16
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Ansel Adams in Our Time’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2018 – 24th February 2019

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco' 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Golden Gate Before the Bridge, San Francisco
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 69.9 cm (19 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Ansel Adams is a wonderful classical, (clinical?), formal photographer… but a photographer of people, Native Indians, Indian dances and the urban landscape, he ain’t. Simply put, he’s not much good at these subjects. In this posting, best stick with what he’s really good at – beautifully balanced art and environmental activist photographs. Oh, the light and form! Images that teeter towards the sublime held in check by F64, perspective and objectivity.

Interesting to have the historical work to riff off, and “contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy” … but as with so many exhibitions that try to place an artist within a historical and contemporary context, their work is not necessary. In fact, it probably diminishes the utopian vision of one of the world’s best known photographers.

Marcus

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

 

Ansel Adams in Our Time traces the iconic visual legacy of Ansel Adams (1902-1984), presenting some of his most celebrated prints, from a symphonic view of snow-dusted peaks in The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (1942) to an aerial shot of a knotted roadway in Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles (1967). The exhibition looks both backward and forward in time: his black-and-white photographs are displayed alongside prints by several of the 19th-century government survey photographers who greatly influenced Adams, as well as work by contemporary artists whose modern-day concerns centred on the environment, land rights, and the use and misuse of natural resources point directly to Adams’ legacy.

While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams was inspired by precursors in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882) and Frank Jay Haynes (1853-1921), who worked with large bulky cameras and glass-plate negatives and set off into the wilderness carrying their equipment on mules. In some cases, Adams replicated their exact views of the Yosemite Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Yellowstone, producing images that would become emblematic of the country’s national parks. In Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (about 1937), the granite crags of the Yosemite Valley are wreathed in clouds after a sudden storm. Executed with unrivalled sensitivity and rigorous exactitude, the artist’s photographs popularised the notion that the American West was a pristine, and largely uninhabited, wilderness.

Ansel Adams in Our Time also brings Adams forward in time, juxtaposing his work with that of contemporary artists such as Mark Klett (born 1962), Trevor Paglen (born 1974), Catherine Opie (born 1961), Abelardo Morell (born 1948), Victoria Sambunaris (born 1964), and Binh Danh (born 1977). The more than 20 present-day photographers in the exhibition have not only been drawn to some of the same locations, but also engaged with many of the themes central to Adams’ legacy: desert and wilderness spaces, Native Americans and the Southwest, and broader issues affecting the environment: logging, mining, drought and fire, booms and busts, development, and urban sprawl.

Adams’ stunning images were last on view at the MFA in a major exhibition in 2005; this new, even larger presentation places his work in the context of the 21st century, with all that implies about the role photography has played – and continues to play – in our changing perceptions of the land. The Adams photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Lane Collection, one of the largest and most significant gifts in MFA history.

Text from the MFA website

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California' 1948

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Lone Pine Peak, Sierra Nevada, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 49.1 cm (15 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California' c. 1925

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Marion Lake, Kings River Canyon, California (from Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras)
c. 1925; print date: 1927
Gelatin silver print
14.6 x 19.8 cm (5 3/4 x 7 13/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park' c. 1950

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Early Morning, Merced River Canyon, Yosemite National Park
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 39.4 x 49.7 cm (15 1/2 x 19 9/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
1941
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 19.1 x 23.8 cm (7 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico' 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Thunderstorm, Ghost Ranch, Chama River Valley, Northern New Mexico
1937; print date: about 1948
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 22.9 cm (6 9/16 x 9 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park' c. 1937

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles' 1967

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles
1967
Gelatin silver print
37.2 x 34.8 cm (14 5/8 x 13 11/16 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Self‑Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah' 1958

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
SelfPortrait, Monument Valley, Utah
1958
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is the rare artist whose works have helped to define a genre. Over the last half-century, his black-and-white photographs have become, for many viewers, visual embodiments of the sites he captured: Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, the Sierra Nevada, the American Southwest and more. These images constitute an iconic visual legacy – one that continues to inspire and provoke. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), Ansel Adams in Our Time offers a new perspective on one of the best-known and most beloved American photographers by placing him into a dual conversation with his predecessors and contemporary artists. While crafting his own modernist vision, Adams followed in the footsteps of 19th-century forerunners in government survey and expedition photography such as Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O’Sullivan and Frank Jay Haynes. Today, photographers including Mark Klett, Trevor Paglen, Catherine Opie, Abelardo Morell, Victoria Sambunaris and Binh Danh are engaging anew with the sites and subjects that occupied Adams, as well as broader environmental issues such as drought and fire, mining and energy, economic booms and busts, protected places and urban sprawl. Approximately half of the nearly 200 works in the exhibition are photographs by Adams, drawn from the Lane Collection – one of the largest and most significant gifts in the MFA’s history, which made the Museum one of the major holders of the artist’s work. The photographs by 19th-century and contemporary artists are on loan from public institutions, galleries and private collectors. Ansel Adams in Our Time is on view in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery from December 13, 2018 through February 24, 2019. Visitors are encouraged to use #AnselAdamsInOurTime to share their exhibition experiences on social media, as well as submit Adams-inspired landscape photos on Instagram for a chance to win an MFA membership, Ansel Adams publication and a private curatorial tour. Ansel Adams in Our Time is presented with proud recognition of The Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters, made possible by Scott Nathan and Laura DeBonis. Sponsored by Northern Trust. Additional support from the Robert and Jane Burke Fund for Exhibitions, and Peter and Catherine Creighton. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA.

“Ansel Adams is a larger-than-life figure in the field of photography, and the generous gift of more than 450 of his prints from the Lane Collection has inspired me to revisit his work. With this exhibition, I hope to open up new conversations around this seminal artist, by looking both backward and forward in time,” said Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs. “I invite our visitors to explore the role that photography has historically played in our changing perceptions of the American West, as well as to consider Adams’ legacy of environmental activism – one that still speaks to us today.”

 

Exhibition overview

Capturing the View

Organised both thematically and chronologically into eight sections, the exhibition begins where Adams’ own photographic life began. Perhaps no place had a more lasting influence on him than Yosemite National Park, in his native California. Adams first visited Yosemite at age 14, bringing along a Kodak Box Brownie camera given to him by his father, and returned almost every year for the rest of his life. It was not only where he honed his skills, but also where he came to recognise the power of photographs to express emotion and meaning. Showcasing its spectacular granite peaks, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, Adams’ photographs of Yosemite have become virtually synonymous with the park itself. Adams, however, was not the first to take a camera into the mountains of California. He acknowledged his debt to the earliest photographers to arrive in the Yosemite Valley, including Carleton Watkins, who in the 1860s began to record scenic views with a cumbersome large-format camera and fragile glass plate negatives processed in the field. Watkins’ 19th-century photographs helped to introduce Americans “back east” to the nation’s dramatic western landscapes, while Adams’ 20th-century images made famous the notion of their “untouched wilderness.” Today, photographers such as Mark Klett are grappling with these legacies. Klett and his longtime collaborator Byron Wolfe have studied canonical views of Yosemite Valley by Adams and Watkins, using the latest technology to produce composite panoramas that document changes made to the landscape over more than a century, as well as the ever-growing presence of human activity.

 

Marketing the View

As a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined in 1919 at age 17, Adams regularly embarked on the environmental organisation’s annual, month-long “High Trips” to the Sierra Nevada mountains. He produced albums of photographs from these treks, inviting club members to select and order prints. This precocious ingenuity ultimately led to the Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (1927) – one of the earliest experiments in custom printing, sequencing and distributing fine photographs. Sixteen of the 18 prints from the portfolio, including the iconic Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, are on view in the second gallery of the exhibition, which connects Adams’ innovations in marketing his views of the western U.S. to those of his predecessors. In the 19th century, an entire industry of mass-marketing and distributing images of “the frontier” emerged, catering to a burgeoning tourist trade. In addition to engravings and halftones published in books, magazines and newspapers, photographs such as Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33 (1872) by Eadweard Muybridge were circulated through stereo cards, which allowed armchair travellers to experience remote places in three dimensions when viewed through a stereoscope. Today, photography remains closely linked with scenic vistas of the American West. Creating works in extended series or grids, artists including Matthew Brandt, Sharon Harper and Mark Rudewel seem to be responding to the earlier tradition of mass-marketing western views, using photography as a medium to call attention to the passage of time and the changing nature of landscapes.

 

San Francisco – Becoming a Modernist

The third section of the exhibition focuses on Adams’ hometown of San Francisco, which has long captured photographers’ imaginations with its rolling hills and dramatic orientation toward the water. The city’s transformation over more than a century – including changes made to the urban landscape following the devastating earthquake and fire in 1906 and the rise of skyscrapers in the later 20th century – can be observed in the juxtaposition of panoramas by Eadweard Muybridge and Mark Klett, taken from the same spot 113 years apart. Adams’ images of San Francisco from the 1920s and 1930s trace his development into a modernist photographer, as he experimented with a large-format camera to produce maximum depth of field and extremely sharp-focused images. During the Great Depression, Adams also took on a wider range of subjects, including the challenging reality of urban life in his hometown. He photographed the demolition of abandoned buildings, toppled cemetery headstones, political signs and the patina of a city struggling during difficult times. One sign of hope for the future at the time was the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which began in 1933. Adams’ The Golden Gate before the Bridge (1932), taken near his family home five years before the bridge’s opening in 1937, is displayed alongside four contemporary prints from the Golden Gate Bridge project (Private Collection, Cambridge) by Richard Misrach, taken from his own porch in Berkeley Hills. Placing his large-format camera in exactly the same position on each occasion, Misrach recorded hundreds of views of the distant span, at different times of the day and in every season. The series, photographed over three years from 1997 to 2000, was reissued in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate’s landmark opening. The vast expanses of sky in Misrach’s works echo the focus on the massive cumulus cloud in the earlier photograph by Adams, who was fascinated with changing weather and landscapes with seemingly infinite space.

 

Adams in the American Southwest

Adams produced some of his most memorable images – among them, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941; print date: 1965-75) – during his frequent travels to the American Southwest. He was intrigued by the region’s distinctive landscape, brilliant sunlight and sudden dramatic storms, as well as its rich mix of cultures. Shortly after his first trip to New Mexico in 1927, Adams collaborated with author Mary Hunter Austin on the illustrated book Taos Pueblo (1930, Harvard Art Museums), for which he contributed 12 photographs that reflect his interest in Taos Pueblo’s architecture and activities. Adams shared Austin’s concern that the artistic and religious traditions of the Pueblo peoples were under threat from the increasing numbers of people traveling through or settling in the region. In contrast to the indigenous peoples of Yosemite, who had been forced out of their native lands many years earlier, Pueblo peoples were still living in their ancestral villages. On his return visits to the American Southwest, Adams often photographed the native communities, their dwellings and their ancient ruins. He also photographed Indian dances, which had become popular among tourists who came by train and automobile to be entertained and to buy pottery, jewellery and other souvenirs. Adams’ images of dancers, which emphasise their costumes, postures and expressions, therefore have a complex legacy, as he was one of the onlookers – though he carefully cropped out any evidence of the gathered crowds. Today, indigenous artists including Diné photographer Will Wilson, are creating work that responds to and confronts past depictions of Native Americans by white artists who travelled west to “document” the people who were viewed as a “vanishing race” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

Picturing the National Parks

The largest section of the exhibition examines the critical role that photography has played in the history of the national parks. In the 19th century, dramatic views captured by Carleton Watkins and other photographers ultimately helped convince government officials to take action to protect Yosemite and Yellowstone from private development. Adams, too, was aware of the power of the image to sway opinions on land preservation. In 1941 Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, hired Adams to make a series of mural-sized photographs of the national parks for the capital’s new Interior Building. Although his government funding was cut short by America’s entry into World War II and the murals were never realised, Adams felt so strongly about the value of the project that he sought financial assistance on his own. He secured Guggenheim Foundation grants in 1946 and 1948, which allowed him to travel to national parks from Alaska to Texas, Hawaii to Maine. Marked by a potent combination of art and environmental activism, the photographs he made spread his belief in the transformative power of the parks to a wide audience. Many contemporary artists working in the national parks acknowledge, as Adams did, the work of the photographers who came before them. But the complicated legacies of these protected lands have led some – including Catherine Opie, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Binh Danh and Abelardo Morell – to take more personal and political approaches to the work they are making in these spaces.

