Archive for the 'quotation' Category

30
Mar
14

Photographic archive: ‘The Gibson archive’ at the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG)

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“Other men have taken fine shipwreck photographs, but nowhere else in the world can one family have produced such a consistently high and poetic standard of work.”

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John Fowles

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“This is the greatest archive of the drama and mechanics of shipwreck we will ever see – a thousand images stretching over 130 years, of such power, insight and nostalgia that even the most passive observer cannot fail to feel the excitement or pathos of the events they depict.”

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Rex Cowan

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Dear readers, this gem of a posting will have to last you all of this week as it took such a long time to research, clean the images and assemble the post. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour.

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These are superb photographs obtained in the most trying of conditions, forming an artistic practice that spans generations and epochs.

As the text below notes, “At the very forefront of early photojournalism, John Gibson and his descendants were determined to be first on the scene when these shipwrecks struck. Each and every wreck had its own story to tell with unfolding drama, heroics, tragedies and triumphs to be photographed and recorded – the news of which the Gibsons would disseminate to the British mainland and beyond.”

This is the most glorious archive of shipwreck photographs that the world has even known and this posting brings together the largest selection of these photographs available on the Internet at the moment, in one place. I have to send a big thank you to the Press Office of the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) for sending me all these photographs and allowing me to post them on Art Blart. Unfortunately, because they had just been purchased from the auction house Sotheby’s, there was no information about each image, just the title of the ship. So I have spent hours researching the ships in this posting and cleaning up the scans that were sent to me, some of which were in a poor state. All the text comes from the Internet and if I have forgotten to credit someone I apologise in advance. I have included detailed close-ups of certain images to emphasise the drama, the calamity and the presence and inherent curiosity of onlookers.

The hours spent researching has all be worthwhile because the photographs are magnificent. Atmospheric, ghostly, tinged with loss, tragedy, heroism and the “presence” of these (mostly) sailing ships, these photographs are both memorials and romantic photographic ruins to the age of steam and sail. My favourite has to be the ghostly Flying Dutchman-esque The Glenbervie (1902, below), but for tragedy and poignancy you can’t go past the recumbent body of The Jeanne Gougy (1962, below), framed so beautifully by the artist in the horizontal, by just seen rocks.

But how can you pick just one or two? Each photograph has its own mystery, its own fiction, for as Susan Sontag observes, “Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation and fantasy.” In the case of these photographs we can only speculate as to the specific circumstances that led to the occurrence of each wreck (decisions made, or not), the set of circumstances and actions which are evidenced by the time freeze of these photographs, one end product of the performative act. Although they deny interconnectedness and continuity in the actual (conferring on each moment the character of a mystery), they enable interconnectedness and continuity in the imagination of the viewer for we can vividly imagine being on these ships as they are wrecked at sea.

What was interesting with this posting is that the images did not come with captions, just the name of the ship. My imagination was left free to roam, to scour the image for clues, to make up stories about what had happened until I did the research and the text based, “real” story emerged – the words becoming a means by which the viewer can decode the photographic evidence before them. Even though they were rushed to newspapers and magazines to impart news of the accident, I still prefer the fantasy of the image over the informational addendum, for this is what gives these images their power. Here, technology and the mistakes of man yield to the power of nature and you can only imagine how it would have been.

While the back story may add context of time, place, loss and heroism it is the beautiful isolation of these wrecked ships of the sea and their paradoxical nestling close in to the bosom of the earth, holding them fast, that will forever provide intimate fascination.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) 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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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Aksai' 1875

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Aksai
1875

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2 November 1875 – steamer Aksai (Russia) sailed into White Island, St Martin’s in thick fog while bound for Odessa from Cardiff with coal. The captain and crew of thirty-nine were saved by the Lady of the Isles. Citation: Larn, Richard (1992). Shipwrecks of the Isles of Scilly. Nairn: Thomas & Lochar.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Bay of Panama' 1891

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Bay of Panama
1891

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SV Bay of Panama (British): The sailing ship was wrecked under Nare Head, near St Keverne, Cornwall, United Kingdom, during a great blizzard. The ship carried jute from Calcutta; 18 of those on board died but 19 were saved. Noall, C. (1969?) Cornish Shipwrecks Illustrated. Truro: Tor Mark Press; p. 15

Barque, built in 1883, 4 masts (equipped with floors and lower deck beams of iron. The forecastle was 37 ft long and the poop 54 ft. Rigged with double top- and top gallant sails and royal sails)

Built by the Belfast shipping firm of Hartland and Wolff in 1883, the Bay of Panama was described by everyone who saw her as probably the finest sailing ship afloat. With her steel hull, and four square-rigged masts, she was a very fast and beautiful ship of 2282 tons. But strength and good looks are no guarantee, and during March 1891 the Bay of Panama met up with the worst blizzard Cornwall had suffered for over two hundred years. It was to prove no contest. Because of her speed, the Bay of Panama was used on the Calcutta run, and on November 18th 1890 she left that port bound for Dundee loaded with a cargo of 13000 bales of jute.

For four months she sailed swiftly towards England until one morning during the early part of March 1891, she approached the Cornish coast in rapidly deteriorating weather. The Captain knew all about the dangers of a lee shore, but because of the bad visibility he was uncertain as to his exact position. He could see that the weather was unlikely to get any better, and he even thought that there might be some snow. After weighing up all the risks he decided to heave to, take some depth soundings, and generally take stock of his position. It was a decision that was to cost him his ship, and his life. Only a few hours later, in the early afternoon, a blizzard, the worst for over two centuries, swept into the West Country and engulfed the Bay of Panama.

Bay of Panama
Posted on July 4, 2007 Peter Mitchell

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS Blue Jacket' 1898

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS Blue Jacket
1898

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SS Blue Jacket (United Kingdom) November 1898: She was unaccountably wrecked on a clear night a few yards from the Longships lighthouse, Lands End, Cornwall. The crew were saved by the Sennen lifeboat. Noall, C. (1969?) Cornish Shipwrecks Illustrated. Truro: Tor Mark Press; p. 21

Stuck fast – and surely a classic example of the expression – on the 
Longships lighthouse rocks off Land’s End, December 9th, 1898. This 
tramp was in ballast from Plymouth to Cardiff. The captain went below 
to his cabin – and his wife – at 9.30 p.m., leaving the mate on watch. 
He was woken near midnight by a tremendous crash, and came on deck 
to find his listing ship brilliantly illuminated by the lighthouse only a few yards away. Captain, wife and crew took to their boats and were picked 
up by the Sennen lifeboat. How the mate managed to play moth to this
 gigantic candle – the weather was poor, but provided at least two miles’ 
visibility – has remained a mystery. The Blue Jacket sat perched in this
ludicrous position for over a year.

John Fowles. Shipwreck. 1975

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Minnehaha' 1874

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Minnehaha
1874

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Minnehaha' 1874

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Minnehaha
1874

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The Minnehaha was shipwrecked in 1874 as it travelled from Peru to Dublin. It was carrying guano to be used as fertiliser and struck Peninnis Head rocks when the captain lost his way. The ship sank so quickly that some men were drowned in their berths, ten died in total including the captain.

On 18 January 1874, while travelling from Callao, Peru to Dublin, the 845-ton four-masted barque Minnehaha carrying guano was wrecked off Peninnis Head, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Her pilot mistook the St Agnes light for the Wolf Rock and thought they were passing between the Isles of Scilly and the Wolf. Shortly after she struck a rock off Peninnis Head  and the vessel sunk at once with some of the crew being drowned in their berths. Those on deck climbed into the rigging, and as the tide rose the ship was driven closer to land, and some managed to climb onto the shore over the jib boom. The master, pilot and eight crew drowned.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Mohegan'
 1898

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Mohegan

1898

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The Mohegan struck the Manacles, October 14th, 1898. One of the most dreaded of all reefs, 
the Manacles (from the Cornish ‘maen eglos’, rocks of the church, a reference 
to the landmark of St Keverne’s tower) stand east of the Lizard promontory, 
in a perfect position to catch shipping on the way into Falmouth – and before
Marconi ‘Falmouth for orders’ (as to final North European destination) was
 the commonest of all instructions to masters abroad. But the Mohegan was
 outward bound, and hers is one of the most mysterious of all Victorian sea-disasters.
 She was a luxury liner on only her second voyage, from Tilbury to New York.
 Somewhere off Plymouth a wrong course was given. A number of people on shore 
realized the ship was sailing full speed (13 knots) for catastrophe; a coastguard
 even fired a warning rocket, but it came too late. The great ship struck just as 
the passengers were sitting down to dinner. She sank in less than ten minutes,
 and 106 people were drowned, including the captain and every single deck officer,
 so we shall never know how the extraordinary mistake, in good visibility, was made.
 The captain’s body was washed up headless in Caernarvon Bay three months later.
 Most of the dead were buried in a mass grave at St. Keverne.

John Fowles. Shipwreck. 1975

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'MV Poleire' 1970

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The Gibsons of Scilly
MV Poleire
1970

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The MV Poleire was a Cypriot motor vessel of some 2300 tons. In April 1970 she was on a voyage from Ireland to Gdynia in Poland carrying a cargo of zinc ore when she struck the Little Kettle Rock, which lies just north west of Tresco. There was a thick fog when she struck, and although less than a mile from the Round Island light house, her master failed to hear the fog signal. The sea was flat calm so all the crew managed to get off safely. Within a week the Poleire broke in two and sank.

MV Poleire
Posted on July 4, 2007 Peter Mitchell

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Jeanne Gougy' 1962

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Jeanne Gougy
1962

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The Jeanne Gougy, a French fishing trawler (built 1948) ran aground on the 3rd November 1962. Several crew were rescued by Sergeant Eric Smith from a Whirlwind Mk 10 helicopter when he was winched down to the wheelhouse despite it being submerged by breaking waves. He was awarded a George Medal for his rescues.

“The dramatic but tragic shipwreck in which eleven men died and the rescue of the rest of the crew of the Jean Gougy, occurred on November 3rd 1962. The French trawler out of Dieppe, was bound for the fishing grounds of the southern Irish coast when it went aground on the north side of Lands End. At 05.20h, the Sennen Coxswain was contacted by the coastguard who informed him of the trawler’s situation. The firing of the maroons at Sennen Cove awoke two young Royal Marines from their deep sleep, bivouacking as they were, on the flat concrete platform that then existed not far from the lifeboat station at Sennen Cove. The reserve lifeboat on temporary duty at the station was launched as the two marines slowly dozed off back to sleep.

The lifeboat took approximately one hour to reach the scene at Lands End. A parachute flare was fired and the trawler could be seen lying on her side on rocks at the foot of the cliff. A very heavy swell prevailed after the storm. It was impossible for the lifeboat to get any closer than a hundred yards. An L.S.A team at the top of the cliff had fired several lines over the trawler, but the crew could not secure them as the trawler was completely submerged by the heavy swell. Several men were washed out of the wheelhouse. At 8.15h a helicopter from Chivener arrived and, together with the lifeboat, carried out a search of the area. The lifeboat found two seamen and the helicopter one. They were all dead. At 9.00h the helicopter left for Penzance to land a body and to then refuel at Culdrose Naval Air Base near Helston.
I had awoken with a start at the explosions around me, mistakenly in my stupor believing it was already bonfire night, which of course was two days away. I went back to sleep. Waking sometime later my climbing partner and I packed our equipment and proceeded to walk from Sennen Cove where we had been climbing the previous day, over to Lands End for another days climbing. As we approached Lands End, we noticed people standing on the northern headland. On arriving at approximately midday, we walked over to the zawn beneath us, into which a policeman was peering. There on it’s side was a trawler and looking up at us and waving were many trapped people in the wheelhouse.

Turning to the policeman I said “If my mate and I rope down this side of the zawn (there is a tidal platform, a ledge there), we can set up a belay station, throw our other rope in through the broken wheelhouse window and one by one pull those guys to the cliff below us” (the tide was going out). “Go away” was his curt reply. And so we walked away. In the next four hours, eight more fisherman lost their lives. The outcome could have been so very different.

As there appeared to be no one left alive on the Jean Gougy the lifeboat had made for Newlyn to land two bodies, it being impossible to return to Sennen Cove due to the tide. At noon however a woman watching from the top of the cliff top saw a man’s hand waving inside the wheelhouse and heard him calling. The coastguards fired a line over the trawler and a man, clinging to the edge of the wheelhouse as the vessel was now completely on her side, struggled to grasp it. He was prevented by heavy waves. Eventually he secured the line and was hauled to safety in the breeches buoy. Three others being rescued afterwards by the same means. The helicopter, on being recalled, hovered over the ship and lowered a crewman who saved two more seamen. These six had survived by breathing trapped air in pockets at the wheelhouse and forecastle. On learning of these developments, the Penlee lifeboat Soloman Browne launched at 12.45h and arrived threequarters of an hour later. The Sennen lifeboat also returned to the scene at 15.45h. With the helicopter they again searched the area but with no success. It was later learned that the trawler carried a crew of 18, 11 of whom lost their lives, including the skipper.

Sergeant E.C. Smith of the R.A.F who was lowered to the trawler to save the two injured men received the George Medal and also the Silver Medal of the Societe Nationale des Hospitaliers Sauveteurs Bretons. The stirring events connected with this shipwreck, which received extensive press and television coverage, provided an excellent illustration for the public of the manner of work the three principle sea rescue services provided in this country, and of the cooperation existing between them.”

Millenium Moments – The Jean Gougy – A personal recollection by Dennis Morrod

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'Jeune Hortense' 1888

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The Gibsons of Scilly
Jeune Hortense
1888

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The French brigantine Jeune Hortense was swept on to the beach when she came into Mount’s Bay to land the body of a Fowey man who had died in France.
The schooner wrecked at Long Rock, Cornwall. The Penzance lifeboat, having been brought by carriage to the beach near Marazion, rescued four crew.

Stranded near St Michael’s Mount, May lyth, 1888. The foreground
 carriage is for the Penzance lifeboat

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Mildred' 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Mildred
1912

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The Mildred was traveling from Newport to London when it got stuck in dense fog and hit rocks at Gurnards Head at midnight on the 6th April 1912. Captain Larcombe and his crew of two Irishmen, one Welshman and a Mexican rowed into St. Ives as their ship was destroyed by the waves.

“The British barquentine Mildred, Newport for London with basic slag, struck under Gurnards Head at midnight on the 6th April 1912, whilst in dense fog. She swung broadside and was pounding heavily when Captain Larcombe, the mate, two Irishmen, one Welshman and a Mexican from Vera Cruz rowed into St. Ives at 6am. They later returned in a pilot gig but the Mildred was already going to pieces. The Mildred, Cornish built and owned, was launched in 1889.”

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS Tripolitania' 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS Tripolitania
1912

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SS Tripolitania Italian cargo ship (built 1897) ran aground on the 26th December 1912. Driven ashore in a Westerly gale, she beached and attempts were made to refloat her over the coming months on a spring tide. This was unsuccessful and she was eventually scrapped.

“Boxing Day 1912 was remembered by the advent of a south westerly gale, the full force of which was experienced at the Loe Bar, the stretch of shingle and sand separating the Loe Pool from the sea near Porthleven. This Italian Steamer Tripolitania was 2,297 tons. She became firmly embedded and despite strenuous efforts to release her from this perilous position, she was broken up and shipped as scrap from local Porthleven. It has been stated that about £8,000 had been expended on trying to save her. Many tons of sand and shingle were removed in an attempt to free the Tripolitania in the Loe Bar Sands and a great expense was incurred to try and salvage the ship. Tugs stood by for the attempt on the full tide on the morrow, but a storm arose during the night and embedded the vessel even firmer than before. After this incident hopes for refloating her were abandoned and she was broken up for scrap iron. One man was drowned and his body was never recovered.”

Anon. “Tripolitania,” on the Helston History website Nd

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“Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) today acquired a world renowned and nationally significant collection of photographic and archive material. The Gibson archive presents one of the most graphic and emotive depictions of shipwrecks, lifesaving and its aftermath produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The material was acquired at the Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History Sale.

The archive of dramatic and often haunting images, assembled over 125 years (1872 to 1997) by four generations of the Gibson family, records over 200 wrecks – the ships, heroic rescues, survivors, burials and salvage scenes – off the treacherous coastline of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The acquisition of this collection comprising of over 1360 glass and film negatives, complements the Museum’s existing, extensive historic photography collection, and creates an unprecedented opportunity for the Museum to further examine and explore the story of life at sea and the dangers experienced by seafarers through research, education and display projects.

