. The humanity of that gesture is something that I will treasure.

The only criticism of the exhibition is the lack of a book that addresses one of the most challenging times in Australian photographic history. This important work deserves a fully researched, scholarly publication that includes ALL the players in the story, not just those represented here. It’s about time. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Circles must expand as history moves away from a generation and cohort and, hopefully, the future will ask its own questions” … and I would add, without putting the blinkers on and creating more ideology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Julie Millowick and Christopher Atkins. “Dr John Cato – Educator,” in Paul Cox and Bryan Gracey (eds.,). John Cato Retrospective. Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing, 2013.

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

 

 

“As feminism took off among intellectuals of both sexes, art history would sometimes be interrogated to account for the reasons why there were relatively few great female artists.

While art historians would create reasonable apologies and impute the deficit to centuries of disadvantage to women, it was left to women artists to construct a view of art that redefined the stakes.

They sought a vision that didn’t see art as line-honours in transcendent inventions but a conversation that furthered the sympathy and consciousness of the community”

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Robert Nelson The Age Wednesday November 5, 2014

 

 

Pat Brassington. 'Untitled' 1984 (1)

 

Pat Brassington
Untitled
1984 (1)
From the series 1 + 1 = 3
Gelatin silver print
18 x 28 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy of the artist, ARC ONE Gallery (Melbourne), Stills Gallery (Sydney) and Bett Gallery (Hobart)

 

Pat Brassington‘s photographs have often made use of the artist’s home and family life as subject matter. The photographs included in this exhibition were taken during the early 1980s and, with their tight cropping and diagonal obliques, suggest that family life is an anxious and ambivalent place. Erotically charged body parts – whether partner’s or offspring – are left to hang, like fetish objects drifting through a dream. Brassington is consciously mining the clichés of psychoanalysis, with her focus on shoes, panties and an ominous father figure, but she reworks this symbolism with a comical lightness that is closer to a teen horror film than the analyst’s couch.

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 1
Gelatin silver prints
17.5 x 11.6 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace. 'Women at work, Newcastle' (detail) 1976

 

Helen Grace
Women at work, Newcastle (detail)
1976
From the series Series 2
Gelatin silver prints
11.6 x 17.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Helen Grace was a member of the Sydney-based feminist collective Blatant Image (which also included Sandy Edwards), which formed around the Tin Sheds at Sydney University. The collective was interested in examining and reconfiguring the representation of women in popular culture, and also in developing alternative venues for socially conscious art and film. The photographs displayed here point to the two interconnected preoccupations of Grace’s work at this time: the social and cultural construction of motherhood and femininity (and the way that each of these categories are produced by and through consumerism and popular culture), and the documentation of women’s labour. An active member of Sydney’s labour movement, Grace photographed women working in a range of workplaces (including factories and hospitals) for both the historical record and as promotional aids for activist organisations.

Grace’s Women seem to adapt to repetitive-type tasks was widely shown in Sydney and Melbourne, including the exhibition The lovely motherhood show (1981). This work of seven panoramas depicting a string of nappies on a washing line at once points towards the inexorable tediousness of motherhood, and at the same timeattempts to demystify the romantic myths of motherhood found in contemporary advertising and popular culture. Grace’s photographs were also widely used in posters produced by trade union and women’s groups. During the 1970s and 1980s screen printing was a cheap and effective way to incorporate photographic imagery into posters. Community groups also embraced screen printing because its aesthetic stood in opposition to commercial advertising, and the process lent itself to a do-it-yourself work ethic.

