Archive for the 'intimacy' Category

28
Jun
15

Review: ‘Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne 

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 5th July 2015

Curator: Helen Carroll

 

 

Gorgeous catalogue with luscious plates, insightful text by Bill Henson (below) and evocative poetry by John Kinsella. Stars on the front cover and silver edged pages. No expense spared in production, with money literally thrown at the project, or so it would seem.

The curator, Helen Carroll, talks about ‘wonder': “It is a capacity for wonder that makes us human”. Henson talking about ‘wonder’ and ‘love’ – about moments that change your life when looking at and breathing in great art. Then why does this exhibition feel so… well, needless? Despite some fascinating individual works of art, collectively there is little wonder on show here.

Perhaps it is because this exhibition looks to be a cut down version of the one first shown at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2012, with many works missing from what are listed in the catalogue. Or perhaps it is the hang which at the Ian Potter Museum of Art consists of two rooms on the ground floor of the museum, one housing lighter works, the other dark works. Too dichotomous for my tastes. Nothing is ever so cut and dried.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the concept of the exhibition – light in its many guises – seems to have been tagged onto a groups of art works which are anything but about light. Or are about light in a roundabout, merry-go-round kind of way. The wall text states, “Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, the exhibition follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery, moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the starts and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual points of departure.” Apparently the works are more about the phenomena of light than about light itself.

While the art works are interesting in their own right they don’t really work together cohesively as a group to investigate the theme of the exhibition. Trying to burden a collection of art bought for investment purposes with a concept not “natural” to the work, or just a curator’s idea of what seems implicit in the work but is just a cerebral construction, simply does not work in this case. As I looked around the exhibition, I felt the works were more about the physicality of time and space (of history and place), about links in the existential chain, than they were about light. For me, this evinced Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the ‘chronotype’ – meaning ‘the connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed’ (in literature). Perhaps the intuitive flow of ideas and imagery and the multiple points of departure work against the very idea the exhibition seeks to investigate. This is so broadly thematic (the effects of light on the world) that it needed to be more focused in its conceptualisation.

It’s also a real worry when text panels in the exhibition quote Richard Goyder, Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited, as saying that this is the first time that Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art of the collection, “and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary Indigenous art.”

The inclusion of New Zealand art because Wesfarmers has a significant business presence – not the quality or wonder of the art work – but a business presence. And only now are they collecting contemporary Indigenous art, after the collection has been in existence for more than three decades, 1977 being the first acquisition date. At least he is being refreshingly honest about why the art work has been added to the collection, but it does not give you confidence in the choice of the art work being displayed here. Goyder, Carroll and Kinsella also proselytize about the benefits of employee’s living with this art in their daily working lives and that may be the case. But for the casual visitor to the gallery this collection of art left me feeling cold and clammy – like a fish out of water.

As the add for Reflex copy paper says with more humour than any of this work can muster, I didn’t find “enwhitenment”, or wonder, within the gallery walls. Oh, the luminosity of it all.

Marcus

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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.

 

 

What is the Night?

‘What is the night?’ Macbeth enquires in the banquet scene, once the ghost of Banquo has departed and his wide has dismissed their mystified guests. Deprived of sleep, and half-psychotic, he urgently needs to know the time. But this is also, implicitly, a philosophical question that hints at the ontological meaning of the night…

Macbeth, Shakespeare’s most elaborate meditation on the night, is a sustained, if not obsessive, exploration of the nocturnal as a realm of alternative values – ones that contradict and threaten to undermine those of the diurnal regime that is ostensibly the domain of politics in the early modern period. In this violent, vengeful tragedy, the language and culture of the medieval night, incarnated above all in the witches, irrupts into the more enlightened languages and culture of a purportedly post-medieval epoch. An apocalyptic night, in Macbeth’s barbaric court, is one of the forces that shape realpolitik. In the Renaissance, a period in which daily life encroaches more and more on the night, especially in public settings, in the form of elaborately lit masques at court, Macbeth thus stages the limits of enlightenment.

At a time when more systematic, socially centralized modes of illumination are increasingly disrupting older patterns of rest, including biphasic sleep – so that, for the early modern ruling class at least, night starts to feel like an extension of the day, its observe rather than its inverse – Shakespeare dramatizes the tyrannical attraction, the absolutism, of darkness. Macbeth describes a process of nocturnalization whereby the night irresistibly colonizes the day, fatally infiltrating both the state and the protagonist’s consciousness. To use a word that has some currency in the seventeenth century, but has long since fallen out of use, Shakespeare’s drama is a study of ‘benightment’.”

Matthew Beaumont. “What is the Night?” in Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens. London and New York: Verso, 2015, pp. 86-87.

 

Luminous World brings together a selection of contemporary paintings, objects and photographs from the Wesfarmers Collection in a conversation about light. Through works of scale and conceptual invention that chart the range and depth of the collection, this exhibition presents significant contemporary paintings, photographs and objects by leading Australian and New Zealand artists acquired by Wesfarmers over three decades and shared together for the first time with the Australian public.

The Potter is the fifth venue for this touring exhibition which to date has travelled to Charles Darwin University Art Gallery, Darwin; National Library of Australia, Canberra; Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide; and The Academy Gallery, University of Tasmania.

 

 

Brook Andrew. 'Replicant series: Owl' 2005 

 

Brook Andrew
Replicant series: Owl
2005
Ilfochrome print
130 x 195 cm
© Brook Andrew, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

Brook Andrew (1970- ) is a Sydney born/Melbourne based interdisciplinary artist of Wiradjuri and Scottish heritage. Andrew’s conceptual based practice incorporates, sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance. The Replicant 2006 series reflects (literally) upon the act of looking, and consequent interchanges between nature and culture, subject and object, real and represented. These dualities fit broadly within the artist’s addressing of Australian identity, polemics and the politics of difference.

For the Replicant 2006 series Andrew borrowed taxidermied specimens from the education department at the Australian Museum, Sydney. These included native species of indigenous significance such as an owl, possum, flying fox and parrot. He shot each animal – artificially propped in their natural poses – and digitally manipulated each image so as to appear duplicated, a process that evolved out of the Kalar midday 2004 series.

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled' 2009-10 

 

Bill Henson
Untitled
2009-10
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

” … And yet certain things – particular experiences that we have are excpetional. They stand apart from the rest of the general activity.

What causes this apprehension of significance – of something in face powerfully apprehended yet not always fully understood?

And why is it that all of us, at some time or other, with have this ‘epiphany’ – Christian or otherwise – in the presence of some work of art, in the experiencing of a performance piece or some unexpected encounter with the true magic of a particular piece of sculpture?

When it happens, I always think of it as being as if one’s life – and everything that it contains – had just been ever so slightly changed, forever. Nothing, if you will, is ever quite the same again.

What happens, I think, is simply that we fall in love – and it’s the apprehension of unexpected beauty that causes us to fall in love.

The sheer force of such beauty can affect us as if it were an act of nature – and of course it is, for despite the arrogance of some theoreticians, culture is never outside nature.

I think that it is this intense, if often quite subtle, love for the subject, and the resultant emotional and intellectual interdependence within that relationship – be it in musical form, something in the visual arts, theatre of dance – that is responsible for – and in fact makes possible at all – these great and fortunate encounters in the arts.

Stare back into time and all kinds of very ‘personal’ things return your gaze. This has always, to me, seemed to a large extent to be what art is about. Sure, it’s personal, but it’s also millennial.

The best art always heightens our sense of mortality. This is not morbidity that I am talking about – rather, we feel more alive in the presence of great art and this is because of a profound sense of continuity – our sense of being inside nature – is expanded.

If you like, art suggests the immortal in all of us.

When we listen to Michelangeli – or, say, Jörg Demus playing Kinderszenen – and we sense that simultaneously proximate and intimate yet utterly abstract presence (was that someone? Schumann perhaps?) and at the same time sense the unbridgeable gulf that exists between ourselves and that distant past – we know that we are in the presence of something magical.