 

The Other Side of the Mountains

Adams made his reputation mainly through spectacular images of “unspoiled” nature. Less well known are the photographs he produced of the more forbidding, arid landscapes in California’s Death Valley and Owens Valley, just southeast of Yosemite. Here, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, Adams’ work took a dramatic detour. Fellow photographer Edward Weston introduced Adams to Death Valley, where he captured images of sand dunes, salt flats and sandstones canyons. Owens Valley, located to the west, was once verdant farmland, but was suffering by the 1940s, its water siphoned off to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. In 1943, Adams also traveled to nearby Manzanar, where he photographed Japanese Americans forcibly relocated to internment camps shortly after the U.S. entered World War II. Trevor Paglen, Stephen Tourlentes and David Benjamin Sherry are among the contemporary photographers who continue to find compelling subjects in these remote landscapes. Some are drawn to them as “blank slates” upon which to leave their mark, while others explore the raw beauty of the desolate terrain and the many, sometimes unsettling ways it used today – including as a site for maximum-security prisons and clandestine military projects.

 

The Changing Landscape

Adams’ photographs are appreciated for their imagery and formal qualities, but they also carry a message of advocacy. The last two sections of the exhibition examine the continually changing landscapes of the sites once captured by Adams. In his own time, the photographer was well aware of the environmental concerns facing California and the nation – thanks, in part, to his involvement with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. As his career progressed, Adams began to move away from symphonic and pristine wilderness landscapes in favour of images that showed a more nuanced vision. He photographed urban sprawl, freeways, graffiti, oil drilling, ghost towns, rural cemeteries and mining towns, as well as quieter, less romantic views of nature, such as the aftermath of forest fires – subjects that resonate in new ways today. For contemporary photographers working in the American West, the spirit of advocacy takes on an ever-increasing urgency, as they confront a terrain continually altered by human activity and global warming. Works by artists including Laura McPhee, Victoria Sambunaris, Mitch Epstein, Meghann Riepenhoff, Bryan Schutmaat and Lucas Foglia bear witness to these changes, countering notions that natural resources are somehow limitless and not in need of attention and protection.

Press release from the MFA

 

Carelton E. Watkins. 'The Yosemite Falls' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Printed by Taber & Co. (American, active in 1850-1860)
The Yosemite Falls
1861, printed 1880-1890
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 39.8 x 51.2 cm (15 11/16 x 20 3/16 in.)
A. Shuman Collection – Abraham Shuman Fund

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961) 'Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)' 2015

 

Catherine Opie (American, born in 1961)
Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul
© Catherine Opie

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) 'Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69' 1865-66

 

Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Mount Starr King and Glacier Point, Yosemite, No. 69
1865-66
Mammoth albumen print from wet collodion negative
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33' 1872

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point, No. 33
1872
Albumen print
Image/Sheet: 42.5 x 54.2 cm (16 3/4 x 21 5/16 in.)
Gift of Charles T. and Alma A. Isaacs
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921) 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls' c. 1887

 

Frank Jay Haynes (American, 1853-1921)
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Falls
c. 1887
Albumen print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Sophie M. Friedman Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 1942

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
1942
Gelatin silver print
47.1 x 61.2 cm (18 9/16 x 24 1/8 in.)
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948)) 'Tent‑Camera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming' 2011

 

Abelardo Morell (American (born in Cuba, 1948))
TentCamera Image on Ground: View of Mount Moran and the Snake River from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
2011
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Adam Clark Vroman. 'Four of Hearts (Bashful)' c. 1894

 

Adam Clark Vroman (American, 1856-1916)
Publisher Lazarus and Melzer (American)
Four of Hearts (Bashful)
c. 1894
Playing card with halftone print
8.9 x 6.4 cm (3 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Gift of Lewis A. Shepard
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925) 'Big Navajo' c. 1879-80

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Big Navajo
c. 1879-80
Albumen print
22.9 x 19.1 cm (9 x 7 1/2 in.)
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

John K. Hillers. 'Heaipu, Navaho Woman' c. 1879

 

John K. Hillers (American (born in Germany), 1843-1925)
Heaipu, Navaho Woman
c. 1879
Albumen print
Gift of Jessie H. Wilkinson – Jessie H. Wilkinson Fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969) 'How the West is One' 2014

 

Will Wilson (Diné (Navajo), born in 1969)
How the West is One
2014
Inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Will Wilson

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974) 'Untitled (Reaper Drone)' 2015

 

Trevor Paglen (American, born in 1974)
Untitled (Reaper Drone)
2015
Pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Monolith - The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park' 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Monolith – The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
1927; print date: 1950-60
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983) 'Cemetery, Tonopah, NV' 2012

 

Bryan Schutmaat (American, born in 1983)
Cemetery, Tonopah, NV
2012
Archival inkjet print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico' 1941 (detail)

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (detail)
1941; print date: 1965-75
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park' c. 1932

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pine Forest in Snow, Yosemite National Park
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Saundra B. Lane
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958) 'Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)' 2008

 

Laura McPhee (American, born in 1958)
Midsummer (Lupine and Fireweed)
2008
Archival pigment print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Laura McPhee

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California' 1935

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Grass and Burned Stump, Sierra Nevada, California
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California' 1939

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, California
1939
Gelatin silver print
The Lane Collection
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952) 'Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California' 2007

 

Mitch Epstein (American, born in 1952)
Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California
2007
Chromogenic print
Reproduced with permission
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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09
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 24th February 2019

Curators: Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle.

Presented simultaneously at The Photographers’ Gallery and Jewish Museum London, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is the first UK retrospective of Russian born American photographer, Roman Vishniac (1897-1990).

 

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin' 1929-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
1929-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Wondrous, glorious images

Apart from the title, Roman Vishniac “Rediscovered” – photographically, I never thought he went away? – this is a magnificent exhibition of Vishniac’s complete works.

Since the press release states, “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy…” perhaps the exhibition should have been titled: Roman Vishniac Reappraised or Roman Vishniac: Complete Works. Each makes more sense than the title the curators chose.

Vishniac’s work is powerful and eloquent, a formal, classical, and yet poetic representation of the time and space of the photographs taking. Modernist yet romantic, monumental, sociological yet playful, his work imbibes of the music of people and place, portraying the rituals of an old society about to be swept away by the maelstrom of war. They are a joy to behold.

Here is happiness and sadness, urban poverty, isolation (as in figures from each other, figures isolated within their world, and within the pictorial frame – see the people walking in every direction in Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow 1935-38, below), and nostalgia (for what has been lost). Here is life… and death.

Here is a handsome man, Ernst Kaufmann, born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. Arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Killed at barely 30 years old. As Vishniac recalls of his portrait of the seven year old David Eckstein, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ Never forget what human beings are capable of, lest history repeat itself, and all our hard fought freedoms are destroyed.

Despite the hubbub and movement of the people, towns and marketplaces, for me it is the sensitivity of a quiet moment, beautifully observed, that gets me every time. That hand (Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw c. 1935-38, below), resting on the chest of an exhausted porter, seen in all its clarity and in humanity is transcendent. That intense feeling of an extended, (in)decisive moment, if ever there was one.

In my humble opinion, Vishniac is one of the greatest 20th century social documentary photographers to have ever lived.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

Interview with curator Maya Benton

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin' late 1920s-early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
German family walking between taxicabs in front of the Ufa-Palast movie theater, Berlin
late 1920s-early 1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Woman washing windows above Mandtler & Neumann Speditionen (Mandtler & Neumann Forwarding Agents), Ferdinandstrasse, Leopoldstadt, Vienna
1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish school children, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish school children, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

From 1935 to 1938, Vishniac made numerous trips to the city of Mukacevo, a major center of religious learning among Jews from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Carpathian region. Mukacevo was widely known for its famous rabbis and yeshivot (religious schools). This image of Jewish schoolchildren appears in cropped form on the cover of Vishniac’s first posthumous publication, To Give Them Light; the recently digitised negative reveals that it represents only one-fifth of the full frame. Vishniac often directed printers or publishers to crop his images to focus on religiously observant Jewish men or boys, identifiable by their dress, an editorial decision that sometimes detracted from the composition by subverting aesthetic considerations to emphasise religious and observant life. The negative reveals Vishniac’s instinctive compositional acumen: a bustling and vibrant street scene, with a boy’s beaming, slightly out-of-focus face in the foreground and numerous hands pushing into and out of the frame, communicating the vitality and liveliness of the students.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Man purchasing herring, wrapped in newspaper, for a Sabbath meal, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Fish is the Favored Food for the Kosher Table
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
Image (paper): 11 1/2 x 9 3/16 in. (29.2 x 23.3 cm)
Collection Philip Allen
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

These rare vintage prints are part of a collection of sixteen recently discovered prints that comprised Vishniac’s first exhibition abroad, and were displayed in the New York office of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1938. Vishniac developed these early prints in his apartment in Berlin, and they are rare early examples of his virtuosic skill as a master printmaker. He gifted all sixteen prints to an employee of the New York office of the JDC who had helped him to organise his first exhibit; these prints are on loan from his son.

The image of a boy bending over a vat of herring communicates the excitement of the marketplace and the sheer abundance of herring. The unparalleled quality of the print transmits every detail, from the wet cobblestones and circular motion of the swimming fish to the rapid, eager movement of hands reaching in to grab the herring. Rather than focusing on religious life, these early prints demonstrate the vitality and frantic charm of a town rushing to prepare for the Sabbath.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Young Jewish boys suspicious of strangers, Mukachevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Three women, Mukacevo' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Three women, Mukacevo
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) The notice on the wall reads "Come Celebrate Chanukah." c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
The notice on the wall reads “Come Celebrate Chanukah”
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Jewish street vendors, Warsaw, Poland
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Children playing outdoors and watching a game' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing outdoors and watching a game
c. 1935-37
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children playing on a street lined with swastika flags
mid-1930s
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Nat Gutman's Wife, Warsaw' 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Nat Gutman’s Wife, Warsaw
1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Nat Gutman, the porter, Warsaw 1935-1938 from A Vanished World, 1983 is the photograph of her husband. After working as a bank cashier for six years, Nat Gutman was dismissed because he was a Jew. He became a porter. The loads usually weighed forty-five to ninety pounds. This was the kind of work that bank cashier Gutman, a man with a bad hernia, was reduced to in order to support his wife and son. The family were exterminated.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'A street of Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
A street of Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Krakow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow' 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Isaac Street, Kazimierz, Cracow
1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin' mid-1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Window washer balancing on a ladder, Berlin
mid-1930s
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Exhausted. A Carrier of Heavy Loads, Warsaw
c. 1935-38
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 10 in. (19.1 x 25.4 cm)
International Center of Photography
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn, 2013
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“This unpublished image of a porter at rest in his wagon demonstrates Vishniac’s modern aesthetic and the influence of the avant-garde on his work. The diagonal slope of the central figure, stretched out along a sloping plane, fills the entire frame. The intuitive amalgamation of patterns and textures, one of Vishniac’s greatest talents, is evident throughout the image: the light reflected on the ornamented belt buckle; the double-patterned cable knit of his shrunken wool vest, which barely conceals a plaid shirt; and the round shapes of a wheel and bucket that divide the angular line formed by the central figure. It is a triumph of textures, angles, and lines, yet the worn sign with the name Nuta Hersz and his porter license number reminds us that the subject of the photograph is the victim of anti-Semitic boycotts and the limited job opportunities (only vendors and porters) permitted to Jews in Poland at that time.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935–38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac traveled to remote Jewish villages in rural Carpathian Ruthenia throughout the late 1930s, and in many cases was the only photographer to ever document these communities, which had been isolated for hundreds of years, yet maintained an enduring connection to Jewish observance, customs, and traditions.