 

Merryle Johnson. 'Outside the big top' 1979-80

 

Merryle Johnson
Outside the big top
1979-80
From the series Circus
Hand coloured gelatin silver prints
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Merryle Johnson, 2014

 

Merryle Johnson‘s photographic feminism sits alongside her contemporaries Micky Allan and Ruth Maddison. In the first instance, it is expressed in the autobiographical nature of her images, which often refer to her family history. And like Allan and Maddison, Johnson also used hand-colouring to reinvigorate documentary photography and to bring a decidedly female perspective to the medium. Johnson’s contribution to feminist photography in Australia is also reflected in her use of photographic sequences – multiple images printed on the same sheet. In these works, the single, perfectly realised photographic image of Modernist photography was replaced with a series of images that draw attention to the fragmentary, contingent and inconclusive nature of photography. The serialisation of photographs also engages a more embodied, spatialised and assertive experience than single pictures alone.

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur' 1973

 

Christine Godden
Joanie and baby Jade, Larkspur
1973
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
8.4 x 13.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Joanie pregnant' 1972

 

Christine Godden
Joanie pregnant
1972
From the series Family
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' c. 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
15.2 x 22.8 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden’s Untitled c. 1976 is part of a sequence of 44 images that represented fragments and textures that combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of poetry. The series Family c. 1973 details the domestic environment and experience of young families in the American West.

As well as presenting subjects that engaged a ‘feminine’ subject, Godden’s photographs critically interrogate many of the claims for a distinctly ‘feminine sensibility’ being made by and for women artists at this time. The ‘Untitled’ prints on display here were originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney. These pictures were originally shown as part of a tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think’. The tightly cropped glimpses of bodies and textures combine tenderness and formal rigour in a way that evokes a sense of visual poetry.

Christine Godden’s Family series comprises a large number of images detailing the domestic environment and experience of young families living in the American west. Godden was at this time a student at the San Francisco Art Institute and was very active in feminist networks, including the Advocates for Women organisation, for whom she photographed events and actions. Godden’s Family series documents her experience of the counter-cultural families of America’s west coast, who provided and celebrated a new model of family life and women’s work.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art with, at right, Anne Ferran’s Scenes on the death of nature, scene I and II (1980-86)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Scenes on the death of nature, scene I' 1980-86

 

Anne Ferran
Scenes on the death of nature, scene I
1980-86
Gelatin silver print
122.0 x 162.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran‘s series Scenes on the death of nature presents five tableau-like scenes showing the artist’s daughter and her friends in classical dress. When they were first exhibited, commentators noted the enigmatic quality of the images, and how they resisted clear meaning, narrative and any attribute of personal style. To many, they represented a significant shift away from documentary photography. This might well be the ‘death’ to which the titles refer. For the critic Adrian Martin, the pictures appeared to evoke myth, while also being ambivalent about a photograph’s capacity to point to or allude to anything outside of itself; in this way, they can be seen to exemplify a certain post-modern approach to photography.

All the same, it is possible to see these important pictures as signposts for another kind of death. The photographs allude to some of the ways that the subject of girl/woman has been produced through visual culture, whether the monumental friezes of classical or Victorian architecture, or Pre-Raphaelite tableaux. In this way, they evoke the idea of ‘femininity’ as a source of meaning. Rather than rejoicing in, resisting or critiquing ‘femininity’ as earlier feminist photographers might have done, Ferran’s pictures remain steadfastly, even ‘passively’ ambivalent. As the artist wrote at the time, the works reveal ‘very little of a personal vision or private sensibility’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with 'Vale Street' (1975) at left

 

Installation view of four Carol Jerrems photographs with Vale Street (1975) at left and Lynn
(1976) at right

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Vale Street' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Vale Street
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Lynn' 1976

 

Carol Jerrems
Lynn
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

 

Carol Jerrems was one of a number of Australian women whose work during the 1970s challenged the dominant ideas of what a photographer was and how they worked. She adopted a collaborative approach to making photographs, which often featured friends and associates, and sought a photographic practice that would bring about social change. For Jerrems, as for many of her contemporaries, the photograph was an agent of social change, a means of both bringing people together and creating active and engaged social relationships. As she stated:
.