John Gibson (1827-1920) founded the family photographic business in the 1860s and took his first photograph of a wreck in 1869. He apprenticed his two sons Alexander (1857-1944) and Herbert (1861-1937), who perfected the art of photographing wrecks, creating perhaps some of the most remarkable and evocative images of misadventure at sea. Among the items included in the collection is the ledger the Gibson brothers kept when taking the photographs, which contains records of the telegraph messages sent from Scilly and is full of human stories of disaster, courage and survival. Having secured the archive RMG will initially conserve, research and digitize the collection, leading to a number of exhibitions to tour regional museums and galleries, especially those in the South West of England.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow, Chairman of the Royal Museums Greenwich, said: “The acquisition of this remarkable archive will enable us to create a series of exhibitions that will travel across the country, starting with the South West. I am very pleased that the National Maritime Museum has been able to secure this wonderful collection for the nation, and I know that the Gibson family are delighted that their family archive will remain and be displayed in this country.”

Items acquired today at auction:

  • 585 Glass plate negatives (214: 12 x 10in: 8 x 6in) housed in 16 original wooden boxes and one cardboard box
  • 407 Glass plate copy negatives (6½ x 4¾ in) in 4 cardboard boxes
  • 179 Glass plate negatives (4¼ x 3¼in)
  • 198 film negatives (5 x 4in) in three boxes
  • 335 cut film negatives (various sizes) and 39 (35mm) film negatives
  • 97 original photographs of shipwrecks (silver prints, 12 x 10in)
  • Manuscript ledger by Alexander and Herbert Gibson on the shipwrecks of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
  • A collection of books by John Fowles, John Arlott, John Le Carré, and Rex Cowan on the Gibsons of Scilly, together with newspaper and magazine articles

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Text from the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) website

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Founder John Gibson bought his first camera 150 years ago

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Founder John Gibson bought his first camera 150 years ago

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Alexander Gibson was invited by his father John into the business in 1865

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Alexander Gibson was invited by his father John into the business in 1865

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Herbert Gibson was taken on by his father as an apprentice and went on to run the business

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Apprentice: Herbert Gibson was taken on by his father as an apprentice and went on to run the business

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James Gibson took over the business after the death of his father Herbert

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James Gibson took over the business after the death of his father Herbert

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Frank Gibson spent time learning about new technology and techniques to help advance the family business

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Frank Gibson spent time learning about new technology and techniques to help advance the family business

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“The Gibson family originated from the Isle of Scilly and have 300 years of family history. John Gibson acquired his first camera whilst abroad around 150 years ago when photography was still mainly reserved for the wealthiest members of society. He had to go to sea from a young age to supplement the income from a small shop on St Mary’s run by his widowed mother. Making ends meet on St Mary’s was a constant struggle and he learned to use the camera and set up a photography studio in Penzance.

Around 1866 he returned to St Mary’s with his family and he was assisted in his photography by his sons Alexander and Herbert in the studio shed in the back garden of their home. Both Herbert and Alexander learned the art of photography at their father’s knee and Alexander was to become one of the most remarkable characters in Scilly. He had a passion for archaeology, architecture and folk history. He took endless pictures of ruins, prehistoric remains, and artifacts not just in Scilly but all over Cornwall.

Herbert by contrast was a quiet man, a competent photographer and a sound businessman. There can be no doubt that without his steadying influence, the business aspect of their photography might not have survived Alexander’s more flamboyant approach. Frank spent some time working for photographers in Cornwall learning about new technology. But Frank returned to Scilly in 1957 and worked in partnership with his father for two years.

After this time it was apparent that they could not work together and James retired to Cornwall and sold the business to Frank. Under Frank’s stewardship the business expanded. He produced postcards and sold souvenirs to supplement the photography, and opened another shop. Scilly is always in the news and there is always demand for pictures by the press.

James Gibson was, in fact, the most qualified of all the photographers. He was an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and won various medals and awards through his lifetime. He was an adventurous photojournalist as well as a jobbing photographer. Today, the family runs a souvenir shop which sells books and postcards and they are currently digitising 150 years of photographs.”

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“The family’s famous shipwreck photography began in 1869, on the historic occasion of the arrival of the first Telegraph on the Isles of Scilly. At a time when it could take a week for word to reach the mainland from the islands, the Telegraph transformed the pace at which news could travel. At the forefront of early photojournalism, John became the islands’ local news correspondent, and Alexander the telegraphist – and it is little surprise that the shipwrecks were often major news.

On the occasion of the wreck of the 3500-ton German steamer, Schiller in 1876 when over 300 people died, the two worked together for days – John preparing newspaper reports, and Alexander transmitting them across the world, until he collapsed with exhaustion. Although they often worked in the harshest conditions, travelling with hand carts to reach the shipwrecks – scrambling over treacherous coastline with a portable dark room, carrying glass plates and heavy equipment – they produced some of the most arresting and emotive photographic works of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”

Text from Wills Robinson. “Gibson family’s photos chart a century of Cornish shipwrecks,” on the Mail Online website 21/10/2013

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James Gibson at work

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James Gibson at work

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS City of Cardiff' 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS City of Cardiff
1912

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21 March – City of Cardiff (United Kingdom) wrecked at Nanjizal, two miles south of Land’s End. The Sennen Life-Saving Apparatus Team took the crew off by breeches buoy. Citation: Corin, J.; Farr, G. (1983). Penlee Lifeboat. Penzance: Penlee & Penzance Branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. p. 120.

The steamer City of Cardiff pictured trapped on rocks with steam still coming out of the chimney, it was washed ashore by a strong gale in March 1912 at Nanjizel. The Captain, his wife and son, and the crew were all rescued but the vessel was left a total wreck. British ship built 1906, the City of Cardiff was en route from Le Havre, France, to Wales in 1912 when it was wrecked in Mill Bay near Land’s End. All of the crew were rescued.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS City of Cardiff' 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS City of Cardiff
1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS City of Cardiff' (detail) 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS City of Cardiff
1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS City of Cardiff' (detail) 1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS City of Cardiff (detail)
1912

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'Brinkburn' 1898

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The Gibsons of Scilly
Brinkburn
1898

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“The steamer Brinkburn, belonging to Messrs. Harris and Dixon, of London, from Galverton for Havre, with cotton, ran ashore on the Maiden Bower, Isles of Scilly, on Thursday at midnight during dense fog.  The crew of 30 took to their lifeboats and landed in safety. The Brinkburn is a total wreck.” 15/12/1898

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SS Schiller' 1875

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SS Schiller
1875

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SS Schiller was a 3,421 ton German ocean liner, one of the largest vessels of her time. Launched in 1873 she plied her trade across the Atlantic Ocean, carrying passengers between New York and Hamburg for the German Transatlantic Steam Navigation Line. She became notorious on 7 May 1875, when while operating on her normal route she hit the Retarrier Ledges in the Isles of Scilly, causing her to sink with the loss of most of her crew and passengers, totalling 335 fatalities.

Captain Thomas needed to slow due to poor visibility in thick sea fog as she entered the English Channel, and was able to calculate that his ship was in the region of the Isles of Scilly, and thus within range of the Bishop Rock lighthouse which would provide him with information about his position. To facilitate finding the islands and the reefs which surround them, volunteers from the passengers were brought on deck to try to find the light. These lookouts unfortunately failed to see the light, which they were expecting on the starboard quarter, when in fact it was well to port (nautical). This meant that the Schiller was sailing straight between the islands on the inside of the lighthouse, leaving the ship heading towards the Retarrier Ledges.

The Schiller grounded on the reef at 10pm, sustained significant damage, but not enough in itself to sink the large ship. The captain attempted to reverse off the rocks, pulling the ship free but exposing it to the heavy seas which were brewing, which flung the liner onto the rocks by its broadside three times, stoving in the hull and making the ship list dangerously as the lights died and pandemonium broke out on deck as passengers fought to get into the lifeboats.

It was at these boats that the real disaster began, as several were not seaworthy due to poor maintenance and others were destroyed, crushed by the ship’s funnels which fell amongst the panicked passengers. The captain attempted to restore order with his pistol and sword, but as he did so, the only two serviceable lifeboats were launched, carrying 27 people, far less than their full capacity. These boats eventually made it to shore, carrying 26 men and one woman.

On board the ship the situation only became worse, as breakers washed completely over the wreck. All the women and children on board, over 50 people, were hurried into the deck house to escape the worst of the storm. It was there that the greatest tragedy happened, when before the eyes of the horrified crew and male passengers, a huge wave ripped off the deck house roof and swept the occupants into the sea, killing all inside. The wreck continued to be pounded all night, and gradually those remaining on board were swept away or died from exposure to cold seas, wind and resulting hypothermia, until the morning light brought rescue for a handful of survivors.

The recognized manner of signaling disaster at sea was by the firing of minute guns, carried on all ships for signalling purposes. Unfortunately, it had become the custom in the islands to fire a minute gun as your ship passed safely through the area, and so the firing of the Schiller’s guns failed to produce hoped for rescue. Such an operation at night and in the dark would have been near impossible anyway with such high seas, and thus it was not until the first light that rescue craft began arriving.
St Agnes pilot gig, the O and M, was summoned to investigate multiple cannon shots. Her crew discovered the mast of the sinking Schiller. The O and M rowed to pick up five survivors before returning to St Agnes for assistance. Steamers and ferries from as far away as Newlyn, Cornwall, assisted the rescue operation.

Of her original 254 passengers and 118 crew, there were 37 survivors. The death toll, 335, made the disaster one of the worst in British history. (Wikipedia)

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“An exceptional collection of shipwreck photographs taken by four generations of the Gibson family was bought at a Sotheby’s auction yesterday by the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) for £122,500 ($195,645) including buyer’s premium. The archive contains more than 1,100 glass plate negatives, more than 500 film negatives and 97 original print photographs of shipwrecks off the coasts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. They make the perfect complement to the RMG’s pre-existing collection of historic maritime photography.

For 125 years, starting with patriarch John Gibson, a seaman who became a professional photographer in 1860, the Gibson family braved shoals, waves and sand to capture haunting scenes of shredded ships, dramatic rescues, cargo salvage and burials of people who fell victim to the treacherous coastal waters of southwest England. John’s sons Herbert and Alexander joined the business in 1865 and their talents would come to define the Gibson archive and its exceptional high quality. The first wreck they photographed was in 1869 when the telegraph had just arrived on the Isles of Scilly.

These were not simple point and shoot operations. It was dangerous, highly physical labour. On the occasion of the wreck of the 3500-ton German steamer, Schiller, in 1876 when over 300 people died, the two brothers worked together for days – [Herbert] preparing newspaper reports, and Alexander transmitting them across the world, until he collapsed with exhaustion. Although they were working in difficult conditions, travelling with a cart or boat to reach the shipwrecks – and scrambling over rocky crags and sand dunes with a portable dark room, carrying fragile glass plates and heavy equipment – they produced some of the most arresting and emotive photographic images of shipwrecks produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

They were pioneers. This was at a time when most photography was still firmly wedded to the studio portrait. The equipment was so bulky and fragile that climbing over crags hauling not just the camera and plates but a freaking dark room would be inconceivable to most people. That the Gibsons pulled it off is amazing in and of itself; that they also created images of such beauty and emotional resonance makes the archive little short of miraculous.

The Gibson family business is still going strong on the Isles of Scilly, although they’ve added souvenir and wholesale postcard sales to the professional photography. Sandra Gibson, John’s great-great granddaughter, runs it now with her husband Pete. The family decided it was time to sell the archive rather than let it continue to languish in boxes.”

Author John Le Carré, who used some Gibson photographs in his books, visited the business, then run by Frank, Sandra’s father, in 1997. I love his description of the archive:

“We are standing in an Aladdin’s cave where the Gibson treasure is stored, and Frank is its keeper. It is half shed, half amateur laboratory, a litter of cluttered shelves, ancient equipment, boxes, printer’s blocks and books. Many hundreds of plates and thousands of photographs are still waiting an inventory. Most have never seen the light of day. Any agent, publisher or accountant would go into free fall at the very sight of them.”

Now that National Maritime Museum has the pictures, we can all go into free fall at the very sight of them, and the family can be sure it will be archived properly and shared with the world. The museum plans to use the archive to study the dangers of the seafaring life and to display this invaluable record as widely as possible.”

Press release from the Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG)

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'River Lune' 1879

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The Gibsons of Scilly
River Lune
1879

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River Lune struck in fog and at night just south of Annet (Scillies), July 27th, 1879 – the same day as the Maipu. The master later blamed a faulty
 chronometer, since he had believed himself fifteen miles to the west.
 The ship heeled and sunk aft in the first ten minutes. The crew took 
to their boats, but returned in daylight to collect their belongings. 
This barque was only eleven years old. She broke up soon afterwards.

John Fowles. Shipwreck. 1975

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Punta' 1955

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Punta
1955

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SV Seine' 1900

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SV Seine
1900

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SV Seine' (detail) 1900

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SV Seine (detail)
1900

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The French ship, the barque SV Seine (built in 1899) was on her way to Falmouth with a cargo of nitrate when she ran into a gale off Scilly on Decermber 28, 1900. She ran ashore in Perran Bay, Perranporth, Cornwall, but thankfully all crew members were rescued with Captain Guimper reported as the last man to leave the ship before she was broken up in the next flood tide.

Ran ashore in Perran Bay (Perranporth), December 28th, 1900. This beautiful ship was a French ‘bounty clipper’ – so called because a government subsidy to French ship-owners allowed them to build for elegance rather than more mundane qualities. The crew got off in heavy seas. By dawn the next day she was dismasted and on her beam-ends, and broke up on the next flood-tide. Two weeks later the hulk of this celebrated barque was bought for only £42.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SV Albert Wilhelm' 1886

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SV Albert Wilhelm
1886

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SV Albert Wilhelm 1886, a German brig was lost 16 October 1886 Lelant.
The Albert Wilhelm, Lelant, 1886, a 202 ton German Brig travelling from the Isle of Man to Fowey.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'MV Cita' 1997

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The Gibsons of Scilly
MV Cita
1997

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The German owned 300ft merchant vessel the Cita, sunk after it pierced its hull and ran aground in gale-force winds en route from Southampton to Belfast in March 1997. The mainly Polish crew of the stricken vessel were rescued a few hours after the incident by the RNLI and the wreck remained on the rock ledge for several days before slipping off into deeper water.

On 26 March 1997, the 300-ft merchant vessel MV Cita pierced its hull when running aground on rocks off the south coast of the Isles of Scilly in gale-force winds en route from Southampton to Belfast. The incident happened just after 3 am when the German-owned, Antiguan-registered 3,000 tonne vessel hit Newfoundland Point, St Mary’s. The mainly Polish crew of the stricken vessel were rescued a few hours after the incident by St Mary’s Lifeboat, RNLB Robert Edgar with the support of a H-3 Sea King rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose. They sailed to the UK mainland on board the Scillonian III later that afternoon. Many containers were washed up on the rocks and beaches of the Isles of Scilly, and many were found in the Celtic Sea, travelling as far as Cornwall. (Wikipedia)

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'The Glenbervie' 1902

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Glenbervie
1902

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The Glenbervie, which was carrying a consignment of pianos and high quality spirits crashed into rocks Lowland Point near Coverack, Cornwall, in January 1902 after losing her way in bad weather. The British owned barque was laden with 600 barrels of whisky, 400 barrels of brandy and barrels of rum. All 16 crewmen were saved by lifeboat.

The Glenbervie, The Lizard, 1902, travelling from the Thames to West Africa spirits and pianos. Struck on the Manacles and went aground near Lowland Point, December 1901. The crew were saved in heavy seas by the Coverack lifeboat. The old wreckers must have groaned in their uneasy graves when they heard that this cargo was officially salvaged, since it contained over a thousand cases and barrels of spirits. There was also a valuable consignment of grand pianos on board, which were all ruined. The Glenbervie was launched in 1866; she was first a tea-clipper, then had many years in the Canada trade. She normally made three trips a year, between the thawing and the freezing of the St Lawrence, on this latter run.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SV Granite State / Slate' 1895

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SV Granite State / Slate
1895

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American three-masted sailing ship built in 1877 ran aground near Porthcurno 4th November 1895

On 3rd November 1895 this American sailing ship arrived in Falmouth with a cargo of wheat from the River Plate. Given orders to discharge in Swansea she sailed on the 4th November and whilst attempting to round Lands End, struck the Lee Ore rock of the Runnel Stone. Taken in tow by the Cardiff tug Elliot and Jeffrey she was beached in the shallows of Porthcurno. She rapidly settled, and when the wheat began to swell and the hatches burst under the pressure, she was abandoned. She broke up soon afterwards in a winter gale.