In the end I think that it is love that fuels this activity – that animates the speculative capacity in all of us – and heightens this sense of wonder.

Excerpts from Bill Henson’s speech “Reflections,” in Luminous World catalogue. Perth: Wesfarmers Limited, 2012, pp. 23-24.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

David Stephenson. 'Star Drawing 1996/402' 1996

 

David Stephenson
Star Drawing 1996/402
1996
40 x 40″
Cibachrome Print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

While the subject of my photographs has shifted from the landscape of the American Southwest and Tasmania, and the minimal horizons of the Southern ocean, and the icy wastes of Antarctica, to sacred architecture and the sky at both day and night, my art has remained essentially spiritual – for more than two decades I have been exploring a contemporary expression of the sublime – a transcendental experience of awe with the vast space and time of existence. (David Stephenson, 1998)

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 39/139' 1990-91

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 39/139
1990-91
Paris Opera Project
Type C photograph
127 × 127 cm
Series of 50
Edition of 10 + 2 A/Ps

 

Stieg Persson. 'Offret' 1998 

 

Stieg Persson
Offret
1998
Oil on canvas
183 x 167 cm
© Stieg Persson, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Works focusing on light and darkness, and how light creates and reveals our world, from one of Australia’s pre-eminent corporate art collections compiled by Wesfarmers over the past 30 years, will be exhibited at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne.

The exhibition, Luminous World: Contemporary art from the Wesfarmers Collection, presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture. The works traverse a diversity of cultural, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives, with the curatorial premise of how contemporary artists explore the phenomenon of light in their work.

Some 50 artists from Australia and New Zealand are featured in the exhibition including: Susan Norrie, Rosemary Laing, Howard Taylor, Dale Frank, Paddy Bedford, Bill Henson, Fiona Pardington (NZ), Brian Blanchflower, Brook Andrew, Timothy Cook and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Included alongside the art is a major new body of poetry by John Kinsella, written in response to works in the exhibition. These are published for the first time under the imprint of Fremantle Press in the book Luminous World, with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills.

Ian Potter Museum of Art Director, Ms Kelly Gellatly said, “Luminous World highlights the strengths ofthe Wesfarmers Collection, which has generously been shared, through the tour of the exhibition, with the wider community.

“In bringing together works across a range of media by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, Luminous World successfully showcases both the depth and continuing resonance of contemporary Australian practice in a rich, open-ended and exploratory conversation about light.

“To know and experience light and its effects however, one must equally understand its other – darkness. Together, these concerns create an exhibition experience that is at once intellectual, emotional and experiential,” Ms Gellatly said.

The Wesfarmers Collection was started in 1977, and is housed in the Wesfarmers offices around Australia and shared with the community through a loan and exhibition program. A Wesfarmers and Art Gallery of Western Australia touring exhibition.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Luminous World: Contemporary Art from the Wesfarmers Collection at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

 

 

“For more than three decades Wesfarmers has been collecting Australian art. From General Manager John Bennison’s first acquisition in 1977 of a pastoral scene by the Australian impressionist Elioth Gruner, Wesfarmers’ purpose was to accentuate the value of art in the workplace and encourage and understanding of the importance to society of supporting creative thinking and artistic vision. The company has always been committed to sharing its collection with the community through exhibitions and loans and by opening our workplaces for groups to view the art in our offices.

This is the first time Wesfarmers has showcased the contemporary art in the collection, and the works selected for Luminous World illustrate some of the ways in which the collection has grown in recent years. For instance, the inclusion of art from New Zealand, where Wesfarmers now has a significant business presence, and the heightened emphasis on representing the great diversity of contemporary indigenous art.

We thank the artists whose resonant and timeless works form part of Australia’s rich cultural heritage and hope that the Australian public will enjoy these works and marvel at the ingenuity and artistic vision they represent, as Wesfarmers does, surround by inspirational art in our daily lives.”

Richard Goyder
Managing Director, Wesfarmers Limited

 

The visual world is defined by light; everything we see is processed by the eye as patterns of brightness and colour. Monumental formations in the landscape as well as the most subtle nuances of atmosphere are made real to us by the action of light, transmitted in wavelengths as an infinitely varied register of colour that combine within the eye to shape our sense of space and form.

It is the action of light reflecting off, refracting through and being absorbed by the substance of the world that enables the eye to perceive contours, hues, and textures and mark the passing of time from day to night and season to season.

Luminous World presents a diverse selection of contemporary paintings, photography and works of sculpture, acquired by the Wesfarmers Collection over thirty years and considered through the lens of how contemporary artists variously utilise the phenomenon of light in their work.

Rather than a chronological or stylistically ordered presentation, it follows a loosely intuitive flow of ideas and imagery moving through night to day. The artists in this exhibition explore light from the perspective of the optical experience, the connection between the stars and the cycles of life on earth; and from diverse cultural, mythic and spiritual point of departure.

Published for the first time in the Luminous World catalogue are recent poems by John Kinsella, written in response to selected works in the exhibition, together with new writing by artist Bill Henson and composer Richard Mills that extend an artistic dialogue in which all can share.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne. 'Hung fire' 1995

 

Rosalie Gascoigne
Hung fire
1995
Retro-reflective road-sign on wood
209 x 176 cm
© Rosalie Gascoigne, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

Elizabeth Nyumi. 'Parwalla' 2010 

 

Elizabeth Nyumi
Parwalla
2010
Acrylic on canvas
120 x 180 cm
© Elizabeth Nyumi, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

About Parwalla

This painting depicts the country known as Parwalla, which is Nyumi’s father’s country. This country is far to the south of Balgo in the Great Sandy Desert, west of Kiwirrkurra, and is dominated by tali (sand hills). Parwalla is a large swampy area, which fills with water after the wet season rain and consequently produces an abundance of bush foods. The majority of Nyumi’s painting shows the different bush foods, including kantjilyi (bush raisin), pura (bush tomato) and minyili (seed). The whiteish colours, which dominate the painting, represent the spinifex that grows strong and seeds after the wet season rains. These seeds are white in colour, and grow so thickly they obscure the ground and other plants below.

Biography

When Nyumi was only a very young child her mother died at Kanari soakwater close to Jupiter Well. As a young girl, Nyumi lived with her family group in their country. As a teenager she walked along the Canning Stock Route into the old mission with her father and family group. There she was given clothes and taken to Billiluna Station to be trained as a domestic worker and to work for the wives of the station managers around the region.

Nyumi commenced painting in 1987 and emerged as a leading artist in the late 1990s. She is married to the artist Palmer Gordon and has four daughters, three of whom are still living and beginning to paint with strong encouragement from Nyumi. Her elder brothers Brandy Tjungurrayi and Patrick Olodoodi are both senior lawmen and recognised artists. Nyumi is a very strong culture woman and dancer and an enthusiastic teacher of culture to children, ensuring the traditional dances and songs are kept alive.

Nyumi’s paintings are mainly concerned with the abundant bush food in the country belonging to her family. Initially, she worked with a thick brush, covering the canvas with fluent lines in tones of yellow, green and red. She has now developed a strong personal style of thick impasto dotting, to build up fields of texture heavily laden with white, in which motifs of camp sites, coolamons, digging sticks and bush tucker stand out.

 

Gretchen Albrecht. 'Pink and orange sherbet sky' 1975  

 

Gretchen Albrecht
Pink and orange sherbet sky
1975
Acrylic on canvas
166 x 177 cm
© Gretchen Albrecht, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australia

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Brumby mound #5' from the series 'One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape' 2003

 

Rosemary Laing
Brumby mound #5 from the series One dozen unnatural disasters in the landscape
2003
C Type photograph
110 x 222 cm
© Rosemary Laing, reproduced courtesy of the artist and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

Brumby mound #5 2003 is one of a series of photographs by Rosemary Laing that explores the way European culture has often been uncomfortably imposed on an ancient land. Laing chooses a desert-scape that many identify as quintessentially Australian as the setting for her interventions. The location is the Wirrimanu community lands around Balgo in north-east Western Australia. Onto these traditional lands Laing has incongruously placed items of mass-produced furniture painted to mimic the surroundings.

