Archive for the 'time' Category



11
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘See the Light – Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection’ at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 27th October 2013 – 23rd March 2014

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It is a real joy to bring these beautiful images to you!

Frederick H. Evans A Sea Of Steps – Wells Cathedral (England, 1903, below) is one of my favourite photographs of all time, up there in my top 20 or so. But you wouldn’t knock back any of these for your collection, especially Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom (1925, below) and Edward Steichen’s Three Pears & An Apple (1921, below).

Marcus

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

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William Henry Fox Talbot (England, 1800-1877) 'Articles of China' c. 1844

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William Henry Fox Talbot (England, 1800-1877)
Articles of China
c. 1844
Calotype
5 3/8 x 7 1/8 in. (13.65 x 18.1 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

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Linnaeus Tripe (England, 1822-1902) 'The Elliot Marbles, Central Museum, Madras' India, 1858

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Linnaeus Tripe (England, 1822-1902)
The Elliot Marbles, Central Museum, Madras
India, 1858
Albumen photograph
10 1/2 × 13 in. (26.67 × 33.02 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

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Carl Christian Heinrich Kühn (Germany, active Austria, 1866-1944) 'Still Life' c. 1905

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Carl Christian Heinrich Kühn (Germany, active Austria, 1866-1944)
Still Life
c. 1905
Bromoil print
8 1/4 × 11 1/2 in. (20.96 × 29.21 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© Estate of Heinrich Kühn

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Imogen Cunningham (United States, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' 1925

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Imogen Cunningham (United States, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© 1925, 2013 Imogen Cunningham Trust

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Charles Harbutt (United States, New Jersey, Camden, born 1935) 'Triptych' 1978, printed 1978

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Charles Harbutt (United States, New Jersey, Camden, born 1935)
Triptych
1978, printed 1978
Gelatin silver prints
8 x 12
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© Charles Harbutt. All rights reserved, Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery

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“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents See the Light – Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, an exhibition celebrating an extraordinary collection and exploring parallels between photography and the science of vision. Since the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the medium has evolved in relation to theories about vision, perception, and cognition. The exhibition takes a historical perspective, identifying correlations between photography and the science of vision during four chronological periods. See the Light is comprised of 220 works by more than 150 artists, including Ansel Adams, Julia Margaret Cameron, Imogen Cunningham, William Henry Fox Talbot, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Minor White, and many more.

The exhibition draws entirely from the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, a key collection within LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Photography Department. Acquired in 2008, the collection represents the diversity of photographic processes from the medium’s invention in 1839 to the 21st century. See the Light is accompanied by a free mobile-phone multimedia tour featured on mobile.lacma.org with commentary by the Vernons’ daughter, Carol Vernon; curator Britt Salvesen; artist James Welling; expert in computational vision Pietro Perona; and others. A 208-page catalogue, published by LACMA and DelMonico Books/Prestel, includes an essay by Britt Salvesen with contributions from Todd Cronan, Antonio Damasio, Alan Gilchrist, Pietro Perona, Barbara Maria Stafford, and James Welling. A new web page features excerpts from LACMA’s Vernon Oral History Project, an ongoing series of interviews with prominent artists, curators, dealers, and scholars who worked closely with the Vernons.

“Photography is often approached from either the artistic or the technological point of view, but these two aspects of the medium have been intertwined since its invention,” said Britt Salvesen, Department Head and Curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department. “As a scientific instrument, the camera operates as an infallible eye, augmenting physiological vision, and as an artist’s tool, it channels the imagination, recording creative vision. The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection offers unparalleled scope to the spirit of both science and art.”

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The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection

Through a groundbreaking gift from Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation, and with the support of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, LACMA acquired the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection in 2008. Comprising of more than 3,600 prints by almost 700 artists, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection at LACMA constitutes one of the finest collections of photography spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. LACMA’s acquisition of this collection makes it possible for the museum to represent photography’s breadth in the context of its encyclopedic collections.

Marjorie and Leonard Vernon were avid collectors in the Los Angeles and Southern California communities. The Vernons built their collection beginning around 1975, cultivating a group of works with global significance, with a special emphasis on West Coast photography of the early and mid-20th century. The collection grew over the years to include works by international photographers, with the earliest photographs dating from the 1840s and the latest to 2001.

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Exhibition organization

See the Light is organized thematically and traces the trajectory of advanced research on cognition and perception in relation to the art of photography. Four approaches within photography are identified: descriptive naturalism, subjective naturalism, experimental modernism, and romantic modernism.

Descriptive naturalism: Early advocates of photography (from the 1840s through around 1880) were eager to recruit the authority of science without sacrificing the romance of art. The notion that the camera could make a pure transcription of nature, undistorted by human error, took hold at precisely the moment with research in physiological optics revealed the complexities of the human visual system. The depiction of far-off landscapes was one of photography’s key functions in its descriptive naturalist phase, as in Carleton Watkins’s commanding views of the American West, which recorded the natural splendor of the landscape and its settlement.

Subjective naturalism: In the late 19th century, experimental psychology, a newly defined scientific discipline, addressed the progression of sensation into interpretation. At the same time, champions of artistic photography introduced the possibilities of expression, ambiguous form, and abstraction into a medium previously valued for its descriptive functions. Heinrich Kühn’s mastery of painterly techniques, for example, led to the creation of photographs on par with paintings or charcoal drawings. Ultimately Kühn’s photographs depict dreams or memories as much as physical reality.

Experimental Modernism: After World War I, photography became a key tool for avant-garde artists determined to deploy technology in a positive rather than destructive manner, thus restoring balance within the individual psyche and within society at large. The abstract works of György Kepes, influenced by Gestalt psychology, represent a European version of this tendency, which he and other emigrés brought to the United States. A later heir to this tradition is Barbara Kasten, who uses photography to explore key interests including transparency, color, light, and structure.

Romantic Modernism: Inspired by nature, romantic modernism isolated moments of direct personal contact with the world, and explored the specific capabilities of photography. Despite an apparent divergence of art and science following World War II, photography was a site of connection. Ansel Adams believed in the artist’s unique vision, while also advocating technical precision to realize it. Concurrently, scientists were focusing on contrast perception, the neurological mechanisms by which we distinguish objects and make sense of spatial arrangements. Scientists and photographers alike had to understand the visual system and its responses to black and white.”

Press release from the LACMA website

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Edward Steichen (Luxembourg, active United States, 1879-1973) 'Three Pears & An Apple' 1921, printed 1921

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Edward Steichen (Luxembourg, active United States, 1879-1973)
Three Pears & An Apple
1921, printed 1921
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2 in. (24.45 × 19.05 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© The Estate of Edward Steichen

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William Henry Fox Talbot (England, 1800-1877) 'Lace' 1841

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William Henry Fox Talbot (England, 1800-1877)
Lace
1841
Calotype
7 1/2 × 9 1/4 in. (19.05 × 23.5 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

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Andrew Young (England, active 1870-1879) 'Plane at Aberdour, in Old Avenue' Scotland, late 1870s

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Andrew Young (England, active 1870-1879)
Plane at Aberdour, in Old Avenue
Scotland, late 1870s
Woodbury type
9 1/8 × 7 3/8 in. (23.18 × 18.73 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

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Frederick H. Evans (England, 1853-1943) 'A Sea Of Steps - Wells Cathedral' England, 1903

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Frederick H. Evans (England, 1853-1943)
A Sea Of Steps – Wells Cathedral
England, 1903
Platinum print
9 x 7 1/4 in. (22.86 x 18.44 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© Frederick H. Evans, courtesy Janet B. Stenner

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Jaroslav Rössler (Bohemia, Havlíčkův Brod, 1902-1990) 'Still Life with Small Bowl' Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), 1923

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Jaroslav Rössler (Bohemia, Havlíčkův Brod, 1902-1990)
Still Life with Small Bowl
Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), 1923
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 9 3/8 in. (22.54 × 23.81 cm)
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

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György Kepes (Hungary, active United States, 1906-2001) 'Balance' 1942, printed 1942

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György Kepes (Hungary, active United States, 1906-2001)
Balance
1942, printed 1942
Gelatin Silver Print
The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin
© The György Kepes Estate

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
T: 323 857-6000

Opening Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: noon – 8 pm
Friday: noon – 9 pm
Saturday, Sunday: 11am – 8 pm
Closed Wednesday

LACMA 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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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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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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04
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th­-Century Art’ at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2013 – 16th March 2014

Featured artists include Margaret Bourke-White, Constantin Brancusi, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Krull, Fernand Léger, Wyndham Lewis, László Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Alexander Rodchenko, and Charles Sheeler, among others.