Struck on the Runnel Stone, three miles south-east of Land’s End, November 4, 1895. This fine Yankee windjammer was making for Swansea from Falmouth. A navigation error by the mate seems to have been the cause of disaster. She was hauled off by a tug, but had to be towed to the nearest sandy bay, Porthcurno. She settled rapidly, and when the cargo of wheat began to swell the crew took to boats. The Granite Slate was soon afterwards destroyed completely by a gale.

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The Gibsons of Scilly. 'SV Granite State / Slate' (detail) 1895

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The Gibsons of Scilly
SV Granite State / Slate (detail)
1895

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The-Hansy-1911-WEB

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The Gibsons of Scilly
The Hansy
1911

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Wreck of the Norwegian full-rigger Hansy, Housel Bay, The Lizard, Cornwall, November 1911.

3 November – 1497 ton sailing ship Hansy (Norway) of Fredrikstad was wrecked at Housel Bay on the eastern side of the Lizard. Three men were saved by the Lizard lifeboat (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and the rest along with the Captain’s family were taken off by rocket apparatus. She was bound for Sydney with building material and her cargo of steel and timber was washed up for weeks afterwards and used in many of the local cottages. One in Church Cove now bears her name. (Wikipedia)

“Wrecked in Housel Bay near the Lizard Point, November 13th, 1911. 
Sailing from Sweden to Melbourne with timber and pig-iron, she missed stays 
while trying to come about in a gale. The crew were brought ashore by 
breeches-buoy. Two days later a salvage party boarded – to find a pair of
goats lying happily in a seaman’s bunk. Local fishermen did a thriving trade 
in timber for weeks afterwards; and the iron pigs are fished up for ballast 
to this day. The Scottish-built Hansy (formerly Aberfoyle) had had an 
unhappy history. In 1890 the bulk of the crew jumped ship in Australia,
 after a bad voyage out – only to be returned on board following a fortnight 
in jail. Jail must have been more agreeable, for eight men jumped ship again 
at the next port of call. In 1896 a steamer found the Aberfoyle drifting helplessly
 off Tasmania. The captain had been swept overboard, the first mate had
 committed suicide by leaping into the sea and the rest had given up hope.
 Similar stories of low morale – and often of insane bitterness between
 officers and crew – are manifold.”

John Fowles. Shipwreck. 1975

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Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG)

The National Maritime MuseumQueen’s HouseRoyal Observatory and Cutty Sark are normally open 10.00-17.00 seven days a week.

Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) website

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22
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs Of Ansel Adams’ at the Jundt Art Gallery, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA

Exhibition dates: 4th January – 29th March 2014

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Just a small celebration = this is the 900th posting on Art Blart since it started…

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I sifted through all the photographs of the “war relocation center” (euphemism for concentration camp) named Manzanar that Ansel Adams took – over 220 photographs on the Library of Congress website – to bring you these, the best of the bunch. Adams wasn’t a particularly good documentary photographer and it was a struggle to come up with these images, but sprinkled in with the prosaic are some absolutely stunning landscape and still life images.

What is noteworthy however, is Adams moral stance towards the unlawful incarceration of Japanese Americans, something that went against everything American citizenship is supposed to stand for. In 1944 he published a book called Born Free and Equal which protests the treatment of these American citizens. Through photography and text he showed how they suffered under a great injustice – by portraying “Japanese American internees as loyal Americans going about their lives like regular citizens, not as dangerous aliens.”

As curator Robert Flynn Johnson notes, “Adams saved his harshest attack on their unjust imprisonment for the language of his book… In the text Adams struggled with the argument that the incarceration of these citizens was not just but justified by military necessity. However, he rejected that argument, clearly and forcefully articulating his opposition to the internment. The book was not well received. Adams was called a “Jap lover” and copies of the book were burned. To fully understand the “profiles in Courage” stand Ansel Adams took by publishing Born Free and Equal while the war was still raging, one must understand the emotionally volatile nature of those times in which it was published. Adams’s strong convictions are fully apparent when one reads his forceful words while viewing his beautiful photographic imagery…”

Can you imagine what courage it must have taken to publish a book in the middle of the Second World War – with all that was going on with America and the war in the Pacific against Japan – titled Born Free and Equal, a book that lays bare the hypocrisy of democracy as only contingent on those in power. This man and his supporters have my utmost admiration. In Australia it’s a pity – no, it’s shameful – that those elected people on both sides of major politics do not possess similar fortitude. The guts to stand up for justice and freedom against the evils of incarceration and oppression when they see it staring them in the face.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. What is also interesting is how Adams laid out this work for exhibition in the camp itself. The size of the prints, how they are displayed both vertically and horizontally, and how they move up and down and are not hung ‘on the line’ – plus the artefacts they are also displayed with. Fascinating stuff.

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These photographs were sourced from the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. The online archive contains all of Ansel Adams photographs of Manzanar War Relocation Center to download in high resolution, with no known restrictions on publication. Please note: publication of these images in the posting does NOT mean that these images are in the exhibition.

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Foreword to Born Free and Equal

“Moved by the human story unfolding in the encirclement of desert and mountains, and by the wish to identify my photography in some creative way with the tragic momentum of the times, I came to Manzanar with my cameras in the fall of 1943. For many years, I have photographed the Sierra Nevada, striving to reveal by the clear statement of the lens those qualities of the natural scene which claim the emotional and spiritual response of the people. In these years of strain and sorrow, the grandeur, beauty, and quietness of the mountains are more important to us than ever before. I have tried to record the influence of the tremendous landscape of Inyo on the life and spirit of thousands of people living by force of circumstance in the Relocation Center of Manzanar. …

I believe that the acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the people of Manzanar. I do not say all are conscious of this influence, but I am sure most have responded, in one way or another, to the resonances of their environment. From the harsh soil they have extracted fine crops; they have made gardens glow in the firebreaks and between the barracks. Out of the jostling, dusty confusion of the first bleak days in raw barracks they have modulated to a democratic internal society and a praiseworthy personal adjustment to conditions beyond their control. The huge vistas and the stern realities of sun and wind and space symbolize the immensity and opportunity of America – perhaps a vital reassurance following the experience of enforced exodus. …

I trust the content and message of this book will suggest that the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come.”

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Ansel Adams, Foreword to Born Free and Equal, 1944

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Library of Congress text

Well-known fine art and landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, took on several war-related assignments. When offering the Manzanar photos to the Library in 1965, Adams wrote in an accompanying letter, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice … had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment.”

Summary: Photographs document the lives of Japanese Americans interned during World War II at the Manzanar Relocation Center, in Inyo County, California. There are numerous close-up and occupational portraits of individuals, including Roy Takeno, editor of the Manzanar Free Press, and photographer Tōyō Miyatake. Group portraits include families, women and children. Other photographs show people posed in their living quarters and engaged in indoor daily life such as shopping, religious services, health care, and education; more informal views portray outdoor agricultural scenes and sports and leisure activities. Landscape views feature the background mountains and desert as well as camp facilities and buildings.

Text from the Library of Congress website

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Birds on wire, evening, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Birds on wire, evening, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'C.T. Hibino, artist, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
C.T. Hibino, artist, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Frank Hirosama [i.e., Hirosawa] in laboratory, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Frank Hirosama [i.e., Hirosawa] in laboratory, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, spring, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, spring, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“… that all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps. As justification for this, I submit that if an American born Japanese, who is a citizen, is really patriotic and wishes to make his contribution to the safety and welfare of this country, right here is his opportunity to do so, namely, by permitting himself to be placed in a concentration camp, he would be making his sacrifice. … Millions of other native-born citizens are willing to lay down their lives, which is a far greater sacrifice, of course, than being placed in a concentration camp.”

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Secretary of War Henry Stinson, January 16, 1942

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“The Jundt Art Museum will display Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams in the Jundt Galleries Jan. 4 through March 29. The exhibition features 50 of the renowned photographer’s images of the Japanese-American relocation camp in Manzanar, Calif. during World War II. The photographs are included in the controversial book Born Free and Equal, which protests the treatment of these American citizens. The book was published in 1944 while the war was in progress. Also included in the exhibition are various photographs, documents and other works of art that further contextualize the images. Robert Flynn Johnson, curator emeritus for the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, curated the exhibition.

Born in San Francisco, Adams was a visionary in nature photography and wilderness preservation. He has become an environmental folk hero for his work in conservation as well as a symbol of the American West, particularly for his photographs of Yosemite National Park. Adams’ Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style of landscape photography. Most of the Manzanar photographs are portraits, views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities. The Ansel Adams photographs taken between 1943-1944 are prints made from the original negatives in the Library of Congress. They were previously exhibited in the exhibition, Born Free and Equal: An Exhibition of Ansel Adams Photographs, organized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art, History and Science in 1984.

Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in his essay for the exhibition writes, “This exhibition recounts one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States, one that the distinguished author John hersey referred to as ‘a mistake of terrifyingly horrible proportions.’ It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened should never be forgotten so that it should never happen again.” Johnson continues, “This is not only an art exhibition, a history lesson, or a study in race relations; it is all three. My hope is that it educates us about an unfortunate moment in our country’s history that must be better understood. It also should serve as a warning as to what can occur when emotion and fear overwhelm clarity and courage.”

Also included in the exhibition is a first edition copy of Adams’s 1944 book, Born Free and Equal; a vintage gelatin silver print by Adams titled A Photograph of Yosemite, c. 1938; three reproductions of Dorothea Lange photographing Japanese-Americans being evacuated; a watercolor painting of a camp by an internee; an original 1942 poster of the Civilian Exclusion Order that announced that Japanese-Americans were to be rounded up for imprisonment; seven original magazine covers and a poster that documents the virulent anti-Japanese attitudes present at the time; a watercolor by Henry Minakata of one of the Relocation Camps; and three original drawings by the famous artist Chiura Obata, who was imprisoned in the Topaz Camp. The exhibition, which will tour museums in the United States over the next few years, was organized by Photographic Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Jundt Art Gallery website

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Benji Iguchi driving tractor in field, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Benji Iguchi driving tractor in field, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar from guard tower, summer heat, view SW, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar from guard tower, summer heat, view SW, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background), Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background), Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“The first morning in Manzanar when I woke up and saw what Manzanar looked like, I just cried. And then I saw the high Sierra mountain, just like my native country’s mountain, and I just cried, that’s all.” Haruko Niwa, interned at Manzanar from 1942 until 1945.

Ten war relocation centers were built in remote deserts, plains, and swamps of seven states; Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley of California between the Sierra Nevada on the west and the Inyo mountains on the east, was typical in many ways of the 10 camps. About two-thirds of all Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were American citizens by birth. The remainder were aliens, many of whom had lived in the United States for decades, but who, by law, were denied citizenship.

The first Japanese Americans to arrive at Manzanar, in March 1942, were men and women who volunteered to help build the camp. On June 1 the War Relocation Authority (WRA) took over operation of Manzanar from the U.S. Army. The 500-acre housing section was surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers with searchlights and patrolled by military police. Outside the fence, military police housing, a reservoir, a sewage treatment plant, and agricultural fields occupied the remaining 5,500 acres. By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were crowded into 504 barracks organized into 36 blocks. There was little or no privacy in the barracks – and not much outside. The 200 to 400 people living in each block, consisting of 14 barracks each divided into four rooms, shared men’s and women’s toilets and showers, a laundry room, and a mess hall. Any combination of eight individuals was allotted a 20-by-25-foot room. An oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw were the only furnishings provided.

Coming from Los Angeles and other communities in California and Washington, Manzanar’s internees were unaccustomed to the harsh desert environment. Summer temperatures soared as high as 110ºF. In winter, temperatures frequently plunged below freezing. Throughout the year strong winds swept through the valley, often blanketing the camp with dust and sand. Internees covered knotholes in the floors with tin can lids, but dust continued to blow in between the floorboards until linoleum was installed in late 1942…

Two thirds of the Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were under the age of 18. 541 babies were born at Manzanar. A total of 11,070 Japanese Americans were processed through Manzanar. From a peak of 10,046 in September 1942, the population dwindled to 6,000 by 1944. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945, three months after the war ended. Many of them had spent three-and-a-half years at Manzanar.”

Anon. “Japanese Americans at Manzanar,” on the Manzanar National Historic Site (U. S. National Park Service) website [Online] Cited 08/03/2014

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, clouds, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, clouds, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, winter, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, winter, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'View south from Manzanar to Alabama Hills, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
View south from Manzanar to Alabama Hills, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'View SW over Manzanar, dust storm, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
View SW over Manzanar, dust storm, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“This exhibition recounts one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States, one that the distinguished author John Hersey referred to as “a mistake of terrifyingly horrible proportions.”1 It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but it is also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened should never be forgotten so that it should never happen again.

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Background

In the aftermath of the Japanese surprise attack on pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States, a wave of fear and paranoia swept the western United States and the Hawaiian Islands. Anxiety over possible invasion by Japanese forces or sabotage by fifth columnist Japanese and Japanese Americans living amongst the general American population overrode common sense in Government circles. Despite the protestations of Attorney General Francis Biddle, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and even F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the most unfortunate act of an otherwise admirable presidency, allowed public opinion and biased, racist attitudes of elements within the U.S. Army to induce him into issuing on February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066: the forced evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. This evacuation was done despite the fact that the F.B.I. had, within three days of pearl Harbor, rounded up and arrested 857 Germans, 147 Italians, and 1,291 Japanese (367 in Hawaii and 924 on the mainland) for subversive activities. The government did not inter Germans, Italians, nor, with few exceptions, Japanese residing in Hawaii. Instead they rounded up Japanese and Japanese Americans residing in the western United States. In the end, these individuals were interred in ten camps spread over underpopulated areas of the West and in Arkansas in the Midwest…

The act of rounding up civilians and imprisoning them in camps had occurred in earlier centuries. The term “concentration camp” was first used to describe the actions of the British against the Boers during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), but today it is indistinguishable from the horrors of the extermination camps perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews, Russians, and other victims of the Reich in World War II. American authorities euphemistically labeled the Japanese internments as “war relocation centers,” but given the harsh conditions Japanese Americans suffered, a more appropriate term might be war relocation “camps.”

Mine Okubo describes the conditions: “The camps represented a prison: no freedom, no privacy, no America. Internment camps were also guarded by U.S. military personnel and had a barbed wire perimeter.”2

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Manzanar

The brilliant social activist photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was hired by the U.S. government in the spring of 1942 to document this forced relocation. Her assignment included the camp at Manzanar, located in the remote Owens Valley in the northern reaches of Death Valley, California. However, when her photographs were submitted, they were viewed with alarm for showing the government in a bad light; the decision was made to impound (censor) her images until the end of the war.

It was only in 1943 that Ralph Merritt, the enlightened second director at Manzanar, invited his old friend Ansel Adams to come and photograph there. By that time, the internees had settled into their lives there coping as best they could. In 1942 a confrontation with camp guards had led to shots being fired, resulting in the deaths of two internees and the wounding of nine. There were no further incidents. Some historians have criticized Adams’s photographs, comparing them to the more politicized imagery of Lange. Linda Gordon wrote,

“Ansel Adams photographed at Manzanar a year after Lange did, producing work that, by contrast, reveals much about Lange’s perspective. He tried to walk a cramped line, opposing anti-Asian racism, but avoiding identification with the opposition to the internment. Adams’s pictures, primarily portraits – surprisingly for a landscape photographer – emphasized the internees’ stoic, polite, even cheerful making the best of it. His subjects were almost exclusively happy, smiling. His goal was to establish the internees as unthreatening, Americanized, open - scrutable rather than inscrutable. By making mainly individual portraits, he masked collective racial discrimination. The resultant hiding of the internment’s violation of human rights was not an unintended consequence of this goal, but an expression of Adams’s patriotism.”3

There is no question that Lange was the stronger documentary photographer. However, Adams was working out of his comfort zone as a landscape photographer and his point was not to use his images to indict the authorities. Instead, he wished to portray the Japanese American internees as loyal Americans going about their lives like regular citizens, not as dangerous aliens. Adams saved his harshest attack on their unjust imprisonment for the language of his book, Born Free and Equal, published the following year, 1944.

In the text Adams struggled with the argument that the incarceration of these citizens was not just but justified by military necessity. However, he rejected that argument, clearly and forcefully articulating his opposition to the internment. The book was not well received. Adams was called a “Jap lover” and copies of the book were burned. To fully understand the “profiles in Courage” stand Ansel Adams took by publishing Born Free and Equal while the war was still raging, one must understand the emotionally volatile nature of those times in which it was published. Adams’s strong convictions are fully apparent when one reads his forceful words while viewing his beautiful photographic imagery…

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Conclusion

This is not only an art exhibition, a history lesson, or a study in race relations; it is all three. My hope is that it educates us about an unfortunate moment in our country’s history that must be better understood and should serve as a warning against allowing emotion, prejudice and fear to overwhelm clarity and courage. Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, in his 1944 foreword to Born Free and Equal sums up the essence of this human drama,

“It has long been my belief that the greatness of America has arisen in large part out of the diversity of her peoples. Before the war, peoples of Japanese ancestry were a small but valuable element in our population. Their record of law-abiding, industrious citizenship was surpassed by no other group. Their contributions to the arts, agriculture, and science were indisputable evidence that the majority of them believed in America and were growing with America.