The words ‘brumby mound’ in her title are a reference to the introduced horses (or brumbies) that are feral and roam uncontrolled, much like the spread of furniture. The seductive beauty of these panoramic images shows the vast spectacle of the Australian bush and makes the disjunction of the natural and the unnatural all the more apparent. (Text from the NGV website)

 

Howard Taylor. 'Bushfire sun' 1996 

 

Howard Taylor
Bushfire sun
1996
Oil on canvas
122 x 152 cm
© Howard Taylor, courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

Michael Riley. 'Untitled' from the series 'Cloud [Feather]' 2000

 

Michael Riley
Untitled from the series Cloud [Feather]
2000
Inkjet print on banner paper
86 x 120 cm
© Michael Riley Foundation, licensed by Viscopy 2012 and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Feathers float – so do clouds – and dreams.

Feather – a Wiradjuri word for feather and wing are the same, Gawuurra. Probably Cowra, the name of a town to the south, comes from this. In contemporary Aboriginal practices of other groups, feather-appendage is extended in meaning to string tassel, sacred string marking a journey, connecting landscapes, people, family lineages, and, importantly, the embryo cord linking child and mother.

A wing of the eagle hawk, Malyan, a skin name, a scary dream-being overhead. Is it guardian angel or assassin? In the south-east, a feather left behind is often evidence of such a spiritual visit.

At the funeral of actor and activist Bob Maza in 2000, his son held his father’s Bible and recollected his words, ‘to dare to dream your dreams’. It’s interesting that Michael Riley chose to avoid the word ‘dream’ in naming his final photographic work cloud (2000), avoiding glib connections to ‘Dreamtime’. What rolls past our eyes and through our senses is the culmination of self-examination. In a series of poetic photographic texts made increasingly poignant through events in his personal life, these are dreams of childhood memories in Dubbo, New South Wales: dreams of floating, of release…

cloud appears as more personal and free. A floating feather; a sweeping wing; a vigilant angel; the cows from ‘the mission’ farm; a single Australian Plague Locust in flight, referring to the cyclical swarms of locusts; a comforting Bible; and a graceful emblematic returning boomerang. The boomerang is really the only overtly Aboriginal image in the series and the locust is one of the few native species left that is visible and cannot be swept aside. It persists…

Through the large, simply superimposed images of cloud, Michael was trying to minimalise things, to distil his ideas about physical reality and spirit. All are dichotomously connected to Dubbo and Riley and are also universal. They are not about a place but a state, the surrealistic cow with mud and manure on its hoofs floating by. In contrast to Empire’s scenes of a decayed, overworked and desolated landscape, there is no physical land in the cloud imagery.

Aboriginal creation stories begin with a sunrise and follow the journeys of an original being across a physical, seasonal and emotional landscape – seeing, experiencing, and naming this and that plant, animal, climatic occurrence and emotional feelings. Religious song cycles follow this progression. Michael’s set of large, single-subject memories can almost be thought of as a Wiradjuri song cycle of his land and his life.”

Extract from Djon Mundine. Wungguli – Shadow : Photographing the spirit and Michael Riley” on the Michael Riley: sights unseen National Gallery of Australia website.

 

Paddy Bedford. 'Merrmerrji–Queensland creek' 2005 

 

Paddy Bedford
Merrmerrji-Queensland creek
2005
Ochre and synthetic binder on composition board
80 x 100 cm
© Paddy Bedford, reproduced courtesy of the artist’s estate and Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art

 

 

“Paddy Bedford was a senior Gija lawman born at Bedford Downs Station in the East Kimberly region. Like many indigenous artists, he lived a long life as a stockman before he looked upon the Turkey Creek elders – Rover Thomas and Paddy Jiminji – to begin painting. Bedford’s first works were made with the inception of the Jirrawun Aboriginal Art Cooperative in 1997.

The distinctive minimalist style of his work is but a mask to the multifarious layers of meaning. Bedford’s paintings are inspired by the distinctive landscape and stories of his country in the East Kimberly region of Western Australia, as he depicts from an aerial perspective the traditional dreamings of the Cockatoo, Emu and Turkey; the massacres of local Aboriginal people during the colonial period; as well as episodes from his own life as a stockman and as a senior elder of his community.

Merrmerrji- Queensland Creek, 2005 is characteristically sparse in composition with bold forms, a rhythmic application of dotted fluid lines and a powerfully imposing colour palate, which is gained from a wet-on-wet mixture of white and ochre pigments suspended in a fast drying acrylic medium. The effect is a pearly radiant luminosity, an ambience of the sacred.” (Text from the Annette Larkin Fine Art website)

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and 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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14
Jun
15

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Carlos Eguiguren. 'Gordon Parks, New York' 1985

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key images in the exhibition include:

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

About Gordon Parks

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

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

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

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree Street,
N.E. Atlanta, GA 30309

Opening hours:
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Thursday – 10 am – 5 pm
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Sunday – 12 noon – 5 pm

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10
Jun
15

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

Exhibition dates: 7th March – 21st June 2015

 

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the PEM website

 

Duane Michals. 'Andy Warhol' 1972

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Sting' 1982

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'The Unfortunate Man' 1976

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte at His Easel' 1965

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Georgette and Rene Magritte' 1965

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Primavera' 1984

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Real Dreams

by Duane Michals

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

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

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

Duane Michals June 20, 1976 September 1, 1976

 

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

 

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

 

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

 

 

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

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

Peabody Essex Museum website

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03
Jun
15

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

Exhibition dates: 25th February – 7th June 2015

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

'Salt and Silver' at Tate Britain

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Calvert Jones. 'The Fruit Sellers' c. 1843

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Tate website

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Exhibition of intriguing images that charts the birth of photography

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

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

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

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

 

Jean-Baptiste Frénet. 'Horse and Groom' 1855

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Study of China' 1844

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Roger Fenton. 'Cossack Bay, Balaclava' 1855

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Roger Fenton. 'Group of Croat Chiefs' 1855

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Roger Fenton. 'Cantiniére' 1855

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Félix Nadar. 'Mariette' c. 1855

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

John S. Johnston was a late 19th-century maritime and landscape photographer. He is known for his photographs of racing yachts and New York City landmarks and cityscapes. Very little is known about his life. He was evidently born in Britain in the late 1830s, and was active in the New York City area in the late 1880s and 1890s. He died in 1899.
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William Morton. “Belief in the Open Polar Sea theory subsided until the mid-1800s, when Elisha Kent Kane set forth on a number of expeditions north with hopes of finding this theorized body of water. On an 1850s expedition organized by Kane, explorer William Morton, believing he discovered the Open Polar Sea, described a body of water containing

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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31
May
15

Exhibition: ‘The photograph and Australia’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 21st March – 8th June 2015

Curator: Judy Annear, Senior curator of photographs, AGNSW

 

“Cultural theorist Ross Gibson has written that ‘being Australian might actually mean being untethered or placeless … and appreciating how to live in dynamic patterns of time rather than native plots of space’. Photographs always enable imaginative time and space regardless of their size and how little we might know of the ostensible subject. When people are oriented toward the camera and photographer, there is a gap which the viewer intuitively recognises. The gap is time as much as space. Occasionally – as in an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes, and in the 1877 Fred Kruger photograph of the white-clad cricketer at Coranderrk – a subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back.”

