Archive for the 'photorealism' Category

18
Feb
15

Exhibition: ”Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2014 – 12th April 2015

Curator: Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin

 

 

I have always been fascinated by early three-dimensional photography, inexpensive stereograph pictures. To me, they are an early form of VR. You bring a machine to your eyes, focus and wham, your in another world – just like wearing an enveloping VR headset. Here are the Pyramids, or the Venice canals, right in front of you. The pictures separate fore, mid and background so there is real depth to the tableaux, like sitting in an iMax cinema and watching old New York come to life. The photographs seem to reach out to you, not just the scene being brought to life, but the transcendence of time as well. This is how these things looked all those years ago in Technicolor 3D. Even now, there is nothing quite like looking through a stereoscope viewer.

In this exhibition we see that, not only did photographers copy famous paintings, but new innovation and mis en scene techniques in photography also inspired painters. “Stereographic techniques of arranging real figures in compositions that were at once carefully composed and naturally spontaneous were particularly pertinent to Pre-Raphaelite painters, who observed and used friends and acquaintances as models in inventive and expressive new poses.”

Both mediums had their advantages: the artistic possibilities of the precocious technology of photography allowed the mind of the viewer “to feel its way into the very depths of the picture” and produce “a surprise such as no painting ever produced.” The photographs added a charm and depth never dreamt of by the original artists, the painters. While “the light and colour [of the photographs] appear crude in comparison with the painting … the stereoscope records ‘every stick, straw, scratch’ in a manner that the painting cannot.” The painters colour harmonies are infinitely more nuanced than the hand-tinted photograph and the brushwork asserts the painter’s individual touch.

But, as curator Carol Jacobi’s erudite essay “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” (which is well worth the time to read) observes, one medium did not defer to the other but played off each other, working in different form in the service of realism. As Jacobi observes, “The problems and possibilities of realism… underpinned the dialogue between painters and stereographers.” For example, “Robinson’s The Death of Chatterton illustrates the way this uncanny quality [the ability to record reality in detail] distinguishes the stereograph from even the immaculate Pre-Raphaelite style of Wallis’s painting of the same subject.” Jacobi also notes that, “Unlike painting, stereographs exclude things outside the frame. When the eyes come close to the stereoscope lenses and manage to bring the image into focus they experience the sudden sensation of being in the picture… Stereography was a new art. Gaudin’s stereograph can be seen exploring its distinctive characteristics, the actuality of figures and its immersive three-dimensionality, to bring the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s composition to life in new ways.” You only have to look at Alfred Silvester’s The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf) (detail, below) to understand what Jacobi is proposing.

The actuality and presence of figures and contexts. This is why this form of photography retains its undoubted fascination.

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. My apologies for some of the small images in the posting, that was all I could get!

 

‘Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography is the first display in a major British art gallery devoted to early three-dimensional photography. These ingenious but inexpensive stereograph pictures were a nineteenth century craze, circulating world-wide in tens of thousands and more. Pioneers of the art form were quick to challenge fine art itself. Celebrated canvases of the age, such as Henry Wallis’s Chatterton and William Powell Frith’s Derby Day, were recreated in real depth.

This display brings twelve of Tate’s Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite works face to face with a rare collection of their three-dimensional doubles assembled by Brian May. Viewers can finally appreciate the interpretations that the photographers explored and the ways they brought the paintings to life. This display has been curated by Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin. The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era by Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin is published 20 October 2014 by the London Stereoscopic Company.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

 

“Holmes’s 1859 article confirms that, in its earliest moment, stereography was thought of in relation to realist painting. “The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced,” he declared, “the mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture.” He provides a sophisticated understanding of the artistic possibilities of the precocious technology, at the date at which the stereographs on display at Tate Britain were made, but it is the stereographs themselves which bear this out.”

 

“Many artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, understood that the world appears to us in three dimensions because our two eyes see from two slightly different angles (look at your hand with one eye covered, then the other eye covered, and you will see it move and alter slightly). Our mind combines these two views to perceive depth. Leonardo concluded that even the most realistic painting, being just one view, can only be experienced in two dimensions.

Nearly 350 years later, in London, the Victorian scientist Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) took up the challenge. In 1838, he showed that a pair of two-dimensional pictures represented from slightly different viewpoints, brought together in his ‘stereoscope’, could appear three-dimensional. William Fox Talbot announced his technique of print photography a few months later and soon photographs were being taken in pairs for this purpose. Within a decade special cameras and viewers were invented; stereoscopes and stereographs were soon available worldwide. In 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes’s essay The Stereoscope and the Stereograph celebrated the invention:

The two eyes see different pictures of the same thing, for the obvious reason that they look from points two or three inches apart. By means of these two different views of an object, the mind, as it were, feels round it and gets an idea of its solidity. We clasp an object with our eyes, as with our arms, or with our hands.

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Stereographs sold for a few shillings and people of all classes collected them for education and for pleasure. Small hand-held stereoscopes allowed them to gaze on faraway countries, mechanical inventions, comic incidents, beauty spots, zoological or botanical specimens or celebrity weddings, in the comfort of their homes. Three-dimensional images of famous sculptures were especially successful and Dr Brian May’s and Denis Pellerin’s new book, The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era (2014) has drawn attention to stereophotographers’ engagement with famous paintings of the age. Tate Britain’s display of some of the stereographs in Brian May’s collection creates a dialogue between these and celebrated Tate works, six of which are discussed here. It also introduces the photographers who, with rapidity and invention, took up this new medium.

The phrase ‘poor man’s picture gallery’, borrowed from print-making, appeared in The Times newspaper in 1858 in an article speculating on making stereographs of ‘our most remarkable pictures’. The writer did not think of these as mere imitations: “So solid and apparently real”, they would have “added a charm never dreamt of by their producers”, the original artists. Interestingly, the writer was discussing attempts to make stereographs from the paintings themselves because, he or she regretted, that such elaborate compositions could never be recreated in real life; “No exertion could gather together the characters with the requisite expression and all the adjuncts of suitable scenery… and retain them still until they were fixed by the camera’. This assertion was incorrect.”

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Henry Wallis (1830-1916) 'Chatterton' 1856

 

Henry Wallis (1830-1916)
Chatterton
1856
Oil paint on canvas
622 x 933 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Charles Gent Clement 1899

 

James Robinson. 'The Death of Chatterton' 1859

 

James Robinson
The Death of Chatterton
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

James Robinson. 'The Death of Chatterton' 1859 (detail)

 

James Robinson
The Death of Chatterton (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

One of the most famous paintings of Victorian times was Chatterton, 1856 (Tate) by the young Pre-Raphaelite-style artist, Henry Wallis (1830-1916). Again, the tale of the suicide of the poor poet, Thomas Chatterton, exposed as a fraud for faking medieval histories and poems to get by, had broad appeal. Chatterton was also an 18th-century figure, but Wallis set his picture in a bare attic overlooking the City of London which evoked the urban poverty of his own age. The picture toured the British Isles and hundreds of thousands flocked to pay a shilling to view it. One of these was James Robinson, who saw the painting when it was in Dublin. He immediately conceived a stereographic series of Chatterton’s life. Unfortunately Robinson started with Wallis’s scene (The Death of Chatterton, 1859). Within days of its publication, legal procedures began, claiming his picture threatened the income of the printmaker who had the lucrative copyright to publish engravings of the painting. The ensuing court battles were the first notorious copyright cases. Robinson lost, but strangely, in 1861, Birmingham photographer Michael Burr published variations of Death of Chatterton with no problems. No other photographer was ever prosecuted for staging a stereoscopic picture after a painting and the market continued to thrive…

Robinson’s The Death of Chatterton illustrates the way this uncanny quality [the ability to record reality in detail] distinguishes the stereograph from even the immaculate Pre-Raphaelite style of Wallis’s painting of the same subject. The stereograph represented a young man in 18th-century costume on a bed. The backdrop was painted, but the chest, discarded coat and candle were real. Again, the light and colour appear crude in comparison with the painting but the stereoscope records ‘every stick, straw, scratch’ in a manner that the painting cannot. The torn paper pieces, animated by their three-dimensionality, trace the poet’s recent agitation, while the candle smoke, representing his extinguished life, is different in each photograph due to their being taken at separate moments. The haphazard creases of the bed sheet are more suggestive of restless movement, now stilled, than Wallis’s elegant drapery. Even the individuality of the boy adds potency to his death.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' 1866

 

Michael Burr
Hearts are Trumps
1866
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' (detail) 1866

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' (detail) 1866

 

Michael Burr
Hearts are Trumps (details)
1866
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Stereographic techniques of arranging real figures in compositions that were at once carefully composed and naturally spontaneous were particularly pertinent to Pre-Raphaelite painters, who observed and used friends and acquaintances as models in inventive and expressive new poses. Michael Burr was skilled at intimate scenes; The Death of Chatterton was typical of his use of an unusually shallow, portrait-like space. In 1866, Burr’s Hearts are Trumps photographed three women in modern dress. They interact casually around a card table, and one regards us directly, but they are at the same time artfully positioned equally close the picture plane. This created a natural effect while keeping them the same length from the camera to avoid the distortions that a lens gives to near objects at different distances. Six years on, Sir John Everett Millais adapted the stereograph’s composition in his own Hearts are Trumps (1872, Tate). He might have incorporated its informal effect to challenge accusations that had recently appeared in the press that he could not represent modern beauties in contemporary fashion. The life-like size of Millais’s image fills the field of vision with the same impact that the encompassing scene presents in the stereoscope…

Millais’s Hearts are Trumps may have nodded to the alternative stereographic art form, but it did not defer to it. His colour harmonies are infinitely more nuanced than Burr’s hand-tinted photograph. The brushwork whips up extra vivacity and asserts the painter’s individual touch. Nonetheless, Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that stereography had its own artistic possibilities:

The very things which an artist would leave out, or render imperfectly, the photograph takes infinite care with; there will be incidental truths which interest us more than the central object of the picture… every stick, straw, scratch…look at the lady’s hands. You will very probably find the young countess is a maid-of-all-work.

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Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt '
Hearts are Trumps' 1872

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
Hearts are Trumps
1872
Oil on canvas
1657 x 2197 mm
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1945

 

In its style, which recalls the works of the eighteenth-century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, and in its flattering depiction of the fashionable sitters, this picture expresses a gentle and nostalgic vision of family life. Elizabeth, Diana and Mary, daughters of Walter Armstrong of Scotland and London, were in their twenties when Millais painted them. Mary holds most of the trumps and looks towards the viewer. Delicately, the card game hints at sisterly competition in husband-finding.