Then war came with the nation of their parental origin. The ensuing two and a half years have brought heartaches to many in our population. Among the causalities of war has been America’s Japanese minority. It is my hope that the wounds which it has received in the great uprooting will heal. It is my prayer that other Americans will fully realize that to condone the whittling away of the rights of any one minority group is to pave the way for us all to lose the guarantees of the Constitution.”4

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Robert Flynn Johnson
Curator Emeritus
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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1. John Hersey, “A Mistake of Terrifically Horrible proportions,” in Manzanar, by John Armor and peter Wright (New York Times Books, 1988)
2. Sara Ann McGill, “Internment of Japanese Americans,” http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/ (accessed May 3, 2010)
3. Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro, ed., Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2006), 34
4. Ansel Adams, Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans (New York: U.S. Camera, 1944), 7

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pictures and mementoes on phonograph top - Yonemitsu home, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pictures and mementoes on phonograph top – Yonemitsu home, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Roy Takeno's desk, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Roy Takeno’s desk, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit), Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit), Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Line crew at work in Manzanar, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Line crew at work in Manzanar, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Jundt Art Gallery
502 East Boone Avenue
Spokane, WA 99258-0001
This is the main address for Gonzaga University

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 4pm

Jundt Art Gallery website

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16
Mar
14

Review: ‘Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st February – 30th March 2014

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Installation photograph of 'Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck' at the Monash Gallery of Art

Installation photograph of 'Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck' at the Monash Gallery of Art

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Installation photographs of Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck at the Monash Gallery of Art

1/ stygian gloom
2/large grouping of 14 works by Wesley Stacey

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UNKNOWN_WEB

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Unknown
Untitled
c. 1900
Cyanotype print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2012

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vapid [vap-id]
adjective
lacking or having lost life, sharpness, or flavor

Origin:
1650-60;  Latin vapidus;  akin to va·por [vey-per]
noun
a visible exhalation, as fog, mist, steam, smoke diffused through or suspended in the air; particles of drugs that can be inhaled as a therapeutic agent.

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This is an unexceptional exhibition, one that lacks jouissance in the sense of a transgressive kind of enjoyment, an investigation of the subject that gives pleasure in taking you to unexpected places. At times I felt like a somnambulist walking around this exhibition of photographs from the Monash Gallery of Art collection curated by Bill Henson, pitched into stygian darkness and listening to somewhat monotonous music. It was a not too invidious an exercise but it left me with a VAPID feeling, as though I had inhaled some soporific drug: the motion of the journey apparently not confined by a story, but in reality that story is Henson’s mainly black and white self-portrait. The photographs on the wall, while solid enough, seemed to lack sparkle. There were a couple of knockout prints (such as David Moore’s Himalaya at dusk, Sydney, 1950 below, the Untitled Cyanotype, c. 1900, above and Mark Hinderaker’s delicate portrait of Fiona Hall, 1984, below) and some real bombs (the large Norman Lindsay photographs, modern reproductions printed many times their original size were particularly nauseous) and one has to ask, were the images chosen for how they were balanced on the wall or were they chosen for content?

Henson states that there was no concept or agenda when picking the 88 photographs for this exhibition, simply his INTENSITY of feeling and intuition, his intuitive response to the images when he first saw them – to allow “their aesthetics to determine their presence… our whole bodies to experience these photographs – objects as pictures as photographs.”1 Henson responded as much as possible to the thing which then becomes an iconography (which appeals to his eye) as he asks himself, why is one brush stroke compelling, and not another? The viewer can then go on a journey in which MEANING comes from FEELING, and SENSATIONS are the primary stuff of life.

One of Henson’s preoccupations, “is an interest in the photograph as an object, in the physical presence of the print or whatever kind of technology is being used to make it.”2 He would like us to acknowledge the presence and aura (Walter Benjamin) of the photograph as we stand in front of it, responding with our whole bodies to the experience, not just our eyes. He wants us to have an intensity of feeling towards these works, responding to their presence and how he has hung the works in the exhibition. “There are no themes but rather images that appeal to the eye and, indeed, the whole body. Because photographs are first and foremost objects, their size, shape grouping and texture are as important as the images they’re recording.”3

Henson insists that there was no preconceived conceptual framework for picking these particular photographs but this is being disingenuous. Henson was invited to select images from the MGA collection with the specific idea of holding an exhibition, so this is the conceptual jumping off point; he then selected the images intuitively only to then group and arrange then intuitively/conceptually – by thinking long and hard about how these images would be grouped and hung on the wall of the gallery. I would like to believe that Henson was thinking about MUSIC when he hung this exhibition, not photography. Listen to Henson talk about the pairing of Leonie Reisberg’s Portrait of Peggy Silinski, Tasmania (c. 1976, below) and Beverley Veasey’s Study of a Calf, Bos taurus (2006, below) in this video, and you will get the idea about how he perceives these photographs relate to each other, how they transcend time and space.

This is one of the key elements of the exhibition: how Henson pushes and pulls at time and space itself through the placing of images of different eras together. The other two key elements are how the music rises and falls through the shape of the photographs themselves; and how the figures within the images are pulled towards or pushed away from you. With regard to the rise and fall, Henson manipulates the viewer through the embodiedness of both horizontal and vertical photographs, reminding me of a Japanese artist using a calligraphy brush (see the second installation image above, where the photographs move from the vertical to the square and then onto panoramic landscape). In relation to the content of the images, there seems to be a preoccupation (a story, a theme?) running through the exhibition with the body being consumed by the landscape or the body being isolated from the landscape but with the threat of being consumed by it. Evidence of this can be seen in Wesley Stacey’s Willie near Mallacoota (1979, below) where the body almost melts into the landscape and David Moore’s Newcastle steelworks (1963, below) where the kids on the bicycles are trying to escape the encroaching doom that hovers behind them.

One of the key images in the exhibition for me also reinforces this theme – a tiny Untitled Cyanotype (c. 1900, above) in which two Victorian children are perched on a bank near a stream with the bush beyond – but there are too many of this ilk to mention here: either the figures are pulled towards the front of the frame or pushed back into the encroaching danger, as though Henson is interrogating, evidencing un/occupied space. Overall, there is an element of control and lyrical balance in how he has grouped and hung these works together, the dark hue of the gallery walls allowing the photographs to exist as objects for themselves. Henson puts things next to each other in sequences and series to, allegedly, promote UNEXPECTED conversations and connections through a series of GESTURES.

As Henson notes,

“Maybe it’s the fact that the photographs have the ability to suggest some other thing and that’s what draws you in – that’s that feeling, the thing that slips away from thought. These are really the same things that apply to our meetings with any work of art, whether it’s a piece of music or a sculpture or anything else. There’s something compelling, there’s something there that sort of animates your speculative capacity, causes you to wonder. Other times, or most of the time, that’s not the case. Certainly most of the time that’s not the case with photography.”4

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For me, there was little WONDER in this exhibition, something that you would go ‘oh, wow’ at, some way of looking at the world that is interesting and insightful and fractures the plaisir of cultural enjoyment and identity. While the photographs may have been chosen intuitively and then hung intuitively/conceptually, I simply got very little FEELING, no ICE/FIRE  (as Minor White would say) – no frisson between his pairings, groupings and arrangements. It was all so predictable, so ho-hum. Everything I expected Henson to do… he did!

There were few unexpected gestures, no startling insight into the human and photographic condition. If as he says, “Everything comes to you through your whole body, not just through your eyes and ears,”5 and that photographs are first and foremost objects, their size, shape, grouping and texture as important as the images they’re recording THEN I wanted to be moved, I wanted to feel, to be immersed in a sensate world not a visible exhalation (of thought?), a vapor that this exhibition is. Henson might have painted an open-ended self-portrait but this does not make for a very engaging experience for the viewer. In this case, the sharing of a story has not meant the sharing of an emotion.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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1. 
Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014.
2. Ibid.,
3. Fiona Gruber. “Review of Wildcards, Bill Henson Shuffles the Deck” on the Guardian website, Wednesday 12 February 2014 [Online] Cited 16/03/2014
4. Fehily op. cit.,
5. Fehily op. cit.,

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

WARNING

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should be aware that the following posting may contain images of deceased persons.

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John Eaton. 'Sheep in clearing' c. 1920s

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John Eaton (born United Kingdom 1881; arrived Australia 1889; died 1967)
Sheep in clearing
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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Fred Kruger. 'Queen Mary and King Billy outside their mia mia' c. 1880

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Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831; arrived Australia 1860; died 1888)
Queen Mary and King Billy outside their mia mia
c. 1880
Albumen print
13.4 x 20.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2012

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David Moore. 'Himalaya at dusk, Sydney' 1950

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David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Himalaya at dusk, Sydney
1950
Gelatin silver print, printed 2005
24.5 x 34.25 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection donated by the Estate of David Moore 2006
Courtesy of the Estate of David Moore (Sydney)

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Stacey-willie-near-mallacoota

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Wesley Stacey (born Australia 1941)
Willie near Mallacoota
1979
From the series Koorie set
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Christine Godden 2011

Published under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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David MOORE Newcastle steelworks

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David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Newcastle steelworks
1963
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 1981

Published under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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“One of those preoccupations is an interest in the photograph as an object, in the physical presence of the print or whatever kind of technology is being used to make it. Part of the reason for that is that photography, more than any other medium, suffers from a mistake or misunderstanding people have when they’ve seen a reproduction in a magazine or online: they think they’re seeing the original. A certain amount of photography is made with its ultimate intention being to be seen in a magazine or online, but most photography, historically, ended up in its final form as a print – a cyanotype, or a tin type or a daguerreotype or whatever it might be.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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REISBERG-WEB

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Leonie Reisberg (born Australia 1955)
Portrait of Peggy Silinski, Tasmania
c. 1976
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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VEASEY_calf_WEB

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Beverley Veasey (born Australia 1968)
Study of a Calf, Bos taurus
2006
Chromogenic print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2006

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“I think when you look through any collection, you’re often struck by the kind of pointlessness and banality of photography. It doesn’t matter which museum in the world you look at. It’s like, “is there any need for this thing to exist at all?”. It probably comes back to the capacity of the object, the image to suggest things, the suggestive potential rather than the prescriptive, which is a given in photography of course, the evidential authority of the medium preceding any individual reading we have of particular pictures. Maybe it’s the fact that the photographs have the ability to suggest some other thing and that’s what draws you in – that’s that feeling, the thing that slips away from thought. These are really the same things that apply to our meetings with any work of art, whether it’s a piece of music or a sculpture or anything else. There’s something compelling, there’s something there that sort of animates your speculative capacity, causes you to wonder. Other times, or most of the time, that’s not the case. Certainly most of the time that’s not the case with photography.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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POIGNANT-WEB

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Axel Poigant (born United Kingdom 1906; arrived Australia 1926; died 1986)
Jack and his family on the Canning Stock Route
1942
Gelatin silver print, printed 1986
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 1991

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JOHNSON_light-performance_WEB

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Tim Johson (born Australia 1947)
Light performances
1971-72
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Acquired 2011

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FAHD_alicia_WEB

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Cherine Fahd (born Australia 1974)
Alicia
2003
From the series A woman runs
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2011

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STACEY_friends-WEB

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Wesley Stacey (born Australia 1941)
Untitled
1973
From the series Friends
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Bill Bowness 2013

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“That was one of the things that interested me and continues to interest me about photography: how these things inhabit the world as objects. And indeed we read them not just with our eyes but with how our whole bodies read and encounter and negotiate these objects, which happen to be photographs. And that’s very much a thing that interests me in the way that I work. I feel sometimes that I only happen to make photographs myself and that it’s a means to an end… So there’s a sense in which I’m interested in these objects that happen to be photographs and the way that they inhabit the same space that our bodies inhabit. Everything comes to you through your whole body, not just through your eyes and ears – it’s a vast amount of information. Watching something get bigger as you draw closer to it, not just matters of proximity, but texture or the way objects sit in a space when they’re lit a certain way – all of this is very interesting to me, always has been.”

Interview with Bill Henson by Toby Fehily posted 01 Feb 2014 on the Art Guide Australia website [Online] Cited 18/02/2014. Used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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HINDERAKER_Fiona-Hall_WEB

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Mark Hinderaker (born United States of America 1946; arrived Australia 1970; died 2004)
Fiona Hall
1984
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2003

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LLINDSAY_Norman-and-Rose-WEB

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Lionel Lindsay (Australia 1874–1961)
Norman Lindsay and Rose Soady, Bond Street studio
c. 1909
Gelatin silver print, printed 2000
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Katherine Littlewood 2000

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STRIZIC_BHP_WEB

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Mark Strizic (born Germany 1928; arrived Australia 1950; died 2012)
BHP steel mill, Port Kembla, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print, printed 1999
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by the Bowness Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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07
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr’ at Media Space at Science Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 21st September 2013 – 16th March 2014

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“Be more aware of composition

Don’t take boring pictures

Get in closer

Watch camera shake

Don’t shoot too much”

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Tony Ray-Jones from his diaries

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Growing up in the 1960s we used to get taken to Butlins holiday camps (Billy Butlin founded the company, a chain of large holiday camps in the United Kingdom, to provide affordable holidays for ordinary British families). It was a great treat to be away from the farm, to be by the sea, even if the beach was made of stones. Looking back on it now you realise how seedy it was, how working class… but as a kid it was oh, so much fun!

Tony Ray-Jones photographed these environments (mainly the British at play by the sea) and their opposites – afternoon tea taken at Glyndebourne opera festival for example (Glyndebourne, 1967, below) - drawing on the tradition of great British social documentary photography by artists such as Bill Brandt. TRJ even pays homage to Brandt in one of his photographs, Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967 (below) which echoes Brandt’s famous photograph Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, 1933 by changing “point of view” from up close, personal, oppressive and interior to distance, isolation, leisure/work and exterior.

Through his photographs Ray-Jones adds his own style and humour, using “a new conception of photography as a means of expression, over and above its accepted role as a recorder.” He does it all as an intimate expression of his own personality, his maverick, outsider, non-conformist self. I feel – and that is the key word with his art – that he had a real empathy with his subject matter. There is a twinkle in his eye that becomes embedded in his photographs. There is an honesty, integrity and respect for the people he is photographing, coupled with a wicked sense of humour and the most amazing photographic eye. What an eye he had!

To be able to sum up a scene in a split second, to previsualise (think), intuitively compose, frame and shoot in that twinkle of an eye, and to balance the images as he does is truly the most incredible gift, the quintessential British “decisive moment”. Look at the structural analysis of Location unknown, possibly Worthing (1967-68, below) that I have presented in a slide show. This will give you a good idea of the visual complexity of Ray-Jones’ images… and yet he makes the sum of all components seem grounded (in this case by the man’s feet) and effortless. Devon Caranicas has observed that TRJ possessed a quick wit and adeptness for reducing a complex narrative into a single frame, the photographed subjects transformed into social actors of supreme stereotypes. The first part is insightful, but social actors of supreme stereotypes? I think not, because these people are not acting, this is their life, their humanity, their time out from the hum-drum of everyday working class life. They do not pose for TRJ, it’s just how they are. Look at the musicality of the first five images in the posting – how the line rises and falls, moves towards you and away from you. Only a great artist can do that, instinctively.

I cannot express to you enough the utmost admiration I have for this man’s art. In my opinion he is one of greatest British photographers that has ever lived (Julia Margaret Cameron, William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, Francis Bedford, Frederick H. Evans, Cecil Beaton, Peter Henry Emerson and Herbert Ponting would be but a few others that spring to mind). He photographed British customs and values at a time of change and pictured a real affection for the lives of ordinary working class people. Being one of the them, he will always hold a special place in my heart.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Media Space at Science Museum 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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“Although the entirety of the images from Only in England were shot throughout the politically and socially turbulent late 60′s and early 70′s both artists shy away from depicting the culture clashes that so often visually defined this period. Instead, they each opted to turn their lens onto the quintessential country side, and in doing so, pay homage to a traditional type of English life that was becoming a sort of sub-culture in itself – a way of living that was not yet touched by the encroaching globalisation, or “americanisation,” of the UK.”