.
Judy Annear. “Time,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 19

 

 

This is an important exhibition and book by Judy Annear and team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, an investigation into the history of Australian photography that is worthy of the subject. Unfortunately, I could not get to Sydney to see the exhibition and I have only just received the catalogue. I have started reading it with gusto. With regard to the exhibition all I have to go on is a friend of mine who went to see the exhibition, and whose opinion I value highly, who said that is was the messiest exhibition that she had seen in a long while, and that for a new generation of people approaching this subject matter for the first time it’s non-chronological nature would have been quite off putting. But this is the nature of the beast (that being a thematic not chronological approach) and personally I believe that modern audiences are a lot more understanding of what was going on in the exhibition than she would give them credit for.

In the “Introduction” to the book, Annear rightly credits the work undertaken by colleagues – especially Gael Newton’s Shades of light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, published in 1988; Alan Davis’ The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900, published in 1977; and Helen Ennis’ Photography and Australia, published in 2007. As the latter did, this new book “emphasises the ways in which photographs, especially in the nineteenth century, function in social, cultural and political contexts, exploring photography’s role in representing relationships between Indigenous and settler cultures, the construction of Australia, and its critique.” (Annear, p. 10)

While Ennis’ book took a chronological approach, with sections titled First Photographs, Black to Blak, Land and Landscape, Being Modern, Made in Australia, Localism and Internationalism, The Presence of the Past – Annear’s book takes a more conceptual, thematic approach, one that crosses time and space, linking past and present work in classificatory sections titled Time, Nation, People, Place and Transmission. Both books acknowledge the key issues that have to be dealt with when formulating a book on the photograph and Australia: “the medium itself, Australia’s history, and the relationship between them. Is Australian photography different? If so, how, and in relation to what? One has to look at places with not dissimilar histories, such as Canada and New Zealand. And other questions: what has preoccupied photographers working in relation to Australia at various points in time? Have their concerns been primarily commercial, aesthetic, historical, realist, interpretive, or theoretical? Have they developed projects unique to the photographic medium; for example, large-scale classificatory projects? What have they achieved, what did it mean then, and what does it mean now?” (Annear, p.10)

These questions are the nexus of Annear’s investigation and she seeks to answer them in the well researched chapters that follow, while being mindful of “preserving some of the slipperiness of the medium.” And there is the rub. In order to define these classificatory sections in the exhibition and book, it would seem to me that Annear shoehorns these themes onto the fluid, mutable state of “being” of the photograph, imposing classifications to order the mass of photography into bite sized entities. While “the book encourages the reader to explore connections – between different forms of photography, people and place, past and present” it also, inevitably, imposes a reading on these historical photographs that would not have been present at the time of their production.

The press release for the book says, “The photograph and Australia investigates how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation.” Now I find the use of that word “harnessed” – as in control and make use of – to be hugely problematic. Personally, I don’t think that the slipperiness and mutability of photography can ever be controlled by anyone to help create the idea (imagination?) of a nation. Nations build nations, not photography. As a friend of mine said to me, it’s a long bow to draw… and I would agree. The crux of the matter is that THERE ARE NO HANDLES, only the ones that we impose, later, from a distance. There is no definitive answer to anything, there are always twists and turns, always another possibility of how we look at things, of the past in the present.

Photography and photographs, “with its ability to capture both things of the world and those of the imagination,” are always unstable (which is why the photograph can still induce A SENSE OF WONDER) – always uncertain in their interpretation, then and now. Photographs do not belong to a dimension or a classification of time and space because you feel their being NOT their (historical) consequence. Hence, all of these classifications are essentially the same/redundant. Perhaps it’s only semantics, but I think the word “utilises” – make practical and effective use of – would be a better word in terms of Annear’s enquiries. It also occurred to me to turn the question around: instead of “how photography was harnessed to create the idea of a nation”; instead, “how the idea of a nation helped change photography.” Think about it.

Finally, a comment on the book itself. Beautifully printed, of a good size and weight, the paper stock is of excellent quality and thickness. The type is simple and legible and the book is lavishly illustrated with photographs. The reproductions are a little ‘flat’ but the main point of concern is the size of the reproductions. Instead of reproducing carte de visite at 1:1 scale (that is, 64 mm × 100 mm), their mounted on card size – they are reproduced at 40 mm x 68 mm (see p. 236 of the catalogue below). Small enough already, this printing size renders the detailed reading of the images almost impossible. Worse, the images are laid out horizontally on a vertical page, with no size attribution of the original, nor whether they are 1/9th, 1/6th daguerreotype’s or ambrotypes, CDV’s or cabinet cards next to the image.

The reproduction size of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes is even worse, making the images almost unreadable. For example, in an excellent piece of writing at the end of the first chapter, “Time”, Annear refers to “an anonymous 1855 daguerreotype taken at Ledcourt, Victoria, of Isabella Carfrae on horseback where we see a servant standing on the verandah, shading her eyes,”. In the image in this posting (below) we can clearly see this woman standing on the verandah, but in the reproduction in the book (p. 139), she is reduced to a mere smudge in history, an invisibility caused by the size of the reproduction, thereby negating all that Annear comments upon. Instead of the “subject in the photograph presses so close to the picture plane that we know for the time of the exposure they look directly into an unknowable future and collide now with our gaze as we look back,” there is no pressing, hers has no presence, and our gaze cannot collide with this vision from the future past. Why designers of photographic books consistently fall prey to these traps is beyond me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

Judy Annear. 'The photograph and Australia'. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 236

 

 

The first large-scale exhibition of its kind to be held in Australia in 27 years, The photograph and Australia presents more than 400 photographs from more than 120 artists, including Richard Daintree, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard and Patrick Pound.

The works of renowned artists are shown alongside those of unknown photographers and everyday material, such as domestic and presentation albums. These tell peoples’ stories, illustrate where and how they lived, as well as communicate official public narratives. Sourced from more than 35 major collections across Australia and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the Australian Museum, The photograph and Australia uncovers hidden gems dating from 1845 until now.

A richly illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition, reflecting the exhibition themes and investigating how Australia itself has been shaped by photography.

 

Extract from “Introduction”

“The task of this book is to formulate questions around Australian photography and its history, regardless of Australia’s, and the medium’s, permeable identity. While early photography in Australia made histories of the colonies visible, and a great deal can be read from the surviving photographic archives, interpretation of this material is often conjecture, and much remains oblique. Patrick Pound describes the sheer mass of photographs and images in the world today as an “unhinged album.”11 This dynamic of making, accumulating, ordering, disseminating, reinterpreting, re-collecting and re-narrating is an important aspect of photography. The intimate relationship, historically, between the photograph and the various arts and sciences, along with the adaptability to technological change and imaginative interpretations, allows for a constant montaging or weaving together of uses and meanings. This works against the conventional linear structure of classical histories and the idea of any progressive evolution of the medium. If what we are dealing with is a phenomenon rather than simply a form then analysing the phenomenon and its dynamic relationship to art, society, peoples, sciences, genres, and processes is critical to our modern understanding of ourselves and our place in the world as well as of the medium itself.12

In the 1970s, cultural theorist Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled The photographic message.13 While he focussed primarily on press photography and made a distinction between reportage and ‘artistic’ photography, his pinpointing of the special status of the photographic image as a message without a code – one could say, even, a face without a name – and his understanding of photography as a simultaneously objective and invested, natural and cultural, is relevant in the colonial and post-colonial context.

We search for clues in photographs of our past and present. In some ways this is a melancholy activity, in other ways valuable detective work. In many cases it is both. Photography since its inception has belonged in a nether world of being and not being, legibility and opacity. This book preserves some of the slipperiness of the medium, while providing a series of texts touching on the photographs at hand. The history of the photograph and its relationship to Australia remains tantalisingly partial; the ever-burgeoning archives await further excavation.”14

Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 13.