I really like people … I try to reveal something about people, because they are so separate, so isolated; maybe it’s a way of bringing people together … I care about [people], I’d like to help them if I could, through my photographs…

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The iconic Vale Street shows Jerrems’s friend Catriona Brown standing in front of Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, teenage boys from Heidelberg Technical School where Jerrems was teaching at the time. The photograph was taken at a house in Vale Street, St Kilda. Although it is unclear if Jerrems conceived of this image as a feminist gesture, the subject’s assertive, bare-chested pose and Venus symbol led to this photograph being interpreted as a statement of feminist power.

 

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation view of 'Photography Meets Feminism' at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation views of Photography Meets Feminism at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series 'Our mums and us' at the exhibition 'Photography Meets Feminism'

 

Installation view of Ponch Hawkes series Our mums and us at the exhibition Photography Meets Feminism. Her photographs were made by women, of women, for women.

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Ponch and Ida' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Ponch and Ida
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Lorna and Mary' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Lorna and Mary
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Mimi and Dany' 1976

 

Ponch Hawkes
Mimi and Dany
1976
From the series Our mums and us
Gelatin silver print
17.7 x 12.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Ian Bracegirdle 2012
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes‘s best-known series Our mums and us documents a selection of the photographer’s contemporaries standing with their mothers. The photographs were taken at each subject’s family home and record generational shifts in personal style and domestic decor. Originally shown at Brummels Gallery of Photography in 1976, which was Hawkes’s first solo exhibition, Our mums and us has become one of the most celebrated examples of feminist photography in Australia.

The use of pronouns in the title suggests the series was made by women, of women and for women; it is a defiant and celebratory feminist gesture, which foregrounds women as at once independent and connected to each other. Reflecting on the series, Hawkes explains that ‘feminism helped me to understand that my mother was actually a woman too, and not just a mother, and Our mums and us came out of that realisation.’

 

installation-i

installation-j

installation-k

installation-l

installation-h

 

Ephemera and books from Ponch Hawkes personal collection, including the cover of the seminal book A Book About Australian Women by Carol Jerrems and Virginia Fraser (Melbourne, 1974)

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison
Vehicle Builders Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
From the series Let’s dance
Gelatin silver print
27.0 x 18.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison
Women’s dance, St Kilda Town Hall, Melbourne
1985
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 24.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photographs shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

 

Virginia Coventry. 'Miss World televised' 1974

 

Virginia Coventry
Miss World televised
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.5 x 13.5 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist

 

Miss World televised is typical of Virginia Coventry‘s photographic work from this period, which tended to revolve around tightly organised sequences of pictures of the same subject (swimming pools in a Queensland town; the spaces between houses) or an event (a car moving through a carwash; a receding flood).

At the time, Coventry shared a house with Micky Allan. One night, while watching Allan’s black-and-white television, she saw footage of the 1974 Miss World pageant on the news. Immediately taken by the way the poor reception distorted the bodies of the contestants, Coventry began to photograph the footage. Once she developed the film, she realised the visual ‘disruption’ caused by the incongruity of the telecast process and the camera’s shutter speed obscured the figures and the beauty of the contestants, without necessarily deriding or critiquing the women themselves. As Coventry has written of the pictures: “I remember discussions with other women at the time about the way that the distortions offered a protection to the integrity of the actual person in the photo-images. Because of the radical slippage between reportage and reception, the individual is no longer the subject. The title operates to focus attention on Miss World telecast as a quiteabstract construction – as do the black-and-white, grainy, prints.”

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s looks at the vital relationship of photography and feminism in Australia during the 1970s and ’80s.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues.

On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.

PHOTOGRAPHY MEETS FEMINISM: Australian women photographers 1970s-80s will feature vintage prints of important photographs, many of which have not been seen for decades.

MGA Interim Director, Stephen Zagala states, “We are proud to present this exhibition, which provides an as-yet untold account of Australian photography and draws heavily on MGA’s nationally significant collection of Australian photography.””

