Archive for the 'portrait' Category



18
Aug
13

Video: Installation of Erika Diettes ‘Sudarios (Shrouds) at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2013

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

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“Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia (Colombia) to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones. Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another.”

From the catalogue essay Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes by Dr Marcus Bunyan.

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Installation video of Erika Diettes Sudarios (Shrouds) at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2013
© Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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17
Aug
13

Catalogue essay by Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ by Erika Diettes at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Entry free, open daily 10 am – 5pm

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This exhibition is one of the core programs for this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I had the privilege of writing the catalogue essay for the Colombian artist Erika Diettes. I met the delightful Erika and her husband today at the opening of BiFB on their first trip to Australia and I must say the art hangs very well in the Mining Exchange building.

This was one of the most difficult but rewarding pieces that I have ever had to write.
In reading, I hope you gather the full import of the text.

Text © Marcus Bunyan. All images © Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

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Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes

by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“There is now a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain [a] kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

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Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others 2003 1

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When I was asked to write the catalogue essay on Colombian artist Erika Diettes’ work Sudarios (Shrouds) by editor Esther Gyorki for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale the work gave me pause. What could I say about it that was relevant, insightful and spoke from the heart? I wrote back to Esther saying I needed to do some background research: “This is difficult subject matter and I want to make sure I can do it justice before I commit to writing about it.”2 In a synchronous way that often happens in the world, that is ultimately what this text is about – justice.

The basics are easily told. Artist and anthropologist Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones.3 Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another. The viewer can walk through these floating realities and be enfolded in the aggrieved women’s sorrow as if part of a ceremonial procession, perhaps a funeral cortege.

In her creation of an allegorical space for mourning, Diettes work acts as a funeral rite for both living and dead, acts of mourning placed in a context of splendour. The images evoke the representation of the death of Saint Sebastian, the faces recalling “the exquisite suffering of the Catholic saints and martyrs, but also of refugees and victims of contemporary traumas,”4 while the atrocities perpetrated on the body are hidden by the close cropping of the images. As Diettes observes, “You can’t help being a little pierced by their exhalations,”5 an indirect reference by Diettes to the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Diettes opens a space before the camera for the human ‘being’ in context, a terrain (of) or becoming, where the terrors are written on the countenance of the women, their mouths silently singing their song of mourning. Look at their mouths, each one contorted in agony, each one giving voice to the memory of terror.

These are confronting images about trauma and grief, documenting the ongoing effects of atrocity on the mind of the observer for they are portrayals of the effect of intim(id)ation, where intimations of mortality are evidenced by the removal of an identity, the beloved id, which reveals the intimate – expressed in the adoration/adornment of the women with jewellery which signifies the women’s dignity, comfort, and continuing engagement with the world as an extension of personal self/belief.

The signs of erasure of these murders are rearticulated through Diettes work. The bodies are held in suspended animation, in endless agony, through an act of re-terror-itorialization. Through the evacuation of loved ones, their discontinuity and deterritorialization, and the reterritorialization / re-terroring of that space through memory – portrayed on the faces of the women – the images recast and represent issues of power, domination and abuse. Through suspended sorrow, suspended mourning, the disappearance of some bodies and the speaking of others, the images become a representation of a doubled absence, a doubled momenti mori – for the photographs picture the women (making them dead) as they themselves remember the violence perpetrated before them from behind closed eyes (as the dead have their eyes closed), remembering in their mind’s eye the death of the beloved. The image of the victim has become a ghost, a trace etched upon the face of the relative, a trace of that which “persists and gives testimony of a vanished state” in art, for if art is linked to memory and to what survives, it is from the perspective of its own corpse-oreality, its own ghostly and fragile materiality that these images emerge: the hanged man, the hung woman. Remaking but always recording the past through interaction with the present, the shrouds are a palimpsest in which “personal memories are always interwoven with historical consciousness”6 and are constantly being rewritten.

Of course the photographs elicit our empathy but more than that they make us feel their terrible vulnerability while drawing us into uncomfortable complicity as subsidiary witnesses to the event.7 Normally when looking at a photograph the viewer is a secondary witness but here the viewer becomes a tertiary witness – the actual event, the memory of that event etched on the face of the women captured by the camera and now observed by the viewer. There is an osmotic effect taking place as one as one image is super imposed on another. Even after an event is over, “there’s an after image or an echo that exists… a spirit or a residue, a trace.”8 These visions are like images of the Holocaust. As soon as we see them we are implicated in a narrative – and we are helpless in this process – which is an essential part of history.

Diettes work reframes the subject because there is no traditional frame of reference for the viewer, only a memory of that reference in the form of a ghost-like shroud. The normal definition of a shroud no longer pertains to these images for the cloth is no longer around a dead body but represents / holds a trace of what was once dead.

As spirit photographs in the Victorian era solidified a fractured, unknown reality, so these apparitions of the departed are brought forth and solidified, just for a moment, in the faces of the suffering women. The viewer of these images does not see the (dead) carrier of messages, but only their shadows carried by the grief of their loved ones, shrouded as they are in remembrances of the past. We feel that the women are not looking at us but that the aura of their invisible seeing is directed toward us from outside of its normative context – from behind their eyes. It is this imprint on the Shrouds; the imprint of their memories that travels great distances towards us, that enfolds us in sorrow and shadow.

“It is the special feeling of the ‘presence’ of a work produced not by its remaining where it is but by its moving across boundaries where it reaches us from a distance, looking at us even when it appears not to. It is where the work seems peculiarly meant for us even in its indifference to or difference from us.”9

If photographs really are “experience captured” then Diettes explores this arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood,10 probing the limitation of the medium, shaping the space within the available conditions. Her images become images of sentience that enable the viewer to live in the world with open eyes (while the victims eyes are closed) – to be made aware of the injustices of this world and not remain silent. Diettes work is not about remembering, it’s about an answerable “not forgetting” for hers… is to remind us of the responsibility to make art in response to mor(t)ality.

As human beings, we must fight for the right to be heard and use art as a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure. Powerful, simple questions (and I believe) undeniable questions have to be asked; and in response to those questions (power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you), intelligence, justice and integrity must be used in the service of art. While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.

You place innocence at the heart of human depravity – and hope it survives.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Melbourne 2013

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Endnotes

1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.102.

2. Email to Esther Gyorki. Tue, March 26, 2013

3. The capital of the department of Antioquia is Medellin. The city is a 35-minute flight from the Colombian capital Bogota and has one of the highest rates of violence concerning drugs in Colombia. Most of the crimes were committed between 2001 and 2008.