 

11. See ‘Transmission’ pp. 227-33
12. See Geoffrey Batchen, blog.fotomuseum.ch/2012/10/5-a-subject-for-a-history-about-photography accessed 22 April 2014
13. Roland Barthes, ‘The photographic message’, Image, music, text, trans Stephen Heath, Flamingo, London, 1984, pp. 15-31
14. Parts of this Introduction were in a paper delivered at the symposium, Border-lands: photography & cultural contest, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 31 Mar 2012

 

Time

The relationship of the photograph to ‘Time’ is discussed in chapter one, which examines how contemporary artists such as Anne Ferran, Rosemary Laing and Ricky Maynard reinvent the past through photography. The activities of nineteenth-century photographers such as George Burnell and Charles Bayliss are also discussed… The manipulation by artists and photographers of imaginative time – the time of looking at the photographic image – allows for consideration of the nexus between space and time, how subjects can be momentarily tethered and, equally, how they can float free.

Nation

Chapter two considers the idea of ‘Nation': looking at the public role of the photograph in representing Australia at world exhibitions before Federation in 1901. Photography in this period enabled new classificatory systems to come into existence… Of particular importance was the use of the photograph to cement Darwinistic views that determined racial hierarchies according to superficial physical differences. The photograph also advertised the growing colonies to potential migrants and investors through the depiction of landscapes and amenities.

People

The third chapter, ‘People’, analyses the uncertain post-colonial heritage that all Australian inherit and how that can be evidenced and examined in photographs. The chapter encompasses portraits by Tracy Moffatt and George Goodman, for example, and considerations of where and how people lived and chose to be photographed. These include the people of the Kulin nation of Victoria, those who resided at Poonindie Mission in South Australia, the Yued people living at New Norcia mission in Western Australia, as well as the Henty family in Victoria, the Mortlocks of South Australia, the children living at The Bungalow in Alice Springs and the people of Tumut in New South Wales.

Place

‘Place’ is examined in chapter four, particularly in terms of the use of photography to enable exploration, whether to Antarctica (Frank Hurley), to map stars and further the natural sciences (Henry Chamberlain Russell, Joseph Turner), or to open up ‘wilderness’ for tourism or mining (JW Beattie, Nicholas Caire, JW Lindt, Richard Daintree) … Photographs are examined as both documents and imaginative interpretations of activity and place.

Transmission

Chapter five, ‘Transmission’, considers the traffic in photographs and the fascination with the medium’s reproducibility and circulation… The evidential aspect of the photograph has proven to be fleeting and only tangentially related to the thing it traces. The possibility of being able to fully decipher a photograph’s meaning is remote, even when it has been promptly ordered and annotated in some form of album. Each photographic form expands the possibility of instant and easy communication, but the swarm of material serves only to prove the impossibility of order, classification, and accuracy. The photograph as an aestheticised object continues regardless of platform, and the imaginative possibilities of the medium have not been exhausted.

Sections from Judy Annear. “Introduction,” in Judy Annear. The photograph and Australia. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2015. p. 12.

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia' 1886

 

Charles Bayliss
Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia
1886
From the series New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1984

 

 

This tableaux of Ngarrindjeri people fishing was carefully staged by photographer Charles Bayliss in 1886. Not just subjects, they actively participated in the photography process. It was observed at the time that the fishermen arranged themselves into position, with “the grace and unique character of which a skillful artist only could show.”

“In one extraordinary image created in 1886 by the photographer Charles Bayliss, the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River were active participants in the staging of a fishing scene. Writing in his journal, Bayliss’s companion Gilbert Parker noted: “Without a word of suggestion, these natives arranged themselves in a group, the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show.” Annear says the image looks like a museum diorama to modern eyes. “But these people were very active in deciding how they wanted to be photographed,” she says. “They were determined to create an image they felt was appropriate.”

The first photographs of indigenous Australians were formal, posed portraits, taken in blazing sunlight. The sitters are often pictured leaning against each other (stillness was required for long exposure times) with eyes turned to the camera and bodies wrapped in blankets or kangaroo skins. Some wore headdresses or necklaces that may or may not have belonged to them.

“Indigenous Australians agreed to be photographed out of curiosity, or perhaps for food,” says Judy Annear, curator of The photograph and Australia, a major new photography exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “In the past, it was considered that these sorts of early pictures were indicative of the colonial gaze. But now there is a lot of research going on into how these early photos were made. Often, the local people would have been invited to come into a studio and they were paid. They would have been dressed up and told what to do.”” (Text in quotations from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Unknown photographer. 'Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson' (verso) c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Australian scenery, Middle Harbour, Port Jackson (verso)
c. 1865
Carte de visite
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Ernest B Docker. 'The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898' 1898

 

Ernest B Docker
The Three Sisters Katoomba – Mrs Vivian, Muriel Vivian and Rosamund 7 Feb 1898
1898
Stereograph
Macleay Museum, The University of Sydney

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902) 'Untitled' 1867-1874

 

Charles Nettleton (Australia 1825 – 1902)
Untitled
1867-1874
Carte de visite
6.2 x 9.1 cm image; 6.3 x 10.0 cm mount card
Purchased 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Charles Nettleton was a professional photographer born in the north of England who arrived in Australia in 1854, settling in Melbourne. He joined the studio of Townsend Duryea and Alexander McDonald, where he specialised in outdoor photography. Nettleton is credited with having photographed the first Australian steam train when the private Melbourne-Sandridge (Port Melbourne) line was opened on 12 September 1854. Nettleton established his own studio in 1858, offering the first souvenir albums to the Melbourne public. He worked as an official photographer to the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne Corporation from the late 1850s to the late 1890s, documenting Melbourne’s growth from a colonial town to a booming metropolis. He photographed public buildings, sewerage and water systems, bridges, viaducts, roads, wharves, and the construction of the Botanical Gardens. In 1861 he boarded the ‘Great Britain’ to photograph the first English cricket team to visit Australia and in 1867 was appointed official photographer of the Victorian visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. For the Victorian police he photographed the bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880. This is considered to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw.

 

Tracey Moffatt. 'I made a camera' 2003

 

Tracey Moffatt
I made a camera
2003
Photolithograph
Collection of the artist
© Tracey Moffatt, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales is proud to present the major exhibition The photograph and Australia, which explores the crucial role photography has played in shaping our understandings of the nation. It will run from 21 March to 8 June 2015.

Tracing the evolution of the medium and its many uses from the 1840s until today, this is the largest exhibition of Australian photography held since 1988 that borrows from collections nationwide. It presents more than 400 photographs by more than 120 artists, including Morton Allport, Richard Daintree, Paul Foelsche, Samuel Sweet, JJ Dwyer, Charles Bayliss, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Tracey Moffatt, Robyn Stacey, Ricky Maynard, Anne Ferran and Patrick Pound.

Iconic images are shown alongside works by unknown and amateur photographers, including photographic objects such as cartes de visite, domestic albums and the earliest Australian X-rays. The exhibition’s curator – Judy Annear, senior curator of photographs, Art Gallery of NSW – said:

“Weaving together the multiple threads of Australia’s photographic history, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography invented modern Australia. It poses questions about how the medium has shaped our view of the world, ourselves and each other. Audiences are invited to experience the breadth of Australian photography, past and present, and the sense of wonder the photograph can still induce through its ability to capture both things of the world and the imagination.”

The exhibition brings together hundreds of photographs from more than 35 private and public collections across Australia, England and New Zealand, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria. Highlights include daguerreotypes by Australia’s first professional photographer, George Goodman, and recent works by Simryn Gill. From mass media’s evolution in the 19th century to today’s digital revolution, The photograph and Australia investigates how photography has been harnessed to create the idea of a nation and reveals how our view of the world, ourselves and each other has been changed by the advent of photography. It also explores how photography operates aesthetically, technically, politically and in terms of distribution and proliferation, in the Australian context.