September 26th, 2013 by ART WEDNESDAY

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“Ray-Jones printed his black and white pictures small, in a dark register of tonally very dense prints. The National Media Museum has lots of these, and perhaps to devote the cavernous new space only to such small pictures would have been a mistake. Even backed up with a mass of supporting material, including the fascinating pages from Ray-Jones’ diaries, the prints would struggle to fill the space. So only the first section is devoted to about 50 beautiful little Ray-Jones vintage prints. Two whole sections have been added to the exhibition to flesh it out…

[Parr] has unfortunately chosen to print them [Ray-Jones prints] in a way quite alien to anything Ray-Jones ever made: they are printed in Parr’s own way, as larger, paler, more diffuse things in mid-tones that Ray-Jones would never have countenanced. They are printed, inevitably, by digital process…

Sadly, these Ray-Jones by Parr prints add up to an appropriation of the former by the latter: they are Martin Parr pictures taken from Tony-Ray Jones negatives, and it would have been better not to have shown them so. They are fine images, but they should have been seen in some other way: on digital screens, perhaps, or as modern post-cards. Anything to make quite explicit the clear break with Ray-Jones’ own prints. That the images they contain are very fine is not in doubt. But I take leave to question whether they “present a new way of thinking through creative use of the collections”. They are well labelled and for specialists there will be no difficulty in knowing that they are not by Ray-Jones. But for the public I am not so sure. Suddenly two-thirds of the show are in this larger, modern, digitally printed form, either by Parr himself or by Ray-Jones-through-Parr. It looks as if that is the dominant group…”

Extract from Francis Hodgson. “Two Exhibitions of Tony Ray-Jones – Two Ways of Giving Context to Photographs,” on the Photomonitor website, September 2013

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Beachy Head Tripper Boat, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Beachy Head Tripper Boat, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967 
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Brighton Beach, West Sussex, 1966' 1966

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Tony Ray-Jones
Brighton Beach, West Sussex, 1966
1966
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Eastbourne Carnival, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Eastbourne Carnival, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones
Blackpool, 1968
1968
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Location unknown, possibly Worthing' 1967-68

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Tony Ray-Jones
Location unknown, possibly Worthing
1967-68
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones Location unknown, possibly Worthing (1967-68) picture analysis by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“Fascinated by the eccentricities of English social customs, Tony Ray-Jones spent the latter half of the 1960s travelling across England, photographing what he saw as a disappearing way of life. Humorous yet melancholy, these works had a profound influence on photographer Martin Parr, who has now made a new selection including over 50 previously unseen works from the National Media Museum’s Ray-Jones archive. Shown alongside The Non-Conformists, Parr’s rarely seen work from the 1970s, this selection forms a major new exhibition which demonstrates the close relationships between the work of these two important photographers.

The first ever major London exhibition of work by British Photographer, Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) will open at Media Space on 21 September 2013. The exhibition will feature over 100 works drawn from the Tony Ray-Jones archive at the National Media Museum alongside 50 rarely seen early black and white photographs, The Non-Conformists, by Martin Parr (1952).

Between 1966 and 1969 Tony Ray-Jones created a body of photographic work documenting English customs and identity. Humorous yet melancholy, these photographs were a departure from anything else being produced at the time. They quickly attracted the attention of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London where they were exhibited in 1969. Tragically, in 1972, Ray-Jones died from Leukaemia aged just 30. However, his short but prolific career had a lasting influence on the development of British photography from the 1970s through to the present.

In 1970, Martin Parr, a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic, had been introduced to Ray-Jones. Inspired by him, Parr produced The Non-Conformists, shot in black and white in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding Calder Valley. This project started within two years of Ray-Jones death and demonstrates his legacy and influence.

The exhibition will draw from the Tony Ray-Jones archive, held by the National Media Museum.  Around 50 vintage prints will be on display alongside an equal number of photographs which have never previously been printed. Martin Parr has been invited to select these new works from the 2700 contact sheets and negatives in the archive. Shown alongside these are Parr’s early black and white work, unfamiliar to many, which has only ever previously been exhibited in Hebden Bridge itself and at Camerawork Gallery, London in 1981.

Tony Ray-Jones was born in Somerset in 1941. He studied graphic design at the London School of Printing before leaving the UK in 1961 to study on a scholarship at Yale University in Connecticut, US. He followed this with a year long stay in New York during which he attended classes by the influential art director Alexey Brodovitch, and became friends with photographers Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand. In 1966 he returned to find a Britain still divided by class and tradition. A Day Off – An English Journal, a collection of photographs he took between 1967-1970 was published posthumously in 1974 and in 2004 the National Media Museum held a major exhibition, A Gentle Madness: The Photographs of Tony Ray-Jones.

Martin Parr was born in Epsom, Surry in 1952. He graduated from Manchester Polytechnic in 1974 and moved to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, where he established the ‘Albert Street Workshop’, a hub for artistic activity in the town. Fascinated by the variety of non-conformist chapels and the communities he encountered in the town he produced The Non-Conformists. In 1984 Parr began to work in colour and his breakthrough publication The Last Resort was published in 1986. A Magnum photographer, Parr is now an internationally renowned photographer, filmmaker, collector and curator, best-known for his highly saturated colour photographs critiquing modern life.

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr will run at Media Space, Science Museum from 21 September 2013 – 16 March 2014. The exhibition will then be on display at the National Media Museum from 22 March – 29 June 2014. The exhibition is curated by Greg Hobson, curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum, and Martin Parr has been invited to select works from the Tony Ray-Jones archives.

Greg Hobson, curator of Photographs at the National Media Museum says, “The combination of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones’ work will allow the viewer to trace an important trajectory through the history of British photography, and present new ways of thinking about photographic histories through creative use of our collections.” Martin Parr says, “Tony Ray-Jones’ pictures were about England. They had that contrast, that seedy eccentricity, but they showed it in a very subtle way. They have an ambiguity, a visual anarchy. They showed me what was possible.”

The Tony Ray-Jones archive comprises of approximately 700 photographic prints, 1700 negative sheets, 2700 contact sheets, 600 boxes of Ektachrome/Kodachrome transparencies. It also includes ephemera such as notebooks, diary pages, and a maquette of England by the Sea made by Tony Ray-Jones.

Media Space is a collaboration between the Science Museum (London) and the National Media Museum (Bradford). Media Space will showcase the National Photography Collection of the National Media Museum through a series of exhibitions. Alongside this, photographers, artists and the creative industries will respond to the wider collections of the Science Museum Group to explore visual media, technology and science.”

Press release from the Science Museum website

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Bacup coconut dancers, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones
Bacup coconut dancers, 1968
1968
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Bournemouth, 1969' 1969

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Bournemouth, 1969
1969
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
16 x 25 cms (6 x 10 inches)
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Location unknown, possible Morcambe, 1967-68' 1967-68

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Tony Ray-Jones
Location unknown, possible Morcambe, 1967-68
1967-68
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972) 'Mablethorpe, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones (1941-1972)
Mablethorpe, 1967
1967
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
14 x 21 cms (6 x 8 inches)
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Ramsgate, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Ramsgate, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Martin Parr. 'Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden' 1975

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Martin Parr
Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden
1975
© Martin Parr/ Magnum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Cruft's Dog Show, London, 1966' 1966

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Tony Ray-Jones
Cruft’s Dog Show, London, 1966
1966
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967' c.1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c. 1967
c. 1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967' c.1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, c.1967
c.1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Wormwood Scrubs Fair, London, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Wormwood Scrubs Fair, London, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Untitled' 1960s

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Tony Ray-Jones
Untitled
1960s
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Trooping the Colour, London, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Trooping the Colour, London, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Untitled' 1960s

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Tony Ray-Jones
Untitled
1960s
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Glyndebourne, 1967' 1967

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Tony Ray-Jones
Glyndebourne, 1967
1967
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Elderly woman eating pie seated in a pier shelter next to a stuffed bear, 1969' 1969

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Tony Ray-Jones
Elderly woman eating pie seated in a pier shelter next to a stuffed bear, 1969
1969
© National Media Museum

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Tony Ray-Jones. 'Blackpool, 1968' 1968

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Tony Ray-Jones
Blackpool, 1968
1968
Vintage Gelatin Silver Print
21 x 14.5 cms (8.25 x 5.70 ins)

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Martin Parr. 'Tom Greenwood cleaning' 1976

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Martin Parr
Tom Greenwood cleaning
1976
© Martin Parr/ Magnum

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Media Space at Science Museum
Exhibition Road, South Kensington,
London SW7 2DD

Opening hours:
Open seven days a week, 10.00 – 18.00

Media Space at Science Museum website

Only in England Media Space web page

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28
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘Félix Thiollier (1842-1914), photographs’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2013 – 10th March 2014

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“Why is the price of justice so high?”

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Maheude, Germinal

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“Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.”

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Émile Zola. Germinal (1885)

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This is the biggest collection of photographs by the French photographer Félix Thiollier available on the Internet. I spent hours cleaning up the images to a presentable standard (mixing them with appropriate paintings by Corot and Francois-Auguste Ravier), so I hope you enjoy the posting.

While the bucolic photographs of ruins, pastoral landscapes and shepherdess (bucolic - via Latin from Greek boukolikos, from boukolos ‘herdsman’) are relatively straight forward, it is Thiollier’s sensitive portrayal of the “industrial image” – of the mines and factories of Forez – that hold weight here. Thiollier emphasises the theatrical aspects of the landscape (he loved shooting at dusk), finding new subject matter among the photogenic nature of industrial sites “his last images… extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

His photographs of the “black city” are atmospheric, vivid and powerful. Post-Romantic lyricism is still present in these images but is now coupled with a unique vision that has more earthy, psychological overtones. The anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers toiling away in oppressive landscapes are never better realised than in the line of figures silhouetted against the dying light in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below); the solitary figure caught in the rising dust on the side of the hill in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below – enlarge the image to see the figure). The desolation of an industrial revolution mining town is also perfectly captured in Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne (1907-1912, below).

All three images remind me of the epic film Germinal staring Gerard Depardieu, based on the novel of the same name by Émile Zola. I’m sure that Thiollier would have been familiar with the book, it being a sensation upon original publication (1885). The book may well have appealed to Thiollier because he was a wealthy man, an industrialist who had reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer, who finally leaves the picturesque behind to photograph, “atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this.” In all its hope and misery.

Thiollier becomes so much more than an amateur photographer. His impressions of a dark, hidden drama beating at the heart of industrial, fin de siècle France provided him with the opportunity to become a progenitor of modernism, “ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism.” (Fin de siècle has connotations of both the closing and onset of an era, as the end of the 19th century was felt to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning).

Finally, despite his willingness to remain on the sidelines, Thiollier may well be getting the approbation he deserves.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Émile Zola. 'Germinal' Title page of the 1885 edition

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Émile Zola
Germinal
Title page of the 1885 edition

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier' 1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier
1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Undergrowth in Forez' (Sous-bois en Forez) Nd

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Undergrowth in Forez (Sous-bois en Forez)
Nd
© Félix Thiollier

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Autochrome-EnvironsStEtienne-1907-1912-WEB

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Around Saint-Etienne (Environs Saint-Etienne)
1907-1912
Autochrome

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875) 'Forest of Fontainebleau' 1834

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Forest of Fontainebleau
1834
Oil on canvas
69 1/8 x 95 1/2 in. (175.6 x 242.6 cm)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914). 'Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)' 1895-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Figure contemplant les monts du Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, fille du photographe)
Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)

1895-1905
Collection Julien Laferrière
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' (detail) c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire) (detail)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895) 'Landscape with Setting Sun' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
Landscape with Setting Sun
Nd
Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 39.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier

“Although the talent of photographer Félix Thiollier was still unrecognised twenty years ago, this is mainly because it never occurred to him to seek recognition as such. When, at the age of 35, he decided to live off his private income, this ribbon manufacturer from Saint-Étienne intended to devote himself to art and archaeology. But feeling restricted in his role as scholar of the local area, Thiollier very quickly started publishing illustrated books. This enterprise, intended to promote both the rich natural environment and cultural heritage of Forez and the work of his artist friends, seemed to take up most of his energy, when he was not otherwise involved with initiatives to protect the local heritage of Saint-Étienne or promote the culture of the area.

It was his activities in these two latter fields that brought him both regional and national recognition, and until recently his reputation was based on these activities alone. Today, his resolute determination to remain on the fringes of the photographic circles of his time seems consistent with Thiollier’s passion for this medium that he would practise continuously for over half a century. In addition to showing the rich variety of subjects that inspired him, this exhibition seeks to give the viewer an appreciation of the originality of an approach based wholly on an inexhaustible passion for the picturesque: guiding his photographical machine, this mechanics of looking would lead him from bucolic landcapes and scenes of rural life to sensitive images of an industrial environment largely ignored by the amateur photographers at the turn of the 20th century.

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“At an age when I deluded myself into believing that it was possible to combine the picturesque and archaeology…”

Thiollier’s intellectual and aesthetic background was typical of that section of the provincial elite in the 19th century who took a keen interest in art and archaeology, and had a great love of books. When, at the end of the 1850s, senior figures encouraged him to take photographs of notable sites and monuments in the Forez area, they already had a project in mind to produce a book about this ancient province which, celebrated by Honoré d’Urfé in L’Astrée (1607-1627), extended right across the department of the Loire into parts of the Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme. They were all steeped in the Romantic tradition of the illustrated picturesque book, a tradition that would flourish in the second half of the century through many regional publications, like many local responses in this search for the identity of the regions of France. Illustrated with his early and more recent photographs, Thiollier’s Le Forez pittoresque et monumental, published in 1889, is one of the last and most outstanding examples of these.

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Perpetuating the rustic ideal

In leaving the town and his activities as an industrialist, Thiollier did not just move closer to the monuments and landscapes he had undertaken to describe. Having acquired two modest country estates - a hunting lodge near the ponds around Précivet, and the former commandery of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem at Verrières – he also reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer in the heart of this arcadian Forez countryside, which, in his view, was under threat. Heavily influenced by the example of the Barbizon artists whose paintings he collected along with those of his naturalist painter friends, he never tired of capturing the disappearing traces of traditional skills and ways of life with the eye of a painter. However, it required a certain poetic detachment for photographs to complete this grief. This was usually achieved with the loyal help of his daughter, who appeared in his photographs whenever he wanted to draw attention to the timeless nature of peasant genre scenes.

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“Stylistic Landscapes”

Although Thiollier had nursed an ambition to become a landscape photographer before he met Ravier in 1873, it is essential to recognise the influence of this painter from Morestel – who had been practising photography since the 1850s – in order to understand why Thiollier moved towards a more committed, if unrevealed, artistic approach to the medium. After many sessions spent “photographicking” together, their shared vision is expressed in the resulting images of autumnal and winter landscapes, which, devoid of any human presence, offer many light-filled variations on the handful of motifs chosen by the painter: still pools or the banks of streams, solitary outlines of dead trees, undergrowth and country paths, it is a complete repertoire of images of the Dauphiné region that stimulated Thiollier’s desire to extol the natural beauty of the Forez. Although he had to include riverscapes and mountain panoramas to reflect the true variety of this beautiful area, he almost always concentrate on the sky and studies of clouds, ideally enhanced by reflections playing on the still water.

The range of effects Thiollier developed, although intended in part to transpose the Post-Romantic lyricism which, in Ravier’s work, was conveyed through blazing colours and highly skilful brush- work, nonetheless indicates that his images of the countryside were produced with a perfect understanding of his medium. In pushing for a rapprochement with contemporary artistic photography, the main feature of his style was thus the expressiveness of the contrasts in values. It is this preference for representing nature in monochrome that partly explains his liking for snowscapes, and also prompted him to undertake almost systematic research into contre-jour, the most appropriate effect for both synthesizing his motifs and revealing the theatrical aspects of the landscape. Indeed, the all-revealing clarity of broad daylight was far less of an inspiration to Thiollier than the atmosphere of solitude and silence that came with the dusk. As he often noted in his descriptions, it was when the shadows were at their most dramatic that the countryside cast its strongest spell over him.

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Territories of intimacy

Alongside the search for effects that so often excited this landscape photographer, Thiollier’s solitary wanderings too were a source of more physical, more earthy themes that reveal a personal shift in the sensitive approach towards the territory. Although the traditional picturesque approach, which he had adopted until the 1880s, had been fuelled by Romanticism, it was also partly because it implied a way of considering the environment as a spectacle and thus relied heavily on the subjectivity of the first viewer that chose to depict it.