4. Anon. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.” on the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/899/berlinde-de-bruyckere-into-one-another-to-p-p-p/view/

5. Diettes, Erika quoted in Tobón, Paola Cardona. “The exhalation of sorrow,” in  El Colombiano, November 4, 2012 [Online] Cited Cited May 5, 2013.
erikadiettes.com/links/prensa/houston/02_ExhalationOfSorrow_ElColombiano_v2.pdf

6. Garb, Tamar. “A Land of Signs,” in Journal of Contemporary African Art 26, Spring 2010, p.11.

7. Op. cit. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.”

8. Rakes, Rachael and Goldsmith, Leo. “Pasolini’s Body: Cathy Lee Crane with Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes,” on The Brooklyn Rail website. January 13, 2013 [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/film/pasolinis-body-cathy-lee-crane-with-leo-goldsmith-rachael-rakes

9. Butler, Rex. “”Lines”, Leading Out of Sight?: Is Aboriginal Art Losing its Aura?” in Australian Art Collector No. 13, July-September 2000, p.87.

10. Campany, David. “Photography and Photographs,” on the Still Searching blog. April 14, 2013 [Online] Cited May 11, 2013.
blog.fotomuseum.ch/2013/04/1-photography-and-photographs/#more-1282

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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

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

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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15
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Photographic Wonders: American Daguerreotypes from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’ at the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati

Exhibition dates: 17th May – 25th August 2013

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I love the word “occupationals” to describe portraits of individuals with the hallmarks of their trade.

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

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Three Lively Women' c. 1850

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Unknown Maker (American)
Three Lively Women
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
3 ¼ x 4 ¼ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Thomas Easterly (American, 1809-1882) 'Man with Elephant' c. 1850

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Thomas Easterly (American, 1809-1882)
Man with Elephant
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
3 ¼ x 4 ¼ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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A sometime calligrapher and writing teacher, Vermont-born Thomas Martin Easterly (b. 1809 Guilford, Vermont, d. 1882) learned the daguerreotype process in New York between 1841 and 1844, possibly from Charles and Richard Meade. In 1844 Easterly sailed from New York City to New Orleans, where he made photographs before returning to Vermont the following year. He did not remain for long: by October, he had entered into a daguerreotype studio partnership in Iowa. He and his partner operated as traveling photographers working throughout Iowa and Missouri for several years. Some scholars have credited Easterly with making the first photographs of Plains Indians.

After the dissolution of the partnership, Easterly moved to Saint Louis and took over a studio in 1848. He had a successful career for ten years, but his loyalty to the daguerreotype process after the introduction of the ambrotype, tintype, and paper photograph processes caused his business to falter. By 1860 Easterly had begun to sell farm implements in addition to continuing his daguerreotype practice. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

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Attributed to Ezekiel Hawkins (American, 1808-1862) 'The Jacob Strader at Wharf, Cincinnati' c. 1853

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Attributed to Ezekiel Hawkins (American, 1808-1862)
The Jacob Strader at Wharf, Cincinnati
c. 1853
Daguerreotype, half plate
4 ½ x 5 ½ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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This daguerreotype of the side-wheel packet Jacob Strader was taken at the Cincinnati boatyard where she was built in 1853. Owned by the U.S. Mail Line Co., this steamboat was named to honor Jacob Strader, the company’s first ,president. The Jacob Strader ran regularly between Cincinnati and Louisville, however during the Civil War, because her large cabin contained 310 berths, she was frequently used to transport sick and wounded soldiers. This boat was dismantled in 1866.
As steamboats replaced flatboats and keelboats as the major mode of river transportation, travel along the Ohio River became faster and easier. By the middle of the nineteenth century, more than 3,000 steamboats arrived each year at the port of Cincinnati. The city’s prominent location along the river contributed to its rapid growth, and by 1850 Cincinnati became the sixth largest city in the country. The development of railroads slowly led to the decline of steamboats. They continued to operate on the Ohio River, but their numbers dwindled. (Text from the Ohio Memory Collection website)

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Unknown Maker (American) 'A Showing of Daguerreotypes' c. 1850

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Unknown Maker (American)
A Showing of Daguerreotypes
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
3 ¼ x 4 ¼ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Comic Dentist' c. 1850

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Unknown Maker (American)
Comic Dentist
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, sixth plate
3 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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American Daguerreotypes from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, on display May 17 – Aug. 25, features 82 astonishing images of life in 19th-century America. The exhibition includes rare images of such well-known Americans as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Tom Thumb.

By the middle of the 19th century, Cincinnati was the Queen City of the West. A transportation hub, the city was home to industry, art, and even a professional baseball team. Though there are numerous written accounts of life in the big city at this time, we are also fortunate to have images of this era because of the earliest “photographic” works, known as daguerreotypes. In 1839 the American public first encountered this exciting new invention. By 1843, daguerreotypists had set up shop in every major city in the United States. Visitors to the Taft will have the opportunity to view these remarkable works. This exhibition features about 90 daguerreotypes of exceptional quality and variety, with the high degree of resolution typical of these rare, one-of-a-kind photographs. Works by both famed and anonymous makers provide a window into mid-19th-century America: its occupations, trades, urban and rural scenery, and racial and ethnic diversity.

In 1839 the American public encountered the exciting new invention of photography in its earliest form, the daguerreotype. Together, these two Taft exhibitions present an in-depth look at the art of early photography, as well as candid, touching, and sometimes humorous image of life in mid-19th century America and Cincinnati. A daguerreotype is a unique image crafted on a silvered copper plate, a surface that acts like a mirror. While sometimes hard to view, this exhibition presents the works under perfect lighting conditions. The earliest daguerreotypes required exposures of up to thirty minutes. Within a few years, however, portraits could be made in about ten to twenty seconds.

Among the exceptional daguerreotypes in Photographic Wonders are post-mortem images (portraits taken after death) that tell sorrowful stories, while The Comic Dentist and other humorous subjects still amuse today’s audiences. Portraits of individuals with the hallmarks of their trade (called occupationals), including a blacksmith with his tools, a woman ironing, and a clown in costume, show Americans’ pride in their work. Outdoor scenes reveal quaint towns and growing cities, while landscapes feature popular tourist destinations. The wide range of subjects offers something for every interest. The exhibited works in Photographic Wonders are part of an acclaimed collection that Hallmark Cards, Inc., donated in 2005 to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The choice examples selected for the Taft date from about 1840 to about 1860, while Nicholas Longworth and his family lived in the historic house that is now the Taft Museum of Art. Local Exposures, a captivating “snapshot” of life in Cincinnati in the 1800s, will delight Cincinnati history enthusiasts. A rarely exhibited Cincinnati streetscape reveals what the city looked like in 1848, while business cards and advertisements for daguerreotype studios show the prominence of the industry in Cincinnati.