Curated from a contemporary perspective, the exhibition takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach, looking at four interrelated areas: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration (mining, landscape and stars); portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography. A lavishly illustrated 308-page publication, The photograph and Australia (Thames & Hudson, RRP $75.00), accompanies the exhibition, reflecting its themes and investigating the medium’s relationship to people, place, culture and history.”

Press release from the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5 cm image; 35.7 x 47.0 cm sheet
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore

 

 

In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates: http://www.mdaa.com.au/people/moore-05.php. Accessed 17.06.2006
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

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

 

David Moore. 'Redfern Interior' 1949

 

David Moore
Redfern Interior
1949
Silver gelatin print
26.7 x 35.4 cm image; 40.3 x 50.5 cm sheet
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1985

 

David Moore’s career spanned the age of the picture magazines (for example: Life, Time, The Observer) through to major commissions such as the Sydney Opera House, CSR, and self initiated projects like To build a Bridge: Glebe Island. The breadth and depth of his career means there is an extraordinary archive of material which describes and interprets the last 50 years of Australian life, the life of the region, and events in Britain and the United States. He was instrumental in advancing Australian photography throughout his career and in the early 1970s was active in setting up the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. From well-known images such as Migrants arriving in Sydney to Redfern interior, Moore has documented events and conditions in Sydney.

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897) Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873) 'Untitled' c. 1872

 

Charles Bayliss (England, Australia 1850 – 1897)
Henry Beaufoy Merlin (England, Australia 1830 – 1873)
Untitled
c. 1872
Albumen photograph
Dimensions
24.5 x 29.4 cm image/sheet
Gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

Paul Foelsche. 'Adelaide River' 1887

 

Paul Foelsche
Adelaide River
1887
Albumen photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of Josef & Jeanne Lebovic, Sydney 2014

 

 

This photo of people relaxing on the banks of the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory was taken by Paul Foelsche, a policeman and amateur anthropologist.

The collection of 19th century images brought together in The photograph and Australia show indigenous people in formal group portraits or as “exotic” subjects. They are photographed alongside early settlers, working as stockmen or holding tools. Amateur gentleman photographers such as the Scottish farmer John Hunter Kerr captured such images on his own property, Fernyhurst Station, in Victoria. Another amateur photographer, Paul Foelsche, the first policeman in the Northern Territory, took portraits of the Larrakia people, which have since become a priceless archive for their descendants.

 

NSW Government Printer. 'The General Post Office, Sydney' 1892–1900

 

NSW Government Printer
The General Post Office, Sydney
1892-1900
Albumen photograph
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1969

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926) 'Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla' 1880

 

J. W. Lindt (Germany 1845 – Australia from 1862, Australia 1926)
Body of Joe Byrne, member of the Kelly gang, hung up for photography, Benalla
1880
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Australia’s first ever press photograph pushed boundaries few journalists would transgress today. Captured by J.W, Lindt in 1880, the photo shows the dead body of a member of Ned Kelly’s infamous gang, strung up on a door outside the jail house in Benalla in regional Victoria.

Joe Byrne died from loss of blood after being shot in the groin during the siege of Glenrowan pub. Another photographer is pictured mid-shot, while an illustrator walks away from the new technology with his hat on and portfolio tucked under his arm. “We see this as the first Australian press photograph. It has that spontaneity media photographs have, and it’s also very evocative with many different stories in it,” the gallery’s senior curator of photographs, Judy Annear, said. (Text from the Sydney Morning Herald website)

 

Richard Daintree. 'Midday camp' 1864–70

 

Richard Daintree
Midday camp
1864-70
Albumen photograph, overpainted with oils
Queensland Museum, Brisbane

 

This image was an albumen photograph (using egg whites to bind chemicals to paper) which was then hand-coloured with oil paints to bring it to life. The photographer took it in the 1860s to advertise Australia as a land of opportunity.

 

Ricky Maynard. 'The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania' 2005

 

Ricky Maynard (Australia 1953 – )
Ben Lomond, Tasmania , Cape Portland, Tasmania
The Healing Garden, Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania, from the series Portrait of a distant land
2005, printed 2009
Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned
34.0 x 52.0 cm image; 50.3 x 60.8 cm sheet
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors’ Group and the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2009

 

 

Ricky Maynard has produced some of the most compelling images of contemporary Aboriginal Australia over the last two decades. Largely self taught, Maynard began his career as a darkroom technician at the age of sixteen. He first established his reputation with the 1985 series Moonbird people, an intimate portrayal of the muttonbirding season on Babel, Big Dog and Trefoil Islands in his native Tasmania. The 1993 series No more than what you see documents Indigenous prisoners in South Australian gaols.

Maynard is a lifelong student of the history of photography, particularly of the great American social reformers Jacob Riis, Lewis Hines, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Maynard’s images cut through the layers of rhetoric and ideology that inevitably couch black history (particularly Tasmanian history) to present images of experience itself. His visual histories question ownership; he claims that ‘the contest remains over who will image and own this history…we must define history, define whose history it is, and define its purpose as well as the tools used for the telling it’.

In Portrait of a distant land Maynard addresses the emotional connection between history and place. He uses documentary style landscapes to illustrate group portraits of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences throughout Tasmania. Each work combines several specific historical events, creating a narrative of shared experience – for example The Mission relies on historical records of a small boy whom Europeans christened after both his parents died in the Risdon massacre. This work highlights the disparity between written, oral and visual histories, as Maynard attempts to create ‘a combination of a very specific oral history as well as an attempt to show a different way of looking at history in general’.

 

JW Lindt. 'No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man' 1873

 

JW Lindt
No 37 Bushman and an Aboriginal man
1873
Albumen photograph
Grafton Regional Gallery Collection, Grafton, gift of Sam and Janet Cullen and family 2004

 

Professional photographers such as the Frankfurt-born John William Lindt (who became famous for photographing the capture of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan in 1880) took carefully posed tableaux images in his Melbourne studio. One set of Lindt photographs, taken between 1873 and 1874, show settlers and indigenous people posing with the tools of their trade. One unusual image shows a settler holding a spear and a local man holding a rifle.

Annear says the photographs speak of a time when early settlers and indigenous people were engaged in an exchange of cultures. “These photos weren’t just a passive, one-way process,” Annear says. “It wasn’t just about capture and exoticism. We are finding contemporaneous accounts that point to a level of exchange going on that was extremely important. These photos show who those people were, where they lived and what they were doing. They have a very powerful presence in that regard, and Aboriginal people today are going back through these photographs in order to trace their family trees.” …

Annear says she could have put together an exhibition of images of the “great suffering” experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia, but chose not to. “I found the 19th century material so rich and strong and most people aren’t aware of these images. It seemed like a great opportunity to bring them forward,” she says. “I don’t want to whitewash history, but I do want people to see how rich life was, how people were adapting, and then how that was removed. After Federation and the White Australia policy and other assimilation policies, photos of indigenous people seem to disappear. Why did they disappear? The people were still here. They were greatly diminished in many senses, but nonetheless they were still here.”

Elissa Blake. “Art Gallery of NSW photography exhibition: Stories told in black and white,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, April 2, 2015

 

Charles Bayliss. 'Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model' 1884

 

Charles Bayliss
Lawrence Hargrave trochoided plane model
1884
Albumen photograph
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, gift of Mr William Hudson Shaw 1994

 

Unknown photographer. 'Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide' c. 1865

 

Unknown photographer
Duryea Gallery, Grenfell Street, Adelaide
c. 1865
Carte de visite
State Library of South Australia, Adelaide

 

JJ Dwyer. 'Kalgoorlie's first post office' c. 1900

 

J. J. Dwyer
Kalgoorlie’s first post office
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth
Photo: Acorn Photo, Perth

 

Harold Cazneaux. 'Spirit of endurance' 1937

 

Harold Cazneaux
Spirit of endurance
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the Cazneaux family 1975

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 – 1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5 cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

Unknown photographer. 'Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
Isabella Carfrae on horseback, Ledcourt, Stawell, Victoria
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand-tinted
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2012

 

 

“In the late 19th century, cameras were taking us both inside the human body and all the way to the moon. By the 1970s the National Gallery of Victoria had begun collecting photographic art, and within another decade the digital revolution was underway. But this exhibition – the largest display of Australian photography since Gael Newton mounted the 900-work Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1838-1988 at the National Gallery of Australia 27 years ago – is not chronological.