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

“This exhibition explores the encounter between photography and feminist politics during the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Both photography and feminism thrived during this period. Feminist politics of the 1970s expanded on its earlier fight for equal rights by illuminating discrimination against women in various contexts. This included addressing domestic violence, inequality in the workplace, sexism in the media, and the economics of parenting. Alongside this expanded critique of patriarchy, feminist politics also celebrated ‘sisterhood’ by drawing attention to the undervalued achievements of women and by taking pride in distinctly female perspectives on the world.

Photographic practice also expanded its parameters during the 1970s. Together with other art forms such as painting and sculpture, photography became more experimental and irreverent. Most photographic artists rejected the tradition of highbrow fine art photography and invested the medium with personal sentiment and everyday content. The camera also became a useful tool for a generation of artists more interested in social engagement than aesthetic finesse.

Given the vitality of both feminist politics and art photography during the 1970s, it is not surprising that they entered into a lively exchange that extended into the 1980s. On the one hand, feminists used the highly informative and accessible medium of photography to raise awareness of critical social issues. On the other hand, photographic artists embraced feminist themes as a way of making their practice less esoteric and more engaged with contemporary life. This productive intersection of feminism and photography fostered a range of technical innovations and critical frameworks that made a significant contribution to the direction of visual culture in Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford. 'Untitled' 1969-71

 

Sue Ford
Untitled
1969-71
From the series The Tide Recedes
Selenium toned gelatin silver print

 

Sue Ford‘s series The Tide Recedes 1969-71 was made for her first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. People were becoming more removed from nature but Ford felt that woman share a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. The contrasty black and white photographs of bodies melding with rocks in montage prints that are as rough as guts work magnificently.

These prints were made as preparation for Sue Ford’s ambitious series The tide recedes, shown as part of Ford’s first solo exhibition at the Hawthorn City Art Gallery in 1971. Throughout this body of work, images of naked women and of men and women embracing merge with a marine landscape. The series expresses Ford’s concern that people were becoming too removed from nature, and allude to the idea that women share
a particular biological and cultural affinity with nature. It also draws on a technique that was central to feminist photographic practice – montage, where two disparate fragments are brought together to produce new and often unexpected meanings. While this reflects Ford’s work as a film maker, where montage is often used in storytelling, this strategy also embeds her pictures in the field of activist art. With montage, it is the viewer who ultimately makes sense of a work, as they find and see connections between disparate fragments.

While the prints presented in the 1971 exhibition were ambitious in scale and resolution, Ford preferred prints that were – in her terms – ‘rough as guts’. Prints such as those shown here represented an explicit rejection of the maleness of both the camera as a technological instrument and the arcane knowledge of the darkroom.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

Robyn Stacey. 'Queensland out west' 1982 (detail)

 

Robyn Stacey
Queensland out west (details)
1982
Hand-coloured gelatin silver prints
9.2 x 15.2 (each)
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Geoff in Bondi)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Untitled (Picnic)' 1981

 

Robyn Stacey
Untitled (Picnic)
1981
From the series Modified myths 1938-88
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
39.0 x 38.3 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey established a reputation for her hand- coloured prints in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Introduced to the process by Micky Allan, Stacey’s early hand-coloured prints examined the life and culture of Australia, especially her native Queensland. Stacey hand-coloured her photographs so as to invest them with personal attributes: “At the time I was interested in hand colouring [because it was] a technique associated with women’s work and craft. This approach seemed a good way to visually re-enforce the personal and intimate quality of the prints.”

Among Stacey’s most important contributions to the feminist tradition of hand colouring photographs are her pictures of Queensland architecture, taken during a road trip to western Queensland made with her mother. These images refer to an heroic subject in Australian culture – the stoicism of the outback and the people who populate it. But Stacey revises these myths, by presenting the images as intimate and personal.