“These were the first photographs. Prior to this the only way you could preserve your image was through a painting or sketch. Imagine seeing yourself in a photograph for the first time – it would seem like magic, and that’s exactly the first reaction people had,” says installing curator, Tamera Muente. Taft Museum of Art Director/CEO, Deborah Emont Scott, says, “It’s an amazing experience to view these precious, one-of-a-kind photographs. The images are small and the viewing experience is an intimate one – you step back in time and share a rare mid-19th-century moment with the sitter.”

Press release from the Taft Museum of Art website

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William C. North (American, 1814-1890) 'The Fisherman' c. 1850

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William C. North (American, 1814-1890)
The Fisherman
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, half plate
5 ½ x 4 ½ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Clown' c. 1850-55

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Unknown Maker (American)
Clown
c. 1850-55
Daguerreotype, sixth plate
2 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Tightrope Walker' c. 1855

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Unknown Maker (American)
Tightrope Walker
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, half plate
5 ½ x 4 ½ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Tom Thumb and his Mother' c. 1850-55

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Unknown Maker (American)
Tom Thumb and his Mother
c. 1850-55
Daguerreotype, quarter plate
4 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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General Tom Thumb was the stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), a little person who achieved great fame under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum.

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Woman Ironing' c. 1850-55

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Unknown Maker (American)
Woman Ironing
c. 1850-55
Daguerreotype, sixth plate
3 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Unknown Maker (American) 'Profile Portrait of Frederick Douglass' c. 1858

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Unknown Maker (American)
Profile Portrait of Frederick Douglass
c. 1858
Daguerreotype, sixth plate
3 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Nelson Gallery Foundation

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Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the United States’ struggle to reach its potential as a “land of the free”. Douglass actively supported women’s suffrage. Without his approval, he became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable and small Equal Rights Party ticket. Douglass held multiple public offices.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, famously quoted as saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” (Text from Wikipedia)

“I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 1882, p. 170.

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Taft Museum of Art
316 Pike Street at the east end of Fourth Street
across from Lytle Park, in downtown Cincinnati

Opening hours:
Wednesday-Friday, 11 am – 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm

Taft Museum of Art website

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12
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th March – 25th August 2013

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According to the press release, “Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, [while] Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists,” the two artists responding differently to upheaval in their country in two different ways.  While Yamamoto is more obviously influenced by the Surrealists, almost becoming the Japanese version of Man Ray, for me Hamaya’s photographs are equally if more subtly influenced by the cultural movement. Observe Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture (1955, below). I relate this image to the atomisation of bodies during the conflagration of Hiroshima, however subconsciously the artist is expressing this feeling. Similarly, the faceless humans in Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture (1955, below), blind musicians, disembodied man in a raincoat or poet thinking the void all have an essential quality, that of a disturbing psychological undertow which juxtaposes two more or less distant realities – reality and dream – to form images of great emotional and poetic power.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog on Google

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center 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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Japan’s Black Coast

“Knowledge of the back coast, along the Sea of Japan, is somewhat vague to those not living there, and in the minds of most people it is a country obscured by snow. In Japan, the back coast is where the old era still lingers on… The supporting industries of this back coast are primitive – agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The work involved is backbreaking physical labor. A narrow land, a heavy population, and climatic drawbacks invite a vicious circle of poverty. The basic Japanese foods are fish and rice. And they are obtained by these people only through hard labor.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, Ura Nihon (Japan’s Back Coast), 1957
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A Chronicle of Grief and Anger

In 1959 the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 meant the continuation of the presence of U.S. troops and the persistence of U.S. political and cultural influence. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of the police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the public upheaval was immense. Hamaya, a pacifist living outside Tokyo, entered the fray with his camera, chronicling the demonstrations. His pictures were published both individually and in the form of a quickly assembled paperback under the title Ikari to kanashimi no kiroku (A Chronicle of Grief and Anger).
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Portraiture

Japanese society had a pronounced respect for artists, authors, craftsmen, and scholars. As a freelance photographer, Hamaya was often enlisted to make portraits of them for publication. He compiled a selection of these portraits made since the 1940s for the 1983 book Japanese Scholars and Artists, which included the renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. Hamaya also produced a series of genre studies that featured his wife, Asa Hamaya, who was a skilled master of the tea ceremony. After her death in 1985 Hamaya prepared a memorial to her in the form of a portfolio of prints, titled Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya, following the earlier ukiyo-e tradition of woodblock series such as bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women).
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Observing Nature

“I spent three years and four months on an extended walking tour to observe nature in Japan, from the drifting ice packs off the Shiretoko Peninsula to the coral reefs of Okinawa … Nature breathed, sometimes deeply and sometimes violently, with the climatic changes of the seasons, and with the changing face of daily weather, humidity, seasonal winds, and typhoons. In particular, the distribution of plants from the subarctic to the subtropical zones, and of lichen and mosses, was both complex and varied… I came to realize that natural features in Japan, like the nature of its people, were extremely diversified and complex. I intended to investigate this conclusion with my own eyes.”

Hiroshi Hamaya, My Fifty Years of Photography, 1982

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The Village up on a Cay, Aomori Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960' 1960

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
The United States-Japan Security Treaty Protest, Tokyo, May 20, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'New Year's Ritual, Niigata Prefecture' 1940-1946

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture
1940-1946
Gelatin silver print
30.6 x 20.2 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Woman Planting Rice, Toyama Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print
42.1 x 28 cm
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture' 1955

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Rice Harvesting, Yamagata Prefecture
1955
Gelatin silver print print
29.5 x 19.7 cm (11 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Blind Musicians, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.1 x 20 cm (11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture' 1956

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Man in a Traditional Minobashi Raincoat, Niigata Prefecture
1956
Gelatin silver print print
30.6 x 19.8 cm (12 1/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 - 1999) 'Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic' 1947

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Hiroshi Hamaya (Japanese, 1915 – 1999)
Yaichi Aizu, Poet, Calligrapher, and Japanese Art Critic
1947
Gelatin silver print print
24 x 16 cm (9 7/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
© Keisuke Katano
Estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, Oiso, Japan

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The Taishō era (1912-1926) was a brief but dynamic period in Japan’s history that ushered in a modern state with increased industrialization, shifting political parties, radical fashions, and liberal thinking in many areas. However, this era of heightened experimentation ended with the arrival of an international depression, the promotion of ultranationalism, and the country’s entry into what would become the Greater East Asia War.

Reflecting both sides of this dramatic transition, two disparate representations of modern Japan will be displayed together in Japan’s Modern Divide: The Photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya and Kansuke Yamamoto, on view March 26 – August 25, 2013, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. Curated by Judith Keller, senior curator of photographs, and Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs, the exhibition includes photographs from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection, the Toyko Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the estate of Hiroshi Hamaya, the Nagoya City Art Museum, and other public and private lenders.