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“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing; – it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?”

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Erich Maria Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929

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Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

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Germaine Krull. 'Portrait of Joris Ivens, Amsterdam' c. 1928

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Germaine Krull
Portrait of Joris Ivens, Amsterdam
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 1/4 in. (18.77 x 15.88 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Simon Lowinsky
© Germaine Krull Estate

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Germaine Krull (29 November 1897 – 31 July 1985), was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, Polish, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio Métal...

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia DelaunayRobert DelaunayEli LotarAndré MalrauxColetteJean CocteauAndré Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio Métal (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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El Lissitzky. 'Untitled' c. 1923

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El Lissitzky
Untitled
c. 1923
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (24.13 x 18.42 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of anonymous donors
© Estate of El Lissitzky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (November 23 1890 – December 30, 1941), better known as El Lissitzky, was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.

Lissitzky’s entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later summarized with his edict, “das zielbewußte Schaffen” (goal-oriented creation). Lissitzky, of Jewish оrigin, began his career illustrating Yiddish children’s books in an effort to promote Jewish culture in Russia, a country that was undergoing massive change at the time and that had just repealed its antisemitic laws. When only 15 he started teaching; a duty he would stay with for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art groupUNOVIS, when he developed a variant suprematist series of his own, Proun, and further still in 1921, when he took up a job as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with and influencing important figures of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements during his stay. In his remaining years he brought significant innovation and change to typography, exhibition design, photomontage, and book design, producing critically respected works and winning international acclaim for his exhibition design. This continued until his deathbed, where in 1941 he produced one of his last works – a Soviet propaganda poster rallying the people to construct more tanks for the fight against Nazi Germany. In 2014, the heirs of the artist, in collaboration with Van abbemuseum and the leading worldwide scholars, the Lissitzky foundation was established, to preserve the artist’s legacy and preparing a catalogue raisone of the artist oeuvre. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Man Ray. 'Untitled (Rayograph)' 1922

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Man Ray
Untitled (Rayograph)
1922
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 x 9 3/8 in. (30.32 x 23.81 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Pozharnaia lestnitsa' from the series 'Dom na Miasnitskoi' (Fire Escape, from the series House Building on Miasnitskaia Street) 1925

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Alexander Rodchenko
Pozharnaia lestnitsa from the series Dom na Miasnitskoi (Fire Escape, from the series House Building on Miasnitskaia Street)
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 in. (22.86 x 15.24 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Frances and John Bowes, Evelyn Haas, Mimi and Peter Haas, Pam and Dick Kramlich, and Judy and John Webb
© Estate of Alexander Rodchenko / RAO, Moscow / VAGA, New York

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Raoul Ubac. 'Penthésilée' 1937

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Raoul Ubac
Penthésilée
1937
Gelatin silver print
15 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (39.37 x 28.58 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Robert Miller
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Raoul Ubac (31 August 1910, Cologne – 24 March 1985, Dieudonne, Oise) was a French painter, sculptor, photographer and engraver. Ubac’s mother’s family ran a tannery and his father was a magistrate. In his early years he traveled through some parts of Europe on foot. He originally intended to become a waterways and forestry inspector. His interest in art was aroused when he made his first visit to Paris in 1928 and met several artists, including Otto Freundlich.

After returning to Malmédy he read the Manifeste du Surréalisme (1924) by André Breton. He met that document’s author André Breton and other leading Surrealists in 1930, and dedicated himself to capturing the movement’s dream aesthetic in photography after settling in Paris, attending the first showing of Luis Buñuel’s film L’Age d’or (1931). He attended the Faculté des Lettres of the Sorbonne briefly but soon left to frequent the studios of Montparnasse. About 1933-34 he attended the Ecole des Arts Appliqués for more than a year, studying mainly drawing and photography. In the course of a visit to Austria and the Dalmatian coast in 1933, he visited the island of Hvar where he made some assemblages of stones, which he drew and photographed, for example Dalmatian Stone (1933). Disillusioned with Surrealism, Ubac abandoned photography after the Second World War in favour of painting and sculpture, and died in France in 1985. (Text from various sources)

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“Co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th­-Century Art presents more than 70 artworks that explore a central dynamic of art making in Europe and the Americas between the 1910s and the early 1950s. On view from November 13, 2013 to March 16, 2014 at the Cantor Arts Center, the exhibition includes a rich group of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, and illustrated books from the collection of SFMOMA. Taken together, the works offer a fresh view of how artists negotiated the terrain between the mechanical and the bodily – two oppositional yet inextricably bound forces – to produce a wide range of imagery responding to the complexity of modern experience.

The exhibition is part of the collaborative museum shows and extensive off-site programming presented by SFMOMA while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. From the summer of 2013 to early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area.

“We are thrilled to pair SFMOMA’s world-class collection with Stanford’s renowned academic resources,” said Connie Wolf, the John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “Cantor curators and the distinguished chair of the Department of Art and Art History guided seminars specifically for this exhibition, with students examining art of the period, investigating themes, studying design and display issues, and developing writing skills. The students gained immeasurably by this amazing experience and added new research and fresh perspectives to the artwork and to the exhibition. We are proud of the results and delighted to present a unique and invaluable partnership that will enrich the Stanford community, our museum members, and our visitors.”

SFMOMA’s Curator of Photography Corey Keller concurred: “The opportunity to work with our colleagues at Stanford has been a remarkable experience both in the galleries and in the classroom. We couldn’t be prouder of the exhibition’s unique perspective on a particularly rich area of SFMOMA’s collection that resulted from our collaboration.”

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Exhibition overview

The exhibition is organized into four thematic sections dealing with the human figure, the imagination, the urban landscape, and the object, which together reveal a range of artists’ responses to the conditions of modernity. At the beginning of the 20th century, many hailed the machine as a symbol of progress. “Speed” and “efficiency” entered the vocabularies of art movements such as Futurism (in Italy), Purism (in France), Vorticism (in England), and Constructivism (in Russia), all of which adapted the subject matter and formal characteristics of the machine. Factories and laborers were presented positively as emblems of modernity, and mechanization became synonymous with mobility and the possibility of social improvement. Countering this utopian position were proponents of the Dada and Surrealist movements (based largely in Germany and France), who found mechanical production problematic. For many of these artists who had lived through the chaos and destruction of World War I, the machine was perceived as a threat not only to the body, but to the uniquely human qualities of the mind as well. These artists embraced chance, accident, dream, and desire as new paths to freedom and creativity, in contrast to their counterparts who maintained their faith in an industrially enhanced future.

Though art from the first half of the 20th century is often viewed as representing an opposition between the rational, impersonal world of the machine and the uncontrollable, often troubling realm of the human psyche, the work in this exhibition suggests a more nuanced tension. In fact, artists regularly perceived these polarities in tandem. The codes of the bodily and the industrial coalesce in Fernand Léger’s machine aesthetic, on view in his 1927 painting Two Women on a Blue Backgound and an untitled collage from 1925. For his “rayographs,” Man Ray made use of mass-produced objects, but deployed them in a lyrical and imaginative manner – placing them on photosensitized paper and exposing it to light. Constantin Brancusi’s The Blond Negress (1927) and Jacques Lipchitz’s Draped Woman (1919) update the tradition of the cast bronze figure by introducing impersonal geometries. And even the seemingly formulaic surfaces of Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings eventually reveal the artist’s sensitive hand.”

Press release from SFMOMA and the Cantor Arts Center

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Hans Bellmer. 'La mitrailleuse en état de grâce' (The Machine Gun[neress] in a State of Grace) 1937

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Hans Bellmer
La mitrailleuse en état de grâce (The Machine Gun[neress] in a State of Grace)
1937
Gelatin silver print with oil and watercolor
26 x 26 in. (66.04 x 66.04 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Foto Forum
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 – 23 February 1975) was a German artist, best known for the life sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Historians of art and photography also consider him a Surrealist photographer.

Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). Up until 1926, he’d been working as a draftsman for his own advertising company. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the new German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany. Bellmer was influenced in his choice of art form by reading the published letters of Oskar Kokoschka (Der Fetisch, 1925).

Bellmer’s doll project is also said to have been catalysed by a series of events in his personal life. Hans Bellmer takes credit for provoking a physical crisis in his father and brings his own artistic creativity into association with childhood insubordination and resentment toward a severe and humorless paternal authority. Perhaps this is one reason for the nearly universal, unquestioning acceptance in the literature of Bellmer’s promotion of his art as a struggle against his father, the police, and ultimately, fascism and the state. Events of his personal life also including meeting a beautiful teenage cousin in 1932 (and perhaps other unattainable beauties), attending a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann (in which a man falls tragically in love with an automaton), and receiving a box of his old toys. After these events, he began to actually construct his first dolls. In his works, Bellmer explicitly sexualized the doll as a young girl. The dolls incorporated the principle of “ball joint”, which was inspired by a pair of sixteenth-century articulated wooden dolls in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum.

Bellmer produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can nevertheless be correctly described thanks to approximately two dozen photographs Bellmer took at the time of its construction. Standing about fifty-six inches tall, the doll consisted of a modeled torso made of flax fiber, glue, and plaster; a mask-like head of the same material with glass eyes and a long, unkempt wig; and a pair of legs made from broomsticks or dowel rods. One of these legs terminated in a wooden, club-like foot; the other was encased in a more naturalistic plaster shell, jointed at the knee and ankle. As the project progressed, Bellmer made a second set of hollow plaster legs, with wooden ball joints for the doll’s hips and knees. There were no arms to the first sculpture, but Bellmer did fashion or find a single wooden hand, which appears among the assortment of doll parts the artist documented in an untitled photograph of 1934, as well as in several photographs of later work.

Bellmer’s 1934 anonymous book, The Doll (Die Puppe), produced and published privately in Germany, contains 10 black-and-white photographs of Bellmer’s first doll arranged in a series of “tableaux vivants” (living pictures). The book was not credited to him, as he worked in isolation, and his photographs remained almost unknown in Germany. Yet Bellmer’s work was eventually declared “degenerate” by the Nazi Party, and he was forced to flee Germany to France in 1938. Bellmer’s work was welcomed in the Parisian art culture of the time, especially the Surrealists around André Breton, because of the references to female beauty and the sexualization of the youthful form. His photographs were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure, 5 December 1934 under the title “Poupée, variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée” (The Doll, Variations on the Assemblage of an Articulated Minor).

He aided the French Resistance during the war by making fake passports. He was imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison at Aix-en-Provence, a brickworks camp for German nationals, from September 1939 until the end of the Phoney War in May 1940. After the war, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. Bellmer gave up doll-making and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, paintings, and prints of pubescent girls… Of his own work, Bellmer said, “What is at stake here is a totally new unity of form, meaning and feeling: language-images that cannot simply be thought up or written up … They constitute new, multifaceted objects, resembling polyplanes made of mirrors … As if the illogical was relaxation, as if laughter was permitted while thinking, as if error was a way and chance, a proof of eternity.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Salvador Dalí. 'Objet Surréaliste à fonctionnement symbolique - le soulier de Gala' (Surrealist object that functions symbolically - Gala's Shoe) 1932/1975

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Salvador Dalí
Objet Surréaliste à fonctionnement symbolique – le soulier de Gala (Surrealist object that functions symbolically – Gala’s Shoe)
1932/1975
Shoe, marble, photographs, clay, and mixed media
48 x 28 x 14 in. (121.92 x 71.12 x 35.56 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Norah and Norman Stone
© Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Marcel Jean. 'Le Spectre du Gardenia' (The Specter of the Gardenia) 1936/1972

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Marcel Jean (French, 1900-1993)
Le Spectre du Gardenia (The Specter of the Gardenia)
1936/1972
Wool powder over plaster, zippers, celluloid film, and suede over wood
13 1/2 x 7 x 9 in. (34.29 x 17.78 x 22.86 cm)
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Dr. and Mrs. Allan Roos
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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With zippers for eyes and a filmstrip collar around its neck, this figure composes an anxious portrait, but its tactile surface of black cloth, faded red velvet, and zippers is charged with the eroticism of imagined touch. Jean originally called this work Secret of the Gardenia after an old movie reel he discovered, along with the velvet stand, at a Paris flea market. As the artist later recalled, Surrealism’s leader André Breton “always pressed his friends to center their interest on Surrealist objects,” and “he made a certain number himself.” Chance discoveries like the movie reel and velvet stand that inspired this work provided a trove of uncanny items for Surrealists to include, combine, and transform in their works. (Text from the MoMA website)

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Max Ernst. 'La famille nombreuse' (The Numerous Family) 1926

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Max Ernst
La famille nombreuse (The Numerous Family)
1926
Oil on canvas
32 1/8 x 25 5/8 in. (81.61 x 65.1 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Peggy Guggenheim
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Giorgio de Chirico. 'Les contrariétés du penseur' (The Vexations of the Thinker) 1915

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Giorgio de Chirico
Les contrariétés du penseur (The Vexations of the Thinker)
1915
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 15 in. (46.36 x 38.1 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Templeton Crocker Fund purchase
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

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Fernand Léger. 'Deux femmes sur fond bleu' (Two Women on a Blue Background) 1927

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Fernand Léger
Deux femmes sur fond bleu (Two Women on a Blue Background)
1927
Oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (92.71 x 59.94 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, fractional gift of Helen and Charles Schwab
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Constantin Brancusi. 'La Négresse blonde' (The Blond Negress) 1926

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Constantin Brancusi
La Négresse blonde (The Blond Negress)
1926
Bronze with marble and limestone base
70 3/4 x 10 3/4 x 10 3/4 in. (179.71 x 27.31 x 27.31 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:

Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University website

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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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26
Feb
14

Film: ‘All This Can Happen’

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“The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…”

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Dislocation
Displacement
Discontinuity
Death
Dance
Despair
Documentary

Scene
Seen
Single
Multiple
Surreal
Mundane
Storyline

Sound
Subject
Space

Encounters
Engagements
Negotiations

Time
Memory
Location
Voice
Touch

Walking
Flaneur

Body
Soul

Life itself!

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Marcus

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Created by Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton in 2012, All This Can Happen is a film constructed entirely from archive photographs and footage from the earliest days of cinema.

Based on Robert Walser’s novella The Walk (1917), the film follows the footsteps of the protagonist as series of small adventures and chance encounters take the walker from idiosyncratic observations of ordinary events towards a deeper pondering on the comedy, heartbreak and ceaseless variety of life. A flickering dance of intriguing imagery brings to light the possibilities of ordinary movements from the everyday which appear, evolve and freeze before your eyes. Juxtapositions, different speeds and split frame techniques convey the walker’s state of mind as he encounters a world of hilarity, despair and ceaseless variety.

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“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness. The narrativity of this walking is belied by a simultaneity we know and yet cannot experience. As we turn a corner, our object disappears around the next corner. The sides of the street conspire against us; each attention suppresses a field of possibilities. The discourse of the city is a syncretic discourse, political in its untranslatability. Hence the language of the state elides. Unable to speak all the city’s languages, unable to speak all at once, the state’s language become momunental, the silence of headquarters, the silence of the bank. In this transcendent and anonymous silence is the miming of corporate relations. Between the night workers and the day workers lies the interface of light; in the rotating shift, the disembodiment of lived time. The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine. Hence the barbarism of police on horses, the sudden terror of the risen animal.”

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Stewart
, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 2. Prologue.

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Trailer from All This Can Happen
2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Alice in Wonderland' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Alice in Wonderland
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Leap Frog' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Leap Frog
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Cheshire Territorials' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Cheshire Territorials
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Otto the Giant' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Otto the Giant
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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“All This Can Happen, a 50-minute film by David Hinton and choreographer Siobhan Davies, opens with images of men who cannot walk. One lies immobile in a hospital bed, his head trembling, eyes vacant with torment. Another, also institutionalised, tries to walk but fails. He falls, scrambles and falls again, his whole body stiff with malfunction.

All this did happen. Every frame of this remarkable film comes from old, mostly black and white archive footage, complete with scratches and fingerprints. It is neither documentary nor constructed reality, but rather a wholly unexpected film adaptation of a short story by Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956), about a man going for a walk.