 

William Powell Frith. 'Dolly Varden' c. 1842-9

 

William Powell Frith
Dolly Varden
c. 1842-9
Oil on wood
273 x 216 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Mrs E.J. Thwaites 1955

 

The delightfully fluttery Dolly Varden is a character in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge, published in 1841. Its action is set in the London of the 1780s. Dickens describes Dolly, daughter of a worthy locksmith, as “the very pink and pattern of good looks, in a smart little cherry coloured mantle.” This work, apart from drawing on a well-known novel of the day, also owes much to a strong nineteenth-century tradition of ‘fancy portraits’ – where likenesses of pretty and anonymous young women would be graced by the names of characters from literature.

 

Frederic Jones. 'Dolly Varden' 1858

 

Frederic Jones
Dolly Varden
1858
Albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

The problems and possibilities of realism were fundamental to 19th-century science and literature as well as the arts. It underpinned the dialogue between painters and stereographers. Even painted subjects from history and literature represented by stereographers appear to have been chosen for their familiar, everyday aspects. This shared realism reflected and therefore appealed to 19th-century audiences and was essential to the medium’s success. In 1854 The London Stereoscopic Company was set up on Oxford Street to sell stereographs and stereoscopes. Its first catalogue (1856) advertised scenes as ‘Miscellaneous Subjects of the “Wilkie” character’, referring to the most famous genre painter of the day, Sir David Wilkie. Wilkie’s younger rival, William Powell Frith (1819-1909), and Welsh photographer Frederic Jones (1827 – date not known), a manager of the London Stereographic Company, recreated one of his most popular paintings, Dolly Varden. Frith’s composition was taken in turn from Charles Dickens’s (1812 – 1870) classic realist novel Barnaby Rudge (1841). It drew on the popularity of the author and book, and was intended to reach a similarly broad audience in the form of engraved prints. Although Dickens’s story was set in the 18th-century, the episode Frith chose, in which Dolly came across a man when she was alone in the woods and laughed bravely, appealed to modern preoccupations with women’s vulnerability and independence. Both Frith’s and Jones’s pictures placed the viewer in the position of the approaching man, but only Jones’s three-dimensional Dolly offered the spectator the opportunity to “clasp an object with our eyes, as with our arms, or with our hands,” as Holmes put it, as her predator does in the book. Fortunately, Dolly eventually eluded his attentions.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

William Collins. 'Happy as a King' (replica) c. 1836

 

William Collins
Happy as a King (replica)
c. 1836
Oil paint on canvas
711 x 914 mm
Tate. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

 

Michael Burr. 'Happy as a King' 1865

 

Michael Burr (1826-1912)
Happy as a King
1865
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Michael Burr. 'Happy as a King' (detail) 1865

 

Michael Burr (1826-1912)
Happy as a King (detail)
1865
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Astronomer and Queen‘s guitarist, Dr Brian May has lent a rare collection of Victorian stereographic photographs to Tate Britain. They are featured in ‘Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography until 12 April 2015. This is the first display in a major British art gallery devoted to the nineteenth-century craze of three-dimensional photography, known as stereographs, and open up this neglected area of British art.

In the 1850s and 1860s pioneer photographers staged real men, women and children in tableaux based on famous paintings of the day, in order to bring them to life as three-dimensional scenes. Henry Wallis’ Chatterton 1856, William Powell Frith’s Derby Day 1857 and John Everett Millais’ The Order of Release 1746 are among twelve of Tate’s famous Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite paintings to be shown with their 3D hand-coloured photographic equivalents.

Stereographs comprise two photographs of the same scene taken from fractionally different viewpoints. When these are mounted side by side and viewed through a stereoscope, the viewer sees just one three-dimensional image. Stereographs were inexpensive, and in the 1850s and 1860s they circulated world-wide in their tens of thousands. Many Victorians became familiar with well-known paintings through their stereoscopic counterparts which became known as a ‘Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’. The photographs were regarded by many as fairly disposable, making them hard to track down today.

The display introduces important figures in stereoscopic photography such as Alexis Gaudin and Michael Burr, and shows how some of their innovations also inspired painters. Burr’s stereograph Hearts are Trumps 1866 anticipated John Everett Millais’ voluptuous painting with the same title six years later, and James Elliott’s Derby Day, One Week after the Derby 1858, pre-empted Robert Martineau’s renowned oil painting of family ruin, The Last Day in the Old Home 1862.

Dr Brian May, said: “We’re thrilled that for the very first time Stereographs are now on view at Tate. In this unique display they can be viewed in their full 3-D splendour alongside the beautiful Victorian narrative paintings to which they relate. We’re grateful to Tate Britain, and hope to inspire a new love of stereoscopy in the 21st Century.”

Carol Jacobi, Curator, British Art, 1850-1915, Tate Britain said: “This display allows us to consider the works in Tate’s collection in a new light. We are delighted to be collaborating with Dr Brian May, who has built this collection over 40 years, and with Denis Pellerin, who has researched the connections.”

The photographs exhibited in this display at Tate Britain are kindly lent by Dr Brian May. This display has been curated by Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin. The book The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era by Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin is published by the London Stereoscopic Company on 20 October 2014.”

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Charles Robert Leslie. 'A Scene from Tristram Shandy ('Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman')' 1829-30

 

Charles Robert Leslie
A Scene from Tristram Shandy (‘Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman’)
1829-30, exhibited 1831
Oil paint on canvas
813 x 559 mm
Tate. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

 

Anonymous. 'Uncle Toby' Nd

 

Anonymous
Uncle Toby
Nd
Albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt. 'The Order of Release 1746' 1852-3

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
The Order of Release 1746
1852-3
Oil on canvas
1029 x 737 mm
Tate. Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1898

 

 

In 1855, the French photographer Alexis Gaudin (1816–1894) saw the Scottish scene from the Jacobite Rebellion, The Order of Release, 1746 by John Everett Millais(1829-1896), at the first Exposition Universelle in Paris. A woman carrying a sleeping child comforts her wounded husband, a defeated rebel, while handing an order for his release to a gaoler. Shortly afterwards, Gaudin made a stereograph, the rare surviving examples of which bear no title, which posed a young woman, child and two men in the same attitudes (Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release, c. 1855).

Millais’s subject may have appealed to the Frenchman because of its theme of revolution (the Jacobites had been supported by France) and he may have hoped to capitalise on the painting’s popular success. It is notable too, however, that the picture is an example of Pre-Raphaelite realism, not just in appearance, but in the emotions expressed in pose and expression. Millais’s figures were, moreover, renowned as portraits of real people. Pre-Raphaelite painting was a challenge to photography, which Gaudin took up.

Gaudin’s stereograph was not a copy of Millais’s composition; it was a response to it. His image combined a backdrop painted in the conventional way behind the figures with real furniture and a door jutting out in front. Such round and rectangular geometric objects became common in stereographs because they created clear three-dimensional shapes. Like Millais, Gaudin used real models. They express the sternness, despair and stoicism of the gaoler, soldier and wife. The child’s bare legs and feet and head dropping on the mother’s shoulder indicate that s/he is sleeping, innocent of the tense exchange. The dog is probably an example of taxidermy as a real one is unlikely to have stayed still while the photograph, which would have been exposed over several seconds, was taken. Since they were taken and developed, the pictures have been hand-coloured.

Differences between the painting and the stereograph adapted Millais’s image to the new medium and new ideas. The gaoler could be resting the hand holding the order against the rebel’s shoulder to avoid moving and blurring the image, or Gaudin may have liked the juxtaposition of the document of release with the window indicating the outside world. The little dog is less romanticised than Millais’s loyal, silky specimen. It would have been recognisable at the time as a typical British terrier breed, a working dog similar to Bullseye, familiar from Phiz’s illustrations to Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837). This proletarian touch is compounded by the dog’s apparent interest in the empty food bowl.

Gaudin’s image could conjure reality in ways not available to Millais. Unlike painting, stereographs exclude things outside the frame. When the eyes come close to the stereoscope lenses and manage to bring the image into focus they experience the sudden sensation of being in the picture. Even the tiny scale of the scenes imitates the scale at which distant objects are experienced in life (to get a sense of this, look at a person on the other side of the room and holding your hand near your eye line up your forefinger with their head and your thumb with their feet). This characteristic provided Gaudin with a different way to explore Millais’s theme of imprisonment. The painter created an enclosed feeling for the viewer with a claustrophobic shadowy shallow space. The stereographer used a deeper room so that when seen through the viewer the figure, and the viewer, are enclosed within its walls.

Stereography was a new art. Gaudin’s stereograph can be seen exploring its distinctive characteristics, the actuality of figures and its immersive three-dimensionality, to bring the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s composition to life in new ways. This complexity was admired at the time: “It is a mistake to suppose one knows a stereoscopic picture when he has studied it a hundred times,” Holmes advised. Tate Britain’s display provides the opportunity to view originals with and without the stereoscopic viewer, and examine and appreciate their distinctive approach.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Alexis Gaudin. 'Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release' c. 1855

 

Alexis Gaudin
Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release
c. 1855
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alexis Gaudin. 'Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release' (detail) c. 1855

 

Alexis Gaudin
Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release (detail)
c. 1855
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Philip Hermogenes Calderon. 'Broken Vows' 1856

 

Philip Hermogenes Calderon
Broken Vows
1856
Oil paint on canvas
914 x 679 mm
Tate, purchased 1947

 

James Elliott. 'Broken Vows' Nd

 

James Elliott
Broken Vows
Nd
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

James Elliott. 'Broken Vows' (detail) Nd

 

James Elliott
Broken Vows (detail)
Nd
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

William Powell Frith. 'The Derby Day' 1856-8

 

William Powell Frith
The Derby Day
1856-8
Oil paint on canvas
1016 x 2235 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859

 

 

When The Derby Day was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, it proved so popular that a rail had to be put up to keep back the crowds. It presents a panorama of modern Victorian life, a previously unknown genre which Frith largely created in his earlier work, Life at the Seaside, Ramsgate Sands of 1854 (Royal Collection). Frith was a firm believer in the spurious sciences of phrenology and social type, which considered people’s characters and social origins were visible in their physical features. Each character in Frith’s picture is depicted to conform to these stereotypes, notably in the range of criminal and low-life types present (see Cowling 1989, Ch.2).

On the basis of an initial sketch, which he made after a visit to Epsom in 1856, Frith was commissioned by Jacob Bell, a chemist and amateur artist, to paint a large 5-6 foot canvas for £1,500. He worked on the project for fifteen months, producing two large sketches in addition to the finished work. He brought the composition together with the aid of drawings and sketches, hiring models to pose for all the main figures. He also commissioned the photographer Robert Howlett to “photograph for him from the roof of a cab as many queer groups of figures as he could” (Journal of the Photographic Society, 15 January 1863). He asked a real jockey called Bundy to pose on a hobbyhorse in his studio for the riders on the right of the picture, and also hired an acrobat and his son, whom he saw performing in a pantomime in Drury Lane. For the remaining figures he called on family and friends, as well as a string of young women sent by Jacob Bell.