It was this look at the landscape that Thiollier now seems to stage, finding that this, far more than the self-portrait, offered him a way to incorporate himself into the landscape that he claimed as his own, and in doing so, into his work. Admittedly, the natural world he shows us is always uninhabited, but this makes it now all the better to fill with the presence of the photographer: the bleaker his selected locations, in relation to the accepted picturesque aesthetic, the more personal these choices turn out to be. Swept along by the rapid improvements in photographic techniques, the snap shot practitioner was freed from the pictorial tradition that restricted him to this side of Alberti’s “window”: his images are those of someone taking a stroll into the heart of the countryside, or more precisely, pausing at some point, seized by the desire to capture forever the emotion that had prompted him to set up his equipment right in the middle of the pathway, or, as often happened, in a quiet corner of his garden.

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The picturesque as developer: the photogeneity of the black city

Forty years after having made the first important choices of his life, learning photography at the same time when he renounced a career as a mine engineer, the former ribbon manufacturer discovered a photographic passion for Saint-Étienne, “a lively and animated city (…) to which the local industries brought a special picturesque character”. It was not easy to break away from a code of aesthetic appreciation, which, at a deeper level, was also a way of recognising the world.

The mines and factories in the cradle of the first French industrial revolution were, moreover, particularly appropriate subjects for what came to absorb him more than ever: atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this. It was as if the anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers had come just at the right moment, not only to enhance that “impression (…) of a sort of hidden drama” that best reveals the continuing influence of Ravier in his work, but also to fuel his inexhaustible desire for the picturesque. Besides, how could the poor people of this black town have concealed the exotic charm of their poverty from the lens of this bourgeois citizen who, in spite of himself, was still Thiollier?

Although Thiollier’s interest in photography gradually developed until eventually it became much more than the project to promote the natural and archaeological treasures of the area, it was perhaps because this industrialist turned gentleman farmer had realised intuitively that “machine art” (Delacroix) could be the way to resolve, in images, this tension between two worlds that lived side by side – the rural and traditional on one side and the industrial and contemporary on the other – and he belonged to both. The union of the picturesque and photography was sealed and could not be broken until his project as the editor of Le Forez pittoresque et monumental was completed, and this meant the aesthetic appropriation of the mental and identitarian territory of Forez as he saw it, reconciled with itself in the context of the “industrial image”. The choice of medium, precisely because Thiollier officially refused to give it any artistic legitimacy, would not however be made without consequences.

By admitting the creative superiority of the eye over the hand, the mechanised tool for reproducing images would gradually enable him to establish an independent vision, with a boldness that would burst into colour: ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism, his last images were extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) '4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez (4H du matin vers Roche-La-Moliere, Forez)
c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne' (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne) 1890-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne)
1890-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne' 1907-1912

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne
1907-1912
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 40 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier. 'A Marsh at Sunset' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
A Marsh at Sunset
Nd
Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Boats on the Seine, Paris' 1903-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Boats on the Seine, Paris (Bateaux sur la Seine, Paris)
1903-1905
Silver gelatin print
29.7 x 39.4 cm

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Shepherdess and Flock' 1890 - 1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Shepherdess and Flock
1890-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 29.2; W. 38.4 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 39.3; W. 29.9 cm
Paris, Julien-Laferrière collection
© Musée d’Orsay / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Ruin' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Ruin
c. 1870

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Biography

1842
Maurice Félix Thiollier is born in Saint-Étienne into a wealthy family of ribbon manufacturers who espouse the values of social Catholicism.

1847
The Thiollier family moves to Paris. A French priest, l’abbé Paul Lacuria, is engaged as a tutor for Félix’s older brothers.

1851-52
The Thiollier family returns to Saint-Étienne. Félix Thiollier goes to school at the Collège Saint-Thomas d’Acquin in Oullins near Lyon.

1858
Eligible to take the competitive entrance test for the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne, Félix Thiollier chooses to train at the ribbon factory. He takes up photography, and possibly receives technical advice at this time from Stéphane Geoffray, a photographer from Roanne.

1867
At the age of 25, he sets up his own ribbon factory in Saint-Étienne.

1869
Through the painter Henri Baron, his father’s cousin, he is offered a place in the studio of the painter Louis Français, which he turns down for family reasons.

1870
Marries Cécile Testenoire-Lafayette, daughter of Claude-Philippe Testenoire-Lafayette, a lawyer and local scholar from Saint-Étienne, and president of La Diana – the Historical and Archaeo-logical Society of Forez (1870-1879).

1873
Meets the Dauphinois painter Auguste Ravier and soon gives up hope of becoming a professional painter.

1879
Decides to live off his private income. Becomes a member of La Diana.

1881
Publication of the first book to be illustrated with his photographs, Le Poème de l’âmeby his friend the painter Louis Janmot.

1885
First exhibition of his photographs, presented in the great hall belonging to La Diana in Montbrison, on the occasion of the 52nd congress of the Société Française d’Archéologie. Becomes a member of this society, which awards him its silver medal.

1886
Publication of Château de la Bastie d’Urfé et ses seigneurs.

1889
Publication of Forez pittoresque et monumental. Receives a silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1894
Becomes a non-resident member of the Committee for Historic and Scientific Works at the Ministry for Public Instruction.

1895
Receives the Légion d’Honneur for his work as a photographer.

1897
Receives the title of honorary curator of the Saint-Étienne Museum of Art and Industry.

1900
Receives another silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1902
Publication of L’Histoire de Saint-Etienne by Claude-Philippe Testenoire Lafayette, illustrated with photographs by Félix Thiollier.

1914
Death of Félix Thiollier on 12 May at Saint-Étienne.

1917
Publication of his biography by Sébastien Mulsant.

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30 am – 6 pm
9.30 am – 9.45 pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website

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23
Feb
14

Review: ‘Simon Harsent / Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th February – 1st March 2014

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A solid exhibition by Simon Harsent to open the year at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne.

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Things I felt and observed

  • Harsent shows me sculptural photographs of icebergs as I have never seen them before
  • The photographs are well printed and framed, have great colour variation and work at both sizes the images are presented at
  • The horizon line of the sea rises and falls throughout the series, allowing the viewer to levitate and drop as you walk around the gallery
  • The ecological component of the exhibition, while inherent, is not overpowering. Which is a good thing
  • The non-chronological hang benefits the exhibition immensely. If the exhibition had been hung from large to small iceberg, the effect would have been too didactic
  • The Brancusi-esque forms held more interest for me, such as Melt #029, Melt #036 and Melt #039 (seen with a photograph of Brancusi’s The Newborn 1920, below), together with the intense, close-up abstract forms such as Melt #014 and Melt #023. These are superb!

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Things I wanted to feel and observe

  • When viewing the series I didn’t feel Harsent’s metaphorical reflection upon his own mortality. Only in two images, Melt #042 and Melt #09 (where the sunlight hits the top of the iceberg deliciously) did I feel an anthropomorphic link to humanity
  • I didn’t feel the grandeur of these icebergs. Perhaps just one image at the largest size possible would have shook me from my reverie
  • I didn’t feel the personality of each iceberg in its own journey. In the exhibition I never knew which large iceberg had metamorphosized into which smaller iceberg. Therefore I was unsure of each iceberg’s life-span and story. For that reason these are not ontological portraits concerned with the nature and relations (the relation of one photograph and the next) of being.
  • Finally, I wanted the images to push forward, to take me further on the journey. Taking the adage that two-thirds of the iceberg is always below water, I never really felt the psychological power of these objects, something dark that is hidden beneath the sea. All the icebergs are photographed in clear, calm weather. Some photographed in storms, in mist or fog, or at night would have added ineffably to the atmosphere

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These are not sublime photographs. I never got that feeling from viewing the work. They come nowhere close to Alain de Botton’s wonderful prose on the significance of sublime places:

“If the world is unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming, but it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us with the finest, the most respectful reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time with them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.” (de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. London: Penguin, 2002, p. 178 – 179.)

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I never felt that the photographs transported the viewer on an emotional journey that furthers our understanding of the fragility of life both of the planet and of ourselves. And that is the one thing I wished they had of done.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Edmund Pearce Gallery 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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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #028a' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #028a
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #026' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #026
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #029' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #029
2008
Archival Pigment Print
110 x 160 cm
Edition of 10

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #039' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #039
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 10

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #036' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #036
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Constantin Brancusi. 'The Newborn'. Version I 1920 (close to the marble of 1915)

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Constantin Brancusi
The Newborn. Version I
1920 (close to the marble of 1915)
Bronze
14.6 cm x 21 cm x 14.6 cm
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss request
© 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Used under conditions of fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #037' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #037
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #042' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #042
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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“After successful exhibitions in Australia and abroad, Simon Harsent’s sublime photographic series Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg makes its Melbourne premiere at Edmund Pearce this February. The exhibition and accompanying monograph present portraits of icebergs as they travel Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord. The ecological story is self-evident; more sections are breaking away from the arctic ice cap and melting faster due to global warming. But the chronicle of the iceberg is, for the artist, a metaphorical reflection upon his own mortality.

Harsent states; “Seeing them first overpowering in grandeur and then, later, about to be absorbed back into the flux from which they came, is both beautiful and humbling: a metamorphosis that endows them with a life-span, each with its own personality, each with its own story.”

Born in England Simon Harsent studied photography at Watford College before moving to Australia in 1988 to establish himself as one of the country’s leading photographers. Currently based in New York, Harsent’s career has seen him win numerous national and international awards including, Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio, D&AD, and Australia’s first Cannes Grand Prix – making him one of the most awarded photographers in the world. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Queensland Art Gallery and The Powerhouse Museum. Melt: Portrait of an Iceberg was published in late 2009 to critical acclaim, reinforced by its inclusion in the prestigious D&AD and PDN Photo Annuals.”

Text from the Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #023' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #023
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #014' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #014
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #021' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #021
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #010' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #010
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #09' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #09
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #020' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #020
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #05' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #05
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #03' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #03
2008
Archival Pigment Print
58.5 x 86 cm
Edition of 25

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Simon Harsent. 'Melt #07' 2008

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Simon Harsent
Melt #07
2008
Archival Pigment Print
110 x 160 cm
Edition of 10

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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04
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male’ at Kunstmuseum Bern

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 9th February 2014

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The Cult of Muscularity

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“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

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Richard Dyer. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p.114

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“The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ (Elliott Gorn. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986) in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the first time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures). Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’…”

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks). Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept for the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is reinforced through social and moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for a particular type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Excerpt from “Bench Press,” in Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male, PhD thesis, RMIT Univesity, Melbourne, 2001.

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

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

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Alexis Hunter. 'Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society - exorcise' 1977

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Alexis Hunter (born Epsom, New Zealand, 1948)
Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise
1977
10 Color photographs, mounted on two panels, both 25 x 101 cm
Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-prints between Alucobond and Plexiglas
Each 180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Digitally manipulates photos of women depicted in various suggestive poses, replacing their features with his own in a sufficiently consistent way for the image to retain its erotic content. By slipping into different bodies, he tests his own body and appearance, and he raises the issue of reality. The artist can only offer his own, man-made version.

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Lynda Benglis. 'Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4' 1974

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Lynda Benglis (born Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA, 1941)
Artforum Advertisement in: Artforum, November 1974, Vol. 13, No. 3, S. 3-4
1974
26.7 × 26.5 × 0.5 cm
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
(From the section Experiments)

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Peter Land. 'Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994' 1994

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Peter Land (born Aarhus, Denmark, 1966)
Peter Land d. 5. maj 1994
1994
Colour video
Time, 25 Min.
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ursula Palla. 'balance' 2012

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Ursula Palla (born Chur, Switzerland, 1961)
balance
2012
Colour video installation
Time, 8 Min.
Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Masculinity under scrutiny

“This themed group exhibition is our contribution to the discussion on new role definitions of the male gender, a topic that has long been on the agenda of academia and popular culture. Works by artists of both sexes will address the issue of how contemporary art stages male role models and masculinity, critically scrutinizing the content of the same.

Who or what makes a man? How do men define themselves in art since feminism; how do they reflect on their gender and the portrayal thereof? Whereas the preferred angle of engaging with female artists is still today via “gender”, this is still a novel angle for looking at male artists. And as feminist art has finally become an established entity in major institutions, it is time to take a closer look at the art produced by men about men. The Sexual Revolution as well as the feminist and gay movements did not have only one side to them: they likewise impacted the roles of men and transformed images of masculinity. The exhibition therefore explores how contemporary Western artists of both sexes have, since the 1960s, invented new notions of masculinity or shattered existing ones. It does this with some 45 installations, some of which are large and extensive.

With this exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern is addressing a topic that, until now, has hardly been tackled in a museum context: the “normal” white heterosexual male, hitherto the ultimate measure for everything we consider characteristically human, is now facing a crisis. The exhibition and catalogue draw on the reflections and insights gained from masculinities studies to throw light on the consequences of the contemporary male crisis and how it is reflected in art, making the extent of the crisis visually palpable.

The works selected for the show have been divided up into six sections. These sections explore what “normal” might be and what the new nuances inherent in being “male” are today. The prescribed tour of the exhibition begins with the chapter on “Strong Weaknesses” and then proceeds through the sections focusing thematically on “Experiments”, “Emotions”, “Eroticism”, “Critique and Crisis”, and “Masculinity as Masquerade”. This route follows, at the same time, a roughly chronological order. The show is accompanied by a rich fund of educational programs with tours of the exhibition, discussions of artworks with invited guests, as well as a film program in collaboration with the cinema Kino Kunstmuseum, and not least, workshops for schools.

Participating artists: Vito Acconci / Bas Jan Ader / Luc Andrié / Lynda Benglis / Luciano Castelli / Martin Disler / VALIE EXPORT and Peter Weibel / Gelitin / Pascal Häusermann / Alexis Hunter / Cathy Joritz / Jesper Just / Jürgen Klauke / Frantiček Klossner / Elke Silvia Krystufek / Marie-Jo Lafontaine / Peter Land / Littlewhitehead / Sarah Lucas / Urs Lüthi / Manon / Paul McCarthy / Tracey Moffatt / Josef Felix Müller / Ursula Palla / Adrian Piper / Anne-Julie Raccoursier / Ugo Rondinone / Carole Roussopoulos / Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier / Sylvia Sleigh / Nedko Solakov / Megan Francis Sullivan / Sam Taylor-Johnson / Costa Vece / William Wegman / Silvie Zürcher.

Text from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat. 'Heaven' (still) 1997

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Tracey Moffat (born Brisbane, Australia, 1960)
Heaven (3 stills)
1997
Colour video
Time, 28 Min.
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Male to the Hilt: Images of Men

“The exhibition The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male zeroes in on the evolution of male identity since the 1960s. On view are works by 40 artists regardless of gender who question masculinity and stage it anew. The Kunstmuseum Bern seeks to foster dialogue in the exhibition and is therefore increasing its focus on social media. For the first time our visitors can respond to issues raised by an exhibition immediately on location…

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The whole spectrum of art media and male images

The exhibition is presenting works that cover the entire range of media used by artists, including paintings, drawings, photographs, films, videos, sculptures and performance-installations. Artists of all ages are represented in the exhibition, enabling it to highlight images of men in all age groups. Each of the artworks questions social norms, who or what a man is, while orchestrating masculinity in novel ways and reflecting on what it means to be a “man”. The artworks in the show take up the theme of masculinity or male emotions – as discussed in society in general or as openly demonstrated by men today: as weeping sport heroes, the disadvantaged position of divorced fathers, overstrained top managers or criminal youths.

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Of strong weaknesses, eroticism and the male in crisis

The exhibition is divided into six sections that explore key aspects of masculinity studies and thus simultaneously follow a loose art-historical chronological thread. The introductory section takes up the theme of “Strong Weaknesses” with representations of men weeping or expressing fear. The second section “Experiments” scrutinizes the exciting events that took place in conjunction with the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The section “Emotions” presents male emotionality in intensely stirring artistic orchestrations. The section “Eroticism” take us through a selection of artworks that investigate men as objects of desire. The last two sections of the exhibition “Crisis and Critique” and “Masculinity as Masquerade” investigate traditional male images and give us an account of the potential of new gender orientations.”

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Bern website

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Bas Jan Ader. 'I'm Too Sad to Tell You' 1970/71

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Bas Jan Ader (born Winschoten, Netherlands, 1942, died 1975 presumably on the high seas. Lived in California, USA, as of 1963)
I’m Too Sad to Tell You
1970/71
16mm, s/w
Time, 3:34 Min.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sylvia Sleigh. 'Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair' 1971

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Sylvia Sleigh (born Llandudno, Wales, Great Britain, 1916; died New York, USA, 2010)
Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair
1971
Oil on canvas
131 x 142 cm
Courtesy The Estate of Sylvia Sleigh & Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Zürich
(From the section Eroticism)

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT. 'Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit' (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File) 1969

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Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT
Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File)
1969
Documentation of the action
5 s/w photographs, 40.4 x 50 cm / 50 x 40.4 cm
Sammlung Generali Foundation
Wien Foto: Josef Tandl
© Generali Foundation © 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Gelitin. 'Ständerfotos - Nudes' (Standing Photos - Nudes) 2000

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Gelitin
Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes)
2000
Series of 15 Lambda prints
Various dimensions
(From the section Eroticism)

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Austrian artists’ collective with Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban. Apparently became acquainted at a summer camp in 1978. Changed their name from Gelatin to Gelitin in 2005.