Every detail of this image makes it a nearly perfect photograph: the sense of movement and the figures’ varied gestures and vibrant expressions; the carefully balanced horizontal bands of shadow and striped fabric; the detail of a woman peering out of a window while a glass pane on the facing structure points in the direction of an impossibly angled triangular building that vertically divides the frame in half; and the collective sense of surprise at encountering the photographer. Like much of Vishniac’s unpublished work, this composition recalls Henri Cartier-Bresson’s description of the decisive moment (a precise organisation of forms that give a time and place its ideal expression) and places Vishniac on par with the great photographers of the 20th century.”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1938
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“The boy in this photograph has been identified as David Eckstein, a Holocaust survivor currently living in a commune in the American Southwest. Born in 1930 in the small town of Brod, Eckstein was seven years old when Vishniac took several photographs of him, his classmates, and his teacher just before the onslaught of World War II. Vishniac later recalled, ‘I watched this little boy for almost an hour, and in this moment I saw the whole sadness of the world.’ This portrait was later selected as the cover of Vishniac’s first publication, Polish Jews: A Pictorial Record (1947), and reprinted on the cover of I. B. Singer’s National Book Award-winning collection of stories, A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1969).”

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Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) '[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
[Grandmother and grandchildren in basement dwelling, Krochmaina Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

“Vishniac documented urban poverty in Warsaw, often focusing on the dark, cold basement dwellings of families where hungry Jewish children lived in crowded conditions. Vishniac photographed this woman taking care of her grandchildren while their parents searched for work in one of 26 basement compartments, each inhabited by a large family. In June 1941, the National Jewish Monthly published this image with the caption ‘Polish Jewry, once the bulwark of world Jewry, is done for as a community. Even if Hitler were to lose power tomorrow, their institutions and organizations are hopelessly smashed, could not be rebuilt in generations. But individuals remain, starved and persecuted. This picture shows an old grandmother and her grandchildren. What is going to become of them, and of the millions of other innocent victims of Fascist violence and terror?'”

.
Maya Benton, ICP Adjunct Curator

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stencilled flowers above her head, Warsaw
c. 1935-37
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac documented the basement dwellings of Warsaw using the scant natural light that trickled through a few narrow, high windows, necessitating that he shoot during the day, when adults were often out looking for work or peddling their wares and children were sometimes the only inhabitants indoors. This photograph of Sara, one of Vishniac’s most iconic images, was reproduced on charity tins, or tzedakah boxes, and circulated throughout France by Jewish social service organisations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) in the late 1930s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

An extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer, Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Featuring many of his most iconic works, this comprehensive exhibition further introduces recently discovered and lesser-known chapters of his photographic career from the early 1920s to the late 1970s. The cross-venue exhibition presents radically diverse bodies of work and positions Vishniac as one of the most important social documentary photographers of the 20th century whose work also sits within a broader tradition of 1930s modernist photography.

Born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1897 to a Jewish family Roman Vishniac was raised in Moscow. On his seventh birthday, he was given a camera and a microscope which began a lifelong fascination with photography and science. He began to conduct early scientific experiments attaching the camera to the microscope and as a teenager became an avid amateur photographer and student of biology, chemistry and zoology. In 1920, following the Bolshevik Revolution, he immigrated to Berlin where he joined some of the city’s many flourishing camera clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural experimentation in Berlin at this time, Vishniac used his camera to document his surroundings. This early body of work reflects the influence of European modernism with his framing and compositions favouring sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter.

Vishniac’s development as a photographer coincided with the enormous political changes occurring in Germany, which he steadfastly captured in his images. They represent an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, the loss of rights for Jews, the rise of Nazism in Germany, the insidious propaganda – swastika flags and military parades, which were taking over both the streets and daily life. German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also prevented from pursuing professions in law, medicine, teaching, and photography, among many other indignities and curtailments of civil liberties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality through uncompromising images showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigration offices and Zionist agrarian training camps, his photos tracking the speed with which the city changed from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.

Social and political documentation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the attention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and gain support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. These images were intended to support relief efforts and were used in fundraising campaigns for an American donor audience. When the war broke out only a few years later, his photos served increasingly urgent refugee efforts, before finally, at the end of the war and the genocide enacted by Nazi Germany, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record by a single photographer of a vanished world.

Vishniac left Europe in 1940 and arrived in New York with his family on New Year’s Day, 1941. He continued to record the impact of World War II throughout the 1940s and 50s in particular focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors in the US, but also looking at other immigrant communities including Chinese Americans. In 1947, he returned to Europe to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps and also to witness the ruins of his former hometown, Berlin. He also continued his biological studies and supplemented his income by teaching and writing.

In New York, Vishniac established himself as a freelance photographer and built a successful portrait studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the same time he dedicated himself to scientific research, resuming his interest in Photomicroscopy. This particular application of photography became the primary focus of his work during the last 45 years of his life. By the mid-1950s, he was regarded as a pioneer in the field, developing increasingly sophisticated techniques for photographing and filming microscopic life forms. Vishniac was appointed Professor of Biology and Art at several universities and his groundbreaking images and scientific research were published in hundreds of magazines and books.

Although he was mainly embedded in the scientific community, Vishniac was a keen observer and scholar of art, culture, and history and would have been aware of developments in photography going on around him and the work of his contemporaries. In 1955, famed photographer and museum curator Edward Steichen featured several of Vishniac’s photographs in the influential book and travelling exhibition The Family of Man shown at the Museum of Modern Art. Steichen later describes the importance of Vishniac’s work. “[He]… gives a last minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered offers a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic output and legacy and brings together – for the first time – his complete works including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and ‘lost’ film footage from his pre-war period, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications, newly created exhibition prints as well as his acclaimed photomicroscopy.

Drawn from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography, New York and curated by Maya Benton in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery curator, Anna Dannemann and Jewish Museum London curator, Morgan Wadsworth-Boyle, each venue will provide additional contextual material to illuminate the works on display and bring the artist, his works and significance to the attention of UK audiences. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is organised by the International Center of Photography.

Press release from The Photographers’ Gallery

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Children at Play, Bratislava' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Children at Play, Bratislava
c. 1935-38
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin
1933
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Vishniac’s daughter Mara, age seven, was photographed standing in front of this 1933 poster celebrating Hitler’s recent appointment as German chancellor. The poster advertises a plebiscite to permit withdrawal from the League of Nations and Geneva Disarmament Conference, which restricted Germany’s ability to develop a military. Other posters include the slogans “Mothers, fight for your children!,” “The coming generation accuses you!,” and “In 8 months… 2,250,000 countrymen able to put food on the table. Bolshevism destroyed. Sectionalism overcome. A kingdom and order of cleanliness built… Those are the achievements of Hitler’s rule…”

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Benedictine nun reading, probably France' 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Benedictine nun reading, probably France
1930s, printed 2012
Photo digital inkjet print
12 x 11 3/8 in. (30.5 x 29 cm)
International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth' 1938-39

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands
1938-39
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at Jewish Museum London
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

This photograph is strikingly similar in subject and composition to a bronze relief plaque made in 1935 by Dutch artist Hildo Krop (1884-1970) for the monument on the Afsluitdijk, a dam that was completed in 1933 in the north of the Netherlands. The relief depicts three stoneworkers below the text “A nation that lives builds for the future.” Dutch modernist architect Willem Dudok (1884-1974) designed the Afsluitdijk and in 1935 Krop’s plaque was added. The dam was a triumph of Dutch engineering and a source of national pride. Residents of the Werkdorp probably took Vishniac to the Afsluitdijk; the well-known relief undoubtedly inspired him to stage this shot, an ideal composition for his heroic image of Jewish pioneers in the Werkdorp, and an unusual conflation of Dutch nationalist and Zionist visual sensibilities.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France
c. 1939
Courtesy International Center of Photography
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
1949
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, known as the “J,” was established in 1927 to serve the growing population of first-generation American Jews migrating to South Brooklyn. The J’s mission, to “ennoble Jewish youth” by building and fostering a sense of Jewish community, was accomplished through the promotion of arts and recreation for all ages. American Jewish major league baseball legend Sandy Koufax, a regular at the J, had started his sports career there as a basketball player.

In a dramatic departure from his iconic photographs of impoverished children in prewar eastern Europe, here Vishniac focused on the strong, healthy young American children. The children’s vitality is reinforced by the diagonal lines and geometric angles of the ropes, contributing to a forceful and innovative composition reflective of Vishniac’s previously unknown American work from the 1940s.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990) 'Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac (1897-1990)
Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York
1941-44
Courtesy International Center of Photography
On display at The Photographers’ Gallery
© Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

 

New York’s Washington Market, famed for its exceptional variety and quantity of food, was established in the eighteenth century. Vishniac documented the mostly female customers waiting for service during a period of wartime restrictions and food rationing. Through careful framing – customers stand against bare counters and voided display cases – he captured disenchanted expressions that can be read as a projection of Vishniac’s own experience as a new immigrant in America, as well as a record of comparative privation in the former plenty of Washington Market. As such, they anticipate the isolation and indifference shown in The Americans by Robert Frank, another Jewish immigrant from war-torn Europe.

Text from the International Center of Photography website

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday: 10.00 – 18.00
Thursday: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sunday: 11.00 – 18.00

 

The Jewish Museum
Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street,
London NW1 7NB
Phone: +44 (0)20 7284 7384

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (Friday 10am – 2pm)

 

The Photographers’ Gallery website

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02
Feb
19

Exhibition: ‘Daughters Of The Sun: Christian Waller & Klytie Pate’ at Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2018 – 10th February 2019

Curator: Emma Busowsky Cox

 

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'The daughter of the sun' 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The daughter of the sun
1932
Paper lithograph, printed in black ink, from one zinc plate
21.4 x 15.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

I travelled up to Bendigo to see this small gem of an exhibition with a friend of mine… and the trip was so very worthwhile.

Being a ceramic tragic (especially in my love of vases), I was in seventh heaven observing and admiring the sublime work of Klytie Pate – the precision of incised and pierced motifs, the clean, classic forms and the gorgeous, colourful glazes. Absolutely brilliant work.

But the revelation of the exhibition was the work of Christian Waller. Oh My God – literally, religion as “an idiosyncratic fusion of orthodox and alternative spiritual philosophies: Christianity, Theosophy, the Golden Dawn and the International Peace Mission Movement,” portrayed through a personal language of symbols in Waller’s art, used “to express her pantheistic sense of the spiritual and encourage spiritual contemplation…”

To the list of spiritual philosophies you can add the Tarot, Egyptology, and mythology – Arthurian and Irish. The list of influences includes the British Arts and Crafts Movement, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Art Deco. And the list of personal symbols includes the sun, the moon, stars and flowers.

These are mighty works, particularly the impressive linocuts. They had such a depth of form and feeling, the blackness of the ink seeming to draw you into the physical and spiritual structure of the works. The highlight was a darkened room at the centre of the exhibition in which was presented all seven linocuts from Waller’s book The Great Breath: A book of seven designs (1932, below).

Swear to my god (that is, an energy that I believe permeates every atom, tree, animal and pore of the earth and the cosmos), I had a spiritual revelation while contemplating this work. Some might say that the designs are “of their time”, the sentiments expressed romantic and trite. To that I have one word to say: bullshit.

Great art, great design, and great feeling (for/of spirit) never, ever, leaves the creator or the creation.

“The Spirit of Light… Who descended into the depths of Chaos.”
“The Lords of the Flame… Who brought down to Earth the Divine Fire of Heaven.”