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Ice' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Ice
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
104.0 x 175.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

Robyn Stacey. 'Jet' 1989

 

Robyn Stacey
Jet
1989
from the series Redline 7000
Silver dye bleach print
164.0 x 103.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2012
Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery (Sydney)

 

In the late 80s, Stacey began to hand colour her transparencies rather than the print, thereby incorporating an aspect of reproducibility to the images. In this way the work shifted from the unique print, with its references to nostalgia and the careful rendering of places and times, to something resembling the glossy images found in 1980s’ mass media, especially Hollywood cinema.

 

Julie Rrap. 'Persona and shadow: Madonna' 1984

 

Julie Rrap
Persona and shadow: Madonna
1984
Silver dye bleach print
203.0 x 126.5 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997
Courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery (Melbourne) and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

This photograph is from the series of nine works titled Persona and shadow. Julie Rrap produced this series after visiting a major survey of contemporary art in Berlin (Zeitgeist, 1982) which only included one woman among the 45 artists participating in the exhibition. Rrap responded to this curatorial sexism with a series of self-portraits in which she mimics stereotypical images of women painted by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Each pose refers to a female stereotype employed by Munch: the innocent girl, the mother, the whore, the Madonna, the sister, and so on.

Appropriating the work of other artists is one of the strategies that characterises the work of so-called ‘postmodern’ artists active during the 1980s. The practice of borrowing, quoting and mimicking famous artworks was employed as a way of questioning notions of authenticity. Feminist artists tended to use appropriation to specifically question the authenticity of male representations of females. In more straightforward terms, Rrap reclaims Munch’s clichéd images of women and makes them her own. Rrap ultimately becomes an imposter, stealing her way into these masterpieces of art history, but the remarkable thing about these works is the way that the artist foregrounds the process of reappropriation itself. The procedure of restaging, collage, overpainting, and rephotographing becomes part of the final image, testifying to a d0-it-herself politic. (Wall text)

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan. 'Old age' 1978

 

Micky Allan
Old age
1978
From the series Old age
Gelatin silver photograph, hand coloured with watercolour and pencil
18.2 x 12.0 cm
© Micky Allan

 

Micky Allan’s two series Babies and Old age were shown in Melbourne and Sydney around 1976-77; their reception revealed much about the anxieties that informed photographic criticism and practice at the time, with critics dismissing the works as ‘slight’ and ‘feminine photographs par excellence’. Across a series of exhibitions between 1976 and 1980, Allan challenged many of the established conventions of fine art photography, in both technique and subject. Allan overpainted the black-and-white print with watercolour, gouache and pencil to the extent of both acknowledging the under recognised history of women’s photographic work – historically, women were employed by studios to hand-paint or tone photographic prints – and transgressing the smooth surface of photographic prints that was prized by traditional art photographers.

For Allan, overpainting rejected the technical sameness of modern photography and introduced an emotional warmth. Allan’s hand-colouring also interrupted the myth of photographic transparency – the notion of the photograph as a ‘disinterested’ window onto the world. Overpainted, the photograph became subjective, contingent and fallible. The lightness of many of Allan’s interventions enhances this sense of fallibility. (Wall text)

 

With a body of work ranging across painting, photography and performance, investigations of subjectivity have been central to Micky Allan’s practice. Allan has consistently drawn on feminist strategies which emphasise the personal and autobiographical. In the early 1970s she became involved with the experimental performance and collective activities based at The Pram Factory in Melbourne, working there as both a set designer and a photographer, documenting early feminist work. Of this time Allan has said that she saw “photography as a form of social encounter … that in comparison with painting it [was] much more integrated to what was going on.”1

Allan has acknowledged social documentary as the basis of her photographic work. For a short period she recorded political figures and the surrounding social changes in which she was both a participant and an observer. Old age, the second of three series whose focus is lifecycles (the other two being Babies 1976 and The prime of life 1979-80), comprises 40 hand-coloured individual portraits. Allan introduced the technique of hand-colouring in her work in 1976, a technique taken up by many women photographers at that time to counter the then dominant modes of masculine production. While there is stylistic variation across the series, each portrait, close-up in viewpoint, is meticulously rendered in pastel colours. The images do not capture a simple moment but rather work together to poignantly symbolise a rich regard for age. Of this Allan has said: “Altogether they are an attempt to familiarise and personalise “age”, in a society which tends to ignore or stereotype the old.”2