Despite a remarkable feat of organisation, the picture remains fairly static, and the figures are more interesting when examined individually. There are three main incidents taking place in the picture. On the far left, next to the Reform Club’s private tent, a group of men in top hats focus on the thimble-rigger with his table, inviting the audience to participate in the game. The man taking a note from his pocket is the trickster’s accomplice. He is tempting the rustic-looking man in a smock, whose wife is trying to restrain him. On the right of this group, another man, with his hands in his pockets, has had his gold watch stolen by the man behind. In the centre of the picture we see the acrobat and his son, who looks longingly over at a sumptuous picnic being laid out by a footman. Behind them are carriages filled with race-goers, including a courtesan on the far right, who is the kept mistress of the foppish-looking character leaning against the carriage. The courtesan is balanced on the far left of the picture by the woman in a dark riding habit, one of a number of high-class prostitutes who daily paraded on horseback in Hyde Park.

Text from the Tate website

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)' 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)' (detail) 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class) (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)' 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)' (detail) 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf) (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

The relationship between photography and painting went two ways. In the mid 1850s, Frith began to use photographs to help him paint elaborate and up-to-date scenes on a very large scale. Lively descriptions of racegoers at Epsom often appeared in popular magazines such as Punch (1949) and Dickens’s Household Words (Epsom, 1852) and between 1856 and 1858 he created a panorama of the crowds, Derby Day (Tate). It caused a sensation. Its quality of reflecting its modern audience is clear from a contemporary comment from the Birmingham Daily Post:

Frith’s picture will conjure around it as great a crowd of gazers as any to be found even on the most crowded part of the racecourse.

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Stereography had the potential to take the viewer inside the crowd’s jostling and excitement. “The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable,” as Holmes observed. To this end, the London photographer Alfred Silvester (1831-1886) published two series based on the Epsom Races, National Sports, The Race-course of which there are several variations echoing the different scenes within Frith’s painting, and The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (1859) a series of five. They were the portrait shape required by the stereoscope rather than panoramas like Frith’s painting, but Silvester squeezed in dozens of people. The Turf (below) contained an astonishing 60 gesticulating figures in front of a painted backdrop of more distant crowds. Carriage wheels and cylindrical top hats occupy the foregrounds to enhance the three-dimensional effect.

Silvester expanded Frith’s narrative in time as well as content (moving pictures were still 40 years away). The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day began with the exodus from London to Epsom Downs and ended with the settlement of bets. This narrative momentum was complemented by motion within the pictures. In The Road, aristocrats ride in their fine carriages while in The Rail (Second Class) (above) and The Rail (Third Class) the less well-to-do travel on the new railway from London Bridge to Sutton, opened in 1847. The Turf shows three horses (sculpted from papier mâché and rather reminiscent of those in the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum) plunging headlong through the crowd. Further movement is contributed by the people. In each, Silvester orchestrated incessant activity in poses which betray no hint that they were held for several seconds. The Turf is the most spectacular, where all 60 people cheer and gesticulate. In The Rail (Second Class) a man kneels solicitously offering refreshment to a woman who appears to have fainted. Her child and others look on while an older gentleman (whose covered nose suggests he may be suffering from syphilis) shows his disapproval. The action continues into depth; in the background two men fight with bottles and a white top-hatted figure looms troublingly over a young girl.

Such photographs informed and challenged the naturalism of Frith’s painting and influenced others of the period. William Maw Egley’s (1826-1916) Omnibus Life in London (1859, below) depicted the discomforts, intrusions and intrigues of mass transport from a viewpoint within – or just outside – the carriage (an omnibus in this case, introduced 1826) which envelops the observer in a similar manner to Silvester’s The Rail (Second Class).

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

William Maw Egley. 'Omnibus Life in London' 1859

 

William Maw Egley
Omnibus Life in London
1859
Oil on canvas
448 x 419 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Miss J. L. R. Blaker 1947

 

 

The painting of modern-life subjects was popularised during the 1850s by such artists as William Frith (1819-1909). Artists deliberately chose subjects such as racetracks, seaside resorts and busy streets where all classes of society could be represented in the one picture. Following this trend, Egley exhibited Omnibus Life in London at the British Institution in 1859. He may have been inspired by the French artist Honoré Daumier’s pictures of the cramped interior of railway carriages, but comparisons can also be drawn with such works as Charles Rossiter’s To Brighton and Back for 3s 6d (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery), painted in the same year as Egley’s picture.

The omnibus – a horse-drawn carriage that picked up and deposited people along an established route – was introduced into London on 4 July 1829 and quickly became a popular mode of transport. One observer commented that, “Among the middle classes of London the omnibus stands immediately after air, tea, and flannel, in the list of the necessaries of life… the Londoner cannot get on without it.” (M.E. Purgini in Victorian Days and Ways, London 1936). To achieve as authentic an effect as possible, Egley painted the interior of the omnibus in a coachbuilder’s yard in Paddington. The view out of the back of the bus is of Westbourne Grove, painted from the chemist’s shop at the corner of Hereford Road where Egley lived. He posed the sitters in a makeshift ‘carriage’ constructed from boxes and planks in his back garden.

Egley painted the scene as if glimpsed through a window and attempted to convey the claustrophobic and cramped conditions that the passengers were forced to endure. The subject permitted him to portray every class of society, from an old country woman, perhaps a family servant, with her piles of baggage, to the city clerk with his cane. The old woman stares sympathetically towards the young mother and her children, who avert their gazes, in a gesture of gentility. The mother was modelled on Egley’s wife and the ringletted daughter was posed for by a twelve-year old girl, Susannah (Blanche) Rix.

Egley worked on the picture for 44 days and sold it to a man called William Jennings for £52 10s. It was described by the Illustrated London News as follows: “a droll interior, the stern and trying incidents of which will be recognized by thousands of weary wayfarers through the streets of London.”

Text from the Tate website

 

James Elliott. 'The Last Look' 1858

 

James Elliott
The Last Look
1858
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Similarly, a series by James Elliott (1833-?) charting the aftermath of the Derby appears to have pre-empted The Last Day in the Old Home 1862 (Tate, below) by Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826-1869). Elliott’s One Week after the Derby extended Frith’s Derby Day into the future to show an auctioneer assessing the belongings of a family ruined by the races. The Last Look (above) shows them leaving their house. Lot numbers have been attached to the furniture and in the background a servant, who has also lost her home, weeps. A horse print on the floor hints at the husband’s extravagant habits and only the grandmother, wife and daughter look back with regret. The last picture, Sold Up, shows the auction. The doll’s house which the little girl must to leave behind, a miniature replica of her home and her aspirations for the future is placed poignantly in the foreground. These narratives and motifs had been widely used in literature and cartoons since the time of William Hogarth, but Martineau’s image of a middle-class family forced to sell their home is close to Elliott’s The Last Look. Martineau adopted a photographic composition, figures enclosed within a room cluttered with clues to both narrative and depth. A stereograph-style view into another space shows men assessing possessions. Lot numbers are attached to the furniture. Another horse image suggests gambling. Once more, the women show regret while the husband appears unconcerned, cheerily leading his son down the same path.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Robert Braithwaite Martineau. 'The Last Day in the Old Home' 1862

 

Robert Braithwaite Martineau
The Last Day in the Old Home
1862
Oil on canvas
1073 x 1448 mm
Tate. Presented by E.H. Martineau 1896

 

 

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7887 8888

Opening hours:
10.00 am – 18.00 pm daily

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03
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 8th June 2014

 

I loved Sugimoto’s time lapse movie screens, where the exact length of a movie was captured by the open lens of the camera, the substance of time and space evidenced by a seemingly empty screen. There was something wonderfully poetic and transformational about that gesture, about the notion of compressing the narrative, reality and action of a movie into a single frame of light: “the ‘annihilation of time and space’ as a particular moment in a dynamic cycle of rupture and recuperation enables a deliberate focus on the process of transition.”1 The process of transition in the flow of space and time.

Sugimoto’s art since that ground breaking body of work has been a bit of a let down. Where the movie theatres photographs were transubstantiationalist, the three series presented here – Dioramas (1975-1994), Portraits (1999) and his newest series, Photogenic Drawings (2008-present) play, if that is the right word, with the re/animation of death. The stuffed animals, the wax figures, the redrawing of William Henry Fox Talbot photogenic drawings, the redrawing of a light already been, just seem DEAD to me – a kind of double death or even triple death – the death of the animal/the death of the photograph, the unreality (the undead) of the wax figures and their death in the photograph, the death of the plant, their capture not once but twice by the death of the photograph. We know exactly what Sugimoto is doing, but the images are stilted and lifeless and I am not convinced by them.

The diorama images are just OK – almost good undergraduate work but nothing more. My problem with the waxworks images and the pencil of nature is “other images”. We all know Cindy Sherman and her images of historical figures, and we know the work of William Henry Fox Talbot. Somehow these earlier images crowd Sugimoto’s work in a way that doesn’t often happen. Winogrand never crowded Friedlander or vice versa – and you can think of many other examples where comparing is actually beneficial… but not here.

I’m not saying Sugimoto is derivative but because of these other works, they don’t have much room to move. Indeed, they hardly move at all. They are so frozen in attitude that all the daring transcendence of light, the light! of space time travel, the transition from one state to another, has been lost. The Flame of Recognition (Edward Weston) – has gone.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

1. McQuire, Scott. The Media City. London: Sage Publications, 2008, p. 14.

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

 

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (*1948) 'Sam Eric, Pennsylvania' 1978

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (*1948)
Sam Eric, Pennsylvania
1978
Gelatin silver print
42.5 x 54.5 cm
Private collection, Frankfurt
© Hiroshi Sugimoto / Courtesy The Pace Gallery

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Polar Bear' 1976

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Polar Bear
1976
Gelatin silver print
42.1 x 54.6 cm (16 9/16 x 21 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Wapiti' 1980

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Wapiti
1980
Gelatin silver print
34.9 x 58.7 cm (13 3/4 x 23 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Sable Antelope' 1994

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Sable Antelope
1994
Gelatin silver print
42.4 x 54.1 cm (16 11/16 x 21 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Manatee' 1994

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Manatee
1994
Gelatin silver print
42.2 x 54.1 cm (16 5/8 x 21 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Birds of Japan' 1994

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Birds of Japan
1994
Gelatin silver print
38.7 x 58.4 cm (15 1/4 x 23 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Cheetah' 1980

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Cheetah
1980
Gelatin silver print
36.5 x 58.7 cm (14 3/8 x 23 1/8 in.)
Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'White Rhinoceros' 1980

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
White Rhinoceros
1980
Gelatin Silver Print
34.1 x 58.6 cm (13 7/16 x 23 1/16 in.)
Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

 

“Since the mid-1970s, Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) has used photography to investigate how history pervades the present. Featuring photographs of habitat dioramas, wax portraits, and early photographic negatives, Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense, on view February 4 – June 8, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, brings together three separate bodies of work that present objects of historical and cultural significance in the collections of various museums. By photographing subjects that reimagine or replicate moments from the distant past and diverse geographical locations, Sugimoto critiques the medium’s presumed capacity to portray history with accuracy.