Australia has so many hidden gems in their artists. Thank you, thank you Bendigo Art Gallery for showing me two of them. Simply magical.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Bendigo Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'Destiny' 1916

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Destiny
1916
Oil on canvas
51.0 × 61.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Ouida Marston, 2011

 

 

Destiny, 1916, a painting completed by Christian shortly after leaving the school, indicates that the influence of Hall’s teaching extended beyond her student years. She adroitly renders the flesh in paint, yet adds her personal style. Florence modelled for this work and assumes the character of a sorceress watching over a mystical concoction. Through the use of dark, muted tones, Christian suggests a macabre, mystical narrative: the woman dressed in a medieval cloak is depicted bent over a bubbling cauldron, while the naked humans are trapped in the bubbles.15 This work demonstrates that by 1916 she possessed high-level artistic skills and the capacity to develop original compositions informed by her literary and mystical interests.

Extract from Woman of the Sun: Christian Waller by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) The conspirators c. 1920

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The conspirators
c. 1920
Drawing in pen and black ink
Image 12.9 h x 25.9 w cm
Sheet 12.9 h x 25.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

 

The phase of Christian’s practice immediately after she had left the National Gallery School, including the period when she and Napier were developing their home at Fairy Hills, saw her employ dynamic line and decorative expression to create original drawings (mainly in pen and ink) and book illustrations that increasingly reflected her engagement with mysticism and spiritual symbols, such as The Conspirators, c. 1920 (above), one of her finest pen-and-ink drawings. Her intricate line work evokes a sinister scene, one that bears little resemblance to the world in which she lived, suggesting instead a narrative from a medieval story. Her strong graphic abilities and striking use of symbolism were repeatedly singled out in reviews of the Victorian Artists’ Society exhibitions in which she participated from 1913 through to the 1920s.27

Extract from Woman of the Sun: Christian Waller by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll

 

Photographer unknown. 'Napier and Christian Waller' 1922

 

Photographer unknown
Napier and Christian Waller
1922
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy the Trustees of the Waller Estate, Melbourne

 

 

Christian Waller, in a 1948 interview about her stained glass for the Woman’s Magazine, stated that there were ‘two words printed on my consciousness’, these being ‘work and God’.1 As she implies, Christian created artworks that unified her aesthetic interests with the spiritual values she held so profoundly – her art was inspired by her spiritual thinking. And her evolving artistic and spiritual values were expressed through the array of expressive decorative media harnessed by her, including drawing, illustration, printmaking, painting and stained glass.

Christian was driven by her aim to communicate spiritual values through art, articulating this towards the end of her life in the newspaper interview from which the earlier quotation was obtained: ‘My life is to get the message through, and I am trying to make religion real’.2 Her spirituality was an idiosyncratic fusion of orthodox and alternative spiritual philosophies: Christianity, Theosophy, the Golden Dawn and the International Peace Mission Movement. To express her pantheistic sense of the spiritual and encourage spiritual contemplation, she developed a personal language of symbols, these being predominantly the sun, the moon, stars and flowers. Her engagement with the values associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, specifically the privileging of the handmade work of art and its social function, was central to the overall spiritual significance of her work. Christian’s artworks were generally accompanied by – or explicitly responded to – written narratives, with the harmony of word, image and message central to her creative process.

Extract from Woman of the Sun: Christian Waller by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'Ethlinn' c. 1921

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Ethlinn
c. 1921
Pen and ink on paper
31.0 × 14.2 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of John McPhee, 2008
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

 

This exhibition tells the story of Christian Waller, celebrated Australian printmaker of the Art Deco era, and her niece, the pioneering ceramic artist, Klytie Pate.

Christian Waller, born in Castlemaine in Central Victoria in 1894, had a deep personal interest in spiritualism, symbolism and the mystical philosophies of the modern theosophical movement. Her print work is characterised by a complex symbolism, combining ancient classical and literary subjects alongside occult motifs in a dynamic style owing much to the bold geometry of Art Deco and the handmade ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement. In 1954, aged 59, Waller died a virtual recluse in the Fairy Hills home she shared with her artist husband, Napier Waller. At this time, she had also established a reputation as one of Australia’s leading stained glass artists, having produced some 65 windows for churches in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

Christian Waller’s niece, Klytie Pate, came to live with the Wallers as a young teenager. As Pate’s maternal figure from a formative age, Christian Waller was an influential force in Pate’s life, directing her notable artistic talent into formal studies and guiding her early career. Klytie Pate mastered her chosen craft of ceramic art, forging innovations in design and glazing to become one of Australia’s foremost studio potters of the 20th century. Her aunt’s influence, in design and in subject, continued in Pate’s work for the whole of her long and successful career.

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller & Klytie Pate explores the intertwining lives and work of these artists, bringing together works from Bendigo Art Gallery’s own collection, as well as the Klytie Pate Treasury at Beleura, Napier Waller House, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia and other lenders. A major publication will accompany the exhibition, with essays by the exhibition curator, Emma Busowsky Cox, and art historian Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll.

Text from the Bendigo Art Gallery website

 

Christian Waller. 'Morgan Le Fay' c. 1925

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Morgan Le Fay [Morgan the fairy]
c. 1925
Oil on wood panel
Collection of Dennis O’Hoy, AM

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'Morgan Le Fay' c. 1927

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Morgan Le Fay  [Morgan the fairy]
c. 1927
Linocut on paper, printed in colour, hand coloured
Sheet: 27.5 x 18.9 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of Ballarat
Purchased, 1976

 

 

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller & Klytie Pate tells a story with its origins in Central Victoria. Christian Waller was born in Castlemaine in 1894, and received some of her early artistic tuition in Bendigo. A child prodigy, Waller first exhibited her work at Bendigo Art Gallery in 1909 with a classically themed painting called A Petition. She was just fourteen years old.

Christian Waller’s notable artistic talent saw the family move to Melbourne so she could attend the National Gallery School. Establishing a reputation in book illustration, printmaking and stained glass (both design and execution), Waller’s interests in the occult, ancient mythology, literature and theosophy are brought together in dazzling, original works. With her husband, the artist Napier Waller, she established a superb Arts and Crafts style home in an area of Melbourne’s Ivanhoe, fittingly called Fairy Hills.

In around 1925, following difficult family circumstances, Christian Waller’s young niece, Klytie Pate, came to live with the Wallers under their guardianship. As Pate’s maternal figure from a formative age, Christian Waller was an influential force in Pate’s life, directing her notable artistic talent into formal studies and guiding her early career. Klytie Pate mastered her chosen craft of ceramic art, forging innovations in design and glazing to become one of Australia’s foremost studio potters of the twentieth century. Her aunt’s influence, in design and in subjects, can be seen throughout Pate’s oeuvre – a career that spanned more than sixty years.

Karen Quinlan, Director of Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the work Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills by Napier Waller, 1932

 

Napier Waller (Australian, 1893-1972) 'Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills' 1932

 

Napier Waller (Australian, 1893-1972)
Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills
1932
Oil and tempera on canvas mounted on composition board
121.5 x 205.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1984

 

Napier Waller (Australian, 1893-1972) 'Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills' 1932 (detail)

 

Napier Waller (Australian, 1893-1972)
Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills (detail)
1932
Oil and tempera on canvas mounted on composition board
121.5 x 205.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1984

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954) 'Ex Libris: Klytie' c. 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Ex Libris: Klytie
c. 1932
Linocut
13.6 x 7.8 cm
Irreg. (block) 15.4 x 9.5 cm irreg. (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Ms Klytie Pate, Member, 1999

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'Untitled (Thomas and the Persian)' 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Untitled (Thomas and the Persian)
1932
Paper lithograph, printed in black ink, from one zinc plate
22.8 x 17.4 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1979

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the 7 linocuts from the The Great Breath: A book of seven designs by Christian Waller, 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954) 'The Lords of Venus' from 'The Great Breath: A book of seven designs' 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The Lords of Venus from The Great Breath: A book of seven designs
1932
Linocut 31.8 x 13.5 cm (block)
35.3 x 16.6 cm irreg. (sheet)
Bendigo Art Gallery
R.H.S. Abbott Bequest Fund, 1990

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954) 'The Magician of the Beautiful' from 'The Great Breath: A book of seven designs' 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The Magician of the Beautiful from The Great Breath: A book of seven designs
1932
Linocut 31.8 x 13.5 cm (block)
35.3 x 16.6 cm irreg. (sheet)
Bendigo Art Gallery
R.H.S. Abbott Bequest Fund, 1990

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954) 'The Spirit of Light' from 'The Great Breath: A book of seven designs' 1932

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The Spirit of Light from The Great Breath: A book of seven designs
1932
Linocut 31.8 x 13.5 cm (block)
35.3 x 16.6 cm irreg. (sheet)
Bendigo Art Gallery
R.H.S. Abbott Bequest Fund, 1990

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the work The robe of glory by Christian Waller, 1937

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'The robe of glory' 1937

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The robe of glory
1937
Oil on canvas
172.0 x 267.0 cm
Collection of the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'The robe of glory' 1937 (detail)

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
The robe of glory (detail)
1937
Oil on canvas
172.0 x 267.0 cm
Collection of the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'Untitled (Angus Og and Caer Ormaith)' c. 1930s

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
Untitled (Angus Og and Caer Ormaith)
c. 1930s
Stained glass, lead
32 cm diameter
The Hilda Johns Collection on loan from Peter Johns

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the work East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Christian Waller, c. 1940

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon' c. 1940

 

Christian Waller (Australian, 1894-1954)
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
c. 1940
Stained glass window
Beleura House & Garden

 

 

One of Christian’s most impressive windows is also one of her only known secular windows, the baptistery-sized window East of the Sun and West of the Moon. It was made for her friend Tallis, whom she and her husband had met while travelling to London on the boat Otranto in 1929; the then teenager recorded his impressions of the ‘terribly imaginative and emotional’ Christian in his diary, which she illustrated.50 The window is located alongside a collection of Christian’s art and that of her niece at Beleura House & Garden in Mornington, Victoria. The use of pattern, symbols and sinuous line in East of the Sun and West of the Moon owes a stylistic debt to Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen, specifically his work in East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Tales from the North (1914), from which Christian derived the name for the window.51

Extract from Woman of the Sun: Christian Waller by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll

 

Jack Cato (1889-1971) 'Untitled (Christian Waller)' 1930s

 

Jack Cato (1889-1971)
Untitled (Christian Waller)
1930s
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 × 18.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Ms Klytie Pate, Member, 1999

 

Photographer unknown. 'Untitled (Klytie Pate and cat)' c. 1930

 

Photographer unknown
Untitled (Klytie Pate and cat)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Klytie Pate Archive, Shaw Research Library, National Gallery of Victoria

 

Klytie Pate (1912-2010) Studies for the linocut 'Limpang Tung' 1932

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Studies for the linocut Limpang Tung
1932
Pencil
19.9 × 27.0 cm irreg. (image)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by the artist, Member, 1999
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Photographer unknown. 'Untitled (Klytie Pate [centre] at Melbourne Technical College)' early 1930s

 

Photographer unknown
Untitled (Klytie Pate [centre] at Melbourne Technical College)
early 1930s
Gelatin silver photograph courtesy Dr Will Twycross

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Scarab beetle plate' c 1932

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Scarab beetle plate
c 1932
Earthenware
22.0 cm (diameter)
Beleura House & Garden

 

Christian Waller (1894-1954) 'The sun, plaque' 1932

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
The sun, plaque
1932
Earth pigments on plaster, glass, wire
38.5 x 22.8 x 2.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1984
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Youth and girl' c. 1936 (detail)

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Youth and girl (detail)
c. 1936
Brush and ink over pencil
11.9 x 21.0 cm irreg. (image and comp.) 18.5 x 29.3 irreg. (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1981

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Youth and girl' c. 1936

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Youth and girl
c. 1936
Brush and ink over pencil
11.9 x 21.0 cm irreg. (image and comp.) 18.5 x 29.3 irreg. (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1981

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Youth and girl, plaque' 1932-1936

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Youth and girl, plaque
1932-1936
Plaster
31.9 x 55.7 x 2.4 cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from the artist, 1984

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Spirit of the trees (back)
Terracota
Collection John McPhee

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Fauna (right)
1937
wood engraving
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase
1936
Incised and glazed earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase
1936
Incised and glazed earthenware
The Trustees of the Waller Estate, Melbourne