Born during the Taishō era, photographers Hiroshi Hamaya (1915-1999) and Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) responded to Japan’s rapidly-changing sociopolitical climate in very different ways. While Hamaya focused inward toward rural life on the back coast of Japan, Yamamoto found inspiration in the art of European Surrealists. As the ebb and flow of Japan’s political, economic, and social structures persisted across the 20th century, Hamaya and Yamamoto continued to pursue divergent paths, thus embodying both sides of modern Japanese life: the traditional and the Western, the rural and the urban, the oriental and the occidental.

“Much is known about the Surrealists living and working in Europe, as well as the celebrated documentary tradition of 20th-century photography, but the Japanese artists who embraced these movements remain relatively unknown in the West,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition illuminates the extraordinary work of two artists who responded to upheaval in their country in two different, but equally powerful ways.”

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Hiroshi Hamaya

The son of a detective, Hamaya grew up in Tokyo’s Ueno neighborhood during the rise and decline of the Taishō era. After attending Kanto Junior College, he began his photographic career by taking aerial images for the Practical Aeronautical Institute. He later photographed downtown Tokyo from street level, and provided images of daily city life and local events to a number of magazines. In 1939, an assignment that took him to Ura Nihon, or the rural back coast of the Sea of Japan, changed his view of photography and society.

Known for its unforgiving winter snowstorms and the difficult lives of its impoverished inhabitants, Ura Nihon was a mystery to most of Japan and the world. Moved by the customs and lifestyles of a much older era, Hamaya shifted from journalism toward a more humanistic and ethnographic approach to photography, capturing the everyday life of the region’s residents. This included documenting laborers in fields and at sea, as fish and rice were the primary sources of nourishment throughout the year.

From 1940 to 1955 Hamaya pursued a long-term personal interest in the region of Echigo (now known as Niigata Prefecture). He recorded the people, traditions, and landscape of a district that was, at the time, Japan’s chief rice-producing region in spite of a four-month long snow season. Among his many subjects, Hamaya focused on the winter in Kuwatoridani, a small agricultural village that practiced elaborate, long-standing New Year’s Eve rituals. In New Year’s Ritual, Niigata Prefecture (1940-46), boys in the village are seated with their hands clasped and their eyes closed in prayer. The close-up of the boys’ faces in deep concentration emphasizes the respect for customs of the region.

In late 1959, the proposed ten-year renewal of the United States-Japan Security Treaty of 1952 raised doubts about Japan’s sovereignty and its future prosperity. When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, with the aid of police, forced the Japanese parliament to ratify the treaty in May 1960, the political upheaval was immense. While Hamaya was a pacifist, he felt obligated to return to his journalistic roots and entered the fray with his camera. He chronicled the demonstrations day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

“These demonstrations profoundly affected Hamaya, causing him, in the 1960s, to turn from the social landscape to an investigation of nature,” explains Judith Keller. “His disillusionment with Japan’s political apparatus provoked a rejection of the human subject. Much of the work he created in his late career depicts the volcanoes, seas, mountains, forests, and other natural wonders of Japan and other small island nations.”

Hamaya’s career also included portraiture of noted artists and scholars. As a freelance photographer, he was often enlisted to make portraits of well-known men and women, and in 1983 published Japanese Scholars and Artists, a book that included prominent novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, woodcut artist Shiko Manakata, literary critic Kenichi Yoshida, and renowned poet, art historian, and calligrapher Yaichi Aizu. He also documented the daily life of his beloved wife, Asa, and upon her death in 1985 created a portfolio of these sensitive photographs, Calendar Days of Asa Hamaya.

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Kansuke Yamamoto

Kansuke Yamamoto (1914-1987) learned about photography from his father, an amateur pictorialist photographer and owner of the first photo supply store in the city of Nagoya. His interest in photography developed at a time when two movements based on experimentation and new modes of expression—Shinkō Shashin (New Photography) and Zen’ei Shashin (avant-garde photography) – were dominant. However, it was Surrealism – particularly Surrealist artists and writers such as René Magritte, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy, and Man Ray that appears to have made the most profound impact on his work.

Yamamoto was an influential figure in the avant-garde photography movement in Japan in the 1930s, helping to establish the group Nagoya Foto Avant-Garde by the end of that decade. In 1938 he created a journal, Yoru no Funsui (The Night’s Fountain), which promoted Surrealist poems, literature, ideas, and art in Japanese.

His first photographs date to the early 1930s and reveal an interest in myriad techniques and subjects, including abstract architectural studies, still life, and collage. From the outset, he created work suffused with mystery, provocation, and humor. He often utilized photography as a means to address controversial issues or express avant-garde ideas. For example, in Buddhist Temple’s Birdcage (1940), the telephone enclosed in the cage is possibly a metaphor for the control exercised by the Japanese government during the Showa Era (1926-1989), a theme that reappears in work produced throughout his career. The experience of being interrogated by the Tokkō (Thought Police) in 1939 for his journal, Yoru no Funsui, and its potentially subversive content made a profound impact on Yamamoto, but never deterred his avant-garde spirit.

Yamamoto remained part of the artistic vanguard in Japan during the 1940s and 1950s. He was a member of VOU, a club founded by poet Katue Kitasono that organized exhibitions and published a journal promoting visual “plastic” poetry, photography, literature, and other arts. In 1947 Yamamoto founded VIVI, a collective in Nagoya that allowed further dissemination and promotion of avant-garde ideologies. Yamamoto continued to produce innovative work during this period, experimenting with color photography, combination printing, photograms, and sculpture.

“At the end of his career in the 1970s, Yamamoto maintained his ardent nonconformist spirit, employing art as a means of criticism, dialogue, and rebellion,” explains Amanda Maddox. “He never failed to generate provocative imagery in an effort to represent his convictions concerning war, liberty, and avant-garde ideologies.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'My Thin-aired Room' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
My Thin-aired Room
1956
Gelatin silver print print
34.9 x 42.9 cm (13 3/4 x 16 7/8 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Rose and Shovel' 1956

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Rose and Shovel
1956
Gelatin silver print print
31.9 x 34.9 cm (12 9/16 x 13 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Forgotten Person' 1958

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Forgotten Person
1958
Chromogenic print
46.2 x 33 cm (18 3/16 x 13 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Stapled Flesh' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Stapled Flesh
1949
Gelatin silver print print
31.1 x 24.8 cm (12 1/4 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
From the Collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Buddhist Temple's Bird Cage' 1940

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Buddhist Temple’s Bird Cage
1940
Gelatin silver print
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'Butterfly' 1970

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
Butterfly
1970
Gelatin silver print print
16.4 x 11.4 cm (6 7/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 - 1987) 'A Chronicle of Drifting' 1949