The story, to which those opening images serve as a prologue, recounts the sights, sounds, encounters and musings of a day’s meandering: children playing in a school, a visit to the tax office, a display of women’s hats, a stroll through a forest, an argument with a tailor. Lovingly voiced by John Heffernan, the narration treats each moment, each thought and perception, with equal consideration, whether it is a gripe about automobiles, a memory of unbearable anguish, the sound of sublime music, or a chat with a dog. “The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things,” he explains, “are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…

…the narration establishes a supple continuity, yet though the imagery follows the story devotedly, it has no contituity. It leaps between locations, splices scenes, switches subjects, and roams freely between poetic and literal modes, between the fantastic, the scientific, the surreal and the mundane. It seems able to let the whole world in, and still stay true to a singular storyline.

The imagery is discontinuous in other senses too. The screen is often split into multiple frames so that we notice how highly composed the film is. The frames themselves often freeze fleetingly, arresting the flow of time. Such stops literally give us pause; they let us take a moment. In fact, the whole film could be seen as the encounter between continuity – the story, the voice, time itself – and composition, or indeed choreography: the framing of action, the placement of sound, the arrangement of subjects and space.

But the reason to watch this film is not because it is artful and thoughtful, though it is that. It is because it restores us to our senses, because it touches – gently – both body and soul. To walk, it suggests, is to be in the world. A world that is physical, full of texture and sound and sensation; that is abstract, a matrix of space and time; that is imaginary, teeming with fantasies and terrors, desires, hopes and regrets; that is social, marked by encounters, engagements, negotiations; a world that is human. As a walk of life, All This Can Happen is, quite naturally, also shadowed by death, by not-walking, by not moving in space and time. “Where would I be,” asks the walker, “if I was not here? Here, I have everything. And elsewhere, I would have nothing.” All this it finds equally beloved, beautiful and valuable.

Sanjoy Roy. Excerpt of Review of All This Can Happen, by Siobhan Davies and David Hinton on the Aesthetica Magazine Blog website

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Miniature Writer' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Miniature Writer
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Hints and Hobbies' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Hints and Hobbies
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Ears' and 'Birth of a Flower' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Ears and Birth of a Flower
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London and AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Banff Scotland' and 'I Saw This' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Banff Scotland and I Saw This
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division and Yorkshire Film Archive

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Siobhan Davies Dance 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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21
Feb
14

Research at the State Library of Victoria further update

Date: 22nd February 2014

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research experience on the charles marville photographs at the state library of victoria further update

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Dear readers

An interesting email arrived from the Collection Services Manager further questioning why I actually want to see the Marville prints in the State Library’s Collection.

In part the email says, and I precis: the prints are fragile and very rare; the Library has digitised all the prints and provided high resolution images available for free download from our website; the careful storage of the original prints and the provision of digital files is the Library’s standard approach to achieve that delicate balance between access and preservation. The email goes on to ask, “I would be interested to understand more about your research needs with this collection and why it is important for you to view the original prints out of their protective enclosures.”

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They still don’t get it do they?

Vintage prints have to be seen in the flesh. Anyone who knows anything about photography understands this but not, apparently, the State Library of Victoria. Why do you even need to explain this to them? When looking at vintage photographs you actually have to see the physical print, the surface of the print, not some simulacra hidden behind plastic or a high res scan online!

As Bill Henson insightfully observes in an interview about his current selection of images at the Monash Gallery of Art in the exhibition Wildcards,

“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… [This] 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.”

Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck
Monash Gallery of Art
1 February – 30 March 2014.

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“They’ve seen a reproduction in a magazine or online: they think they’re seeing the original… we read them not just with out eyes but with how our whole bodies read and encounter and negotiate these objects, which happen to be photographs.” Well said.

Perhaps the State Library needs to read Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in which he discusses the aura of the original and “the concept of authenticity, particularly in application to reproduction. ‘Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.’ He argues that the “sphere of authenticity is outside the technical” so that the original artwork is independent of the copy, yet through the act of reproduction something is taken from the original by changing its context. He thus introduces the idea of the “aura” of a work and its absence in a reproduction.” (Walter Benjamin (1968). Hannah Arendt, ed. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Illuminations. London: Fontana. pp. 214-218 quoted in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” on the Wikipedia website)

In other words, there is nothing like standing in front of a jewel-like Vermeer and feeling the aura of the original, not one shielded behind glass (or plastic in this case). By making many reproductions, including online copies, you substitute a plurality of copies for a unique existence. This is why I was so looking forward to seeing the Marville’s, to FEEL THEIR PRESENCE…

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Of course I am as guilty as anyone through this blog of disseminating reproductions around the world, and I freely admit that. The photographs I reproduce are not the originals and should never stand for them. Even in this age of infinitely reproducible digital images there is still that aura of standing in front of a print in a gallery and feeling its eternal value and mystery. As Walter Benjamin writes, “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.” And you need to see and feel that history.

Finally, I wonder how many people the State Library of Victoria have coming in to see these prints? When was the last time anyone actually physically saw them that wanted to? I would think very, very, few people indeed. The “delicate balance” between access and conservation is obviously well weighted towards the former.

It will be interesting to see how the State Library of Victoria responds and whether they can “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the photographs of Marville.” Even for an instant. To facilitate my research in this time, in this space where one can admire the beauty of an object without compromising the need to preserve – no, lets think of better words: retain, possess, guard, protect, shield – the prints. I will keep you informed.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

All Charles Marville photographs in the State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

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Charles Marville (1813-1879, photographer) 'Parc Monceau' c. 1853 - c. 1870

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Charles Marville (1813-1879, photographer)
Parc Monceau
c. 1853 – c. 1870
In collection: Photographic views of Paris
Undated, dates assigned from time of Haussman’s renovation of Paris
photographic print mounted on cardboard : albumen silver
32 x 26 cm
Gift; Government of France; 1880
In the State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

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State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Monday 10.00 am - 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am - 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am - 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am - 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am - 6.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am - 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

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20
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans American Photographs’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 19th July 2013 – 9th March 2014

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Picture this.

That is what Walker Evans does in his unique, forthright way. He shows you what he is seeing in a very straight forward way – directly, purposefully, in images where the artist seems to have no presence, no ego to impart. As artist Chris Killip observes, “Walker Evans is serious and smart and purposeful. He is trying to show you very clearly what he is seeing. It is very unadorned, as if nobody had taken the photograph. He conveys what is in front of him as clearly as possible.”1

But further than this, Evans presents us with a photographic version of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems which were seen by his English admirers in terms of “deep image”, a vaguely Jungian concept which suggests that “poetry could state absolute truths if only the images poets evoked welled up from deep enough sources uncontaminated by history and the follies of reason.”2

Evans direct, plainspoken images picture reality whilst hovering above the void - flirting with the duality of absolute truth and metaphysical inquiry. Whether Evans was consciously aware of this elemental antinomy is unlikely. Nevertheless we can read it in his images, even if we cannot read it in his prosaic words. You only have to look at the jet-black trees on a rainy day in Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York (1931, below), or the justly famous Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936, below).

The people in the photograph have been posed but there is an intimate relationship here between the artist and his subjects. It is a loving photograph, for Evans cares for the dignity of these people in their naked condition. The grandmother wary of the camera with clasped hands, the weary husband, stick thin with glazed eyes, the young girl child with sallow stare, and the pensive mother with sleeping baby staring directly into camera, all of them dirty and in rags. In this absolute reality there is a nobility to these people and there, buried in the image, a relationship to the metaphysical essence of what it is to be human – the pictures of children on the back wall with text I can’t quite make out; the glorious arrangement of feet that run along the bottom of the image in all different angles and positions, the mothers folded under her almost collapsing with the weight of her burden; and what is that black shape prostrate on the floor? A rag? death? No! A cat.

The blackest most thinnest small cat that you ever seen, lingering on the edge of starvation, hovering in the void of existence.

As Thomas Sleigh writes of his first meeting with Tomas Tranströmer as he stepped from a small plane onto the ground, “I don’t mind large planes or middle-sized planes (his English was slightly gutteral, his intonations lilting in a mild brogue), but small planes – you feel too much of the air under you.”3

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And so with Evans if you know where to look.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. For a fascinating insight into how these photographs were hung in the 1938 exhibition at MoMA see installation views of “Walker Evans American Photographs” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938 on the ASX website. Notice the smallness of the photographs, their different sizes, the juxtaposition of disparate images, some double or triple hung one above the other, some printed in the centre of white sheets of photographic paper, others displayed on dark walls. The image that I describe above, Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936) is shown in an installation photograph below. Notice how small the image is and what affect this size of image has on the viewer, its shear concentration and intensity.