“This exhibition presents work that inventively reframes objects from the collections of a variety of museums, including from our extensive holdings of prints from the early days of photography,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Mr. Sugimoto has generously donated eighteen prints from his recent Photogenic Drawings series, which reprise a selection of important experiments by William Henry Fox Talbot that are in the Getty Museum’s collection.”

Sugimoto’s meticulously crafted prints are the result of a rigorous working method that includes extensive preparatory research, the use of a large-format view camera, and long exposures. Each of his projects is rooted in a sustained exploration of a singular motif and often carried out over many years. The exhibition will present a selection of prints from three bodies of work, Dioramas (1975-1994), Portraits (1999) and, his newest series, Photogenic Drawings (2008-present).

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Dioramas 

The diorama was first introduced in Paris in 1822 by the stage designer Jacques Louis Mandé Daguerre (French, 1787-1851), who later developed the daguerreotype photographic process. Situated in a darkened room, the first diorama consisted of a large painted scene on a semi-transparent curtain that was illuminated by the opening and closing of skylights and the constant shifting or dimming of lamps to create the impression of movement. In the early 20th century, habitat dioramas in natural history museums became popular, staging creatures in their faithfully replicated “natural” environments.

Sugimoto first encountered elaborate animal dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History after moving to New York in 1974, and began to focus his camera on individual scenes shortly thereafter. Omitting the educational text surrounding each display, the works heighten the illusion that animals such as manatees, wapiti, and sea lions were photographed in their natural habitats. While each photograph appears to be a candid moment captured by an experienced nature photographer, the subjects are – in actuality – depicted in poses they hold indefinitely.

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Wax Portraits 

While waxworks have a long history, contemporary wax museums can be traced to the French sculptor Marie Grosholz (French, 1761-1850), who achieved success in the Parisian entertainment market by creating waxworks of popular politicians and cultural figures. After moving to London in 1802, she established a commercial enterprise under the name Madame Tussaud, specializing in the production and display of full-length wax figures modeled after commissioned portraits.

Posed against pitch-black backdrops and framed by the camera in a manner suggesting old master portrait-painting traditions, each of Sugimoto’s subjects was captured with a nine-minute exposure that illuminates the finely modeled expressions and the sumptuous costumes. These life-size photographs record likenesses that have been distilled through multiple reproductions of the original sitter. The source material for the wax figures of Henry VIII and his wives is based on 16th-century panel paintings, while the portrait of Queen Victoria’s likeness is taken from a photograph of her from the 1890s, around the time of her Diamond Jubilee celebration.

“Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographic practice is deeply rooted in a tradition of image making that was developed and perfected during the 19th century,” explains Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “By employing century-old techniques and turning his lens to subjects and compositions that recreate or simulate moments from the past, Sugimoto intimately connects himself to the historical moments depicted.”

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Photogenic Drawings 

In the early 1830s, William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-1877) began trying to create pictures without the aid of a pencil. After coating small pieces of writing paper with a salt solution and silver nitrate, he successfully captured the outlines of leaves and lace placed on the paper and exposed to sunlight. He continued his experiments with a camera obscura, placing a sheet of paper in this precursor to the camera to produce the first negatives, with highlights and shadows reversed. Talbot called the results of these experiments photogenic drawings.

In 2007, Hiroshi Sugimoto visited the J. Paul Getty Museum to study the earliest photographs in the collection. After photographing some of Talbot’s photogenic drawing negatives, he produced large-scale prints and colored them with toning agents during the processing to replicate the often-bright hues of the original sheets. The scale of the enlarged prints reveals the fibers of the original writing paper, which create subtle and delicate patterns embedded in the images.

The artist’s gift of eighteen gelatin silver prints from his Photogenic Drawings series significantly enhances the Museum’s holdings of work by Sugimoto. His photographic practice, rooted in a serial approach and primarily concerned with the medium’s relationship to the passage of time, has long been an important source of influence for a younger generation of artists. The prints greatly enhance the Getty Museum’s growing collection of contemporary photographs.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense is on view February 4 – June 8, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition will run concurrently in the Center for Photographs with A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography, an exhibition featuring rare private and public photographs from the Victoria era.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Henry VIII' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Henry VIII
1999
Gelatin silver print
148.9 x 119.1 cm (58 5/8 x 46 7/8 in.)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Queen Victoria' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Queen Victoria
1999
Gelatin silver print
148.9 x 119.1 cm (58 5/8 x 46 7/8 in.)
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Anne Boleyn' 1999

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Anne Boleyn
1999
Gelatin silver print
148.9 x 119.1 cm (58 5/8 x 46 7/8 in.)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Asplenium Halleri, Grande Chartreuse 1821 - Cardamine Pratensis, April 1839' 2008

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Asplenium Halleri, Grande Chartreuse 1821 – Cardamine Pratensis, April 1839
2008
Toned gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles,
Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Roofline of Lacock Abbey, circa 1835-1839' 2008

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Roofline of Lacock Abbey, circa 1835-1839
2008
Gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Bust of Venus, November 26, 1840' 2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Bust of Venus, November 26, 1840
2009
Gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'A Stem of Delicate Leaves of an Umbrellifer, circa 1843-1846' 2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
A Stem of Delicate Leaves of an Umbrellifer, circa 1843-1846
2009
Gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Arrangement of Botanical Specimens, 1839' 2008

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Arrangement of Botanical Specimens, 1839
2008
Toned gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Nicolaas Henneman, circa 1841' 2008

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Nicolaas Henneman, circa 1841
2008
Toned gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948) 'Bust of Patroclus, September 8, 1841' 2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, born 1948)
Bust of Patroclus, September 8, 1841
2009
Toned gelatin silver print
93.7 x 74.9 cm (36 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the Artist
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

 

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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28
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop’ at The National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 17th February – 5th May 2013

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Further images from this impressive exhibition devoted to the art of photographic manipulation before the advent of digital imagery from its second stop, at The National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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

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Unknown, American (American). 'He Lost His Head' Nd

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Unknown American (American)
He Lost His Head
Nd

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Edward Steichen. 
'The Pond - Moonrise' 1904

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Edward Steichen

The Pond – Moonrise
1904
Platinum print with applied color
image
39.7 x 48.2 cm (15 5/8 x 19 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Permission Estate of Edward Steichen. All rights reserved

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Using a painstaking technique of multiple printing, Steichen achieved prints of such painterly seductiveness they have never been equaled. This view of a pond in the woods at Mamaroneck, New York is subtly colored as Whistler’s Nocturnes, and like them, is a tone poem of twilight, indistinction, and suggestiveness. Commenting on such pictures in 1910, Charles Caffin wrote in Camera Work: “It is in the penumbra, between the clear visibility of things and their total extinction into darkness, when the concreteness of appearances becomes merged in half-realised, half-baffled vision, that spirit seems to disengage itself from matter to envelop it with a mystery of soul-suggestion.”  (Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

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Henry Peach Robinson (British, 1830-1901) 'She Never Told Her Love' 1857

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Henry Peach Robinson (British, 1830-1901)
She Never Told Her Love
1857
Albumen silver print from glass negative
18 x 23.2cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/8in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2005

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Consumed by the passion of unrequited love, a young woman lies suspended in the dark space of her unrealized dreams in Henry Peach Robinson’s illustration of the Shakespearean verse “She never told her love,/ But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,/ Feed on her damask cheek” (Twelfth Night II,iv,111-13). Although this picture was exhibited by Robinson as a discrete work, it also served as a study for the central figure in his most famous photograph, Fading Away, of 1858.

Purportedly showing a young consumptive surrounded by family in her final moments, Fading Away was hotly debated for years. On the one hand, Robinson was criticized for the presumed indelicacy of having invaded the death chamber at the most private of moments. On the other, those who recognized the scene as having been staged and who understood that Robinson had created the picture through combination printing (a technique that utilized several negatives to create a single printed image) accused him of dishonestly using a medium whose chief virtue was its truthfulness. (Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

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Frederick Sommer. 'Max Ernst' 1946

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Frederick Sommer
Max Ernst
1946
Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 23.97 cm (7 9/16 x 9 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation

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Wm. Notman & Son, Montreal, Eugène L'Africain, William Notman. 'Red Cap Snow Shoe Club, Halifax, Nova Scotia' c. 1888

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Wm. Notman & Son, Montreal, Eugène L’Africain, William Notman
Red Cap Snow Shoe Club, Halifax, Nova Scotia
c. 1888
Collage of albumen prints with applied media
71.1 x 83.8 cm (28 x 33 in.)
McCord Museum, Montreal

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Notman established his first photography studio in Montreal in 1856 and relentlessly expanded his operations over the next two decades. At its peak, his company had twenty-four branches throughout Canada and New England, making it the most successful photographic enterprise in North America at the time. Notman specialized in composite portraits of large groups, including sporting clubs, trade associations, family gatherings, clergymen, and college graduates, some featuring more than four hundred figures. Each figure in a group was photographed separately in the studio then printed at the proper scale and pasted onto a painted background, as in this portrait of a Nova Scotia snowshoe club. The entire collage was then re-photographed. The final, relatively seamless tableau could then be printed and sold in a variety of sizes and formats. (Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

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The National Gallery of Art presents the first major exhibition devoted to the art of photographic manipulation before the advent of digital imagery. Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop will be on view in the West Building’s Ground Floor galleries from February 17 through May 5, 2013, following its debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (from October 11, 2012, through January 27, 2013). In June it travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

“Following in its tradition of exhibiting and collecting the finest examples of photography, the Gallery is pleased to present some 200 photographs from the 1840s through the 1980s demonstrating the medium’s complicated relationship to truth in representation,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are grateful to the many lenders, both public and private, who have generously shared works from their collections – especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest lender and the organizer of this fascinating exhibition.”

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The Exhibition

This is the first major exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age. While the widespread use of Adobe® Photoshop® software has brought about an increased awareness of the degree to which photographs can be doctored, photographers – including such major artists as Gustave Le Gray, Edward Steichen, Weegee, and Richard Avedon – have been fabricating, modifying, and otherwise manipulating camera images since the medium was first invented. This exhibition demonstrates that today’s digitally manipulated images are part of a continuum that extends back to photography’s first decades. Through visually captivating pictures created in the service of art, politics, news, entertainment, and commerce, Faking It not only traces the medium’s complex and changing relationship to visual truth, but also significantly revises our understanding of photographic history.

Organized thematically, the exhibition begins with some of the earliest instances of photographic manipulation – those attempting to compensate for the new medium’s technical limitations. In the 19th century, many photographers hand tinted portraits to make them appear more vivid and lifelike. Others composed large group portraits by photographing individuals separately in the studio and creating a collage by pasting them onto painted backgrounds depicting outdoor scenes. As the art and craft of photography grew increasingly sophisticated, photographers devised a staggering array of techniques with which to manipulate their images, including combination printing, photomontage, overpainting, ink and airbrush retouching, sandwiched negatives, multiple exposures, and other darkroom magic.