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase
1936
Incised and glazed earthenware
The Trustees of the Waller Estate, Melbourne

 

Klytie Pate (1912-2010) 'Vase' 1936

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase
1936
Earthenware
The Trustees of the Waller Estate, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Bottle-brush, vase
c. 1939
Earthenware
24.6 × 19.4 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council, 1980
© Courtesy of the artist

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Milky Way vase
c. 1956
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Anne Howett Molan, 1984

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Antelope vase
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ceramic vase
1988
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

 

'Bottle-brush, vase' c. 1939

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Bottle-brush, vase
c. 1939
Earthenware
24.6 × 19.4 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council, 1980
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Milky way vase' c. 1956

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Milky way, vase
c. 1956
Earthenware
32.4 × 22.5 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Anne Howett Molan, 1984
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Pate’s work from the late 1930s through to the 1940s indicates a maturing of her personal style and approach. Covered jar of 1939 embodies her deference both to the ginger jar form and the monochrome glaze, elements taken from the Chinese tradition and to which she would continuously return. The ginger jar, with its large globular body, provided the ideal vehicle to showcase her spectacular glazing technique and skilful decorative incising. Pate took a highly experimental approach to glazing, one adopted in the lean years of the Depression, when materials were scarce. (She was known to grind up mosaic tiles from Napier’s commissions to use in her glazes, and on a later occasion, employed sand pocketed during a trip to the Grand Canyon, to glittering effect.) However, the serene sea blue so favoured by Pate, known as ‘Klytie blue’, became a hallmark of her work.49 Pate acquired glazes from a range of sources, including England, with her recipes closely guarded secrets.50 Applied with a spray gun, their successes were garnered through trial and error and a bit of luck in the final firing, after which the kiln was not opened for three days. About the process, she said: ‘The suspense is awful’.51

Both the natural and spiritual worlds provided Pate with a wellspring of imagery and readily translated into designs for the ceramic form. Bottle-brush vase of c. 1939, to which the artist wrote a poetic ode for a competition, takes its motif from the plant Banksia serrata, and is a stunning conceptualisation of subject and form.52 The motif of her namesake and symbol of modern Spiritualism, the sunflower, repeatedly appears, as does the Tudor rose; it is also seen dotted throughout Christian’s work and that of Vienna Secession artist Michael Powolny, to whom Christian is arguably indebted. The Ouija board used as a plinth, and celestially themed works such as Milky Way vase, c. 1956, show that the formative influence of her spiritualist aunt continued as a tangible presence.53

Animals, often her adored cats, commonly appear in both incised frieze-like filigree decorations and in sculptural form. Material collected and kept by Pate indicates her admiration for the animal works of the late nineteenth-century Italian sculptor, Rembrandt Bugatti, as well as Sumerian animal sculpture from Ur.54 Dragons, gryphons and more earthly, but no less bizarre, sea creatures are favoured motifs for both non-functional and functional ceramic forms. Theatre and music are also recurring themes: Pate fondly recalls Christian taking her to piano recitals at Melbourne Town Hall in the 1930s.55 The pianist Roy Shepherd became a close friend and urged Pate to design pots for particular records. Mahler, Monteverdi, Chopin and Debussy were amongst her favourite composers.56

Pate remained true to the earthenware tradition, despite the proliferation of stoneware in the 1950s, which was ushered in by the ready availability of higher temperature kilns and a shift towards the utilitarian simplicity espoused by influential British studio potter Bernard Leach. In the first of many subsequent trips abroad, Pate took extended leave in 1951, travelling to Britain with Bill aboard the Otranto. It was the same elegant passenger ship that Christian and Napier had taken to the UK twenty one years earlier, a trip during which they had made the acquaintance of the young composer, John (Jack) Tallis. The trip was the foundation of a lifelong friendship between Tallis and the Wallers.57 Tallis later became a significant supporter of Pate’s work and also the final owner of Beleura, the splendid mansion on the Mornington Peninsula, built in 1863 by Scottish immigrant James Butchart. Tallis bequeathed Beleura to the people of Victoria in 1996 as a memorial to his late father, Sir George Tallis, the well-known theatre entrepreneur and head of J.C. Williamson Ltd. Several works by Christian Waller adorn Beleura, which now operates as a house museum, including the wonderful stained glass window, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, in what was Tallis’s bedroom. The Klytie Pate ceramics that Tallis collected over the years became the nucleus of the largest collection of her work in any museum. Anthony Knight, Director of Beleura and one of the trustees of the Tallis Foundation, has considerably expanded Beleura’s collection of Pate’s work. In 2015, Dr Will Twycross, whose parents had been lifelong friends of the Pates, donated significant pieces from their collection to Beleura. The Twycross family also contributed to the construction of the Klytie Pate Treasury to ensure the ongoing display, preservation and enjoyment of her work.

Extract from Daughter of the Sun: Klytie Pate by Emma Busowsky Cox

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Lidded jar (Tragedy and Comedy)
c. 1943
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Display plate
Nd
Earthenware with wax resist glaze
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Incised ginger jar
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Incised urn-shaped vase with carved seahorse lugs (flying fish motif)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Incised urn-shaped vase with carved seahorse lugs (flying fish motif)' Date unknown

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Incised urn-shaped vase with carved seahorse lugs (flying fish motif)
Date unknown
Earthenware with biscuit glaze
36.5 x 25.5 cm
Beleura House & Garden

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase (ovoid shape with rimmed neck) (left)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Sunflower plate (front)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Lidded jar (sunflower buds) (middle)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Covered jar (right)
c. 1943
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Covered jar' c. 1943

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Covered jar
c. 1943
Earthenware
23.2 × 24.2 cm diameter (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1977
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Covered jar' c. 1943 (detail)

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Covered jar (detail)
c. 1943
Earthenware
23.2 × 24.2 cm diameter (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1977
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Lidded jar' (sunflower buds) Date unknown

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Lidded jar (sunflower buds)
Date unknown
Glazed earthenware, incised
Beleura House & Garden

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Lidded jar' (sunflower buds) Date unknown (detail)

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Lidded jar (sunflower buds) (detail)
Date unknown
Glazed earthenware, incised
Beleura House & Garden

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Covered jar
1971
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Anne Howett Molan through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2009

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ginger jar
1981
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Zodiac plates (from a suite)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ginger jar (music)
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Lidded bottle
1981
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Urn
Nd
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ginger jar
1977
Terracota
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ginger jar
Nd (late 1970s)
Terracota
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Bowl
Nd (late 1970s)
Terracota
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Candleholder (central cross design)
Nd (late 1970s)
Terracota
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Candleholder (filigree design)
1979
Terracota
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection at Beleura, Mornington

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Ginger jar' Date unknown

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Ginger jar
Date unknown
Terracotta, turquoise glaze
Beleura House & Garden

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Large pierced ginger jar (woven waterlily motif)' 1950

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Large pierced ginger jar (woven waterlily motif)
1950
Glazed earthenware
51 x 28 cm
Beleura House & Garden

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Magnificent cat (left)
1980
Earthenware

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Candlestick holder (filigree pheasant motif) (right)
1979
Earthenware
Bendigo Art Gallery
Purchased with a gift from the Bendigo Rotary Club and the assistance of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council, 1982

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Magnificent cat' 1980

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Magnificent cat
1980
Earthenware
Beleura House & Garden

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010) 'Magnificent cat' 1980 (detail)

 

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Magnificent cat (detail)
1980
Earthenware
Beleura House & Garden

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Vase (Mask of Venus)
Vase (Apollo)
1991
Earthenware
On loan courtesy of the Klytie Pate Collection, Beleura, Mornington

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Daughters of the Sun' at Bendigo Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Daughters of the Sun showing the ceramics of Klytie Pate

Klytie Pate (Australian, 1912-2010)
Covered jar
1999
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View Street Bendigo
Victoria Australia 3550
Phone: 03 5434 6088

Opening hours:
Open daily including public holidays (closed Christmas Day), 10am – 5pm

Bendigo Art Gallery website

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26
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Structured Vision: The Photographs of Ralston Crawford’ at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2018 – 7th April 2019

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Unloading the Cargo' c. 1942

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Unloading the Cargo
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
4 1/2 × 7 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

 

Fascinated as he was “by the purified geometry of man-made things,” the best of these photographs from Ralston Crawford evidence a disciplined eye in the quest to portray a structured vision of the industrial world. While photographically there is nothing ground breaking here, these are strong images of abstract spaces – “precise and geometric, emphasising bold, simple forms.” What is of more interest is how “he applied a painter’s eye to the challenge of making interesting photographs.”

It is still amazing to me to think that anyone can just pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer, especially in today’s media saturated environment where everyone has a camera attached to their phone. You wouldn’t think of calling yourself a painter without years of experimentation and exploration of the medium and it’s abilities. And the same applies to being a photographic artist. To me, being an image maker takes years of looking, of understanding the medium, its history and its abilities, the construction of the picture plane, the light, the physicality of the print, the aura of the object.

Are these photographs well seen, framed and printed? Yes.

Are they memorable? Do they impinge on the consciousness like great photographs do and take you to a different plane of existence? No they don’t.

These are experiments, sketches, in light and form, static in their painting, immobile in their resilience.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to The Nelson-Atkins 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.

 

Fascinated by the purified geometry of man-made things, Ralston Crawford (1906-1978) worked in a consistently formal, or abstract, manner across a variety of mediums. His photographs provide an essential look at a vital era of abstraction in American art, and at the cultural scenes and subjects from which that creative sensibility arose.

Crawford used the camera as a tool of both documentary and artistic expression. Some photographs served as studies for later paintings or prints. Most, however, were created and appreciated purely as photographs. His subjects ranged from urban and industrial themes to ships and sailing, jazz, the people and culture of New Orleans, bullfighting and religious processions in Spain, and the destructive power of the atomic bomb.

 

 

 

Structured Vision: The Photographs of Ralston Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Dock Workers' 1938

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Dock Workers
1938
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 15/16 inches
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Grain Elevators, Buffalo' c. 1942

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Grain Elevators, Buffalo
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
6 5/16 × 9 1/2 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Fishing Boat Stern Rigging' 1971

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Fishing Boat Stern Rigging
1971
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 × 13 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Staging Area, Coulee Dam' 1972

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Staging Area, Coulee Dam
1972
Gelatin silver print
13 × 19 1/8 inches
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Grain Elevators with Shadows' c. 1942

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Grain Elevators with Shadows
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 7 3/16 inches
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Flower Vases on Tomb, New Orleans' c. 1959

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Flower Vases on Tomb, New Orleans
c. 1959
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 13/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Third Avenue Elevated' 1948

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Third Avenue Elevated
1948
Gelatin silver print
13 7/16 × 9 1/16 inches
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Door with Striped Pole and Striped Wall, New Orleans' 1967

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Door with Striped Pole and Striped Wall, New Orleans
1967
Gelatin silver print
13 5/16 × 8 15/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

 

Ralston Crawford, who celebrated the modern American industrial landscape in a precisionist style and captured the vitality of New Orleans jazz culture, is the subject of a photography exhibition opening at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Oct. 26 through April 7, 2019. Structured Vision: The Photographs of Ralston Crawford, showcases the museum’s deep holdings of his work.

“Ralston Crawford’s photographs have a profound energy,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO and Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Throughout his career he juxtaposed creation and destruction, form and chaos. His body of work is wonderfully varied and reflects how complicated and rich one artistic sensibility can be.”

George Ralston Crawford (1906-1978) was born in Canada but grew up in Buffalo, New York, where his interest in docks, shipyards, bridges, and grain elevators blossomed. He was a sailor as a young adult and began studying art in the late 1920s, painting characteristically American subjects such as highways, bridges, and machines. His work was precise and geometric, emphasising bold, simple forms.

“Ralston Crawford is an important artist in the Nelson-Atkins collection because he applied a painter’s eye to the challenge of making interesting photographs,” said Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography. “There is enormous variety in his work, from industrial subjects to street life and cemeteries of New Orleans. Some of his pictures are about pure geometry; others celebrate the improvisational vitality of everyday life. Ultimately, all of Crawford’s work is about the interrelationship of structure and change.”