A friend Christopher Young tells me, “The install was done by Evans himself the night before and very chaotically. I love the poetry of the 1938 opening in that he got to the front door and couldn’t enter the show. He instead circled the block a number of times before going home…” Sounds like my early exhibitions. I could be found next door in a cafe playing pinball, I couldn’t face the crowd!

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walker-evans-install-b

walker-evans-install

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Installation views of “Walker Evans American Photographs” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1938 with at bottom right, Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (March 1936)
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Images used under conditions of fair use for the purpose of art criticism.

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Endnotes

1. Interview with Chris Killip about his exhibition Work at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Renia Sofia, October 2013
2. Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
3. Ibid.,

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

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'City Lunch Counter, New York' 1929

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
City Lunch Counter, New York
1929
Gelatin silver print
4 3/16 x 6 5/16″ (10.7 x 16.1 cm)
Gift of the photographer
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '42nd Street, New York' 1929

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
42nd Street, New York
1929
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 6 1/2″ (10.8 x 16.6 cm)
Purchase
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Church Organ and Pews, Alabama' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Church Organ and Pews, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print, printed 1970
7 9/16 x 9 1/8″ (19.2 x 23.2 cm)
Printer: James Dow
Mr. and Mrs. John Spencer Fund

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' March 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' (detail) March 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Sharecropper's Family, Hale County, Alabama' (detail) March 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Sharecropper’s Family, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
March 1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.4 x 24.4 cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

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“This installation celebrates the 75th anniversary of the first one-person photography exhibition in MoMA’s history, and the accompanying landmark publication, which established the potential of the photographer’s book as an indivisible work of art. Through these projects Walker Evans created a collective portrait of the eastern United States during a decade of profound transformation – one that coincided with the flood of everyday images, both still and moving, from an expanding mass culture, and the construction of a Modernist history of photography. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote in his essay for the book, “After looking at these pictures with all their clear, hideous and beautiful detail, their open insanity and pitiful grandeur, compare this vision of a continent as it is, not as it might be or as it was, with any other coherent vision that we have had since the war. What poet has said as much? What painter has shown as much? Only newspapers, the writers of popular music, the technicians of advertising and radio have in their blind energy accidentally, fortuitously, evoked for future historians such a powerful monument to our moment. And Evans’s work has, in addition, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection.”

Comprising approximately 60 prints from the Museum’s collection that were included in the 1938 exhibition or the accompanying publication, the current installation maintains the bipartite presentation of the originals; the first section portrays American society through images of its individuals and social environments, while the second consists of photographs of the relics that constitute expressions of an American cultural identity – the architecture of Main streets, factory towns, rural churches, and wooden houses. The pictures provide neither a coherent narrative nor a singular meaning, but rather create connections through the repetition and interplay of pictorial structures and subject matter. Its placement on the fourth floor of the Museum – between galleries featuring the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol – underscores the continuation of prewar avant-garde practices in America and the unique legacy of Evans’s explorations of signs and symbols, commercial culture, and the vernacular. Their profound impact on not only photography, but also film, literature, and the visual arts, reverberates today.”

Text from The Museum of Modern Art website

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'American Legionnaire' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
American Legionnaire
1936
Gelatin silver print
5 3/4 x 5 1/8″ (14.6 x 13 cm)
Gift of the Farm Security Administration

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Interior Detail of Portuguese House' 1930

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Interior Detail of Portuguese House
1930
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 6 1/8″ (20.2 x 15.5 cm)
Purchase
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.9 x 17.6 cm)
Gift of Willard Van Dyke
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York' 1931

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 x 5 9/16″ (18 x 14.2 cm)
Gift of the photographer
© 2013 Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Negro Church, South Carolina' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Negro Church, South Carolina
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 15/16″ (22.9 x 17.6cm)
Gift of Willard Van Dyke

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

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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16
Feb
14

Review / Text: ‘Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

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This is a sublime exhibition, teaming as it does fabulous frocks and beautiful, classical, evanescent photographs. The exhibition was in my top nine magnificent Melbourne exhibitions that featured on Art Blart last year. Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this exhibition has been a sure fire winner for the NGV. This review will concentrate on the photographs by Edward Steichen. See my previous posting on the exhibition including installation photographs.

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model-dinarzade-in-a-dress-by-poiret-edward-steichen

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret
1924
Gelatin silver photograph

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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steichen-clara-bow-WEB

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair
1928
Vintage silver gelatin print
Block Museum, Gift of the Hollander Family in Honor of Morton and Mimi Schapiro
Steichen / Condé Nast Archive; © Condé Nast

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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High Society

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a painter and champion of art photography who initially worked in the soft focus, Pictorialist style prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an artist who worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz on the influential quarterly art journal Camera Work, designing the cover and the Art Nouveau-style typeface especially for the internationally focused publication. Stieglitz, and by extension Camera Work, lived to promote photography as an art form and to challenge the norms of how art may be defined.1 In the early years Camera Work only published photography, but in later years the journal increasingly featured reproductions of and articles on modern painting, drawing and aesthetics.

“This change was brought about by a similar transformation at Stieglitz’s New York gallery, which had been known as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession until 1908. That year he changed the name of the gallery to “291″, and he began showing avant-garde modern artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse along with photographers. The positive responses he received at the gallery encouraged Stieglitz to broaden the scope of Camera Work as well, although he decided against any name change for the journal.”2

Steichen was heavily associated with Gallery 291 (291 Fifth Avenue, New York City) which ran from 1905 to 1917. The gallery exhibited European artists such as Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Brancussi, Cézanne and Rodin and soon to be famous American artists such as John MarinMax WeberArthur DoveMarsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe. Virtually no other gallery in the United States was showing modern art works with such abstract and dynamic content at this time.3 Both the gallery and the journal ran hand in hand; both closed in 1917. The journal closed due to a downturn in interest in Pictorial photography, a lack of subscribers, cultural changes and the economic effects of the First World War, which saw both the costs and even the availability of the paper on which it was printed become challenging.4 In the penultimate issue 48 (October 1916) Stieglitz,

” …introduced the work of a young photographer, Paul Strand, whose photographic vision was indicative of the aesthetic changes now at the heart of Camera Work’s demise. Strand shunned the soft focus and symbolic content of the Pictorialists and instead strived to create a new vision that found beauty in the clear lines and forms of ordinary objects. By publishing Strand’s work Stieglitz was hastening the end of the aesthetic vision he had championed for so long. Nine months later, in June 1917, what was to be the final issue of Camera Work appeared. It was devoted almost entirely to Strand’s photographs.”5

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Edward Steichen felt the change in the air. When he accepted the job as chief photographer for Condé Nast publications in 1923 his early fashion photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair were seen as innovative and ground breaking, even as his former art colleagues saw shooting fashion and celebrities was a way of selling-out. Steichen bought to fashion and portrait photography an aesthetic of clear lines and forms that simply had not been present before, coupled with a Pictorialist sensibility for light and the use of low depth of field. John McDonald in his excellent review of the exhibition observes, “Steichen has claims to having invented fashion photography with a series of pictures he took in Paris in 1911, for couturier, Paul Poiret; but the genre had found its first true professional in Baron Adolphe de Meyer, who left Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar, opening the door for Steichen’s appointment. De Meyer was an incurable mannerist who remained true to the Pictorialist aesthetic, but his successor would prove himself an innovator.”6

Steichen’s photographs from 1923-1924 are pared back, Modernist photographs that evidence the beginning of his later photographic style. Madame Nadine Vera wearing a crêpe evening gown by Chanel (1924) has a plain background of some wooden studio panels; Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret (1924, above) has fabric hanging behind while Crêpe de chine dress by Lanvin (1924) has three doors casually put together to form the backdrop to the model. All three photographs show beautiful tonality and lighting in the full length capture of the models with hints of browns and yellows in the prints. The figure is isolated in the studio space simply and elegantly. The model is being studied. Steichen’s models are immersed in suffused light but the form of the photograph is different from that of Pictorialism, for the models themselves are pin sharp, as though stepping out into the world. These early photographs are fascinating to study, for they lay the ground work for what is to follow. These three images inform the viewer as to the experimentation that Steichen was undertaking to get to a starting point for the complex and atmospheric studio lighting that he would later employ.