It opens with a salon hang of portraits of 19th and 20th century photographers, as if to emphasise their say in what we see, and continues with works grouped by themes: Aboriginal and settler relations; exploration; mining, landscape and stars; portraiture and engagement; collecting and distributing photography.

“A number of institutions and curators have tackled Australian photography from a chronological perspective and have done an extremely good job of it,” Annear says. “I have used their excellent research as a springboard into another kind of examination of the history of photography in this country. Nothing in photography was actually invented here, so I have turned it around and considered how photography invented Australia.”

Most of the photographs – about three quarters of the show, in fact – date from the first 60 years after Frenchman Louis Daguerre had his 1839 revelation about how to capture detailed images in a permanent form. Annear says the decades immediately following photography’s arrival in Australia provide a snapshot of all that has followed since.

“In terms of the digital revolution it is interesting to look back at the 19th century. What is going on now was all there then, it is just an expansion. There is a very clear trajectory from the birth of photography towards multiplication. After the invention of the carte de visite in the late 1850s they were made like there was no tomorrow. There are millions of cartes de visite in existence.”

There are quite a few of these small card-mounted photographs (the process was patented in Paris, hence the French) in the exhibition too, including one of a woman reflected in water at Port Jackson dating from circa 1865. With the trillions of images now in existence, it is easy to forget that once upon a time catching your reflection in the water, glass or a mirror was the only way to glimpse your own image (short of paying hefty sums for an artist to draw you).

After the invention of photography, people were quick to see how easily they could manipulate the impression created. While photographs are about fixing a moment in time, we can never be really sure just what it is they are fixing. “It’s not as simple as windows and mirrors – what we are looking at has always been constructed in some way,” Annear says. “What’s interesting about the medium is that you think it’s recording, fixing and capturing, but it is just creating an endless meditation on whatever a photograph’s relationship might be to whatever was real at the time it was taken.”

Extract from Megan Backhouse. “How the Photograph Shaped a Nation,” on the Art Guide Australia website, 20 April 2015

 

Sue Ford. 'Self-portrait' 1986

 

Sue Ford
Self-portrait
1986
From the series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) 2008
Colour Polaroid photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the Paul & Valeria Ainsworth Charitable Foundation, Russell Mills, Mary Ann Rolfe, the Photography Collection Benefactors and the Photography Endowment Fund 2015
© Sue Ford Archive

 

George Goodman. 'Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman
Caroline and son Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, presented 1991

 

Olive Cotton. 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton
‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006

 

Unknown photographer. 'John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton' 1856

 

Unknown photographer
John Gill and Joanna Kate Norton
1856
Albumen photograph
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel' 1880-90

 

Unknown photographer
Alfred and Fred Thomas, proprietors of the Ravenswood Hotel
1880-90
Tintype
State Library of Western Australia, Perth

 

Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986) 'Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia' c. 1947, printed 1982

 

Axel Poignant (England, Australia, England 12 Dec 1906 – 05 Feb 1986)
Aboriginal stockman, Central Australia
c. 1947, printed 1982
Type C photograph
35.6 x 24.4 cm image/sheet
Purchased 1984
© Courtesy Roslyn Poignant

 

 

Though not born in Australia, Axel Poignant’s work is largely about the ‘Outback’, its flora and fauna and the traditions of Australian and Indigenous identity. Poignant was born in Yorkshire in 1906 to a Swedish father and English mother, and arrived in Australia in 1926 seeking work and adventure. After tough early years of unemployment and homelessness, he eventually settled in Perth and found work as a portrait photographer, before taking to the road and the bush in search of new subjects. Poignant became fascinated with the photo-essay as a means of adding real humanity to the medium, and much of his work is in this form. The close relationships he developed with Aborigines on his travels are recorded in compassionate portraits of these people and their lives – the low angles and closely cropped frames appear more natural and relaxed than the stark compositions of earlier ethnographic photography.

 

Nicholas Caire. 'Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks' Spur' c. 1878

 

Nicholas Caire
Fairy scene at the Landslip, Blacks’ Spur
c. 1878
Albumen photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, purchased 1994

 

Frank Styant Browne. 'Hand' 1896

 

Frank Styant Browne
Hand
1896
X-ray
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection, Launceston

 

 

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

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

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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27
May
15

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

Exhibition dates: 8th May – 7th June 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

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

 

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

 

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

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

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Keys
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Leather Apparel
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Gag Mask
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Amyl Nitrite
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Earring
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

 

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

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

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

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

JBW: So the work is also about genre.

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

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

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

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

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Basic Gay
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Jock
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Forties Trash
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Hippie
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Uniform
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Street Fashion Leather
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Leather
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Urbane
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Western
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Classical
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Archetypal Media Image Natural
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Dominance
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Sadism & Masochism
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Submisison
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Bondage Device Cross
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

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

 

Hal Fischer from 'Gay Semiotics' 1977

 

Hal Fischer
Bondage Device Meat Hoist
1977/2014
Inkjet print

 

 

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

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

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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20
May
15

Exhibition: ‘The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s: Works from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna’ at Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 13th March – 31st May 2015

 

Early Cindy Sherman, very good; Francesca Woodman, wow; but Ana Mendieta, you are a star!

Marcus

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

 

Featuring 34 international women artists, this wide-ranging exhibition highlights the early days of the feminist art movement. With over 150 major works drawn from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND in Vienna, it documents how female artists in the 1970s began collectively reshaping the “image of woman” – something that had never happened before in the history of art. During this period, increasing numbers of women who had been born during or just after the Second World War had the opportunity to study at an art school or academy, enabling them to emancipate themselves from the traditional role of artist’s muse or model. Dr Gabriele Schor, director of the SAMMLUNG VERBUND, coined the term “feminist avant-garde” to highlight the pioneering role played by these artists.

The female artists have turned to new media such as photography, film or video, due to the fact that these are not laden with art-historical baggage; others employ performance or action-based art as their chosen means of expression. Along with artists such as VALIE EXPORT, Cindy Sherman and Martha Rosler whose work is familiar to a wide audience, the exhibition also provides a rare opportunity to discover some equally accomplished but less well-known members of the “feminist avant-garde”.

 

 

VALIE EXPORT (*1940) 'Tapp und Tastkino' 1968

 

VALIE EXPORT (*1940)
Tapp und Tastkino
1968
Video, S/W, Ton
© VALIE EXPORT / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015 / Courtesy of Galerie Charim, Wien / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003) 'Nest' 1979

 

Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003)
Nest
1979
S/W-Photographie
© Estate of Birgit Jürgenssen / Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Wien / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014/2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Ulrike Rosenbach (*1943)  'Art is a criminal action No. 4' 1969

 

Ulrike Rosenbach (*1943)
Art is a criminal action No. 4
1969
S/W-Photographie auf Barytpapier
© Ulrike Rosenbach / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) 'Untitled Rome, Italy' 1977-1978/2006

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Untitled Rome, Italy
1977-1978/2006
S/W-Photographie auf Barytpapier
© Courtesy George and Betty Woodman, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

 

“Featuring 34 international women artists, this wide-ranging exhibition highlights the early days of the feminist art movement. With over 150 major works drawn from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND in Vienna, it documents how female artists in the 1970s began collectively reshaping the “image of woman” – something that had never happened before in the history of art. During this period, increasing numbers of women who had been born during or just after the Second World War had the opportunity to study at an art school or academy, enabling them to emancipate themselves from the traditional role of art­ist’s muse or model. Dr Gabriele Schor, director of the SAMMLUNG VERBUND, coined the term “femi­nist avant-garde” to highlight the pioneering role played by these artists.