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“Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took careof the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.

Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and self-assured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented – insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily – in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.”

Part of the Preface to the exhibition by Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern and Klaus Vogel, Director of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Steve Buscemi' 2004

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Steve Buscemi
2004
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
99.2 x 99.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Sam Taylor-Johnson. 'Gabriel Byrne' 2002

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Sam Taylor-Johnson (born London (UK), 1967)
Gabriel Byrne
2002
From the series: Crying Men, 2002-2004
C-Print
86.2 x 86.2 cm framed
Courtesy White Cube
© Sam Taylor-Johnson
(From the section Strong Weaknesses)

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Costa Vece. 'Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ' 2007

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Costa Vece (born Herisau, Switzerland, 1969)
Me as a Revolutionary, Dictator, Guerilla, Freedom Fighter, Terrorist, Jesus Christ
2007
Ultrachrome – Digitalprint
106 × 80 cm
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Ugo Rondinone. 'I Don't Live Here Anymore' 1998

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Ugo Rondinone (born Brunnen, Switzerland, 1962)
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
1998
C-print between Alucobond and Plexiglas
180 × 125 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern, purchased with the donation of an Art Lover
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Rico-Scagliola-&-Michael-Meier-Nude-Leaves-and-Harp-WEB

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Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1985; born Chur, Switzerland, 1982)
Nude, Leaves and Harp
2012
Floor Installation, HD Digital Print on Novilux traffic, dimensions variable
Ed. 1/5

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Jürgen Klauke. 'Rot' 1974

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Jürgen Klauke (born Kliding, Germany, 1943)
Rot
1974
Series of 7 photographs
Each 40 × 30 cm
Kunstmuseum Bern
(From the section Experiments)

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Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition

Kathleen Bühler Curator Kunstmuseum Bern

In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,”1 since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men.2 The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009.

Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome.3 This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier.4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.” With this metaphor, “an attempt is made to apprehend all the changes that contribute to the fact that the dominance of the male gender, which was formerly consolidated to a large extent, … has lost the obviousness of being self-evident.”5 Nothing therefore demonstrates the transience of gender stereotypes more clearly, and one might rightly ask whether the earlier “weaknesses” might long since have come to be considered new “strengths.” The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern takes up the thread that was already spun by the small but noteworthy exhibition in Switzerland Helden Heute (Heroes Today) in 2005.6 At that time, the focus was put on hero images in contemporary art and on society’s current need for strong men in art and politics.7 The current exhibition in Bern, in contrast, argues quite differently that specifically images of “weak” men best represent the social and cultural liberation movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The fact that men today are allowed to express their feelings publicly, as is shown for instance by the example of the exceptional Swiss athlete Roger Federer, or that they are staged by female artists as object of desire and no longer as subject of desire is a crucial innovation in the visualization of gender identities. After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender,8 the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time.9 It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue.

Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types – thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly – have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals.10 What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least. In Western cultural tradition, these are physically sound, white heterosexual men.11 They remain the norm unchallenged as a “blind spot” without their position of power and their power to make decisions ever becoming a focus. The masculine-heterosexual dominance succeeds in “remaining out of the question itself,” as the art historian Irit Rogoff has criticized, by subordinating all representations of the “other” to their own norm, including women, individuals with a different sexual orientation, and non-whites.12

The fact that male bodies are becoming visible today in the most unexpected places is demonstrated in a striking way by the work Nude, Leaves and Harp (2012) by Rico Scagliola and Michael Meier, which graces the entrance area to the exhibition in Bern. The artist duo incorporated detailed images of their naked, sculpted bodies into a palm and marble decor on the floor. The path to the exhibition literally leads over their nakedness. Two exhibitions in Austria were also recently dedicated to this new presence of the naked man,13 with numerous works documenting “the deconstruction of hegemonic models of masculinity – the look of desire at the male body as well as body cult and exploitation,” which is also a focus of the exhibition in Bern.14 However, while those responsible in Linz and Vienna assumed a distanced, art-historical perspective by taking an iconographic approach based on the selection of motifs or a chronological approach according to epoch, the exhibition in Bern favors a different perspective. It focuses on representations of masculinity in art since the nineteen-sixties while simultaneously taking the historical conditions of being a man into consideration by utilizing central issues in masculinity research as a guide. What thus results is a logical division of the exhibition and this publication into six chapters.

The introductory chapter “Strong Weaknesses” revolves around the change in gender virtues and considers this based on the example of the weeping and fearful man. The chapter “Experiments” presents eccentric artistic stagings and sociocritical actions that were influenced by the sexual revolution. The chapter “Emotions” highlights the point in time at which men themselves increasingly cast aside the image of the successful and unflinching hero and explore men’s emotionality through doing so. The chapter “Eroticism” describes the change in gaze and position from the male subject to object of desire. The final two chapters “Crisis and Criticism” and “Masculinity as Masquerade,” in contrast, are dedicated to a younger generation of artists who deal out criticism of their “fathers” and also discover the arsenal of gender stagings and their utopian potential anew.”

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Footnotes

1 Une riposte aux exagérations, aux absurdités et aux utopies du féminisme is the subtitle.

2 Otto Weininger, Geschlecht und Charakter, 19th ed. (Leipzig and Vienna, 1920), p. 390. Both Weininger’s book and Vogt’s pamphlet, which saw signs of cultural decay in the women’s movement, are considered to be expressions of a growing antifeminism. The often-used term “weak sex” then also provided the title of a theater piece by Edouard Bourdet in 1929, which was even filmed in 1933.

3 “Männer – Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn: Peter Schipek im Gespräch mit Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther,”
http://www.sinn-stiftung.eu/downloads/interview_maenner_das-schwache-geschlecht.pdf, p. 2 (accessed July 2013).

4 Carmen Sadowski, “Der Mann: das schwache Geschlecht,” Express.de,
http://www.express.de/living/studien-belegen-der-mann—das-schwache-geschlecht,2484,1190404.html (accessed July 14, 2013).

5 Michael Meuser and Sylka Scholz, “Krise oder Strukturwandel hegemonialer Männlichkeit?,” in In der Krise? Männlichkeiten im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Mechthild Bereswill and Anke Neuber (Münster, 2011), p. 56. See also the text by Michael Meuser in this book.

6 Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, Centre Pasquart, Biel, 2005.

7 Sociologists interpret this as a sign of need in times of social upheaval. See Dolores Denaro, in Helden Heute: Das Heldenbild in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, ed. Dolores Denaro, exh. cat. Centre Pasquart (Biel, 2005), p. 20.

8 Oh boy! It’s a Girl, Kunstverein München, 1994; Féminin – Masculin, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1995; Rosa für Jungs: Hellblau für Mädchen, Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1999; Das achte Feld, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2006; to name but a few.

9 To date, this has occurred only in smaller exhibition spaces, above all during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and has remained practically undocumented. An exception in this respect was the exhibition Women’s Images of Men (1984) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, organized by Joyce Agee, Catherine Elwes, Jacqueline Morreau, and Pat Whiteread.

10 Inge Stephan, “Im toten Winkel: Die Neuentdeckung des ‘ersten Geschlechts’ durch men’s studies und Männlichkeitsforschung,” in Männlichkeit als Maskerade: Kulturelle Inszenierungen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Claudia Benthien and Inge Stephan (Cologne et al., 2003), p. 13.

11 Richard Dyer, “Introduction,” in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, ed. Richard Dyer (London and New York, 1993), p. 4.

12 Irit Rogoff, “Er selbst: Konfigurationen von Männlichkeit und Autorität in der Deutschen Moderne,” in Blick-Wechsel: Konstruktionen von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit in Kunst und Kunstge-schichte, ed. Ines Lindner et al. (Berlin, 1989), p. 141.

13 Nude Men, Leopold Museum, Vienna, 2012-13; The Naked Man, Lentos Museum, Linz, 2012-13.

14 Barnabàs Bencsik and Stella Rollig, “Vorwort,” in Der nackte Mann: Texte, exh. cat. Lentos Kun-stmuseum Linz and Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art (Budapest, 2012), p. 7.

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Urs Lüthi. 'Lüthi weint auch für Sie' (Lüthi also cries for you) 1970

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Urs Lüthi (born Kriens, Switzerland, 1947)
Lüthi weint auch für Sie (Lüthi also cries for you)
1970
Offset printing on paper
85,5 x 58,6 cm
Ed. 15/100
Kunstmuseum Bern Sammlung Toni Gerber (Schenkung 1983)
© Urs Lüthi
(From the section Experiments)

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Luciano Castelli. 'Lucille, Straps Attractive' 1973

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Luciano Castelli (born Lucerne, Switzerland, 1951)
Lucille, Straps Attractive
1973
Collage on cardboard
100 x 70 cm
Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
© 2013 ProLitteris, Zürich
(From the section Experiments)

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littlewhitehead. 'The Overman' 2012

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littlewhitehead (Craig Little, born Glasgow (UK), 1980. Blake Whitehead, born Lanark (UK), 1985)
The Overman
2012
Mannequin, towels, Boxing Glove, wooden base
120 x 120 x 120cm
Saatchi Collection, London Courtesy of the artist/Sumarria Lunn Gallery/Saatchi Collection
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Pascal Häusermann. 'Megalomania, No. 8' 2009

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Pascal Häusermann (born Chur, Switzerland, 1973)
Megalomania, No. 8
2009
Monotype, oil paint, shellac
43 x 29 cm
Private Collection, Courtesy the artist
(From the section Crisis and Criticism)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait with Knickers' 1999

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait with Knickers
1999
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Self Portrait With Skull' 1996

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Self Portrait With Skull
1996
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Sarah Lucas. 'Smoking' 1998

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Sarah Lucas (born London (GB), 1962)
Smoking
1998
From Self Portraits 1990-1999
1999
Iris print on watercolour paper
80 x 60 cm
© Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Silvie Zürcher. 'Blue Shorts' 2005/6

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Silvie Zürcher (born Zurich, Switzerland, 1977)
Blue Shorts
2005/6
From the series I Wanna Be a Son
Collage
31.5 x 24.4 cm
Courtesy Silvie Zürcher
(From the section Masculinity as Masquerade)

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Kunstmuseum Bern
Hodlerstrasse 12
3000 Bern 7
T: +41 31 328 09 44
E: info@kunstmuseumbern.ch

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 10h – 21h
Wednesday to Sunday: 10h – 17h
Mondays: closed

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03
Jan
14

Melbourne’s magnificent nine 2013

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Here’s my pick of the nine best local exhibitions which featured on the Art Blart blog in 2013 (plus a favourite of the year from Hobart). Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Review: Terraria by Darron Davies at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

This is the first “magical” exhibition of photography that I have seen in Melbourne this year. Comprising just seven moderately large Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag images mounted in white frames, this exhibition swept me off my feet. The photographs are beautiful, subtle, nuanced evocations to the fragility and enduring nature of life…

A sense of day/dreaming is possible when looking at these images. Interior/exterior, size/scale, ego/self are not fixed but fluid, like the condensation that runs down the inside of these environments (much like blood circulates our body). This allows the viewer’s mind to roam at will, to ponder the mysteries of our short, improbable, joyous life. The poetic titles add to this introspective reflection. I came away from viewing these magical, self sustaining vessels with an incredibly happy glow, more aware of my own body and its relationship to the world than before I had entered Darron Davies enveloping, terrarium world.

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Darron Davies. 'Encased' 2012

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Darron Davies
Encased 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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Darron Davies. 'The Red Shard' 2012

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Darron Davies
The Red Shard 
2012
Archival Pigment Print on Photo Rag
80 x 80 cm / edition of 6

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2/ Review: Confounding: Contemporary Photography at NGV International, Melbourne

Presently, contemporary photography is able to reveal intangible, constructed vistas that live outside the realm of the scientific. A photograph becomes a perspective on the world, an orientation to the world based on human agency. An image-maker takes resources for meaning (a visual language, how the image is made and what it is about), undertakes a design process (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.

These ideas are what a fascinating exhibition titled Confounding: Contemporary Photography, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne investigates. In the confounding of contemporary photography we are no longer witnessing a lived reality but a break down of binaries such as sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments as artists present their subjective visions of imagined, created worlds. Each image presents the viewer with a conundrum that investigates the relationship between photographs and the “real” world they supposedly record. How do these photographs make you feel about this constructed, confounding world? These fields of existence?

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Thomas Demand German born 1964 'Public housing' 2003

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Thomas Demand German born 1964
Public housing
2003
type C photograph
100.1 x 157.0 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2010
© Thomas Demand/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965 'The ancestors' 2004

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Eliza Hutchison Australian born 1965
The ancestors
2004
Light-jet print
95.4 x 72.9 cm (image), 105.4 x 82.9 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2005
© Eliza Hutchison, courtesy Murray White Room

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3/ Review: Louise Bourgeois: Late Works at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois: Late Works installation view
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Photograph: John Gollings 2012

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Louise Bourgeois 'Untitled' 2002

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Louise Bourgeois
Untitled
2002
Tapestry and aluminium
43.2 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Christopher Burke
© Louise Bourgeois Trust

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This is a tough, stimulating exhibition of late works by Louise Bourgeois at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. All the main themes of the artist’s work explored over many years are represented in these late works: memory, emotion, anxiety, family, relationships, childhood, pain, desire and eroticism are all present as are female subjectivity and sexuality, expressed through the body…

Bourgeois’ work gives me an overall feeling of immersion in a world view, one that transcends the pain and speaks truth to power. Bourgeois confronted the emotion, memory or barrier to communication that generated her mood and the work. She observed, “My art is an exorcism. My sculpture allows me to re-experience fear, to give it a physicality, so that I am able to hack away at it.” By weaving, stitching and sewing Bourgeois threaded the past through the present and enacted, through artistic performance, a process of repair and reconstruction, giving meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. I have not been so lucky. My mother refuses to discuss the past, will not even come close to the subject for the pain is so great for her. I am left with a heaviness of heart, dealing with the demons of the past that constantly lurk in the memory of childhood, that insistently impinge on the man I am today. Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures brought it all flooding back as the work of only a great artist can, forcing me to become an ethical witness to her past, my past. A must see exhibition this summer in Melbourne.

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4/ Exhibition: Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie…

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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5/ Exhibition: Density by Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

I include this in my list of magnificent photographic exhibitions for the year not because I curated it, but because of the conceptualisation, the unique quality of the images and the tenacity of a visually impaired artist to produce such memorable work.

A wonderful exhibition by vision impaired photographer Andrew Follows at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond. It has been a real pleasure to mentor Andrew over the past year and to see the fruits of our labour is incredibly satisfying. The images are strong, elemental, atmospheric, immersive. Due to the nature of Andrew’s tunnel vision there are hardly any traditional vanishing points within the images, instead the ‘plane of existence’ envelops you and draws you in.

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Density n.

The degree of optical opacity of a medium or material, as of a photographic negative;

Thickness of consistency;

Complexity of structure or content.

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Andrew Follows. 'Number 31, Eltham' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Number 31, Eltham
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Andrew Follows. 'Green, Montsalvat' 2013

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Andrew Follows
Green, Montsalvat
2013
Digital photograph on archival cotton rag
130 cm x 86.5 cm

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Carol Jerrems. 'Mark and Flappers' 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Mark and Flappers
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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Carol Jerrems. 'Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm' c. 1975

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Carol Jerrems
Carol Jerrems, self-portrait with Esben Storm
c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Mrs Joy Jerrems 1981
© Ken Jerrems and the Estate of Lance Jerrems

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6/ Review: Carol Jerrems: photographic artist at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

This is a fascinating National Gallery of Australia exhibition about the work of Australian photographer Carol Jerrems at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill – in part both memorable, intimate, informative, beautiful, uplifting and disappointing…

The pity is that she died so young for what this exhibition brought home to me was that here was an artist still defining, refining her subject matter. She never had to time to develop a mature style, a mature narrative as an artist (1975-1976 seems to be the high point as far as this exhibition goes). This is the great regret about the work of Carol Jerrems. Yes, there is some mediocre work in this exhibition, stuff that really doesn’t work at all (such as the brothel photographs), experimental work, individual and collective images that really don’t impinge on your consciousness. But there are also the miraculous photographs (and for a young photographer she had a lot of those), the ones that stay with you forever. The right up there, knock you out of the ball park photographs and those you cannot simply take away from the world. They live on in the world forever.