Gradually, Steichen’s images become more confident and assured and take on a patina of beauty, style and grace. In his close-up portraits there is an isolation of the face against out of focus backgrounds with the use of profiles, arms and elbows as framing devices, for example Actress Sylvia Sidney (1929) and Actress Clara Bow (1928, above). In his longer-length portraits there is an isolation of figures against a white or black ground, as in Marion Morehouse in a dress by Louise Boulanger (1929) and Actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge (1927). Males usually have a heavy darkness to them while the females are more luminously lit. In the male portraits the hands dominate. The hands in the male photographs belong to the male as part of the portrait whereas in the early photographs of women they are only models, there at his command, and the hands are almost invisible. Only in the later photographs of high society women are the hands of females fully represented. What can be observed is that the figure is usually isolated against an out of focus background, with deep, dark shadows and soft luxurious light, low depth of field and feminine profiles.

In commercial terms (and we must remember that this is how the artist made his living for these photographs were seen as his commercial work at the time), Steichen’s photographs fulfilled his brief: the portrayal of shimmer and sparkle, geometric Art Deco style, the drama and theatrical lighting of the talkies, and the spectacle of the liberated modern women. She in turn was influenced by the prevalent cultural conditions: smoking, jazz, prohibition, automobiles, trains, dancing, fast living, gold (King Tuts tomb was discovered in 1922) and African and Japanese art. Appealing to the new leisure classes, publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair offered a glimpse of a longed for paradise to the burgeoning middle-classes with their photographs of the rich and famous, the glamour and the costumes – the social groups that hold the most power actually exposing their own status on paper through these magazines.

As John McDonald notes, “Steichen uses every trick at his disposal to convey a particular kind of image,”7 an image that uses increasingly elaborate studio lighting and disparate indoor and outdoor locations. But by the early 1930s the work becomes quite formulaic with its use of low depth of field, profiles, angles of arms or chairs and geometric shapes. The figure is tightly controlled – either cropped close in or set amongst ambiguously filled sets and shaped backgrounds. There is a sameness and repetitiveness about the work as one image bleeds into another. In fact, after that early period of experimentation, there is basically no change to his mature style from the years 1925-1937 and this makes for a long twelve years for an artist of his talent. He found his mother load and he stuck to it.

Steichen’s photographs of the rich and famous are “pictures” taken by one who mingled with the elite, one who enjoyed the trappings of fame and high society. As Robert Nelson notes in his review of the exhibition, “Steichen’s talents were never incompatible with the conspicuous snobbery of his age, for which it would never have occurred to him to proffer an apology. Having arrived himself, he naturally admires gentry-by-ambition and crowns it with the smugness that it enjoys.”8 Ouch! Nelson goes on to observe, “Much of the work is statuesque and formidable in its composition, lighting and symbolic rigour,” while at the same time portraying a world that is completely artificial in which nothing is real and everything is a pose.9 And we, the viewer and reader, are voyeurs of this hedonistic world.

On close reading, the photographs flatten out into a studied set of stylistic maneuvers, a form where style stands in for a quality of visual perception.10 As Steichen seeks to “clinch the image” the syntax of his photographs (the system of organisation used in putting lines together to form pictures) becomes imitative. This leads to evanescent photographs, images that soon pass out of sight, memory, or existence; images that slip for the mind as quickly as one sees them. There is little sense of dislocation in the images, only “in his ability to distance himself from a subject, analysing his or her foibles with a cool, practiced eye,”11 and in the distance of the scene from the reality of everyday life. Each photograph becomes a microcosm of vanity, celebrity and fashion. Steichen ticks all the boxes (and he made all the boxes that he ticked) but the photographs usually don’t fulfil any new demands that the situation generates. He restricts his field of view to one that he creates and controls within certain narrowly defined boundaries, usually using passive people who are at his command. In his orientation to the world the photographs are not ‘things as they are’ but things as they are constructed to be (seen) – a form of social capital, social fascism, even.12

Only when Steichen is challenged by an active “personality” does he raise his game. This is when the modernist, emotive, visually rhapsodic AND MEMORABLE photographs take hold in this exhibition. The great breakthrough with Greta Garbo (1929, below), mass of black with face surmounting, hair pulled back by hands “the woman came out full beauty on her magnificent face” Steichen said; Actress Gloria Swanson (1924, below) like some prowling, wide-eyed animal hidden behind a black lace veil, “a predatory femme fatale concealing her ambitions behind a mask of beauty”13; Marlene Dietrich (1934, below) nestled into the glorious curve of an armchair, lace-covered hand open, inviting; and Actress Loretta Young (1931) active, not passive, in which Steichen humanises his sitter. For me, these are the glorious images – not the men, not the fashion photographs, but these strong, independent women.

“An interested image-maker takes available resources for meaning (visual grammars, fabrication techniques and focal points of attention), undertakes an act of designing (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.”14 Initially, in the early experimentation, this is what Steichen did; he achieves it again in the photographs of Garbo, Swanson, Dietrich and Young. As for the other photographs we feel an overall suffused glow of beauty and glamour – we admire their scale and intensity, the deep blacks and velvety whites, and wonder at the light and assemblage of elements – but they do not have the power and engagement of the best, most challenging work. In these photographs of vibrant women the viewer finally starts to feel the spirit of the face, the spirit of the person captured in an instant. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

Word count: 1,883

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Endnotes

1. Whelan, Richard. Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography. NY: Little, Brown, 1995, pp. 189-223
2. Anon. “Camera Work,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
3. Anon. “291,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
4. “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
5. Hoffman, Katherine. Stieglitz : A Beginning Light. New Haven: Yale University Press Studio, 2004,  pp. 213–222 cited in “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
6. McDonald, John. “Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion” on John McDonald website February 1, 2014 [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
7. Ibid.,
8. Nelson, Robert. “An age of elegance captured forever,” in The Age newspaper Wednesday November 6th, 2013, p. 54
9. Ibid.,
10. Rewording of a sentence by Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
11. McDonald, op. cit.,
12. “In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. Although different social sciences emphasise different aspects of social capital, they tend to share the core idea “that social networks have value”.”
Anon. “Social capital,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
“Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism.”
Anon. “Social fascism,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
13. McDonald, op. cit.,
14. Anon. “The Image of Transformation: Properties of Consequence,” on The Image website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014

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

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23  Actress 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Steichen’s portrait of Gloria Swanson has taken on iconic masterpiece status overtime. Created in 1924, just as the first feature-length sound movies were emerging – effectively truncating the actress’s brilliant silent-film career – this image caught the essential Gloria Swanson: haunting and inscrutable, forever veiled in the whisper of a distant era. Steichen’s photograph has elements of turn-of-the-century pictorialism (moody and delicate, the subject seeming to peer from the darkness, as if from jungle foliage), yet it also projects modernist boldness, with its pin-sharp precision and graphic severity. (Text from Iconic Photos website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Maurice Mouvet was one of the most famous and successful dance teams around the early 1910′s and lead the way for many performers that would follow… Maurice was born in New York but as a young lad moved to Paris with his father and knew he wanted to be a dancer as a young boy. He had his first professional dance at the Noveau Cirque in Paris, France at age 15. Mouvet’s best partners were Florence Walton and Leonora (Leona) Hughes.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Paula Negri' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Paula Negri
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec, January 3, 1897 - 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. She was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and become one of the most popular actresses in American silent film. She also started several important women’s fashion trends that are still staples of the women’s fashion industry. Her varied career included work as an actress in theater and vaudeville; as a singer and recording artist; as an author; and as a ballerina. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actor Gary Cooper' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actor Gary Cooper
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Marion Morehouse (1906-1969), was a fashion model who rose to prominance in the late 20s and early 30s, sitting for Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer Edward Steichen. The pair created some strikingly modernist photographs. According to Steichen Morehouse was:

“The greatest fashion model I ever photographed …. When she put on the clothes that were to be photographed, she transformed herself into a woman who really would wear that gown … whatever the outfit was.”