The exhibition presents a superb selection of manually altered photographs created under the mantle of art, including 19th-century genre scenes composed of multiple negatives, stunning pictorialist landscapes from the turn of the 19th century, and the predigital dreamscapes of surrealist photographers in the 1920s and 1930s. A section of doctored images made for political or ideological ends includes faked composite photographs of the 1871 Paris Commune massacres, anti-Nazi photomontages by John Heartfield, and falsified images from Stalin-era Soviet Russia. The show also explores popular uses of photographic manipulation such as spirit photography, tall-tale and fantasy postcards, advertising and fashion spreads, and doctored news images.

The final section features the work of contemporary artists – including Duane Michals, Jerry Uelsmann, and Yves Klein – who have reclaimed earlier techniques of image manipulation to creatively question photography’s presumed objectivity. By tracing the history of photographic manipulation from the 1840s to the present, Faking It vividly demonstrates that photography is – and always has been – a medium of fabricated truths and artful lies.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Arthur Felig - Weegee (American, born Hungary, 1899-1968) 'Times Square, New York' 1952-59

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Arthur Felig – Weegee (American, born Hungary, 1899-1968)
Times Square, New York
1952-59
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 17.8 cm (8 x 7 in.)
© International Center of Photography, Bequest of Wilma Wilcox, 1993

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Famous for his gritty tabloid crime photographs, Weegee devoted the last twenty years of his life to what he called his “creative work.” He experimented prolifically with distorting lenses and comparable darkroom techniques, producing photo caricatures of politicians and Hollywood celebrities, novel variations on the man-in-the-bottle motif, and uncanny doublings and reflections, such as this striking image, which he described as “Times Square under 10 feet of water on a sunny afternoon.”

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Kathy Grove (American, born 1948) 'The Other Series (After Kertész)' 1989-90

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Kathy Grove (American, born 1948)
The Other Series (After Kertész)
1989-90
Gelatin silver print
19.7 x 15.2 cm (7 3/4 x 6 in.)
Purchase, Charina Foundation Inc. Gift, 2010
© Kathy Grove

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In the late 1980s Grove, an artist who supports herself as a professional photo retoucher, began seamlessly altering images of famous works of art, using bleach, dyes, and airbrush to remove the female figure from each image and leaving the rest of the scene intact. Her cunning excisions mimic the process by which art historians, echoing the culture at large, have erased the achievements of actual women while enshrining Woman as a blank screen upon which the ideas and desires of both artist and viewer are projected. If photographs are presumed to represent the truth, Grove’s pictures remind us to ask: Whose truth?

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Unknown, American '[Decapitated Man with Head on a Platter]' c.1865

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Unknown American
[Decapitated Man with Head on a Platter]
c.1865
Tintype with applied color
8.4 x 6 cm (3 5/16 x 2 3/8 in.)
© International Center of Photography, Gift of Steven Kasher and Susan Spungen Kasher, 2008

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Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829–1916) 'Cape Horn, Columbia River, Oregon' 1867

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Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Cape Horn, Columbia River, Oregon
1867, printed 1880-1890
Albumen silver print from glass negatives
52.3 x 40.4 cm (20 9/16 x 15 7/8 in.)
© George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester

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Watkins, the consummate photographer of the American West, combined a virtuoso mastery of the difficult wet plate negative process with a rigorous sense of pictorial structure. For large-format landscape work such as Watkins produced along the Columbia River in Oregon, the physical demands were great. Since there was as yet no practical means of enlarging, Watkins’s glass negatives had to be as large as he wished the prints to be, and his camera large enough to accommodate them. Furthermore, the glass negatives had to be coated, exposed, and developed while the collodion remained tacky, requiring the photographer to transport a traveling darkroom as he explored the rugged virgin terrain of the American West. The crystalline clarity of Watkins’s remarkable “mammoth” prints is unmatched in the work of any of his contemporaries and is approached by few artists working today. (Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website). Here the clouds have been printed in (compare to the work on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

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Dora Maar (French, Paris 1907–1997 Paris) 'Le simulateur' 1936

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Dora Maar (French, Paris 1907-1997 Paris)
Le simulateur
1936
Gelatin silver print
29.2 x 22.9 cm (11 1/2 x 9 in.)
Collection of The Sack Photographic Trust for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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Maar’s haunting photomontages of the mid-1930s evoke a mood of oneiric ambiguity. Here, the world is turned literally upside-down: a boy bends sharply backward, echoing the curve of the vaulted ceiling on which he stands. On the print, Maar scratched out the figure’s eyes, exploiting Surrealism’s strong association of blindness with inner sight.

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Albert Sands Southworth, Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'Seated man with Brattle Street Church seen through window' 1850s

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Albert Sands Southworth, Josiah Johnson Hawes
Seated man with Brattle Street Church seen through window
1850s
Daguerreotype
21.6 x 16.5 cm (8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.)
The Isenburg Collection at AMC Toronto

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J.C. Higgins and Son. 'Man in bottle' c. 1888

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J.C. Higgins and Son
Man in bottle
c. 1888
Albumen print
13.5 x 10 cm (5 5/16 x 3 15/16 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Susan and Thomas Dunn Gift, 2011

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Jerry N. Uelsmann. 'Untitled' 1976

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Jerry N. Uelsmann
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
49.3 x 36 cm (19 7/16 x 14 3/16 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1981
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ © Jerry N. Uelsmann

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Unknown Photographer, German. 'Ein kräftiger Zusammenstoss (A Powerfull Collision)' 1914

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Unknown Photographer German
Ein kräftiger Zusammenstoss (A Powerfull Collision)
1914
Gelatin silver print
8.7 x 13.7 cm (3 7/16 x 5 3/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

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National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website

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05
Mar
13

Review: ‘Jeff Wall Photographs’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGVA, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th November 2012 – 17th March 2013

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“My work is a reconstruction and reconstruction is a philosophical activity. If I can create a drama that has philosophical meaning, that’s fine, or sometimes, it is not from meaning but a reconstruction of a feeling. It is best to capture in a photograph a feeling, an emotion, a look, a memory, a perception or a relationship.”

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Jeff Wall

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Stressed at the seams

The excruciating “conversation” between Jeff Wall and Thomas Demand in The Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria on November 28th 2012 seemed to run on interminably, yielding a couple of tiny gems but also a lot of leaden debate. I had higher hopes of the solo exhibition by Jeff Wall at NGV Australia. In some ways I was not disappointed, in other ways Wall’s calculating fields of existence certainly didn’t move my soul with any great conviction.

Initially, I was impressed perhaps even a little overwhelmed by the spacious hang, the placement of the mainly large, light box illuminated photographs and non light box photographs dotted amongst the galleries emphasising the inter-relationship between the images. The work in the exhibition includes large set-piece constructions, outdoor photographs of found environments, small, intimate conceptual works full of angles and colour and more recent ink jet print work. These “installations that happen to have photos in them” (Wall’s description) reflect the gigantism prevalent in much contemporary photography. In these large mise-en-scène you cannot fail to be impressed by the control the artist displays in the formal nature of their construction, the still-life tableaux representing the artist’s intention in a rather cold and remote way. As can be seen from the structural analysis of Polishing (1988) by Dr James McArdle and J.S.B. below, Wall is very clever in how he structures his shape-shifting photographs, how he seduces the eye into believing that everything is plausible within the formalist pictorial plane. But as McArdle observes,

“[His] formalism remains empty of connection to the subject, Wall denying any narrative representation… His distancing of the subject, his leaning on typecast (such as in the chicken plucking image) can be summed up in his method: staging, directing, controlling that sucks the real life out of the imagery and re-inflates it with bombast.”1

From his early, prissy double self-portrait to his laughing at, not with, the menial labourers in Dressing poultry (2007, below), the set-piece work does seem full of bombast (possessing a pompous and grandiloquent language; an obsolete material used for padding), but perhaps bombast is related to that standard postmodern language, irony. It certainly is a language where Wall denies any inherent narrative, where there is a “dis-identification of the figures in the pictures which becomes part of the aesthetic of the picture.”2 Wall says he is just depicting the figures, that they just become an effect of depiction (or representation, in other words). In this way Wall conditions our awareness of [this particular] space due only in part to their scale (McArdle). This grandiloquence, coupled with the luminance of the light box which creates the luminescence of the image, dazzles the eye but on closer inspection is a perhaps a psychological hall of mirrors. The shattering of this constructed illusion can be seen in the “seaminess” of the photographs. The media image of A view from an apartment (2004-05, below) gives it away: all trace of the join that is present in most of Wall’s large transparencies has been removed, when compared to my detail photograph of the image in the actual exhibition. The join gives lie, line, to the truth that here are photographs that we can believe in. The illusion becomes stressed at the seams but again, perhaps this join is just a trope that Wall has developed to compliment his visual language. Certainly, there is no reason why such large transparencies could not be printed in one piece and at a million dollars a pop he could surely talk to the manufacturer.

Scholars have noted that the phrase ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ has become a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, or hollow ostentatiousness and this is the case here. These photographs are like the Emperor’s new clothes, so caught up are we in the brilliance of their display we fail to notice that there is not much going on in terms of the actual “life” of the image (other than subsuming the life of up to 70 digital images to make one still, cold image). Wall’s photographs as performance, his theatre of disruption where the artist seeks to upset the veneer of the ordinary to blur the boundaries between what is probable or improbable, are undone by their existential isolation. I felt little empathy for any of the people in Wall’s tableaux vivants or for their imagined, non-narrative realities as Wall would have it. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to or, to be kinder, perhaps this is the strategy.

There was one exception: Untangling (1994, below) which is a cracker of an image. All the psychological and existential meaning comes pouring out here: an underground cave (Jung’s cave archetype, symbol of the unconscious), the male sitters profound mood of introspection, the skein of tangled rope which may represent the source of the Gordian Knot, used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) – although I prefer the analogy of the Ouroboros, the snake devouring its own tail which often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, which emphasises the relationship between a person’s mind and their experience of reality, how the psyche shapes the environment in which they act, and the untangling of consciousness.

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While his work was cutting edge in the late 1980s – 1990s, containing something in the work that brought him to notice, today it evidences a cultural and visual aesthetic that already seems completely outdated (the Pet Shop Boys on a bad hair day). Through staring at a constructed atemporal reality – like a man dreaming, caught in a no-time – Wall has created a form of look but don’t touch voyeurism, a slightly bombastic narcissism based on the photographers’ own power. But perhaps this is the point. Perhaps the qualities that I have criticized in the artist’s work are the very qualities the he is pursuing. Wall might want a don’t touch voyeurism for example – possibly deny it even exists or give it another name – so that the work interrogates some aspect of alienation without ever naming it. This can be seen in his construction of the photograph Polishing where he represents a mundane act in a cheap hotel room, raising the performance up to the altar of high art while hiding its anomalous philosophical and physical distortions.