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Kansuke Yamamoto (Japanese, 1914 – 1987)
A Chronicle of Drifting
1949
Collage print
30 x 24.8 cm (11 13/16 x 9 3/4 in.)
© Toshio Yamamoto
Private collection, entrusted to Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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10
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides: Nude Photography around 1900′ at the Museum for Photography, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 25th August 2013

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

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE AND FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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Léon Gimpel. 'The Sculptor' 1911

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Léon Gimpel
The Sculptor
1911
Autochrome
© Société française de photographie, Paris

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Photographer unknown. 'Act of Headstand' Before 1905

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Photographer unknown
Act of Headstand
Before 1905
Silver gelatin print
© Universität der Künste Berlin, Universitätsarchiv

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Photographer unknown. 'The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men's club, Munich' 1907

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Photographer unknown
The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men’s club, Munich
1907
From: Athletics Sports Illustrated Newspaper, 01/19/1907
© Niedersächsisches Institut für Sport-geschichte, Hannover

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Otto Skowranek. 'Olga Desmond - Sword Dance' 1908

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Otto Skowranek
Olga Desmond – Sword Dance
1908
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek

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Frank Eugene Smith. 'Adam and Eve' 1898/99

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Frank Eugene Smith
Adam and Eve
1898/99
Published in Camera Work, 1910
Heliogravure
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek

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“At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition The Naked Truth and More Besides presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motionstudy photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction. The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in the exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.

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The exhibition

A Commodity Market – The Machinery of the Nude

Since the invention of photography, the unclothed human body has been positioned – sitting, standing and reclining – in front of the camera. Large numbers of nude images, avidly pursued by censors, were in circulation as of the middle of the 19th century. By around 1900 nude photography had broken into the public sphere. Starting in 1880, photographs had become easier to produce and reproduce. They began to flood the market in various printed forms: alongside stereoviews, cartes de visite and single prints, nudes could now be found on postcards, trading cards, autograph cards, posters and in magazines, books and films. Nude photographs were promoted, ordered, sold and sent. They were published for a large audience under the guise of artistic or academic activity, and people’s viewing habits, their gaze on the naked body – their own or someone else’s – began to change. In this process it became clear that photography played a significant role in the marketing of the naked body, but also in people’s self-understanding. Today’s arbitrary use of scantily-clad models to advertise goods is but one phenomenon that continues what was emerging with the visual material of the turn of the 20th century.

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“For Artistic Purposes Only“ – Model Studies and Photographic Academies

Nude pictures were reaching the public as “photographs after nature.” In the process, the artistic content or the intended use of the photographs was always emphasized. If we were to judge by the quantity of materials said to be produced solely for artists, then the largest professional group around 1900 would have been composed of them. “For artistic purposes only” was the password to uncensored production of nude photography. For many artists, photographic depictions actually did replace calling in live models. Art academies created a reference collection with nude studies. In many cases, works of painting or sculpture can be directly traced back to a particular photograph. Taken in classrooms that tended toward sobriety, most of the poses were borrowed from the art-historical cannon. Countless Venus and Apollo figures, cherubs, Atlases, Horatii, Graces and boys in the classical style populate the portfolios of the period. A practice of child nudes developed in the slipstream of the photographic academies. Ostensibly, these were created to show the angelic innocence of children of all ages. Photographers also documented classes in studios and at academies. Thus we see photographs of entire student groups with their nude model, and there are also fine examples of the triad of artist, model and work.

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(Visual) Yearnings – Ideals from Arcadia

The unclothed body was first and foremost an object of erotic associations, and they were rendered by photography in more or less subtle ways. While a large audience enjoyed the Arcadian idylls of Sicily without coming into a conflict with the law, there was likely an even larger public buying the goods “under the table” or only “per order,” potentially becoming guilty of immorality. Under Wilhelm II, male friendships were cherished as pillars of the system. Homosexuality, by contrast, was the subject of heated debate, its reception mixed. With this in mind, the vast array of potentially homoerotic photographs that were produced is revealing.

Wilhelm von Gloeden counts among the best-known practitioners of a kind of nude photography that gave voice to longings for an idyll that was generally Mediterranean or classical in nature. His photographs enjoyed tremendous commercial success around 1900. Numerous fellow photographers, most of them anonymous, began to photograph young and old satyrs, Ephebes, Apollos and shepherd boys and girls, staging the journey to Arcadia for the camera. Their images were published in such places as the first homoerotic magazine Der Eigene alongside poems, prose and essays. At the same time, these nude photographs were added to ethnographic collections (for example as Sicilian folklore), were discussed in the medical context and were used by (body) reformers to communicate an ideal.

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Vividly Immoral – Censored and Pornographic Photography

Since the invention of photography, photographs have been produced that are erotic or pornographic in nature. Crude or more sophisticated fashions, fantasies, means of distribution and censorship changed depending on the period. Around 1900, censorship in Germany generally went hand in hand with the so-called Lex Heinze, a newly added paragraph that forbade public exhibition of material classified as immoral. When enforced, the censorship effort resulted in the impounding by police of thousands of images from individual distribution businesses and studios. But in the face of the new, ever-growing production of nude photographs, the aim of gaining the upper hand over the flood of images was destined to fail.

Material from private collections is rare today but it would have been found in a large number of ordinary households. Aficionados put together albums in which they showed their predilections using a combination of photographs, drawings or caricatures, and sometimes writing. Even the police kept an exemplary inventory of nude photography which they collected in albums. In Germany there remains only the album from the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, whose large format, elaborately stamped leather binding, and careful arrangement of the diverse material make it clear just how significant nude photography was to the guardians of the law, too.

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“The photographic plate is the retina of scholars“ – The Nude Body in Science

A great number of scientific fields made use of photography in their systematic mapping out of the visible world. The naked body was measured, compared and assessed. Norms were defined and aberrations shown. The new, photographically mediated consciousness of physical constitutions made itself felt in the way people saw themselves and their contemporaries. But the seeming objectivity of the medium also abetted discriminatory views. The photography of movement played a particular role in the photographic experiments that sought to describe and unravel the human body in all its aspects. Special devices were used to record the consecutive positions of motor activities. In addition to movement in everyday life and in sports, photographers also documented freely invented movement and movement resulting from disease. Eadweard Muybridge and Ottomar Anschütz together with Albert Londe count among the best-known representatives of the photographic anatomy study and the systematic recording of movement.

Using special equipment, photographers provided physicians with illustrations of diseases and physical ailments. Image material was gathered on a regular basis and used in medical research and teaching. The often highly suggestive visual language of the time is also reflected in scientific publications. Many of the diagnostic findings and display formats from around 1900 seem outdated today.