Crawford worked actively from the 1930s through the 1970s. He absorbed and expressed the basic energies of the mid-twentieth century, from the era’s industrial might to the destructive power of war and the atomic bomb. He celebrated the most basic of forces: creation, decay, time, and change. He travelled extensively throughout his life to paint, produce lithographs, take photographs, and teach. In addition to key gifts from the Hall Family Foundation, the artist’s son, Neelon Crawford, was instrumental in increasing the Nelson-Atkins’s holdings of his father’s photographs.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new book, The Photographs of Ralston Crawford, written by Davis, providing a fresh, comprehensive look at Crawford’s photographs from 1938 through the mid-1970s, including both well-known works and previously unpublished images. This volume, published by Yale University Press, is distributed for the Hall Family Foundation in association with the Nelson-Atkins.

Press release from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'John "Papa" Joseph, Outside Barbershop, New Orleans' 1958

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
John “Papa” Joseph, Outside Barbershop, New Orleans
1958
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Emile Barnes's Louisiana Joymakers' 1950

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Emile Barnes’s Louisiana Joymakers
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 × 9 1/2 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Dancer and Meyer Kennedy at the Caravan Club, New Orleans' 1953

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Dancer and Meyer Kennedy at the Caravan Club, New Orleans
1953
Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 × 7 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Tuxedo Brass Band, New Orleans' 1959

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Tuxedo Brass Band, New Orleans
1959
Gelatin silver print
6 7/16 × 9 1/2 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Women in Sunday School Parade, New Orleans' 1958

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Women in Sunday School Parade, New Orleans
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 3/16 × 9 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Bow and Rope' 1972

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Bow and Rope
1972
Gelatin silver print
11 3/16 × 16 5/8 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Holy Week, Seville, Spain' 1972

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Holy Week, Seville, Spain
1972
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 × 9 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Duluth Rail Yard Scrap' 1961

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Duluth Rail Yard Scrap
1961
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 16 1/8 inches
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Duluth Rail Yard Scrap' 1961

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Duluth Rail Yard Scrap
1961
Gelatin silver print
12 1/16 × 16 9/16 inches
Gift of Neelon Crawford

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978) 'Duluth' 1961

 

Ralston Crawford (American 1906-1978)
Duluth
1961
Gelatin silver print
13 1/8 × 16 1/2 inches
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Wednesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday-Friday 10 am – 9 pm
Saturday 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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20
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Matthias Bruggmann. An Act of Unspeakable Violence’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2018 – 27th January 2019

Curator: Lydia Dorner, Curator Assistant, Musée de l’Elysée

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Marmarita, Reef Homes, September 11 2013'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Marmarita, Reef Homes, September 11 2013
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“The swimming pool at Al-Khair Hotel, above Marmarita. A number of the young men are from the Christian militia that protects Marmarita and helps besiege both the Krak des Chevaliers and al Husn, the Sunni village built around it. The Krak fell to the Syrian army in March 2014. Reuters, quoting Lebanese medical sources, reported that over forty of the opposition fighters fleeing the area were wounded in an ambush on the way out, with eight dead.”

 

 

These magnificent, thought provoking photographs by Swiss photographer Matthias Bruggmann take a critical look at the representation of the atrocities of war. The photographs won the Prix Elysée in 2017, awarded by the Musée de l’Elysée.

The photographs picture everyday life in what Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam has so aptly referred to as the “majority world” – that is, they attend to issues of critical importance in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Oceania… not Europe or America. They shine a light on the conflict that is taking place in Syria and the surrounding geographical area by offering an outsiders perspective, much as Robert Frank offered an outsiders perspective on American society as he travelled through the USA, the resultant photographs leading to the production of his famous book The Americans.

But here the stakes are much higher. Here, life hangs in the balance. The little girl with the blond hair balances on her father’s shoulders; a man in silhouette peers through his night scope while the stars of the cosmos hang in the night sky behind; a man fires his machine pistol by holding it above his head, his comrades sheltering behind rocks; while a young man sits on his haunches, hunched over, blindfolded, bruised and in handcuffs. Awaiting some unknown fate.

One image among these formal, classical photographs (a body of work which crosses over from photojournalism to contemporary artistic photography) is particularly disturbing. On the road, Iraq, September 24 2016 (below) shows a group of men much like the groups of men that can be seen in Baroque painting. One man addresses the viewer holding a mobile phone, his face a skeleton, mask; another four men hold mobile phones in various attitudes, recording the scene or looking into them; the man at left, with a gun thrusting down his leg, walks into the scene, while the one behind walks out of scene, left; in the distance at right, a machine gun is mounted on a tripod, with man walking out of scene, right; while at centre right a group of four men, one with a Union Jack flag on the crutch of his trousers (?!), gaze down at a recumbent figure, a figure that you don’t initially see when looking at the photograph, for every man is standing but for the blood soaked figure of death.

The photograph highlights the barrenness of the landscape and the symbolical values embedded in the scene (masculinity, war, guns, flags, mobile phones, bodies, attitudes, death), clues in a charade which the spectator solves volens nolens – unwilling (or) willing: like it or not. The truth is yelled at you, if you know how to interpret the symbols.

It’s the mundanity evidenced in most of these mise en scène that gets you in the guts, that stirs up my anger and feelings of sadness and regret. I am so over ugly, male energy, from whichever side, from wherever – used in the name of religion, nationalism, power and control – to rule the life of others. These photographs are like a sad lament, a prayer offered up to the human race to ask deliverance from distress, suffering, and pain. Indifference to the pain and suffering of others should not be an option, for “in difference”, “we look with respect to another culture or another people.” (Mr Massarwe)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, February 20, 2013'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, February 20, 2013
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

“Two men mourn their brother who died decapitated by a regime shell. The fear of bombings was such that families stopped organising large funerals.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'On the road Iraq September 24 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
On the road, Iraq, September 24 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“Using toilet cleaner and a dental probe, middlemen clean ancient coins. Coins and other antiquities are exported throughout the region, mostly to Turkey, but also Lebanon and, in some cases, Jordan, from where silver shekels then make their way to the Jerusalem souvenir industry. The trickiest part is faking provenance so that the antiquities can enter the highly lucrative Western market – dealers in neighbouring countries would take a fifty percent cut on the sale for the procurement. The asking price for a Byzantine mosaic measuring around two square meters was between 1,500 and 2,000 dollars and smuggling it out to a neighbouring country cost around 4,000 dollars at that point. Many of the deals were carried out over WhatsApp, and Syrians were often double-crossed by unscrupulous foreign dealers. One of the men in this photograph later complained that a North American dealer had cost him a small fortune when he refused to pay up his share.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Reef Idlib, 3 May 2014 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann Talmenes. 'Reef Idlib 1 mai 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Talmenes Reef Idlib 1 mai 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

“The remains of a barrel of chlorine (Cl₂) that was dropped on a house from a helicopter. This is one of the hundred or so documented attacks using chemical agents that happened before and after the 2013 Ghouta bombings in Damascus that the United States estimates killed 1,429. The Syrian government was the only warring faction to have access to airpower, therefore it is unthinkable that anyone else dropped this barrel. A man who refused to give his name, presenting himself as the owner of the house and the father of two of the children killed in the bombing, explained that he was an employee of a government-run granary. When he went back to work, he said, men came and offered him to interview him on an official TV channel to say that Jabhat al-Nusra had dropped the bomb. He added that the men offered to give him money to rebuild his house in exchange. This attack, which killed 3 and wounded over 130, was extensively documented, both by Human Rights Watch and by Christoph Reuter in Germany’s Der Spiegel. As of mid-2018, the Syrian Archive also held over a dozen videos of the attack and its aftermath.”

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Kafr Souseh, Damascus, 5 May 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Kafr Souseh, Damascus, 5 May 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Desert, 20 September 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Desert, 20 September 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Desert, 20 September 2016' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Desert, 20 September 2016 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shinshirah, Reef Idlib, 19 May 2014 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

Matthias Bruggmann is the winner of the second edition of the Prix Elysée, with the support of Parmigiani Fleurier, for his project on Syria. Hoping to “bring, to Western viewers, a visceral comprehension of the intangible violence that underlies conflict”, he takes the gamble of hiding nothing in his explicit and brutal pictures. Taken in the field, they force the viewer to slow down and take stock of the war – geographically distant, admittedly, but made omnipresent by the media.

If the tens of thousands of pictures of torture taken by Syrian photographers do not attract the attention of a Western audience, what can a foreigner who doesn’t even speak Arabic hope to accomplish? The photographs of Matthias Bruggmann take a critical look at the representation of the atrocities of war. They give Westerners a more nuanced picture of the reality of an armed conflict and blur the boundaries between photojournalism and contemporary artistic photography.

Launched in 2012, his project plunges us into the complexity of the conflict. His images, which cover a geographic zone larger than Syria, question our moral assumptions and bring about a better understanding of the violence underlying this conflict.

Matthias Bruggmann explains: “Formally, my previous work put viewers in a position where they were asked to decide the nature of the work itself. A scientifically questionable analogy of this mechanism would be the observer effect in quantum physics, where the act of observing changes the nature of what is being observed. My Syrian work builds on this framework. From a documentation perspective, it is, thus far and to the best of my knowledge, unique as the work, inside Syria, of a single Western photographer, in large part thanks to the assistance and hard work of some of the best independent experts on the conflict. Because of the nature of this conflict, I believe it is necessary to expand the geographical scope of the work. At its core is an attempt at generating a sense of moral ambiguity. The design of this is to make viewers uneasy by challenging their own moral assumptions and, thus, attempt to bring, to Western viewers, a visceral comprehension of the intangible violence that underlies conflict. One of the means is by perverting the codes normally used in documentary photography to enhance identification with the subject.”

 

Biography

Matthias Bruggmann is a Swiss photographer who was born in Aixen-Provence in 1978. For the past 15 years, his work has focused on the different war zones throughout the world. After graduating from the Vevey School of Photography in 2003, he became interested very early on in the complexity of his profession in times of war. At the beginning of the 2000s, he accompanied the photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil, who covered the invasion of Iraq. This first experience provided him with the opportunity to explore the complex link between photojournalism and reality – what is actually grasped or described. Since that time, his personal projects have taken him to Egypt, Haiti, Libya and Somalia.

Matthias Bruggmann’s work was featured in the exhibition reGeneration: 50 photographers of tomorrow, organised by the Musée de l’Elysée in 2005, and he was part of the curatorial team for We Are All Photographers Now! presented at the museum in 2007. He is also one of the cofounders of the contemporary art space, Standard/Deluxe, in Lausanne. His photographs have been published in countless newspapers and magazines, including Le Monde, The Sunday Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic.

His work is included in a number of private collections, as well as the public collections of the Frac Midi-Pyrénées and the Musée de l’Elysée. His project on Syria received the Prix Elysée in 2017, awarded by the Musée de l’Elysée with the support of Parmigiani Fleurier. He is represented by the Contact Press Images agency and by the Galerie Polaris in Paris.

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, 22 September 2016 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Ghazi Ayaash, Deir ez-Zor, May 25, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Ghazi Ayaash, Deir ez-Zor, May 25, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Rabiah, Reef Hama, April 23, 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Rabiah, Reef Hama, April 23, 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Hadar, Reef Quneitra, August 7, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Hadar, Reef Quneitra, August 7, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

At the northern frontline between the Druze fighters and Jabhat al-Nusra, the older fighters teach the younger ones how to fight. Some of the fighters were in the security services, and either retired, or went absent without leave to defend their village.

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

Syria, 2012. In the old town of Homs, a group of fighters and activists meet to stage an allegorical piece written by one of them, who was, in his life, before the revolution, a known writer. In this piece, a lion (or assad, in Arabic …) has lost his voice, and mistreats the other animals to try to find it. The street next door is one of the most dangerous in the city, because it is the corner of government shooters.