She was also a favorite of Cecil Beaton and French Vogue’s Baron George Hoyningen-Huene. Morehouse was of Choctaw Indian ancestry, with brown eyes and an angular frame. After her modeling career ended, she took up photography herself. Later she became the third wife of author and painter E.E Cummings. When Cummings met Marion Morehouse in 1932, he was in the middle of a painful split from his second wife, Anne Barton. Although it is not clear whether the two were ever formally married, Morehouse lived with Cummings in a common-law marriage until his death in 1962. Morehouse died on May 18, 1969. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Olympic diver Katherine Rawls' 1931

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Olympic diver Katherine Rawls
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Katherine Louise Rawls (June 14, 1917 – April 8, 1982) was a multiple United States national champion in swimming and diving in the 1930s.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Model 'Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès' 1926

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès
1926
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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France’s most popular milliner Madame Agnes was born in France in the late 1800′s, she retired in 1949, and died a short while later. She was famous for cutting the brims of her hats while they were worn by her customers. Madame Agnes styled hats which were both abstract and unique. An illustration from 1927 depicts Madame Agnes’ Congo inspired hats with a model wearing a slave collar. As the 20′s moved into the 30′s, the hats became smaller and away from the face. In December 1935 she introduced hats with large straw brims which were mounted on flowered madras handkerchiefs. Madame Agnes was inspired by a matador’s hat when she created a small dinner hat for Spring 1936. It was sewn of black maline with heavy white silk fringe. The fringe was mounted on each side of the hat’s top. In mid-1946 she created a soft beige beret of felt which featured a line that was broken just above the right eyebrow, where a soft quill was inserted. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'On George Baher's yacht' 1928

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
On George Baher’s yacht. June Cox wearing unidentified fashion; E. Vogt wearing fashion by Chanel and a hat by Reboux; Lee Miller wearing a dress by Mae and Hattie Green and a scarf by Chanel; Hanna-Lee Sherman wearing unidentified fashion
1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977) was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

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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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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Greta Garbo' 1929

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Greta Garbo
1929
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Actress 'Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli' 1932

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli
1932
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.

Perhaps Schiaparelli’s most important legacy was in bringing to fashion the playfulness and sense of “anything goes” of the Dada and Surrealist movements. She loved to play with juxtapositions of colours, shapes and textures, and embraced the new technologies and materials of the time. With Charles Colcombet she experimented with acrylic, cellophane, a rayon jersey called “Jersela” and a rayon with metal threads called “Fildifer” – the first time synthetic materials were used in couture. Some of these innovations were not pursued further, like her 1934 “glass” cape made from Rhodophane, a transparent plastic related to cellophane. But there were more lasting innovations; Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses decades before Diane von Furstenberg and crumpled up rayon 50 years before Issey Miyake’s pleats and crinkles. In 1930 alone she created the first evening-dress with a jacket, and the first clothes with visible zippers. In fact fastenings were something of a speciality, from a jacket buttoned with silver tambourines to one with silk-covered carrots and cauliflowers. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'White (center Gwili André)' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
White (center Gwili André)
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Gwili Andre (4 February 1908 – 5 February 1959) was a Danish actress who had a brief career in Hollywood films. Andre came to Hollywood in the early 1930s with the intention of establishing herself as a film star. She appeared in the 1932 RKO Studio films Roar of the Dragon and Secrets of the French Police and began to attract attention for her striking good looks. These films provided her with starring roles playing against such established actors as Richard Dix, ZaSu Pitts and Frank Morgan, and RKO began using her glamorous looks to promote her.

A widespread publicity campaign ensured that her name and face became well known to the American public, but her next role in No Other Woman (1933), opposite Irene Dunne, was not the success the studio expected. Over the next few years she was relegated to supporting roles which included the Joan Crawford picture A Woman’s Face (1941). Her final role was a minor part in one of the popular Falcon series, The Falcon’s Brother in 1942. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Mary Heberden' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Mary Heberden
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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American actress Mary Heberden made her first New York stage appearance in 1925 and performed regulary on Broadway in the 1930s.

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

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

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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13
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Architecture’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

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Another gem of a photography exhibition from the Getty. These In Focus exhibitions are just a treasure: from Making a Scene, Still Life and The Sky to Los Angeles, Picturing the Landscape and now Architecture. All fabulous. To have a photography collection such as the Getty possesses, and to use it. To put on these fantastic exhibitions…

I like observing the transition between epochs (or, in more architectural terms, ‘spans’ of time), photographers and their styles. From the directness and frontality of Fox Talbot’s Boulevard des Italiens, Paris (1843, below) to the atmospheric ethereality of Atget’s angular The Panthéon (1924, below) taken just three years before he died; from the lambent light imbued in Frederick Evans’ architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor (1896, below) to the blocked, colour, geometric facade of William Christenberry’s Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1964, below).

I love architecture, I love photography. Put the two together and I am in heaven.

Marcus

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

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William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 - 1877) 'Boulevard des Italiens, Paris' 1843

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William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 – 1877)
Boulevard des Italiens, Paris
1843
Salted paper print from a Calotype negative
Image: 16.8 x 17.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Eugéne Atget (French, 1857 - 1927) 'The Panthéon' 1924

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Eugéne Atget (French, 1857 – 1927)
The Panthéon
1924
Gelatin silver chloride print on printing-out paper
Image: 17.8 x 22.6 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Eugène Atget made this atmospheric study across the place Sainte-Geneviève toward the back of the Panthéon, a church boldly designed to combine the splendor of Greece with the lightness of Gothic churches. The church’s powerful colonnaded dome, Atget’s primary point of interest, hovers in the background, truncated by the building in the left foreground.

In order to make the fog-veiled Panthéon visible when printing this negative, Atget had to expose the paper for a long period of time. As a consequence of the long printing, the two buildings in the foreground are overexposed, appearing largely as black silhouettes. Together they frame the Panthéon, rendered entirely in muted grays. This photograph exceeds documentation to become more a study of mood and atmospheric conditions than of architecture.

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Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863 - 1943) 'Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)' 1896

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Frederick H. Evans (British, 1863 – 1943)
Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics (No. 1)
1896
Platinum print
Image: 15.6 x 20.2 cm
© Mrs Janet M. Stenner, sole granddaughter of Frederick H, Evans
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Frederick Evans’s architectural study of the attic at Kelmscott Manor, a medieval house, part of which dates from 1280, is a visual geometry lesson. The composition is all angles and intersections, formed not only by the actual structure but also by the graphic definition of light within the space. Soft illumination bathes the area near the stairs, while the photograph’s foreground plunges into murky darkness. The sharp angles of intersecting planes are mediated by the rough-hewn craftsmanship of the beams and posts, almost sensuous in their sinewy imperfection and plainly wrought by hand. The platinum print medium favored by Evans provides softened tonalities that further unify the triangles, squares, and diagonal lines of the dynamic composition.

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William Christenberry (American, born 1936) 'Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama' 1964

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William Christenberry (American, born 1936)
Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama
1964
Image: 44.5 x 55.9 cm
© William Christenberry
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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William Christenberry began photographing this makeshift wooden structure in his native Alabama in 1974. Since that time, he has made nearly annual trips to document the facade of this isolated dwelling, located deep in the Talladega National Forest. Such vernacular structures were uncommon photographic subjects until Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha, William Eggleston, and other twentieth-century photographers elevated their stature. Like the edifices photographed by Eugène Atget, Bernd and HIlla Becher, and others, the buildings Christenberry recorded in the southern United States were often in disrepair and in danger of disappearing altogether.

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Soon after its invention in 1839, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Novel photographic techniques have kept pace with innovations in architecture, as both media continue to push artistic boundaries. In Focus: Architecture, on view October 15, 2013 – March 2, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, traces the long, interdependent relationship between architecture and photography through a selection of more than twenty works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including recently acquired photographs by Andreas Feininger, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Peter Wegner.

“Architectural photography was an integral part of the early days of the medium, with the construction of many of the world’s most important and magnificent structures documented from start to finish with the camera,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition demonstrates how architectural photography has grown from straightforward documentary style photographs in its early days to genre-bending works like those of Peter Wegner from 2009.”