Does Jerrems deserve to be promoted as a legend, a ‘premier’ of Australian photography as some people are doing? Probably not on the evidence of this exhibition but my god, those top dozen or so images are something truly special to behold. Their ‘presence’ alone – their physicality in the world, their impact on you as you stand before them – guarantees that Jerrems will forever remain in the very top echelons of Australian photographers of all time not as a legend, but as a women of incredible strength, intelligence, passion, determination and vision.

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7/ Exhibition: Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International, Melbourne

What a gorgeous exhibition. It’s about time Melbourne had a bit of style put back into the National Gallery of Victoria, and this exhibition hits it out of the park. Not only are the photographs absolutely fabulous but the frocks are absolutely frocking as well. Well done to the NGV for teaming the photographs with the fashion and for a great install (makes a change to see 2D and 3D done so well together). Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this is a sure fire winner….

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Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion' at NGV International

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Installation photograph of the exhibition Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion at NGV International

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

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Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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8/ Exhibition: Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes.

“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

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Jeff Koons. 'Balloon dog (Red)' 1995 designed

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Jeff Koons
Balloon dog (Red)
1995 designed
Porcelain, ed. 1113/2300
11.3 x 26.3 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Andrew Liversidge. 'IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE' 2009

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney

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9/ Review: Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park (USA)' 1996

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Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world…

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience…

I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well.

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10/ Exhibition: Joan Ross: Touching Other People’s Shopping at Bett Gallery, Hobart

The claiming of things
The touching of things
The digging of land
The tagging of place
The taking over of the world

Tag and capture.
Tag and capture.
Shop, dig, spray, destroy.

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An ironic critique of the pastoral, neo/colonial world, tagged and captured in the 21st century.
Excellent work. The construction, sensibility and humour of the videos is outstanding. I also responded to the two works Tag and capture and Shopping for butterfly (both 2013, below).

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Joan Ross. 'Tag and capture' 2013

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Joan Ross
Tag and capture
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
50 x 47 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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Joan Ross. 'Shopping for butterfly' 2013

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Joan Ross
Shopping for butterfly
2013
hand painted pigment print on cotton rag paper
51.5 x 50 cm (image size)
edition of 3

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30
Dec
13

Review: ‘Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 19th January 2014

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“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree…

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
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Herman Hesse. Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and Poems) 1984

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This is the last review of 2013 and what a cracker of an exhibition to finish the year. Without doubt this is the best pure photography exhibition I have seen this year in Melbourne. The exhibition is stimulating and enervating, the image making of the highest order in its aesthetic beauty and visual complexity. The artist explores intangible spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with the un/known world.

Briefly stated the bulk of the exhibition features small, square, tonally rich black and white medium format landscape images of unspoiled places from around the world taken between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s, images that possess a sense of the sublime and suggest a link to indigenous cultures. These images are hung in rows, sometimes double row grids, that flesh out the narrative that Terstappen seeks to establish. It is a beautiful, enlightening hang and whoever sequenced the work and hung the show should be congratulated for they understood the artist’s narrative and the tonal range of the printing.

In an excellent review in The Age newspaper (Wednesday December 18th 2013) the writer Robert Nelson suggests that these vistas depict something holy to an earlier or parallel civilisation. He observes that Terstappen’s images go beyond the mere picturesque because the artist applies a persistent inquiry to image making no matter where she is in the world, for “she always looks for properties that the environment shares with counterparts elsewhere.” He goes on to state that the photographs have three systematic demands that the artist places on her interpretation of the landscape: 1/ that they express something elemental (earth, air, water, fire); 2/ the scene has to sustain a dark print with a visual weight that is almost contrary to the nature of photography; and 3/the picture must reconcile the expansive and the intimate. In her world, everything must have presence, no matter how far away, and press up against the picture plane; everything must have a certain density, a thickness of being which is not about light but about the darkness of light.

“All photographs depend on light; but Terstappen’s sensibility errs to descriptions of the density of things, not their reception or reflection of sunshine or even moonlight. Her scenery is gravid with banks engorged by roots, the bulk of outcrops or the intricate tangle of overlapping forest, which is also what seems to activate the water within the air to express it heaviness… A part of the impetus behind Terstappen’s project is pictorial: how to make the most rigorous sense of multiplicity, to frame big things so that they harmonise with little things, so that everything has an equivalent weight, including the air.
The corollary of this consistent investigation is a poetic respect for the natural subject matter…”

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Through images of visual and conceptual beauty and complexity, Terstappen imparts a strange kind of temporality to the work. The artist layers shapes within the photographs and, befitting her training as a sculptor, pushes and pulls at the image plane like a malleable piece of clay, sometimes blocking vision at the surface of the print, sometimes allowing access to a partially accessible (psychological) interiority. For example, look at the last three images before the press release below: Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia) and Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia) (all 2002). In Cabbage trees the artist creates a visual pattern, like a fabric pattern, that holds the viewer at the surface of the image while still allowing glimpses of what lies beyond; in Curtain fig tree it is as if a curtain has literally descended blocking any access to the interior; while in Alligator nest there is a beautiful, open density to the work that invites contemplation and meditation upon the scene.

In Terstappen’s work, there is always a sense of space moving back, moving from the bottom up or top down and a conscious use of a restricted tonality (no bright whites or blackest blacks). The artist blocks movement, opens it up or swirls it around. Sometimes earth becomes sky as steam turns to cloud, or rock becomes water as the two meld at the base of a waterfall. In this multiplicity, each element is given equal weight within certain atmospheres and an equilibrium is formed, to live at the heart of these images. Each complex, thoughtful image becomes a living and breathing entity.

In Terstappen’s work there is no fixed image and no single purpose, a single meaning, or one singular existence that the images propose. They transcend claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world. As the artist visualises, records the feeling of the facts, such complex and balanced images let the mind of the viewer wander in the landscape. In their fecundity the viewer is enveloped in that situation of not knowing. There is the feeling of the landscape, a sensitivity to being “lost” in the landscape, in the shadow of ‘Other’, enhanced through the modality of the printing. Dreamworld vs analytical/descriptive, there is the enigma of the landscape and its spiritual places. Yes, the sublime, but more an invocation, a plea to the gods for understanding. This phenomenological prayer allows the artist to envelop herself and the viewer in the profundity – the great depth, intensity and emotion – of the landscape. To be ‘present’ in the the untrammelled places of the world as (divine) experience.

The only doubt I have about the exhibition is the ex post facto interpretation of the archive as picturing places that are threatened by social and ecological change. As the catalogue text states, “These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive, reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.” If they are only now forming part of an environmental archive, what memory of sacred place did they initially respond to?

While Terstappen’s work has always focused on a physical encounter with space and an imaging of places that have deep or hidden meanings and mythical/symbolic significance, when I look at this work I do not get a strong sense of these places being under threat. Only through written (not visual) language is this environmental threat enunciated. While archives are always fluid and will always gather new meaning (look at Atget’s “documents for artists”, images that are now acknowledged as some of the most artistic and influential in the whole canon of photography), we must also acknowledge that nothing in this world remains the same, that everything changes all the time, for better or worse. The landscapes that Terstappen photographs are no more “natural” then as they are now, due to the effects of bushfires, human cultivation, erosion, habitation, hunting, farming and natural disaster. Humans cannot appeal to some vision of a world, some garden of Eden, that exists pre humanity. Who is to stay that these places in the world are disappearing or appearing? By the very act of photographing these places, Terstappen labels them, names them as inconsolable places that should never change. This is not the mysterious way of the world. I prefer to look at these places and acknowledge that this is how they looked through the eyes of this artist at this point in time. They have full presence before me, in all their mystery and majesty.

Is this textual analysis necessary for the work to succeed? I do not believe it is, in fact I believe it lessens the inherent quality of these images. Use these images to help people understand what human beings are doing to the planet by all means, but please do not try to retrofit concepts of destruction onto the work.

This minor quibble aside, I say to you that this is the most sophisticated reading of the landscape that I have seen in a long time – not just in Australia but from around the world. This is such a joy of an exhibition to see that you leave feeling engaged and uplifted. Being in the gallery on your own is a privilege that is hard to describe: to see (and feel!) landscape photography of the highest order and by an Australian artist as well. If you grant anything for your New Year’s wish you could do no better than to visit this magnificent exhibition and drink of its atmospheres.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Claudia Terstappen. 'After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
After the fire (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Bushfire III (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Sickness country II (Northern Territory, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Curtain fig tree (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Our ancestors 1990-
29 cm x 29 cm

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Alligator nest (Queensland, Australia)
2002
From the series Lost world 2002-
21 cm x 21 cm

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“Over the last thirty years Claudia Terstappen has taken photographs of places throughout the world that have spiritual resonance or associations. The basis of this exhibition is a selection of these landscapes, presented as gelatin silver prints printed by the artist between the 1980s – early 2000s.

The landscapes in this exhibition document places that have spiritual associations or significance for indigenous people, to make sense of their relationship to the land. But I now realise that the archive has taken on another set of meanings or intention. Today, these pictures form part of a vast archive of landscapes and places undergoing significant change. This archive of spiritual places has become an environmental archive.

Terstappen was born in Germany, and her landscapes are in many ways informed by her heritage. Like Australia, Germany has a particular tradition of landscape, where places of nature carry important associations for cultural understanding and a sense of belonging. Terstappen is herself part of a long tradition of German artists to explore this relationship.

Terstappen studied at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie, the training ground for many of Germany’s most important contemporary artists. Having been taught by the famous photographer Bernd Becher and then the architect and sculptor Erich Reusch, Terstappen has since exhibited widely throughout Europe, North America and Australia.”

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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“Claudia Terstappen originally trained a a sculptor but for over three decades she has worked in the medium of photography. In some respects, her art practice has been developed between these two artistic disciplines. She retains a strong interest in the sculptural sensation of a physical encounter in space, but she uses the two-dimensional medium of photography to document and reiterate these experiences.

Terstappen’s interest in the interplay between depth and surface is also evident in the subjects that she explores. She often photographs places that have deep or hidden meanings. This includes sites of pilgrimage, shrines of worship and landscapes invested with mythic significance. These associations are not always apparent, and often subsist as a type of secret knowledge, but they can be given tangible form through processes of story-telling and ceremonial action. Terstappen engages with these locations in order to give them a tangible photographic form, elaborating a sense of symbolic power or sublime drama across the surface of her images.

This exhibition features 75 photographs depicting places that have been invested with spiritual resonances or mythical associations, from Iceland and southern Europe to the Americas and Australia. The starting point for this exhibition is a selection of gelatin silver prints that were hand-printed by the artist between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. These pictures now form part of an archive of historically significant places that are threatened by social and ecological change. This archive of spiritual sites has, over time, become an environmental archive; reminding us that photography not only has the power to bring places to life, but also to bear witness to the forces that threaten life.”

Text from the exhibition pamphlet

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Turtle Dreaming, Australia (Northern Territory)
2002
from the series Vanishing landscapes 1987-
Gelatin silver print
120 x 120 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Namandi spirit [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Namandi spirit (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Cabbage trees [Queensland, Australia]' 2002

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Claudia Terstappen
Cabbage trees (Queensland, Australia)
2002
from the series Our ancestors 1990-
Gelatin silver print
29.0 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Full moon [France]' 1997

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Claudia Terstappen
Full moon (France)
1997
from the series I believe in miracles 1997-
Gelatin silver print
80.0 x 80.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Brazil]' 1991

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Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Brazil)
1991
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Mountain [Las Palmas, Spain]' 1992

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Claudia Terstappen
Mountain (Las Palmas, Spain)
1992
from the series Sacred mountains 1989-
Gelatin silver print
49.0 x 49.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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Claudia Terstappen. 'Zion Park [USA]' 1996

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Claudia Terstappen
Zion Park (USA)
1996
from the series Sacred land of the Navajo Indians 1990-
Gelatin silver print
37.0 x 37.0 cm
Courtesy  of the artist

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In the shadow of change features almost 100 of Claudia Terstappen’s magnificent landscape photographs. Terstappen is a German-born photographer who studied at the famous Dusseldorf art academy and is now Professor of Photography at Monash University in Melbourne.

For over three decades, Terstappen has been photographing landscapes the world over. Brazil, Colombia, Canada, Japan, USA, Iceland and Spain have been destinations for the artist, who has travelled the world looking for landscapes which have particular spiritual or mythical meanings. This search brought Terstappen to Australia in 2002; the artist now lives in Melbourne as a permanent resident.

Terstappen’s vast archive of landscape photographs has taken on significant environmental associations. As debates about the politics and impact of land use and climate change continue, Terstappen’s landscapes – from intimately scaled views of forests and riverbeds to grand views of mountains and glaciers – present a truly beautiful account of landscape photography and its contemporary significance.

As Terstappen states: ‘There is a moral dimension to looking at and photographing landscape today. Landscape photography has tremendous currency. Many of the landscapes in my photographs will have either completely disappeared or drastically changed by now. I firmly believe we need to re-establish our relationship with nature and landscape and photography can help us to achieve this.’

MGA Director and curator of the exhibition Shaune Lakin states: ‘MGA is very proud to have developed this exhibition with Claudia, which will be accompanied by a beautifully illustrated book. We have timed the exhibition to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of one of the defining moments in Australian photography, when landscape photographs actually brought about significant social and political change. It is now 30 years since Peter Dombrovskis’s now-iconic photographs of the Gordon River helped prevent construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania, which to this day remains one of the world’s great wilderness areas.

‘With the election of a new government and promises of a new environmental agenda, it seems a perfect time for us to reconsider the power of landscape photography and the status of environmentalism in Australia today.’”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Claudia Terstappen: In The Shadow Of Change at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

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Bob Browns opening speech at artist Claudia Terstappen’s exhibition In the shadow of change at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) in Melbourne. Recorded on Saturday 9 November 2013.

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Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

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The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

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

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“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

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American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

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Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.193

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 - died Greenbrae, CA 2009) 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 – died Greenbrae, CA 2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy, 1989.58
© 1988, Larry Sultan

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In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944) 'Untitled (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1975

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
Untitled (Dorchester, Mass.)
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm) sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1168
© 1974, Eugene Richards

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943) 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow, 1992.73.4
© 1972, Mark Cohen

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In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

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Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

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Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2 cm) sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8 cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 - died New York City 1896) 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 – died New York City 1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.6

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954) 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

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In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951) '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.43, © 2010, Deborah Luster

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This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

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Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

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Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.220

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944) '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl, 1997.118.2, © 1981, Anthony Barboza

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 - died Los Angeles, CA 1952) 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 – died Los Angeles, CA 1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

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Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875) 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

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Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavor. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolized American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 - died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 – died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.1

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Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924) 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937) 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.9
© 1973, Robert Adams

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As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 - died Oakland, CA 1903) 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 – died Oakland, CA 1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.5

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Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognized the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 - died Monterey, CA 1984) 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 – died Monterey, CA 1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1992.101.3, © 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasize the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939) 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

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John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic color palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates color and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

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“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolized American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organized by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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Connecting online
A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 - died New York City 2009) 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 – died New York City 2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.16.4, © 1981, Helen Levitt

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Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighborhoods.

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 - died New York City 2001) 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 – died New York City 2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase, 2002.47.6, © Estate of Louis Faurer

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942) 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne, 1988.52.8, Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery and Dektol.wordpress.com

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939) 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein, 1985.87.12

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An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful color photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighborhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with color photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of color.

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945) 'Marina's Room' 1987

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1989.5, © 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 - died Providence, RI 1991) 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 – died Providence, RI 1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4, © 1940, Aaron Siskind

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In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 - died New Haven, CT 1975) 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 – died New Haven, CT 1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

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During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945) 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.505, © 1980, Judy Fiskin

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For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991) 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.10

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Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 - died 1987) 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 – died 1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, 1990.19.9, © 1932, Robert Disraeli

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Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 - died Greenbrae, CA 1975) 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 – died Greenbrae, CA 1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 1986.54

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931) 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.57.1, © 1966, Ray K. Metzker

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Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 - died New York City 2009) 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 – died New York City 2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist, 1988.83.39

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Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 - died Carmel, CA 1958) 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 – died Carmel, CA 1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1985.56

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 - died San Francisco, CA 1976) 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 – died San Francisco, CA 1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952) 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick, 2013.29
© 2012, Ellen Carey

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Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary color filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a color enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

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Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

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1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

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Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied color
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

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1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

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Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

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Julian Vannerson
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

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Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

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Egbert Guy Fowx
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

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1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

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1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

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Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

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Andrew Joseph Russell
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

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1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

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Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

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Brett Weston
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659
© 1973, Brett Weston

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1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

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Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

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Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

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Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

A Democracy of Images 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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