1. ‘On paper – survey 12′, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 21 Jun ‘ 20 Jul 1980, as quoted in 1987, Micky Allan: perspective 1975-1987, Monash University Gallery, Clayton p. 4
2. Ibid p. 19

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

 

 

Exhibiting artist’s biographies

Micky Allan (b. Australia 1944) studied Fine Art at the University of Melbourne, and painting at the National Gallery School in the 1960s. Allan began taking photographs in 1974 after joining the loosely formed feminist collective at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. During this time Allan was part of a vibrant community of feminist artists that included Virginia Coventry, who taught her how to take and print photographs. Allan returned to painting as her primary medium in the early 1980s.

Pat Brassington (b. Australia 1942) is a Hobart-based artist who studied printmaking and photography at the Tasmanian School of Art, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1985. Brassington draws on a personal archive of visual material to compose her images. This archive includes both photographic and non-photographic material, which has either been found or produced by Brassington. Her work takes inspiration from surrealist photography, with its recurring interest in fetish objects and uncanny domestic scenes. Brassington typically employs digital collage to manufacture disjointed compositions, and she exhibits her work in elliptical series that suggest dream-like narratives.

Virginia Coventry (b. Australia 1942) studied painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology during theearly 1960s, before undertaking postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. While painting and drawing have been constant features of Coventry’s practice, she started taking photographs during the mid-1960s and developed a significant reputation for her photo-based work during the 1970s. Her photographic work typically engages with socio-political issues and often incorporates textual elements that give it a discursive form.

Sandy Edwards (b. New Zealand 1948 arr. Australia 1961) has been an important figure in Australian photography as both a maker and advocate since the 1970s. Edwards’s practice has paid particular attention to women and their relationship with the media of photography and film. Most of her work is documentary in nature but her photographic prints are often presented in sequences that elaborate conceptual points. Edwards has also been a prolific curator of exhibitions promoting the work of contemporary photographers, especially in Sydney.

Anne Ferran (b. Australia 1949) is a Sydney-based photographer and academic. She studied humanities and teaching before training in photography at Sydney College of the Arts. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-1980s and has become one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed photographers. Ferran’s practice is largely concerned with using photography to reclaim forgotten pasts, with a specific interest in the histories of women and children in colonial Australia. In pursuing this interest, Ferran often develops her projects through archival research and fieldwork.

Sue Ford (Australia 1943-2009) studied photography at RMIT and was the first Australian photographer to be given a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1974. Over the course of her artistic career Ford worked with still photography and moving images, beginning with traditional analogue film and then embracing the possibilities offered by photomedia and digital technologies. In this respect, Ford is a key figure in the history of avant-garde photographic experimentation. Ford’s artworks are also remarkable for their critical engagement with contemporary social issues, while also expressing deeply personal perspectives on the world.

Christine Godden (b. Australia 1947) has played a significant role in Australian photography as a maker, curator and advocate. After studying in Melbourne, Godden completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1975 and a Master of Fine Arts at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York in 1980. On her return to Australia, she became director of the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, and was consequently a prominent spokesperson for Australian photography during the 1980s. Her own photography is couched in a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice.

Helen Grace (b. Australia 1949) is a self-taught artist who began making work as an active member of feminist and labour organisations in Sydney during the mid-1970s. Often straight-forwardly documentary in style, Grace’s approach to photography is closely aligned with political consciousness raising. Her work for the labour and women’s movements was widely circulated around the time of its production, both in the pages of publications and in posters produced by trade unions and women’s groups. Grace’s writing on photography and film, history and politics have also made a significant contribution to the critical discussion that surrounds feminist practice in Australia.