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Beginnings of Architectural Photography

Recognized for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural details as never before and show the built environment during construction, after completion, or in ruin. Nineteenth-century photographers were eager to utilize the new medium to document historic sites and structures, as well as buildings that rose alongside them, or in their place. In 1859, Gustave Le Gray photographed the Mollien Pavilion, a structure that constituted part of the “New Louvre,” a museum expansion completed during the reign of Napoleon III. Le Gray’s picturesque composition highlighted the Pavilion’s ornamented façade and other intricate details that could inform the work of future architects. Louis-Auguste Bisson, a trained architect, worked with his brother Auguste-Rosalie to photograph grand architectural spaces such as Interior of Saint-Ouen Church in Rouen (1857). The Bisson brothers produced a monumental print, derived from a glass negative of the same size, to feature the nave of the structure in an interior view rarely depicted in 19th century photographs.

A burgeoning commercial market for tourist photographs emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century. Views of architectural landmarks and foreign ruins became popular souvenirs and tokens of the ancient world. Artists such as J.B. Greene, who ventured to exotic destinations, provided visions of historic sites in Egypt, while Louis-Émile Durandelle took a series of photographs that documented the construction of the Eiffel Tower in the years before it became a symbol of the modern era at the World’s Exposition of 1889. Durandelle’s frontal view of the structure underscored its perfect geometric form, and his photographs were the earliest of what became a popular motif for amateur and professional photographers. Other noted photographers of this period included Eugène Atget, who obsessively documented the streets and buildings of Paris before its modernization, and Frederick H. Evans, who created poetic photographs of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals.

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The Rise of Modern Architectural Photography

As the commercial market for photographs expanded and technologies advanced, representations of architectural forms began to evolve as well. In the twentieth century, images of buildings developed in conjunction with the rise of avant-garde, experimental, documentary, and conceptual modes of photographic expression.

Andreas Feininger, who studied architecture in Weimar, followed what Bauhaus instructor László Moholy-Nagy called a “new vision” of photography as an autonomous artistic practice with its own laws of composition and lighting. In Portal in Greifswald (1928), Feininger created a negative print, or a photograph with reversed tonalities, resulting in a high contrast image that enhanced the mystery of the architectural subject and removed it from its ecclesiastical context.

“The experimental spirit that permeated photography in the first half of the twentieth century inspired new ways to look at architectural forms,” says Amanda Maddox, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “As photographs could present buildings in abstracted, close-up, or fragmented views, they encouraged viewers to see the built environment around them as never before.”

At the same time the Bauhaus was influencing photographers throughout Europe, Walker Evans was at the forefront of vernacular photography in the United States, which elevated ordinary objects and events to photographic subjects. In keeping with this trend, architectural photography shifted its focus to ordinary domestic and functional buildings. Derelict and isolated dwellings feature prominently in the work of William Christenberry, whose photograph and “building construction” of Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama (1994) will be on display in the exhibition.

Architecture as a photographic subject became more malleable at the end of the twentieth century, as artists continued to explore the symbolism and vitality of the modern cityscape. This transition is exemplified in Peter Wegner’s 32-part Building Made of Sky III (2009), in which the spaces between skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco and Chicago create buildings of their own. Wegner described the series as “the architecture of air, the space defined by the edges of everything else.” When presented as a grid, the works form a new, imaginary city.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty website

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Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 - 1884) 'Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre' 1859

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Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 – 1884)
Mollien Pavilion, the Louvre
1859
Albumen silver print
Image: 36.7 x 47.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Standing opposite a newly built pavilion of the Louvre, Gustave Le Gray made this photograph when the sun’s position allowed him to best capture the details of the heavily ornamented facade, from the fluted columns on the ground level to the figurative group on the nearest gable. Paving stones lead the viewer’s eye directly to the corner of the pavilion, where the sunlit facade is further highlighted beside an area blanketed in shadow.

Though the extensive art collections of the Louvre had first been opened to the public in 1793, after the French Revolution, it was not until 1848 that the museum became the property of the state. Le Gray’s image shows the exuberance of the architecture undertaken shortly thereafter, during the reign of Napoléon III, when large sections of the building housed government offices.

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Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, born 1947) 'Kowloon Walled City' 1987

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Ryuji Miyamoto (Japanese, born 1947)
Kowloon Walled City
1987
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.4 x 51.1 cm
© Ryuji Miyamoto
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Robert Adams (American, born 1937) 'Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (American, born 1937)
Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.2 x 19.4 cm
© Robert Adams
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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“The long, interdependent relationship between photography and architecture is the subject of this survey drawn from the Getty Museum’s collection. Spanning the history of the medium, the exhibition features twenty-four works by such diverse practitioners as William Henry Fox Talbot, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Ryuji Miyamoto. Seen together, the varied photographic representations of secular and sacred structures on display reveal how the medium has impacted our understanding and perception of architecture.

In the nineteenth century, photography surpassed drawing as the preferred artistic medium for recording and presenting architecture. Recognized for their accuracy and precision, photographs could render architectural elements as never before. The intricate ornamented facade, the sprawling sunlit Napoléon Courtyard, and the classical design of the Louvre appear in magnificent detail in Gustave Le Gray’s picturesque image of the Mollien Pavilion, a structure completed in the 1850s during the reign of Napoléon III.

Photographers working in the nineteenth century documented historic structures on the verge of disappearance as well as contemporary buildings erected before their eyes. They also captured the built environment during construction, after completion, and in ruin. This photograph by Louis-Émile Durandelle shows the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 World Exposition, in November 1888 when only its four columns, piers, and first two platforms were in place.

With the advancement of photographic technologies and the modernization of the built environment around the turn of the twentieth century came innovative representations of architecture. Compositions and photographic processes began to reflect the avantgarde and modernist sensibilities of the time, and photographs of buildings, churches, homes, and other structures often showcased these developments. Andreas Feininger, who trained as an architect, utilized an experimental printing technique to depict gothic St. Nikolai cathedral in Greifswald in a nontraditional way.

Images of architecture by contemporary photographers Robert Adams, William Christenberry, and others working in the documentary tradition often underscore the temporality of buildings. Vernacular structures found in his native Alabama are among the subjects Christenberry has systematically recorded for the past six decades. By returning year-after-year to photograph the same places, such as the red building shown above, Christenberry chronicles the decay (and sometimes the ultimate disappearance) of stores, tenant houses, churches, juke joints, and other rural buildings.

Experimental and conceptual approaches toward the representation of architecture have been embraced by photographers. Peter Wegner used skyscrapers in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago as his framing devices to feature the spaces between high rises that form buildings of their own. By upending images of these canyons, he created buildings made of sky. When presented as a grid, they form a new, imaginary city.”

Text from the J.Paul Getty website

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Henri Le Secq (French, 1818 - 1882) 'Tour de Rois à Rheims' ('Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral') 1851

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Henri Le Secq (French, 1818 – 1882)
Tour de Rois à Rheims (Tower of the Kings at Rheims Cathedral)
1851
Salted paper print
Image: 35.1 x 25.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839 - 1917) 'The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction' 1888

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Louis-Émille Durandelle (French, 1839 – 1917)
The Eiffel Rower: State of Construction
1888
Albumen silver print
Image: 43.2 x 34.6 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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The Centennial Exposition of 1889 was organized by the French government to commemorate the French Revolution. Bridge engineer Gustave Eiffel’s 984-foot (300-meter) tower of open-lattice wrought iron was selected in a competition to erect a memorial at the exposition. Twice as high as the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome or the Great Pyramid of Giza, nothing like it had ever been built before. This view was made about four months short of the tower’s completion. Louis-Émile Durandelle photographed the tower from a low vantage point to emphasize its monumentality. The massive building barely visible in the far distance is dwarfed under the tower’s arches. Incidentally, the tower’s innovative glass-cage elevators, engineered to ascend on a curve, were designed by the Otis Elevator Company of New York, the same company that designed the Getty Center’s diagonally ascending tram.

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Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906 - 1999) 'Portal in Greifswald' 1928

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Andreas Feininger (American, born France, 1906 – 1999)
Portal in Greifswald
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.4 x 17.5 cm
© Estate of Gertrud E. Feininger
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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William Eggleston (American, born 1939) '(Untitled)' Negative about 1967 - 1974; print 1974

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William Eggleston (American, born 1939)
(Untitled)
Negative about 1967 – 1974; print 1974
Chromogenic print
Image: 22.2 x 15.2 cm
© Eggleston Artistic Trust
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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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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