I think Wall is a clever person wanting to be contradictory and clever.

To some people the qualities evidenced in Wall’s photographs can be seen to be quite admirable: today we shouldn’t (always) have to seek resolution or meaning. But when Wall says in the quote at the top of this posting that his work is a “reconstruction of a feeling” then I wonder where this feeling has gone, or whether it existed in the first place, for reconstruction is a very strange word to use with regard to feelings.

While the artist can control the uniqueness of a particular image seen from the point of view of production, intention and encounter3 what he cannot control is the interpretation of his images by the viewer. With this in mind (very apt) this is what I don’t get from these images: they lack for me is the quality of being lyrical, an artist’s expression of emotion in an imaginative and beautiful way. The stress seams present in his photographs, be they physical (the actual print) or psychological (photographs like Doorpusher or A view from an apartment) don’t allow me emotional access to the work. Aiming for an investigation into the existential nature of being and the philosophical reconstruction of a feeling, Wall ends up stressed at the seams (even un/seamed, un/scene, un/seen) and leaves me spatially and emotionally unmoved.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'A view from an apartment' 2004-05

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
A view from an apartment
2004-05
Transparency in light box 1/2
167.0 x 244.0 cm
Tate, London Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery and Tate Members, 2006
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'A view from an apartment' 2004-05 (detail)

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
A view from an apartment (detail)
2004-05
Photograph: Marcus Bunyan

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Polishing' 1998

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Polishing
1998
Transparency in light box, 1/2
162.0 x 207.0 cm State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia Purchased with assistance from the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 1999
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall 'Polishing' skewing

Image Dr James McArdle

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Jeff Wall 'Polishing' skewing

Image J.S.B.

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Structural analysis of Jeff Wall’s Polishing (1998)

“There is a perceptual discomfort in viewing this image on the wall that is not apparent in the desk-top experience of it. I’m referring to a weird skewing of the perspective of the room. Wall has tilted the monorail of his 8×10 camera down toward the corner of the room, making the left hand wall of the bathroom lean uncomfortably, more than does the patched join of the wall panels to the right. He has then shifted the lens left, thus positioning the one vertical (right behind the figure) to the right of centre. The bathroom door, draped with a towel, looks as if it is hanging off its hinges, at variance with the top of the entrance door which remains horizontal. Conventionally, an architectural photographer would square everything and Wall does that in Doorpusher which though shot from an extremely oblique angle employs a radical drop-front to correct the verticals.”

Dr James McArdle

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“”Firstly, the floor is not straight in the image. You can see how in my edit, I have rotated the image a little to make the floor straight: (you can see how much by the break in the picture rail see red arrow). JW being tricky and skilled. Now the amount of lean in wall could almost be achieved just by a camera pointing down. No weird camera movements – this is almost familiar. But the door leans more than the wall! Next, note the degree of convergence in blue lines compared to green lines. Therefore the blue angle is emphasized – somehow. Note different hang of towel in magenta compared to blue – therefore edited ~ somehow!

The grid is good because as an initial observation it shows how much distortion we are viewing. But it makes it difficult to see that the floor is not level. When the floor is straightened the lean on the left wall is not as much as it seemed. Wait! Things do splay out when the camera is pointed down – so maybe there is no Photoshop in this at all? But there is – the angles have been emphasised a bit (I believe digitally) and there are puns in the angle of the towel (sloping at a different angle) and the buttons on the couch (not sloping out at all).

Lets play with this a bit more. So just tilt the camera to slope the floor and emphasise the lean by using the tilt to straighten the verticals on one side – and now make this a bit stronger in Photoshop. And by judicious use of the furniture placement the slope of the floor can be partly hidden. I can imagine Jeff Wall saying to a crowd that there is no Photoshop in this – it’s just camera placement (including a tilt in the whole camera) and without duplicating the scene I can’t be sure – but I think he has stressed in Photoshop some things that are already there. Digital enhancement.

Finally we can say that the formal qualities of this image are a play upon what has been initially offered by the camera. Initially: The walls are sloping! So is it just optics, or camera angle or Photoshop? It’s all three but not as much Photoshop as initially thought. The floor is not straight, the camera angle has been changed and there has been some digital emphasis.”

J.S.B. (author of The Well Tempered View Camera)

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Many thankx to Dr James McArdle for the initial gridded image from the posting “Perspective blow up,” on his Camera/Eye blog (January 21st, 2013) where he argues that the skewing is all done with tilting and shifting of an 8 x 10 image view camera to the analysis by J.S.B in which he argues that the skewing is partially done through the architecture (the set), the camera and some Photoshop tweeking.

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Double Self-Portrait' 1979

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Double Self-Portrait
1979
Transparency in light box AP
172.0 x 229.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Untangling' 1994, printed 2006

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Untangling
1994, printed 2006
Transparency in light box, AP
189.0 x 223.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased NGV Foundation and with the assistance of NGV Contemporary, 2006
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Dressing poultry' 2007

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Dressing poultry
2007
Transparency in light box, 1/2
201.5 x 252.0 cm
Cranford Collection, London
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Adrian Walker, artist, drawing from a specimen in a laboratory in the Dept. of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver' 1992

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Adrian Walker, artist, drawing from a specimen in a laboratory in the Dept. of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver
1992
Transparency in light box, AP
119.0 x 164.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)' 1993

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)
1993
Transparency in light box, unique state
229.0 x 377.0 cm
Tate, London Purchased with the assistance from the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation and from the National Art Collections Fund, 1995
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue' 1999-2000

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue
1999-2000
Transparency in light box, AP
174.0 x 250.5 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Knife throw' 2008

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Knife throw
2008
Colour photograph, AP
184.0 x 256.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'The Destroyed Room' 1978

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
The Destroyed Room
1978
Transparency in light box, AP
159.0 x 234.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Clipped branches, East Cordova St., Vancouver' 1999

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Clipped branches, East Cordova St., Vancouver
1999
Transparency in light box, AP
72.0 x 89.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946- 'Diagonal Composition' 1993

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Jeff Wall Canadian 1946-
Diagonal Composition
1993
Transparency in light box, AP
40.0 x 46.0 cm
Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

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1. McArdle, James. Email to the author 22-01-2013

2. Wall, Jeff and Crombie, Isobel. “Jeff Wall Photographs: Knife Throw,” video on ArtDaily.org [Online] Cited 03-03-2013

3. Howarth, Sophie. “Introduction,” in Singular Images: essays on Remarkable Photographs. New York: Aperture, 2006, p.7.

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The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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20
Oct
12

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

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Installation photographs of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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Details of one of Gregory Crewdson’s works from the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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“The American middle-class nightmare: nothing is clean, orderly, idyllic, or romantic. In his perfectly staged, hyperrealistic tableaux, photographer Gregory Crewdson reveals the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb. Here, hushed-up violence, alienation, isolation, and emptiness are nothing new or unfamiliar, but rather part of the everyday neighbourhood experience.”

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Gregory Crewdson, In a Lonely Place, Abrams Publishing, New York, 2011

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“I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests me.”

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Gregory Crewdson

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Downfall of a dream: (n)framing the enigma in Gregory Crewdson’s
Beneath the Roses

After the excoriating, unreasonably subjective diatribe by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper (“Unreal stills, unmoving images” Wednesday October 17 2012) I hope this piece of writing will offer greater insight into the work of this internationally renowned artist. With some reservations, I like Crewsdon’s work, I like it a lot – as do the crowds of people flocking to the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy to see the exhibition. Never have I seen so many people at the CCP looking at contemporary photography before and that can only be a good thing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The early series Fireflies are small silver gelatin photographs that capture “the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night.” These are minor works that fail to transcend the ephemeral nature of photography, fail to light the imagination of the viewer when looking at these scenes of dusky desire and discontinuous lives. The series of beautiful photographs titled Sanctuary (2010) evidence the “ruin of the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.” Wonderful photographs of doorways, temples, dilapidated stage sets with excellent use of soft miasmic light creating an atmosphere of de/generation (as though a half-remembered version of Rome had passed down through the generations) interfaced with contemporary Rome as backdrop. The digital prints show no strong specular highlights, no deep blacks but a series of transmutable grey and mid tones that add to the overall feeling of romantic ruin. It is a pity that these photographs are not printed as silver gelatin photographs, for they would have had much more depth of feeling than they presently possess. They just feel a little “thin” to me to sustain the weight of atmosphere required of them.

But it is the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) that has made Crewdson truly famous. Shot using a large format camera, Crewdson makes large-scale photographs of elaborate and meticulously staged tableaux, which have been described as “micro-epics” that probe the dark corners of the psyche. Working in the manner of a film director, he leads a production crew, which includes a director of photography, special effects and lighting teams, casting director and actors. He typically makes several exposures that he later digitally combines to produce the final image. Photographs in the series of “brief encounters” include external dioramas (shot in a down at heel Western Massachusetts town), where Crewdson shuts down streets and lights the whole scene; to interior dialogues where houses are built on sound stages and the artist can control every detail of the production. Influences on these works include, but are not limited to:

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters), the paintings of Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus (the detritus of her photographic interiors), film noir, psychoanalysis, American suburbia, the American dream, the photographs of Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and surrealism. Concepts that you could link to the work include loneliness, alienation, apathy, resignation, mystery, contemplation and confusion, identity, desire, memory and imagination.

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Now to the nuts and bolts of the matter.

Another major influence that I will add is that of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life) who shot most of that film on the sets at Cinecittà studios in Rome. It is perhaps no coincidence that Crewdson, on his first overseas film shoot, shot the series Sanctuary at the very same location. Crewdson’s photographs in the series Beneath the Roses are an American form of  “The Sweet Life.” In 1961, the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Fellini’s “brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized… Fellini is nothing if not fertile, fierce and urbane in calculating the social scene around him and packing it onto the screen. He has an uncanny eye for finding the offbeat and grotesque incident, the gross and bizarre occurrence that exposes a glaring irony. He has, too, a splendid sense of balance and a deliciously sardonic wit that not only guided his cameras but also affected the writing of the script. In sum, it is an awesome picture, licentious in content but moral and vastly sophisticated in its attitude and what it says.”1 The same could equally be said of the Crewdson and his masterpieces in Beneath the Roses. Crewdson is in love with Fellini’s gesture – of the uplifting of the characters and their simultaneous descent into “sweet” hedonism, debauchery and decadence using the metaphor of downfall (downfall links each scene in La Dolce Vita, that of a “downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode.”)2 Crewdson’s “spectacular apocalypses of social enervation”3 mimic Fellini’s gestural flourishes becoming Crewdson’s theme of America’s downfall, America as a moral wasteland. Crewdson’s is “an aesthetic of disparity” that builds up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an “overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is.”4

Crewdson’s cinematic encounters are vast and pin sharp when seen in the flesh. No reproduction on the web can do their physical presence justice; it is the details that delight in these productions. You have to get up close and personal with the work. His dystopic landscapes are not narratives as such, not stills taken from a movie (for that implies an ongoing story) but open-ended constructions that allow the viewer to imagine the story for themselves. They do not so much evoke a narrative as invite the viewer to create one for themselves – they are an “invitation” to a narrative, one that explores the anxiety of the (American) imagination, an invitation to empathise with the dramas at play within contemporary environments. For me, Crewdson’s extra ordinary photographs are a form of enigma (a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation), the picture as master puzzle (where all the pieces fit perfectly together in stillness) that contains a riddle or hidden meaning. Clues to this reading can be found in one of the photographs from the series (Blue Period, see detail image, above) where Crewdson deliberately leaves the door of a bedside cupboard open to reveal a “Perfect PICTURE PUZZLE” box inside. The viewer has to really look into the image and understand the significance of this artefact.