Janina Green (b. Germany 1944 arr. Australia 1949) studied Fine Arts at Melbourne University and Victoria College before training as a printmaker at RMIT. In the 1980s she taught herself photography and subsequently specialised in this medium. Green held her first solo exhibition of photography in 1986 and has exhibited regularly since then, participating in over 30 group exhibitions and producing over 20 solo shows. Green’s photographs are distinguished by their sophisticated and often sensuous surfaces, which testify to her early training in printmaking. In her role as a teacher in the photography department at the Victorian College of the Arts, Green has also played a significant role as a mentor for younger photographers.

Fiona Hall (b. Australia 1953) initially trained as a painter, and has ultimately become a celebrated sculptor, but photography was her primary medium in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hall developed an interest in photography at art school and worked as an assistant to the well-known landscape photographer Fay Godwin while she lived in London between 1977-78. Hall subsequently studied photography at the Visual Studies Workshop in New York during 1982. Hall’s photographic practice demonstrates a fascination with decoration and style, which is informed by a critical interest in the premise of a ‘feminine’ sensibility.

Ponch Hawkes (b. Australia 1946) took up photography in 1972 while working as a journalist for the counter-cultural magazines Digger and Rolling Stone. Her early photography was informed by her role as a commentator on alternative social issues, and she has often used her images to engage with contemporary critical debates. During the 1970s Hawkes was part of a loosely formed feminist collective based at Melbourne’s experimental arts and theatre space the Pram Factory. Since that time she has continued to work closely with community groups around Australia and remains a key figure in contemporary photographic practice.

Carol Jerrems (Australia 1949-80) was born in Melbourne and studied photography at Prahran Technical College under Paul Cox and Athol Shmith between 1967 and 1970. Although she practised as an artist for only a decade, Jerrems has acquired a celebrated place in the annals of Australian photography. Her reputation is based on her compassionate, formally striking pictures, her intimate connection with the people involved in social movements of the day, and her role in the promotion of ‘art photography’ in this country.

Merryle Johnson (b. Australia 1949) graduated from Bendigo College of Advanced Education in 1969 with a major in painting. She took up photography in 1970 and it subsequently became central to her professional life, both as an arts educator and an exhibiting artist. Johnson’s approach to photography is informed by her broader training as an artist. This is particularly evident in her use of hand-colouring and sequencing. While the subject matter of her images is largely drawn from everyday life, she employs artistic devices to bring a sense of drama and fantasy to documentary photography.

Ruth Maddison (b. Australia 1945) is a self-taught photographer and artist. Maddison began working as a professional photographer in 1976, and she has been regularly exhibiting her work since 1979. Photography has been her primary medium, but in later years her artistic practice has expanded to include moving-image, textiles and sculpture. An interest in personal biography and the celebration of everyday existence informs her artistic practice. She is most well-known for her hand-coloured photographs of domestic life. In 1996 Maddison relocated from Melbourne to Eden, on the south coast of NSW.

Julie Rrap (b. Australia 1950) studied humanities at the University of Queensland (1969-71) before establishing her career as an exhibiting artist in Sydney during the 1980s. Rrap’s involvement with performance art and avant-garde politics during the 1970s laid the foundations for her later work in photography, painting, sculpture and video, which is largely concerned with the representation and experience of women’s bodies. The photographic objectification of female bodies is a persistent theme in Rrap’s work, but her highly expressive self-portraits invest the medium with a subjective intensity that affronts the clinical quality of voyeurism.

Robyn Stacey (b. Australia 1952) is a Sydney-based photographer who has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s. During the 1980s Stacey produced staged or ‘directorial’ photographs that drew on the visual language of cinema and television. Through the 1990s Stacey engaged in further training and study, and experimented extensively with new media including digital photography and lenticular prints. In 2000 Stacey began working with natural history collections in Australia and overseas, using photography to bring the contents of these archives to life. Throughout her career, Stacey has been interested in photography as an expressive medium that can be used to reiterate, remix and reanimate visual information.

 

 

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

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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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