When photography became more compatible with travelling, ethnographers brought back to Europe a large number of photographs of the sometimes unclothed inhabitants of colonies they were visiting and exploring. And as the ethnographic nude became more pervasive, posing for the camera became more common. Postures and props were modeled on recognized artworks as well as ideas about foreign cultures that were prevalent in Europe. Photographic comparisons were designed to emphasize particular characteristics of ethnic groups or body types: here, technical tricks, such as using different lighting, backgrounds and poses, came into play. This kind of image material fueled chauvinist and racist delusions, which became widely published.

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“Naked People – a Cheerful Future“ – Nude Photography and the Cult of the Body around 1900

At the turn of the century, questions about the body were quickly gaining in importance. Were corsets desirable? The photographs of corset marks on naked female bodies argue against them. What good was exercise? Photographs of trained naked bodies documented the benefits. What did a normal person look like, and what did the ideal body look like? With nude photography printed in numerous magazines and books, people began to develop an eye for these matters. With more and more images becoming available, people became more discerning when it came to their body versus foreign bodies. The body could be compared and evaluated. Ideals spread through powerful imagery and gained an increasing influence on individual body culture.

During the reform movement people, especially those in the German Empire, were drawn to the open air. They enjoyed so-called light baths, whose benefits were discussed at length and proven with photographs. An emerging nudism used photography to demonstrate a deliberately relaxed association with one another. Scantily clad or unclothed, stars soon had their pictures taken onstage, becoming famous when their images were used in advertising and turned into items of mass distribution. Their postcards and cartes de visite were precursors of the pin-up. Several of these images bring to mind hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet, among the nudists of the turn of the century were also publishers such as Richard Ungewitter, whose racist theories, based in folk identity, lent decidedly ideological undertones to the nude images they used in their argumentation.

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Passions of Art Photography – Pictorialist Nudes

Beginning in the 1890s many photographers sought to elevate their craft to the status of art with the aid of particular printing techniques and strategies of image creation. Nude photography, certainly a pleasurable pastime for such ambitious art photographers as the so-called Pictorialists, produced a wide variety of motifs. In the prestigious magazine Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz published a vast number of such images, including works by Robert Demachy, Constant Puyo, Heinrich Kühn, Annie Brigman and Edward Steichen. Among the Pictorialist nudes are expressive mise-en-scenes, some of them self-portraits of the photographers, whose subject matter was by turns poetic and symbolic. Besides this work, there certainly are images that are conventionally pleasant or academic and that stand out from the common material mostly due to their high print quality. Their pictorial techniques serve an atmosphere of everything from playful coquetry to dramatic religiousness. As the clearly preferred pose of wrestlers was that of a poet or thinker, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker can be seen as bringing together the esthetics of sculpture, Pictorialism and athlete photography.”

Press release from the Museum of Photography website

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Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903

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Emile Bayard
Untitled
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34
1903

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Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903

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Emile Bayard
Untitled
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34
1903

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How many artfully-draped centaurs, bacchantes, and nymphs does it take to make a dirty magazine? Only one early 20th-century periodical has the answer: The Aesthetic Nude (Le Nu Esthétique)… Illustrated entirely with unclothed models enacting quasi-mythological imagery, the covers alone range from a rapturous Leda and the Swan to a centaur’s semi-consensual abduction of a nymph (above). Inside each issue appear even more views of studio models in increasingly far-fetched poses, all of which were ostensibly meant to supplant the live model in studio practice. It’s not clear that anyone ever copied these compositions in paint, but the effort that went into cutting out the photos in lively shapes, and the publication’s run of several years (c. 1902-06), suggests a market existed for it!

These ‘aesthetic nudes’ beg the question of what constituted nudity, as opposed to nakedness in the late 19th and early 20th century. Was it simply the academic and mythological guise that made these images acceptable, even collectible?

(Text from the ARTicle, Art Institute of Chicago blog)

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Photographer unknown. 'Two women on a carousel Pig' c. 1900

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Photographer unknown
Two women on a carousel Pig
c. 1900
Silver gelatin print
© Collection GERARD LEVY, Paris

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Albert Londe. '15 Chronophotographs of Charcot's son / Charcot plays football' c. 1890

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Albert Londe
15 Chronophotographs of Charcot’s son / Charcot plays football
c. 1890
Gelatin silver print
© École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; Reprofoto: Jean-Michel Lapelerie

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Photographer unknown. 'Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked' 1906

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Photographer unknown
Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked
1906
Lichtdruck
© Sammlung Robert Lebeck, Berlin

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Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?). 'Male Nude in Tree' c. 1900

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Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?)
Male Nude in Tree
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
© Berlinische Galerie

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Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. 'Transparency' 1904

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Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock
Transparency
1904
Salter paper print
© Münchner Stadtmuseum

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Heinrich Kühn. 'Female Nude' c. 1906

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Heinrich Kühn
Female Nude
c. 1906
Bromoil print
© Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin

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Museum of Photography
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
T: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tues – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Museum of Photography website

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07
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 12th August 2013

 

“Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.”

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Text from the press release

 

 

I believe that Bill Brandt, along with Julia Margaret Cameron, is the greatest British photographer of all time.

Why is it so?

  1. There is the diversity of his approach over decades of artistic endeavour, from social documentary, portrait and landscape photography to nudes.
  2. There is a consistency to this enquiry. He is concerned with the same ideas in the 1930s as the 1960s, only expressed in a different form.
  3. There is a subtle ambiguity to all his work, no doubt influenced by his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray.
    For example, in the portrait of Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937, below), there is an odd sense of surrealism to the mise-en-scène. Notice the placement of the objects on the table, the positioning of both people’s heads with the jardiniere between, and the askance attitude of the satchel and framed image covered by drying, hanging clothes on the wall behind. And then, just to emphasise this pictorial disjunction, we notice that the miner is leaning one way and, in the framed image, another man with a tie is leaning the other, peering around  the edge of the drying clothes. The man and wife and the framed man for a triangle within the pictorial plane.
  4. There is his understanding of light. Look at any of the images in this posting – Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942, below), Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) etc… and marvel at Brandt’s “ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange.” Looking at the light of the world with a sense of wonder!
  5. And his understanding of “perspective”.
    Brandt is not afraid of the out of focus photograph as long as it gives him the “feeling” that he wants from the image. For example, see Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932, below), shot from below, quickly, to capture the pensiveness of loosing money.
    Brandt is not afraid of foreshortening as in the photographs Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) or A Snicket in Halifax (1937, below), where the use of this device leads the viewers eye into the body of the image.
    Brandt is also not afraid of a shallow depth of field or of placing objects or people right in the forefront of the image in order to create a complex picture plane. For example, in Kensington Children’s Party (c. 1934, below) the two children at bottom right are completely out of focus but hold up that corner of the image and give the image the stability and energy it needs to lead the eye into the small, frontal boy and the suspended balloons. Notice the really shallow depth of field, as only the girl at extreme right and a small number of balloons are in focus. Another later and more extreme example is the photograph Seaford, East Sussex Coast (1957, below) and the distortions in his book Perspective of Nudes (1961) – “a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange… rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising.”
    .