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012' (detail)

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Bab Hud, Homs, May 26, 2012 (detail)
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Industrial City, Deir ez-Zor, May 5, 2015'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Industrial City, Deir ez-Zor, May 5, 2015
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

Matthias Bruggmann. 'Shirqat, Iraq, September 22, 2016'

 

Matthias Bruggmann
Shirqat, Iraq, September 22, 2016
© Matthias Bruggmann / Contact Press Images
Courtesy Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne and Galerie Polaris, Paris

 

 

The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
Phone: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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13
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘August Sander – Masterpieces: Photographs from “People of the 20th century”‘ at Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2018 – 27th January 2019

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Three Generations of the Family' 1912

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Three Generations of the Family
1912
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018; Dauerleihgabe / Permanent Loan, Stadt Herdorf

 

 

A wonderful posting of photographs by this master photographer, including numerous images (Young Mother, Middle-class; Middle-class Children; Peddler; Girl in Fairground Caravan; “Test your Strength” Showman; Workmen in the Ruhr Region) I have never seen before.

What can you say about the work of this legend of photography that has not been said before, by so many people, in so many words. Therefore I will not be verbose but just note a few impressions.

How did Sander get these people to pose for him in this direct, open way? There is no affectation, no histrionics, the sitters (whether outside en plein air or inside against a ubiquitous plain wall / blank canvas) gaze directly, steadfastly, into his camera lens – quite pre/posed, quietly proposed and confident of their own identity and image. The peddler with his box of wares, the café waitress with her tray of tea and milk, the pastry chef with his bowl, or the showman whose gnarled and dirty hand clasps a cigar.

The “presence” and aura of these people is incredible. You can ascribe this presence to modernism and New Objectivity (a sharply focused, documentary quality to the photographic art) that sought to portray the reality of a life but to do so holy to the exclusion of the poetic in Sander’s work would be a mistake. While not self-consciously poetic, Sander’s work still contains elements of the pictorial – for example the painterly quality in his use of depth of field in portrait’s such as that of Painter [Heinrich Hoerle] (where we notice the very small depth of field from the front of the shirt to the back), or the framing of Girl in Fairground Caravan with its notably impressionistic melancholy and longing.

What I am really looking forward to is the book that is being published from this exhibition. As the text on Amazon notes, “A novel feature of this book is that all the reproductions are based on vintage prints produced and authorised by August Sander himself. The croppings and the desired tonal values are authentically rendered here for the first time in the long publication history of Sander’s brilliant portrait work.”

This is as close as you will get in book form to the original printing and tonality of Sander’s work. I am sure the book will become a classic and sell out quickly so get your orders in now for a June 2019 release.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The portrait photographs by August Sander count among the masterworks of their kind. Ever since acquiring the photographer’s estate, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur has been busy cataloguing the Sander archive and has already presented these photographs in several theme-based shows. With “People of the 20th Century,” his most famous photographic compendium, Sander aspired to nothing less than to document the society of his day, based on examples of people pursuing different occupations and from various walks of life. The conceptually planned body of work testifies to the photographer’s acuity of perception and consummate skill at the use of the photographic medium. Over the decades, pictures such as “Young Farmers” (1914) and “Pastry Cook” (1928) have become photographic icons. But August Sander’s portraiture in fact harbours a large number of motifs of remarkable quality. These images provide insights, for example, into the population of the rural Westerwald region, the artist communities in Cologne and Berlin, and city life in general during his era.

In the current exhibition, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur is displaying a representative selection of more then 150 original prints from “People of the 20th Century.” The majority come from the collection’s own holdings, joined by works on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; the Museum Ludwig Cologne/Photography Collection, the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin and private collections. Based on many years of research, the accompanying catalogue traces the genesis of these works in great depth and detail.

Text from the Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur website

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Young Mother, Middle-class' 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Young Mother, Middle-class
1926
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018; Courtesy: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Middle-class Children' 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Middle-class Children
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Farm Children' 1913

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Farm Children
1913
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

 

The current exhibition with over 150 original photographs and numerous showcase material shows a representative cross-section of the project “People of the 20th Century”.

Sanders’ extensive portraiture was aimed at showing a cross-section of the population in which the different occupational and social types, spread over different generations, are reflected – a mirror of the times. In the title Sanders first published book in 1929, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), this intention finds its echo. Both the indirectly expressed face of time and the individual physiognomies were the subject of the photographer’s unbroken attention for decades.

In order to give shape and form to his growing compendium, Sander created a concept in the mid-1920s in which he extensively named the image groups and folders that he had focused on. The groups are called “The Farmer”, “The Craftsman”, “The Woman”, “The Estates”, “The Artists”, “The Big City” and “The Last Man”. The latter perhaps misleading name stands for a series of pictures that very respectfully shows people on the margins of society. Sander’s concept of that time, which proposes a sequence of groups and folders, is also followed by the current exhibition with the inclusion of individual or several representative portfolio prints from the corresponding picture folders.

For the most part, the photographs are taken from the inventory of the August Sander Archive, which was acquired in 1992, which forms the foundation for the further development of the Photographic Collection / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne. Exclusive loans from originals will be consulted, such as the Berlinische Galerie, Museum of Modern Art, Berlin, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Museum Ludwig Köln, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Pinakothek der Moderne. Munich as well as from important private collections.

At Schirmer / Mosel Verlag, the book “August Sander – Masterpieces” was created at the same time as the exhibition in German and English editions. For the first time in the publication history of the photographer, the original prints are reproduced in authentic tonality, as well as in original cut-out reproduction.

Text from the Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur website

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Compère' 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Compère
1930
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'The Dadaist Raoul Hausmann [with Hedwig Mankiewitz and Vera Broïdo]' 1929

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
The Dadaist Raoul Hausmann [with Hedwig Mankiewitz and Vera Broïdo]
1929
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Peddler' 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Peddler
1930
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Young Farmers' 1914

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Young Farmers
1914
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Café Waitress' 1928/29

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Café Waitress
1928/29
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Pastry Cook' 1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Pastry Cook
1928
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

 

The current exhibition, featuring over 150 original photographs and numerous documents shown in display cases, presents a representative cross-section of the “People of the 20th Century” project.

The portraits from August Sander’s epochal work are not only of fundamental importance for the history of photography; they are also highly exciting objects of study – masterpieces for anyone who has an unsentimental, unbiased love of people and life; who likes to ask questions about the past and gather experiences for the future; who has a passion for looking, discovering, fantasising, and analysing:

  • How do the people portrayed appear to us today?
  • How did they spend their lives?
  • What delighted or shocked them?
  • What experiences left a mark on their faces, their hands, their physiognomy?
  • What can they share with us from their own bygone world and times?
  • How did Sander manage to meet and talk to so many different people, and to entice them into posing for a picture?
  • What does the photographic material convey to us today – at a time when hardly any photographs are developed in the darkroom and a kind of magic has thus been lost?
  • What does time and manual craft mean for artistic engagement?

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Viewed together, the people August Sander (1876-1964) depicted in such an objective yet dignified and personal manner unfold a whole cosmos that brings history to life. Looking at Sander’s photographs challenges us to search for similarities, differences, and comparable qualities. They summon memories of accounts from the past, render tangible transformations in people’s living conditions and way of life; we see occupations that have changed, which no longer exist or have been replaced; developments or events in society are made more vivid to us, as are changing pictorial styles and artistic aesthetics.

And yet apart from the referential character of Sander’s photographs, their historical relevance and inspirational force, qualities that have been highlighted by renowned authors such as Walter Benjamin, Alfred Döblin, Golo Mann, and Kurt Tucholsky, the pictures depict very concrete moments and display individually a remarkable degree of aesthetic quality. They compellingly demonstrate Sander’s knack at capturing reality and his eye for composing specific details into lifelike documentary photographs. Being able to experience this quality up close based on August Sander’s original handmade prints is a real privilege and something that can only be made possible on this scale in rare cases due to the conservation requirements of these so-called vintage prints.

August Sander first presented his project “People of the 20th Century” in 1927 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein. He had selected more than 110 prints, a group that, as far as can be reconstructed, largely diverges from the current presentation, let alone the fact that several different prints of individual motifs were and are in circulation. Since Sander developed the project or – as he called it – his cultural work “People of the 20th Century” between circa 1925 and 1955, i.e., over the course of three decades, also incorporating motifs he had produced from 1892 onwards, his stock of original prints and portfolios had grown immensely by the end of his life. Within his archive, this group of works forms a kind of cache from which the photographer drew freely for exhibitions and publications. This was a uniquely innovative approach in his day. Sander’s awareness of the exponential effect of image series as opposed to individual images made him a pioneer of conceptual photography, as did his resolute use of an unmanipulated, factual reproduction of his chosen motifs. His portraits were meant to underline his documentary approach and to do without any artistic embellishments while nonetheless manifesting a fine-tuned and restrained design.

Text from the Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur website

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter [Heinrich Hoerle]' 1928-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter [Heinrich Hoerle]
1928-1932
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018, Courtesy: Privatsammlung / Private Collection, München / Munich

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter [Heinrich Hoerle]' 1928-1932 (detail)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter [Heinrich Hoerle] (detail)
1928-1932
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018, Courtesy: Privatsammlung / Private Collection, München / Munich

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Girl in Fairground Caravan' 1926-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Girl in Fairground Caravan
1926-1932
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018; Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Police Officer' 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Police Officer
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) '"Test your Strength" Showman' 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
“Test your Strength” Showman
1930
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Workmen in the Ruhr Region' c. 1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Workmen in the Ruhr Region
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018; Courtesy: Bayerische Staatgemäldesammlungen: Sammlung Moderne Kunst in der Pinakothek der Moderne, München /nMunich, Sammlung / Collection Lothar Schirmer

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Zirkusartisten' (Circus Artists) 1926-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Zirkusartisten (Circus Artists)
1926-1932
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2014

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Circus Worker' 1926-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Circus Worker
1926-1932
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv; VG Bild-Kunst, 2018

 

 

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06
Jan
19

Exhibition: ‘Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image’ at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2018 – 10th February 2019

Curated by Steven Matijcio

 

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image' 2018

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

“As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say”.”

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Akram Zaatari quoted in Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

 

Alternate readings / elisions / a damaged life

This is the first posting of 2019, a new year, a new year of history, memory and life. And what a cracker of an exhibition to post first up!

I have always admired the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari for the ability of his work to critique the inevitable, referential history of photographs. Anyone who can shine a light on forgotten narratives, histories, contexts and memories, who enlightens the fixed gaze of the camera and the viewer to show the Other, and who empowers the disenfranchised and tells their stories… is excellent in my eyes. For this is what Art Blart has sought to do in the last ten years: build an archive that exposes underrepresented artists and forgotten histories to the world.

Photography, and life, is not all that it seems… and Zaatari implicitly understands the conundrums of the taking, viewing and collecting of photographs in archives. He understands the physical quality of the medium (the presence of the negative, the glass slide, the print and their manipulation by the photographer) as well as the truth of the medium, a kind of truth telling – through history, time, the personal and the collective – that obscures as much as it reveals. As his short biography notes, “Akram Zaatari is an artist whose work is tied to collecting and exploring photographic practices in the making of social codes and aesthetic forms. Regarding the present through a wealth of photographic records from the past… Zaatari investigates notions of desire, pursuit, resistance, memory, surveillance, the shifting nature of political borders and the production and circulation of images in times of war.” Indeed, a rich investigative field which Zaatari makes full use of in his work.