Another reading that I have formulated is of the transience of space and time within Crewdson’s series. In the disquieting, anonymous townscapes people look out from their porches (or the verandas are lit and empty), they abandon their cars or walk down desolate streets hardly ever looking directly out at the viewer. The photographs become sites of mystery and wonder hardly anchored (still precisely anchored?) in time and space. This disparity is emphasised in the interior dialogues. The viewer (exterior) looks at a framed doorway or window (exterior) looking into an scene (interior) where the walls are usually covered with floral wallpaper (interior / exterior) upon which hangs a framed image of a Monet-like landscape (exterior) (see detail image, above). Exterior, exterior, interior, interior / exterior, exterior. The trees of the landscape invade the home but are framed; exterior/framed, interior/mind. There is something mysterious going on here, some reflection of an inner state of mind.

In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.5 This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”6 encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”7

Finally, in a more adverse reading of the photographs from the series Beneath the Roses, I must acknowledge the physically (not mentally) static nature of the images where every detail of the mise-en-scène is fully articulated and locked down: from the perfect trickle of blood running from the woman’s vagina in Blue Period, to the reflections in mirrors, the detritus of living scattered on the bedroom floor, the dirty telephone, packed suitcases and keys in locks to the desolate looks of the participants that never engage with the viewer. Despite allusions of despair, in their efficacy (their static and certain world order), there is no real chthonic madness here, no real messiness of the capture of death, murder and the wastage of human life (famine, AIDS, cancer or the blood running over the pavement in one of Weegee’s murder scenes for example). This is Fellini’s gross and bizarre LITE. Americurbana “is being addressed with the same reserve and elegance that ensures that the institution – artistic, political, what you will – is upheld and never threatened. It is pre-eminently legible, it elicits guilt but not so much as to cause offence.”8 I must also acknowledge the male-orientated viewpoint of the photographs, where men are seated, clothed, lazy or absent and all too often women are doing the washing or cooking, are naked and vulnerable. In their portrayal of (usually) half dressed or naked females the photographs evidence a particularly male view of the world, one that his little empathy or understanding of how a female actually lives in the world. For me this portrait of the feminine simply does not work. The male photographer maintains control (and power) by remaining resolutely (in)visible.

Overall this is a outstanding exhibition that thoroughly deserves that accolades it is receiving. Sitting in the gallery space for an hour and a half and soaking up the atmosphere of these magnificent works has been for me one of the art experiences of 2012. Make sure that you do not miss these mesmerising prophecies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the artist, Gagosian Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Special thankx to Director of the CCP Naomi Cass and Ms. James McKee from Gagosian Gallery for facilitating the availability of the media images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation and detail photographs Dr Marcus Bunyan

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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“In a Lonely Place presents selections from three major series by Gregory Crewdson, Fireflies (1996), Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Sanctuary (2010) and, presented for the first time, the video Field Notes (2009). The exhibition title comes from Nicholas Ray’s 1950s film noir of the same name, one of many films that inspired Crewdson. In a Lonely Place is evocative of an underlying mood-a quiet feeling of alienation and loneliness that links the three series selected by curators Estelle Af Malmborg, Jens Erdman Rasmussen and Felix Hoffmann. In a Lonely Place presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Crewdson’s work in Australia.

In Beneath the Roses, anonymous townscapes, forest clearings and broad, desolate streets are revealed as sites of mystery and wonder; similarly, ostensibly banal interiors become the staging grounds for strange human scenarios. Crewdson’s scenes are tangibly atmospheric: visually alluring and often deeply disquieting. Never anchored precisely in time or place, these and the other narratives of Beneath the Roses are located in the dystopic landscape of the anxious American imagination. Crewdson explores the American psyche and the dramas at play within quotidian environments.

In his most recent series, Sanctuary (2010), Crewdson has taken a new direction, shooting for the first time outside the US. During a trip to Rome, he visited the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini. Crewdson discovered fragments of a past glory, with occasional unexpected views of the surrounding contemporary Roman suburbia. Cinecittà is a lonely place deserted by the film crews who once used the site to recreate settings of ancient Rome, medieval Italy and nineteenth-century New York.

In the intimate photographs of Fireflies, Crewdson portrays the mating ritual of fireflies at dusk, capturing the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night. Unlike the theatrical scale of the Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary series, Fireflies is a quiet meditation on the nature of light and desire, as the images reflect not only upon the fleeting movements of the insects in their intricate mating ritual, but upon the notion of photography itself, in capturing a single ephemeral moment.

Gregory Crewdson received a BA from the State University of New York, Purchase, New York in 1985 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1988. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at the Yale School of Art, Yale University. Gregory Crewdson is represented by Gagosian Gallery and White Cube Gallery.”

Press release from the Gagosian Gallery website

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Installation photographs the series Sanctuary (2010) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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1. Crowther’s review first published in The New York Times, April 20, 1961. In Fava and Vigano, 105 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

2. Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

3. Sultanik, Aaron. Film, a Modern Art. Cranbury, N.J: Cornwall Books, 1986, p.408

4. Richardson, Robert. “Waste Lands: The Breakdown of Order,” in Bondanella (ed.), Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism, p.111 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

5. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p.119

6. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

7. Kataoka, Mami commenting on the work of Allan Kaprow. “Transient Encounters,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.174

8. Geczy, Adam. “A dish served lukewarm,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.177

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Gagosian Gallery website

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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12
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Metamorphosis of Japan after the War: Photography 1945-1964’ at the Berlin Museum of Photography

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 17th June 2012

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The joy of the discharged soldier (upon survival); the regimentation of the market place; the inquisitiveness of youth.
The blackness (incineration) of the body; the blackest sun; the memorial of mapping.

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

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Eikoh Hosoe
Barakei (Ordeal by Roses), No. 16
1961
© Eikoh Hosoe

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Tadahiko Hayashi
Discharged soldiers, Shinagawa Station
Tokyo 1946
© Yoshikatsu Hayashi

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Shigeichi Nagano
Completing management training at a stock brokerage firm
Tokyo 1961
© Shigeichi Nagano

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Ken Domon
Children looking at a picture-card show
Tokyo 1953
© Ken Domon Museum of Photography

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“On August 15th, 1945 the Pacific War came to an end and with it fourteen years of bombings, of deprivation and of great sacrifice for the Japanese people. The collapse of Japanese militaristic rule and the arrival of the US occupation forces thrust the nation into a new and uncertain era. It was in this context that photography took on a central role in the nation’s rediscovery of self and it soon became a vital contributor to Japanese society in the immediate postwar years. Metamorphosis of Japan after the War. Photography 1945 – 1964 reveals the changing face of life in Japan from the end of the Pacific War in 1945 to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 through photographs by 11 of Japan’s leading post-war photographers. By observing the role of photography in the evolution of post-war Japan, this exhibition shows how photography was able to play a crucial role in the search for the nation’s new identity. The works of these 11 photographers are an extraordinary document of the birth of a new Japan and of a new photographic generation whose dynamism and creativity laid the foundations for modern Japanese photography. The exhibition is divided into 3 thematic sections based around the major periods of the postwar years:

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The aftermath of war

With the end of the war magazines and newspapers flourished as years of censorship gave way to an editorial boom. Publications that had been banned during the war resurfaced just as new ones went to press for the first time. Improvements in printing techniques also allowed the mass production and distribution of publications containing photographic reproductions. Photographs played a central role in this information boom, as people sought objectivity in the place of the military propaganda that they had been subjected to for several years. People turned to photography to find the ‘truth’ that they sought. This photographic explosion brought about a profound reflection on the nature of the medium and on its role in society. The public’s demand for objectivity led to the emergence of a powerful social realism movement in the immediate post-war years. The atrocities of the war and the massive physical destruction of the country led photographers to adopt a direct approach and to focus on bearing witness and documenting what they saw around them. Photographers abandoned pictorialism and the propaganda techniques of the wartime years to immerse themselves in reality. Of those photographers who had already been active in the pre-war years including Domon Ken, Hamaya Hiroshi, Kimura Ihee and Hayashi Tadahiko, Domon became the leading proponent of the photo-realism movement. He advocated “the pure snapshot, absolutely unstaged” and urged photographers to “pay attention to the screaming voice of the subject and simply operate the camera exactly according to its indications.” As a regular contributor to Camera magazine, he became very active in the world of amateur photography and encouraged camera club members to follow this realist path.

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Tradition versus modernity

Despite its predominance in the immediate post-war years, the social realist movement was not to last. It captured a specific moment in time when the nation needed to take stock of the Pacific War and of its consequences. Photographers increasingly began to view the movement as too rigid and heavily politicised. Hamaya for instance chose to break away and adopted a new approach, both in terms of style and subject, when he began his work on the coast of the Sea of Japan, leading to the series Yukiguni (Snow country) and Ura Nihon (Japan’s Back Coast). In these series Hamaya displayed a more humanist approach than seen in social realism and chose to focus instead on a timeless aspect of Japanese rural society, rather than on the social issues linked directly to the immediate post-war. By the mid 1950s many photographers were turning away from documenting the destruction of the war to focus on the stark contrast between ‘traditional’ Japan and the modernisation of Japanese society associated with the American occupation. The hardships of the 1940s were rapidly replaced with rapid industrialisation and economic growth as Japan was modernised. These changes had a deep impact as Japan’s complex social structures were thrown into upheaval with the country’s economic transformation. Photographers focused not only on capturing the emergence of this new economic and social paradigm in Japan’s cities, but also sought to document those areas of Japan which were less affected by modernisation and offered a window onto the country’s past.