Brandt’s skewed perspectives are not only literal but also have psychological undertones. His work challenges traditional ideas of identity, place and time and makes the mundane seem fresh and strange. Over and over again. These photographs remain as fresh today as the day they were taken BECAUSE OF THE COMPLEXITY OF THOUGHT THAT LIES BEHIND EACH IMAGE.

Many a photographer could do no better than study the work of this incredible artist. I see so many images in Melbourne and from around the world that really say nothing and go nowhere, because of a lack of understanding of what is POSSIBLE when making a photograph, when telling a story. Rules are there to be broken, out of focus, shallow depth of field, complex pictures, complex thoughts succinctly and elegantly told. For Brandt in any photograph, the artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant so long as he felt the picture rang true. That does not mean lazy story telling, poor conceptualisation, bland visual construction.

As a good friend of mine artist Joyce Evans is fond of saying, “There is no excuse for bad photography.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner' c. 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal
1937
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 3/8″ (22.2 x 18.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

brandt-northumbrian-b-web

 

brandt-northumbrian-a-web

 

Analysis of Brandt’s visual exploration in Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Packaging Post for the War' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Packaging Post for the War
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 7 13/16″ (20.8 x 19.9 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Mark Levine
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter
1940
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (29.7 x 24.6 cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Kensington Children's Party' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Kensington Children’s Party
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/16″ (21.9 x 18.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kenwood' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Evening in Kenwood
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 3/4″ (22.9 x 19.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure and the Committee on Photography Fund.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“The Museum of Modern Art presents Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, a major critical reevaluation of the heralded career of Bill Brandt (British, b. Germany, 1904-83) from March 6 to August 12, 2013. A founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is organized by Sarah Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.

The impressive breadth of Brandt’s career, which suggests his restless experimental impulse, and the dramatic transformations of his printing style have often confounded those seeking to understand the link between the highly celebrated and seemingly unrelated chapters of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together more than 150 works divided into six sections, each corresponding with a distinct aspect of Brandt’s achievement: London in the Thirties; Northern England; World War II; Portraits; Landscapes; and Nudes. Beginning with a highly selective display of albums and prints made around the European continent as Brandt was forming his artistic identity, the exhibition presents an opportunity to understand Brandt in a new light: one that establishes a chronological trajectory of his career, with an expanded consideration of his activity during World War II. In addition, a closer look at his printing methods with the finest known prints from across the range of Brandt’s career will clarify how the artist, whose early work is characterized by the muted, wistful portrait of a young housewife scrubbing the threshold to her home (East End Morning, 1937), would come to create a bold and unpredictable series of nudes on the rocky English coast (East Sussex Coast, 1957).

Brandt established his reputation before the Second World War with the publication of The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938), books that distilled his early photographic studies of life in Britain. Noted works from this period on view include: Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner (c. 1936); Soho Bedroom (1934); Street Scene, London (1936); and Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932), which Brandt later re-titled Racegoers in Sandown Park in order to present it in the context of his English pictures, an expression of his disdain for slavish adherence to facts.

During this same period, Brandt ventured to several industrial towns in northern England to witness firsthand the impact of the Depression. Striking images from this group, including Snicket in Halifax (1937), Coal-Searcher Coming Home from Jarrow (1937), and Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937), bear unequivocal witness to the devastating unemployment that plagued the region at the time, but there is a subtle ambiguity to many of these images that suggests Brandt found the artistic potential of these soot-blackened structures and faces competing for his attention.

Brandt’s activity during the Second World War – long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz – are presented for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. In addition to photographs such as Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter (1940) and Deserted Street in Bloomsbury (1942), this section includes lesser-known works from the period such as: Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942); Packaging Post for the War (c. 1942); and a suite of extraordinary wartime portraits.

Brandt’s assignments for Picture Post and Lilliput magazines, as well as Harper’s Bazaar (UK and US), led variously into extended investigations of portraiture and landscape photography, with a strong emphasis on contemporary literary figures in Britain and the country’s rich literary heritage. A solemn, vaguely distracted expression became a hallmark of Brandt’s portraiture, and notable examples on view include Dylan Thomas, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, Reg Butler, Harold Pinter, Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard, Vanessa Redgrave, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Francis Bacon.

Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement – published as Perspective of Nudes in 1961 – is a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder”, to quote Brandt, that is paramount in his photographs. His extended investigation of the female nude remains his most original and memorable work, defying preconceived notions of the genre with his choice of settings (inhospitably barren seashores or prim Victorian interiors that conflated the domestic and the sexual in lieu of sterile, but safe, studios), as well as the extreme exaggeration of his distortions, cropping, and printing styles, rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising. On view are over 40 photographs from this period, including four prints of his iconic London (1952), which together suggest Brandt’s willingness to reinterpret even the most supremely resolved images in his oeuvre.

Through a rigorous analysis of each chapter of Brandt’s career across a half century of work, the exhibition clarifies the achievement of this towering figure in photography’s modernist tradition.”

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 5/8″ (22.8 x 19.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa A. Bronfman
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'A Snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
A Snicket in Halifax
1937
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.6 cm)
Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Street Scene, London' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Street Scene, London
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.6 cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

This picture, first published in Brandt’s book A Night in London in 1938, recalls the work of the Hungarian-born photographer Brassaï, who had a particular talent for capturing illicit, marginalized, or unconventional activity in the lamplit streets of Paris. Many of Brandt’s pictures, however, feature his family members playing roles. Here he placed his brother and sister-in-law, Rolf and Esther Brandt, in front of a large poster. Using a nearby streetlight or perhaps his own floodlight, Brandt cast Rolf’s profile in melodramatic shadow. The artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant for Brandt so long as he felt the picture rang true . (Text from MoMA website)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1934
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 9/16″ (22.2 x 19.2 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Michèle Gerber Klein
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Haworth Churchyard' 1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Haworth Churchyard
1945
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 x 7 11/16″ (22.7 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris' c. 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.3 x 17.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edwynn Houk
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (21.3 x 18.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'London' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
London
1954
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/4″ (23.1 x 19.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman and Richard E. Salomon
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt A Perspective of Nudes 1961

A book that looks back to Kertesz’s Distortions and forward to the psychedelia of the late 60s. As Vince Aletti writes in The Book of 101 Books, Brandt “conjure[d] a dream world of skewed perspectives in which his nude female subjects appeared to float unanchored or loom like giants.” Parr and Badger writing in The Photobook: A History, vol. 1, assert that these images “rewrote the language of nude photography in not one, but several quarters… [they are] as interesting for their psychological undertones as for the wealth of unexpected forms he conjured… Brandt pictured a world of faded grandeur, of Edwardian bourgeois homes metamorphosing into 1940s bedsit land – cavernous refuges for European émigrés or bohemian nonconformists.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Seaford, East Sussex Coast' 1957