They went on to create works that challenged social norms and the mechanisms of the art business, developing radical new artistic practices and breaking with a male-dominated reality. Against the back­ground of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, feminist issues emerged as a matter of public debate: the personal was now political. Within a very short period of time, women began rais­ing awareness and gaining public recognition by organising collective actions, demonstrations and in­dependent exhibitions. The artists of the “feminist avant-garde” have examined how traditional images determine the perception of women and how they construct their own personal and social identity. Their work addresses a wide range of themes, such as the relegation of women to the one-dimensional role of housewife and mother, the use of one’s own body in art, female sexuality, notions of beauty and violence against women.

The female artists undermine the stereotype roles in a subversive way. Martha Rosler, for example, us­es exaggeration and parody to criticise women’s traditionally domestic role, and Birgit Jürgenssen tied a cooker around her neck like an apron in her work Hausfrauen-Küchenschürze. By playing with the camera or employing masquerade and costumes as an effective means of self-representation, women artists have challenged conventional notions of identity or femininity and exposed these as social con­structs. Cindy Sherman, Suzy Lake, Hannah Wilke and Martha Wilson cast themselves in a variety of roles for their photographic investigations into everyday and historical clichés. In a similar way, Lynn Hershman Leeson created a fictional alter ego as “Roberta Breitmore” and enacted this character for a number of years. While accepted cultural ideals of beauty and perfection play an important role for all of the artists mentioned above, these themes are specifically and impressively addressed in the work of Rita Myers and Ewa Partum.

Numerous women artists have turned to new media such as photography, film or video, due to the fact that these are not laden with art-historical baggage; others employ performance or action-based art as their chosen means of expression. VALIE EXPORT, for example, invited passers-by on Munich’s Stachus square to visit her Tapp-und Tastkino – meaning that they could put their hands inside a box she was wearing over her naked chest. Female artists have often exploited their own bodies as art material, whereby some – such as Ana Mendieta or Gina Pane – have pushed themselves to the very limits of physical endurance. Using humour, irony, subtlety and provocation, the artists of the “feminist avantgarde” have deconstructed the traditional female iconography.

Along with artists such as VALIE EXPORT, Cindy Sherman and Martha Rosler whose work is familiar to a wide audience, the exhibition also provides a rare opportunity to discover some equally accomplished but less well-known members of the “feminist avant-garde”.

The SAMMLUNG VERBUND was founded in 2004 in Vienna by VERBUND, Austria’s leading producer of electricity from hydropower. The collection focuses on international contemporary art from 1970 to the present day, with a unique emphasis on the Feminist Avant-garde of the 1970s.

Featured artists: Helena Almeida (*1934, Portugal), Eleanor Antin (*1935, USA), Lynda Benglis (*1941, USA), Renate Bertlmann (*1943, Österreich), Teresa Burga (*1935, Peru), Lili Dujourie (*1941, Belgien), Mary Beth Edelson (*1933, USA), Renate Eisenegger (*1949, Deutschland), VALIE EXPORT (*1940, Österreich), Esther Ferrer (*1937, Spanien), Lynn Hershman-Leeson (*1941, USA), Alexis Hunter (1948-2014, Neuseeland, England), Sanja Iveković (*1949, Kroatien), Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003, Österreich), Ketty La Rocca (1938-1976, Italien), Leslie Labowitz (*1946, USA), Suzanne Lacy (*1945, USA), Suzy Lake (*1947, USA), Karin Mack (*1940, Österreich), Ana Mendieta (1948-1985, Kuba/USA), Rita Myers (*1947, USA), ORLAN (*1947, Frankreich), Gina Pane (1939-1990, Frankreich), Ewa Partum (*1945, Polen), Ulrike Rosenbach (*1943, Deutschland), Martha Rosler (*1943, USA), Carolee Schneemann (*1939, USA), Cindy Sherman (*1954, USA), Penny Slinger (*1947, England), Annegret Soltau (*1946, Deutschland), Hannah Wilke (1940-1993, USA), Martha Wilson (*1947, USA), Francesca Woodman (1958-1981, USA), Nil Yalter (*1938, Ägypten/Frankreich).”

Press release from the Hamburger Kunsthalle website

 

Renate Bertlmann (*1943) 'Zärtliche Pantomime' 1976

 

Renate Bertlmann (*1943)
Zärtliche Pantomime [Tender Pantomime]
1976
S/W-Photographie (aus einer 6-teiligen Serie)
© Renate Bertlmann / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

 Renate Eisenegger (*1949)  'Hochhaus (Nr.1)' 1974

 

Renate Eisenegger (*1949)
Hochhaus (Nr.1)
1974
S/W-Photografie auf Holz kaschiert (aus einer 4-teiligen Serie)
© Renate Eisenegger / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Alexis Hunter (1948-2014) 'Approach to Fear Voyeurism' 1973

 

Alexis Hunter (1948-2014)
Approach to Fear Voyeurism
1973
Silver bromide photography, painted with colored ink (from a 12-part series)
© Alexis Hunter / Courtesy of Richard Saltoun, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND , Wien

 

Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003) 'Untitled (Self with pelts)' 1974/1977

 

Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003)
Ohne Titel (Selbst mit Fellchen) [Untitled (Self with pelts)]
1974/1977

 

Lynn Hershman-Leeson (*1941) 'Roberta Construction Chart #1' 1975

 

Lynn Hershman-Leeson (*1941)
Roberta Construction Chart #1
1975
C-Print
© Lynn Hershman Leeson / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) 'Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints)' 1972/1997

 

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985)
Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints)
1972/1997
C-Print (from a 6-part series)
© The Estate Ana Mendieta / Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Ulrike Rosenbach (*1943) 'Weiblicher Energieaustausch, Venus' 1975–1976

 

Ulrike Rosenbach (*1943)
Weiblicher Energieaustausch, Venus [Female Energy Exchange, Venus]
1975-1976
S/W-Photografie auf PE Papier (aus einer 3-teiligen Serie)
© Ulrike Rosenbach / Bildrecht, Wien, 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Cindy Sherman  (*1954) 'Untitled #443 (Bus Riders II)' 1976/2005

 

Cindy Sherman (*1954)
Untitled #443 (Bus Riders II)
1976/2005
© Cindy Sherman, New York
Courtesy: Metro Pictures, New York/ SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Cindy Sherman (*1954) 'Untitled (Bus Riders I)' 1976/2000

 

Cindy Sherman (*1954)
Untitled (Bus Riders I)
1976/2005 (from a 15-part series)
© Cindy Sherman, New York
Courtesy: Metro Pictures, New York/ SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Cindy Sherman (*1954) 'Untitled (Lucy)' 1975/2001

 

Cindy Sherman (*1954)
Untitled (Lucy)
1975/2001
Silbergelantineabzug
© Cindy Sherman, New York
Courtesy: Metro Pictures, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Penny Slinger (*1947) 'Wedding Invitation – 2 (Art is Just a Piece of Cake)' 1973

 

Penny Slinger (*1947)
Wedding Invitation – 2 (Art is Just a Piece of Cake)
1973
S/W-Photografie
© Penny Slinger / Courtesy of the Artist and Broadway 1602, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien

 

Annegret Soltau (*1946) 'Selbst' 1975

 

Annegret Soltau (*1946)
Selbst [Myself]
1975
B/W photograph on baryta paper (from a 14-part series)
© Annegret Soltau / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien
Photo: Heide Kratz

 

 

Hamburger Kunsthalle
Glockengießerwall 20095 Hamburg
Tel: +49 (0)40-428 131 204

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Sundays 10 am – 6 pm
Thursdays 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Hamburger Kunsthalle website

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

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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