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A new Japan

In addition during the second half of the 1950s a new generation of photographers was coming of age. They had grown up during the war but were only beginning to find their photographic eye during the post-war years. From this generation, a new photographic approach referred to as ‘subjective documentary’ was born. In 1959, the most innovative photographers of the time founded the agency Vivo which, despite its short lifespan, was to become a key contributor to the evolution of Japanese photography. With photographers such as Narahara Ikko, Tomatsu Shomei, Kawada Kikuji or Hosoe Eikoh, Vivo put forward the idea that personal experience and interpretation were essential elements in the value of a photographic image. These photographers developed a particular sensibility influenced by ‘traditional’ Japan as well as by the turbulence of postwar reconstruction and the explosion of economic growth. Their photographic eye turned both to the past, to the Japan of their childhood that they saw disappearing, and to the future and the ever-increasing modernisation that was transforming Japanese society. Over 10 years after the atomic bombings, this new generation of photographers also began to engage with the legacy of these events and their future significance, both for Japan and for all of humanity. The series that emerged including Kawada’s Chizu (The Map), Hosoe’s Kamaitachi and Tomatsu’s Nagasaki 11:02, are amongst some of the most powerful statements in twentieth century photography.”

Press release from the Berlin Museum of Photography

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Takeyoshi Tanuma
Dancers resting on the rooftop of the SKD Theatre
Asakusa, Tokyo 1949
© Takeyoshi Tanuma

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Ikko Narahara
Domains. Garden of Silence, No. 52
Hakodate, Hokkaido 1958
© Ikko Narahara

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Keisuke Katano
Woman planting rice
1955
© Keisuke Katano

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Shomei Tomatsu
Fukuejima Island
Nagasaki 1963
© The Japan Foundation

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Kikuji Kawada
The Map. The A-Bomb Memorial Dome and Ohta River
Hiroshima 1960-65
© Kikuji Kawada

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Berlin Museum of Photography
Jebensstraße 2
10623 Berlin

Opening hours:
Tues – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Closed Mondays

Berlin Museum of Photography website

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27
Dec
11

Exhibition: ‘After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd March, 2011 – 2nd January, 2012

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Hans Haacke (German, born 1936)
Thank You, Paine Webber
1979
Gelatin silver print and chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
© Hans Haacke

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Since the early 1970s Haacke has taken on the intertwined political and corporate forces that use cultural patronage as a smokescreen to advance interests that are often antithetical to the vitality of free speech and expression in democracies. Haacke made this work just as the strategy of appropriation – lifting an image out of its original context and re-presenting it in critical fashion – began to make waves in the New York art world of the late 1970s. Like all effective appropriation, it exposes a prior instance of borrowing – in this case, how the investment firm Paine Webber used a documentary photograph to give its annual report the veneer of social concern. The artist then pointedly contrasted it with an image from the same annual report of a beaming trio of executives in a painting-lined gallery. As a counterpoint to the protestor’s signboard, Haacke dropped in text from a different Paine Webber ad campaign to show on whose backs the “risk management” is taking place – a biting indictment, the relevance of which has only increased since the recent economic downturn.
Wall text

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Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946)
The Storyteller
1986
Silver dye bleach transparency in light box
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charlene and David Howe, Henry Nias Foundation Inc., Jennifer and Robert Yaffa, Harriet Ames Charitable Trust, and Gary and Sarah Wolkowitz Gifts, 2006
Image courtesy of the artist © Jeff Wall

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Wall’s staged tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. His subjects are scenes of urban and suburban disarray that he witnessed firsthand – the kinds of things anyone might see while wandering around a city and its outskirts. Working like a movie director, he restages the scene using nonprofessionals as actors and presents his photographs as color transparencies in light boxes such as those of large-scale public advertisements found at airports and bus stops. The scale and ambition of his pictures – scenes of everyday life shot through with larger intimations of political struggle – equally evoke the Salon paintings of nineteenth century French painters such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, which were themselves brazen combinations of canonical and contemporary subjects.

The Storyteller is set in a barren, leftover slice of land next to a highway overpass in Vancouver, where the artist lives. Various groupings of modern urban castaways – perhaps descendants of the Native Americans who occupied the land before the arrival of Europeans – are dispersed around the hillside, a mini-catalogue of art-historical reference. Like the upside-down, half-submerged figure of Icarus in the background of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the woman speaking and gesticulating to the two men listening at the lower left becomes the key to unifying the fractured and alienating environment from which Wall’s picture is constructed.
Wall text

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Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949)
Walking Gun
1991
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1998
© Laurie Simmons

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The early 1990s marked the last moment when a wide swath of women artists responded to the sexism they saw as pervasive in the culture – from the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith to the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas. A pioneer of set-up photography, Simmons dramatically expanded the scale of her constructed tableaux for a series of spotlighted puppet-like objects perched atop doll legs: revolvers, houses, cameras, and cakes. This armed and dangerous example refers to the old-movie cliché where a man carrying a gun is shown in shadow profile. Here, Simmons offers instead the death-dealing seductress – also familiar from film noir – in monumental miniature, a doll capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice.
Wall text

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, born 1953)
Todd M. Brooks, 22 Years Old, from Denver, Colorado, $40
1991
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991
Image courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York
© Philip-Lorca diCorcia

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“The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection from March 22, 2011, through January 2, 2012, in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography. Drawn entirely from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features 25 photographs dating from 1979 to the present by 15 contemporary artists.

The exhibition’s title, After the Gold Rush, is taken from a classic 1970 song by Neil Young, whose verses contrast a romanticized past with a present of squandered plenty and an uncertain future. Inspired by the recent political and economic upheavals in America and abroad, this selection juxtaposes new photographs that take the long view of the world’s current condition with prescient works from the 1980s and 1990s that remain startlingly relevant today.

This is the first occasion for the Museum to present recently acquired works by: Gretchen Bender, James Casebere, Moyra Davey, Katy Grannan, Hans Haacke, An-My Lê, Curtis Mann, Trevor Paglen, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Also featured are photographs by: Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Laurie Simmons, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams.

After the Gold Rush begins with Hans Haacke’s Thank You, Paine Webber (1979) – the first work by this legendary provocateur of Conceptual art to enter the Metropolitan’s collection. Haacke’s biting photo-diptych is so pertinent to the recent economic downturn that it seems as if it could have been made yesterday. In this work, the artist appropriated images from the investment firm’s annual report to convey his viewpoint that big business provides a veneer of social concern to mask the brutal effects of the “risk management” they offer their clients.

Other works in After the Gold Rush use varying degrees of artifice and photographic realism to reflect on marginalized and repressed voices. Measuring over 14 feet long and presented as a backlit transparency in a light box, The Storyteller (1986) is Jeff Wall’s signature image and is typical of his method. Working from memory, the artist uses nonprofessional actors and real locations to meticulously restage a scene of urban blight that he witnessed in his native Vancouver. Wall plays this photographic verisimilitude against compositions and figural poses indebted to French painters such as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and Georges Seurat. A comparison of Wall’s Storyteller with Courbet’s Young Ladies of the Village (1852), on view in the Museum’s galleries for Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture, reveals parallels: in both, a keenly observed moment of telling social interaction taking place on a sloping landscape. Each artist has combined a daringly modern subject with references to earlier art.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is another key figure in the development of staged photography. In the early 1990s, the artist created a series of works in response to the political attacks on gays and federal funding of the arts in the U.S. DiCorcia hired male hustlers to pose for their portraits out on the streets – and paid them with grant money he received from the National Endowment for the Arts. At the same moment, a wide swath of women artists addressed issues of sexism and racism: examples of this politically pointed art are represented by Laurie Simmons’ Walking Gun (1991) – a spotlighted puppet of doll legs and a revolver that seems capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice – and Adrian Pipers 1992 work Decide Who You Are #24 (A Moving Target), which includes a childhood image of Anita Hill as part of a blistering meditation in word and image on racial politics. Such works are missives from a time not so long ago when artists regularly commented on present-day politics and culture through their art. (Because of light sensitivity, this work by Adrian Piper will be on view through Sunday, September 26.)

Although the recently made photographs in After the Gold Rush seem at first glance to be less overtly political than their predecessors, they nevertheless address vital issues about contemporary society. James Casebere’s epic vision of America, Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1, (2009), is based on a tabletop model that the artist spent 18 months building. The photograph shows a suburban subdivision of the kind recently ravaged by the foreclosure crisis, and its sunny sense of “Morning in America” comments ironically on the country’s future prospects. An-My Lê’s similarly sweeping five-part photographic piece Suez Canal Transit, USS Dwight Eisenhower, Egypt (2009) will also be featured. Lê is interested in the way in which U.S. armed forces come into contact with the rest of the world. This major new work – which seems at first to be a straightforward panorama of military might overseas – subtly undercuts the viewer’s expectations to question the current position of the U.S. on the global stage.

Trevor Paglen is a young artist whose works plot the “black world” of covert military operations, from telephoto images of predator drones taken from miles away, to software that follows planes used for the extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. Paglen’s 2008 photograph KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaissance Satellite; USA 186) shows the ghostly white streak of an American reconnaissance satellite bisecting star trails above Yosemite’s Half Dome, a rock formation photographed in the 1860s by artists including Carleton Watkins. To make these and other photographs, Paglen collaborated with amateur astronomers who were originally trained by the U.S. government to look out for Soviet satellites during the Cold War, but turned their attention to American surveillance in recent years.

The final piece in After the Gold Rush is a suite of five recently acquired photographs from 2007-2009 by the celebrated photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The grouping shifts focus from macro to micro: from expansive aerial views of Shanghai and Dubai to close ups that suggest the smallest increments of sustenance and regeneration. Taken together, they evoke the interconnectedness of all things and a grounding of the political in the personal as a way for an engaged yet expressive art.”

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Adrian Piper (American, born 1948)
Decide Who You Are #24: A Moving Target
1992
Photo-mechanical processes on three panels
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Peter Norton Family Foundation, 1994
© Adrian Piper

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Piper is an artist and a philosophy professor who works in a variety of media, including performance, video, sound pieces, photography, drawing, and writing. She often explores issues of autobiography, racism, and stereotyping. For her 1992 series Decide Who You Are, the artist used a triptych format in which a different appropriated photograph is flanked by an image of the “three wise monkeys” maxim advocating “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” at left, and at right a photograph of a young girl who, though not identified, is Anita Hill – who had recently been thrust into the spotlight for accusing then-nominee for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harrassment. The verse in the left panel changes in each individual work in the series, while that on the right is unchanging – what the artist once described as “a comprehensive, textbook compendium of commonly invoked litanies of denial and intimidation, from the bland to the vaguely menacing” and “a must for novices and aspiring leaders in business, politics, and culture.”
Wall text

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Christopher Williams (American, born 1956)
3 White (DG’s Mr. Postman) Fourth Race, Phoenix Greyhound Park, Phoenix, Arizona, August 22, 1994
1994
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charina Foundation Inc. and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gifts, 2003
© Christopher Williams

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Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled (Detail from “1978 – 2000”)
2000
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2002
© Robert Gober

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James Casebere (American, born 1953)
Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1
2009
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2011
© James Casebere

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Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oriental Pearl
2009
Inkjet print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
© Wolfgang Tillmans

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
T: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.*
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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