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983)
Seaford, East Sussex Coast
1957
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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04
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13

Exhibition: ‘Pieter Hugo: This Must Be The Place – Selected Works 2003-2012′ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 11th August 2013

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I have not seen enough of the other series of Pieter Hugo to make an informed decision, but work from the The Hyena & Other Men (2005-2007) and Permanent Error (2009-2010) series, the most often reproduced, is certainly strong. Whether I am fully convinced by his singular frontality is another matter…

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Many thankx to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary 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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Pieter Hugo. 'The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria' 2005

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Pieter Hugo
The Hyena Men of Abuja, Nigeria
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'Aissah Salifu, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana' 2010

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Pieter Hugo
Aissah Salifu, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana
2010
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'Escort Kama. Enugu, Nigeria' 2008

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Pieter Hugo
Escort Kama. Enugu, Nigeria
2008
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh. Enugu, Nigeria' 2008

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Pieter Hugo
Chris Nkulo and Patience Umeh. Enugu, Nigeria
2008
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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“Pieter Hugo’s (b. Johannesburg, 1976) career is quite young, yet his photography is already so comprehensive that we can rightly speak of a consistent oeuvre. Since 2003 Hugo has photographed people and themes exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa. Daily life in post-colonial Africa, the complex conditions after the end of apartheid in his own land and the impact of global trade and commerce are themes that circulate throughout his intriguing series.

Pieter Hugo spends long periods of time photographing his extensive series in order to capture intimate and often bizarre moments. His use of a large-format camera requires patience and trust between photographer and subject, which is visible in straightforward expressions and candid interactions. There is a moment of calm and even timelessness in these works that allows the viewer to engage more fully with the subject matter.

The political diversity of a continent that is rapidly transforming – some note that Africa will be a global economic power of the future – is portrayed by Pieter Hugo with the clarity of familiar painting genres such as landscape, portraiture, group portraiture and still life. The subjects of his photography: the elderly, the poor, the blind, street artists, soap actors, close family and friends – form a social tableau that is at once personalized while also presenting a more universal image of Africa at the beginning of the twenty first century.

The initial motivation for the series The Hyena & Other Men (2005-2007) comes from a cell phone camera image Pieter Hugo discovered on the internet. The image concerns a group of performers who travel throughout Nigeria with tamed hyenas and other wild animals and collect money from their choreographed public performances. Hugo embarked on two separate trips to document this remarkable nomadic group up close. Hugo presents the complex relationship between animal and owner, capturing moments of calm and tenderness amidst situations full of drama and spectacle.

The Agbogbloshie market on the outskirts of Accra (Ghana) is the thematic of the Permanent Error series (2009-2010), which is mainly a dumping site for the technological waste of the western world. Here computers and other electronic equipment are collected and burned by inhabitants, often children, to extract precious raw materials. These machines formerly representing prosperity and progress are here transformed into only noxious and life threatening vapours. The charred ground, grey sky and scattered groups of foragers and cattle seem isolated from the world, but are in fact one of the last links in a chain of global commerce. Despite the harsh surroundings, the subjects stand tall, identified by full name and framed in the style of classical portraiture.

Nollywood (2008-2009) is the third largest film industry in the world, releasing between 500 and 1,000 movies each year. It produces movies on its own terms, telling stories that appeal to and reflect the lives of its public: it is a rare instance of self-representation on such a scale in Africa. The continent has a rich tradition of story-telling that has been expressed abundantly through oral and written fiction, but has never been conveyed through the popular media before. Stars are local actors; plots confront the public with familiar situations of romance, comedy, witchcraft, bribery, prostitution. The narrative is overdramatic, deprived of happy endings, tragic. The aesthetic is loud, violent, excessive; nothing is said, everything is shouted.

At a morgue in the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, Pieter Hugo turns his camera to individuals who have died of AIDS related illnesses. In The Bereaved (2005) as with many of his other series, Hugo gives first and last names of his subjects. Such a personal statement challenges the anonymity of AIDS statistics in South Africa. Ten years after the Rwandan Genocide, Pieter Hugo captures the unimaginable violence of these events through leftover fragments (Vestiges of a Genocide, 2004). The absence of human life is disturbingly present in the images. Bones are preserved with lime so as not to disintegrate. Heavy dust and dirt create an organic seal over the remains. While these substances often signify what is past and forgotten, the items in the photographs are preserved artificially and naturally for all to remember.

The series entitled Messina / Musina (2006) deals with the inhabitants of a small town on the border of Zimbabwe in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. The title reflects the correction of an earlier colonial misspelling of the town’s name (Messina), as well as the transition taking place at this geographical and social periphery.

In Pieter Hugo’s studio portraits of the elderly, the blind and people with albinism – Looking Aside, 2003-2006 – there is a direct and confrontational engagement between the viewer and the subjects. The viewer is made to feel uncomfortable and immobilized by the subject’s gaze. In There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends (2011) – a recent series of portraits realized in the same spirit and adopting a stripped back, close-up and confrontationally direct approach – Hugo explores similar territory [to his earlier series Looking Aside] but from practically the opposite angle. In this case, the subjects are simply the photographer and his friends, who represent an array of ethnicities but are not particularly atypical, abnormal or ‘unusual’ in a genetic sense. Instead they are rendered unusually, portrayed in a heightened monotone with their skin transformed into a range of exaggerated black spots and dark tones.

With Kin (2011), his most autobiographical series to date, Pieter Hugo reflects on his own family and deep ambivalence towards the notion of home. Personal moments such as the pregnancy of his wife, the birth of their child and an operation of his mother are interspersed with national icons: open landscapes, anthropological museums and references to historical places and figures in South Africa. The recent and historical, private and public, rich and poor, ugly and beautiful interact closely in this series and represent the social complexities of post-apartheid South Africa.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Pieter Hugo. 'Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana' 2009

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Pieter Hugo
Naasra Yeti, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana
2009
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'John Kwesi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana' 2005

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Pieter Hugo
John Kwesi, Wild Honey Collector, Techiman District, Ghana
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'The Honourable Justice Unity Dow' 2005

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Pieter Hugo
The Honourable Justice Unity Dow
2005
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'Steven Mohapi, Johannesburg' 2003

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Pieter Hugo
Steven Mohapi, Johannesburg
2003
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Pieter Hugo. 'Ashleigh McLean' 2011

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Pieter Hugo
Ashleigh McLean
2011
© Pieter Hugo
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yossi Milo, New York

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Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary 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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