Simply put, the project that Zaatari is undertaking is one of archaeological excavation / re-animation of the many aspects of the cultural geography of Lebanon, his role as auteur in this process combining “image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to examine the photographic record, its making, genealogy and the role photography plays in the production and performance of identity.” (Wall text) “I’m really interested in how the personal and the intimate meet history,” Zaatari says. “What I’m doing is to write history, or [fill in] gaps of history, by using photographic documents.”1

Zaatari “deconstructs the archival impunity of photography to cultivate an expanded architecture of interpretation,” (Wall text) exploring the fold as a catalyst, a narrative, a re-organisation, an enduring obfuscation, and the memory of a material. What a photograph missed and what is present; what an archive catalogues and how, and what it misses, elides or denigrates (the classification system of an archive). As Rebecca Close observes, “The question of what an archive of the image fails to commemorate is particularly relevant in a country marred by decades of civil war and invasion.”2

It is also particularly relevant in a country (and a world) where men are in control. Zaatari interrogates (if I may use that pertinent word) the partitioning of history (between Palestine and Israel), the poses of decorum between male and female, the power of men in marriage, the stigma of homosexuality, male normativity, and “Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule…” (Steven Matijcio) The centre cannot hold the weight of these hidden his/stories, as invisible “non-collections” (E. Edwards) in institutions are opened up for critical examination. The damage that accrues through such obfuscation, through such wilful blindness to the stories embedded in photographs is boundless.

What we must remember is that, “photography always lies for the photograph only depicts one version of reality, one version of a truth depending on what the camera is pointed at, what it excludes, who is pointing the camera and for what reasons, the context of the event or person being photographed (which is fluid from moment to moment) and the place and reason for displaying the photograph. In other words all photographs are, by the very nature, transgressive because they have only one visual perspective, only one line of sight – they exclude as much as they document and this exclusion can be seen as a volition (a choice of the photographer) and a violation of a visual ordering of the world (in the sense of the taxonomy of the subject, an upsetting of the normal order or hierarchy of the subject). Of course this line of sight may be interpreted in many ways and photography problematises the notion of a definitive reading of the image due to different contexts and the “possibilities of dislocation in time and space.” As Brian Wallis has observed, “The notion of an autonomous image is a fiction” as the photograph can be displaced from its original context and assimilated into other contexts where they can be exploited to various ends. In a sense this is also a form of autonomy because a photograph can be assimilated into an infinite number of contexts. “This de and re-contextualisation is itself transgressive of any “integrity” the photograph itself may have as a contextualised artefact.” As John Schwartz has insightfully noted, “[Photographs] carry important social consequences and that the facts they transmit in visual form must be understood in social space and real time,” “facts” that are constructions of reality that are interpreted differently by each viewer in each context of viewing.”3

I have no problem with the ethics and politics of the use of photo archives by contemporary artists and the appropriation of archival images as a form of “ironic archivization” to open up new critical insights into culture, and the culture of making, reading and archiving photographs. Zaatari appropriates these images for his own concerns to shine a light on what I call “the space between.” His interdisciplinary practice mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. As he observes of his profound and sensitive work, “Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” With this powerhouse of an artist, these histories will not remain hidden for long.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Venema, Vibeke . “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  2. Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108
  3. Bunyan, Marcus. “Transgressive Topographies, Subversive Photographies, Cultural Policies,” on Art Blart, October 2013 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

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Many thankx to Akram Zaatari and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Acclaimed Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari combines the roles of image-maker, archivist, curator, filmmaker and critical theorist to explore the role photography plays in both instituting and fabricating identity. He is also co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (AIF), an organisation established in Beirut to preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today. Within this endeavour Zaatari discovered the photographs of Hashem El Madani (1928-2017), who recorded the lives of everyday individuals inside and outside his humble studio in the late 1940s and 50s. Zaatari recontextualises this work, along with other archival photos and documents, in an interdisciplinary practice that mines the history of the image while simultaneously expanding its legacy and life. His work is both for and against photography, and the complex histories it cobbles.

For this exhibition he positions the seemingly simple fold as a narrative form, a reorganisation, an enduring obfuscation and the memory of material. In his words, “a photograph captures space and folds it into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others, covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others… What a photograph missed and what was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.” The work on display will attempt to uncover and imagine these stories, undertaking a provocative archaeology that peers into the fissures, scratches, erosion and that which archives previously shed.

Presented in partnership with FotoFocus Biennial 2018. Text from the Contemporary Arts Center website

 

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portrait of an anonymous woman
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negative from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend' 2012

 

Akram Zaatari
Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend
2012
Made from 35mm scratched negatives from the Hashem el Madani archive
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Hands at Rest' (video still) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Hands at Rest (video stills)
2017
SD Video / Running time: 7:30
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

This film is a meditative study of a  selection of studio photographs culled from Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani’s archives. In response to Madani’s maxim that “posing one’s hands on a flat surface such as a table, or a shoulder helps to straighten one’s shoulders,” Zaatari looks closely from one hand to the next, creating a portrait of Lebanese society that implicitly questions the politics embedded in poses of propriety and decorum. Fingers fitted with rings and bodies displaying the comfort and composure of a certain class are juxtaposed with others indicative of manual labor and untrained modelling. The slow, but precise inventory of the video, devoted to the most tactile limb in one’s body, also elicits the ever-present sensuality which circulates throughout Madani’s photographs. (Wall text)

 

Akram Zaatari. Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani From Akram Zaatari's 'Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices' 2014

 

Akram Zaatari
Najm (left) and Asmar (right) 1950-1959, Lebanon, Saida. Hashem el Madani
From Akram Zaatari’s Objects of Study/The archive of Studio Shehrazade/Hashem el Madani/Studio Practices
2014
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
© A. Zaatari/Arab Image Foundation
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Zaatari says that was normal in the 1950s. “If you had your picture taken you would seize the opportunity to create something different of yourself,” he says. “They wanted to look at themselves as if they were looking at an actor in a film.” It was fun.

Movies were a great source of inspiration for Madani’s sitters. This included acting out a kiss – but only men kissing men and women kissing women. “In a conservative society such as Saida, people were willing to play the kiss between two people of the same sex, but very rarely between a man and a woman,” Madani told Zaatari. He remembers that happening only once.

“If you look at it today you think – is it gay culture? But in fact it is not,” says Zaatari. Social restrictions were different then. “If you wanted to kiss it had to be a same-sex kiss to be accepted.”

Men showed off their photos, but for women a picture was considered intimate and would only be shared with a trusted few. Madani had purposely found a studio space on the first floor, so that women could visit discreetly – seen entering at street level, their destination would not be obvious. Once inside, they could relax – but it did not always end well.

Extract from Vibeke Venema. “Zaatari and Madani: Guns, flared trousers and same-sex kisses,” on the BBC News Magazine website 17 February 2014 [Online] Cited 07/12/2108

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing From Left To Right: Hassan El Aakkad, Munir El Dada And Mahmoud El Dimassy In Saida, 1948
2011
C-print
145 x 220cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny

For the first time in its 127-year history, the American Psychological Association has issued guidelines to help psychologists specifically address the issues of men and boys – and the 36-page document features a warning.

“Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behaviour, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health,” the report warns.

The new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” defines “masculinity ideology” as “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” The report also links this ideology to homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.

The new guidelines, highlighted in this month’s issue of Monitor on Psychology, which is published by the APA, linked this ideology to a series of stark statistics: Men commit approximately 90 percent of all homicides in the U.S., they are far more likely than women to be arrested and charged with intimate partner violence in the U.S., and they are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide. …

The report addresses the “power” and “privilege” that males have when compared to their female counterparts, but it notes that this privilege can be a psychological double-edged sword.

“Men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege,” the guidelines state. “Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.”

Extract from Tim Fitzsimons. “American Psychological Association links ‘masculinity ideology’ to homophobia, misogyny,” on the NBC News website [Online] Cited 10/01/2019

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948' 2007

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders, Printed From A Damaged Negative Showing Hassan El Aakkad In Saida, 1948
2007
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
Ed 5 + 2AP
220 x 145cm
© Akram Zaatari

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative' 2011

 

Akram Zaatari
Bodybuilders Printed From A Damaged Negative
2011
C-print
220 x 145cm
Ed 5 + 2AP
© Akram Zaatari

 

 

The Fold

The fold is the pleat that results from turning or bending part of material against another such as in textile, paper or even earth strata. The fold is the trace that such an action leaves on material, the crease that marks the location of turning and pressing.

Inherent in the action of folding, is that material is turned or moved in three dimensions hence engages with space. Folding is the basic and simplest step in creating form or enclosure. It confines space within folds. It covers parts with other parts. Folding is editing. It is a construction that does not look like its original form.

Unfolding is undoing, deconstructing, turning material back to its initial form. The creases in an unfolded material inscribe its history and in a way save it from amnesia. History inscribes itself on material in creases and in other forms. When unfolded, material testifies that history has already found its way to it, through the fold.

The fold is the memory of material.

When the fold is intentional, it aims to reorganise material to reduce its volume, to create form, or confine space. When accidental or natural such as in geology, or due to ageing organic matter, the fold is a permanent deformation of matter the form of which remains little predictable.

When intentional, the fold is a creative action, like folding a paper sheet into a paper airplane or an origami, like folding several sheets into a book, or a sheet of cardboard into a box or even folding clothes to reduce their volume and store them on a shelf or in a box of specific dimensions.

The fold is a narrative form.

In a way every photograph is an exposure of a field of vision, of something somewhere. Like folding confines space, a photograph captures space and folds into a flat image, turning parts of a scene against others covering them entirely. Every photograph hides parts to reveal others. Every photograph reproduces in small what’s much larger in life, or brings close an image of somewhere far and out of sight. The impact of a fold in a photographed space is permanent, in the sense that hidden parts in a picture are irretrievable. What a photograph missed and that was present at the time of exposure will remain inaccessible. In those folds lies a history, many histories.

The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds. It is an element through which the initial construction of a photograph, its making, is undone. It is an element that bears the history of a photograph, its memory.

The fold in time is the representation of time shortened, like in literature, in illustration or typically in film. The fold in time is the ellipsis. The fold within a narrative is the jump-cut or the jump in time. The fold acknowledges the existence of hidden narratives covered by others. In a film, the cut is the fold.

Akram Zaatari

 

General installation views

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation views, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Left
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Cairo, Egypt 1940s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Alban
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

A negative for photography is equivalent to an engraved zinc plate for traditional print-making. Not only does it allow for the reproduction of the image or print but it itself carrier traces of the tricks the photographer has used while making a picture. As such, photographers did not want their negatives to be displayed because they often carried details the studio might not want to share with the public. The portrait of a baby was made by the Cairo based photographer Alban in the 1940s. Access to the negative tells us that the baby was held by his mother and that she was later withdrawn from the picture (Wall text)

 

Right
Akram Zaatari
[Unlabelled]
Tripoli, Lebanon 1980s
Inkjet print of gelatin silver negative on cellulose acetate film
Photographer: Joseph Avedissian
Collection: Joseph Avedissian
Courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation

 

At at time when going to a photography studio was the only way for people to be photographed for ID or other official purposes, these spaces were shared by a wide spectrum of society. During the Lebanese civil war, they were sometimes employed by opposing militias and certainly by civilians as well. Joseph Avedissian set up his first studio in the late 1950s in al Tell in Tripoli, North Lebanon. Like most inner cities during the civil war in Lebanon, al Tell was the playground of numerous militias ranging from the different Palestinian factions and the Syrian army extending to the Al Tawheed Islamic group in the 1980s. Zaatari visited Avedissian’s with the photographer Randa Saath in 2002. Thousands of negative sheets covered the floor, from where he picked up this sheet that represents one member of the local militia posing with his machine gun. Because of poor preservation, however, a patch of emulsion coming from another exposed negative was accidentally bound to it depicting a woman. The result is an uneasy co-habitation in the shared frame. (Wall text)

 

The End of Love

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari

The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'The End of Love' 2013 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
The End of Love (installation view detail)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Every photograph hides parts to reveal others…

.
Akram Zaatari

 

 

Desire for the archive as an unassailable repository of documents, testimony and truth seems to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, the more imminent reality that there is no singular history on which all peoples can agree. And while the “post-truth” era feels pandemic in North America, in other parts of the world this is an all too familiar paradigm where the manipulation of the past is a customary practice to administer the present, and influence the future. This is especially true of Lebanon, where fifteen years of malignant civil war from 1975-1990 has produced a knotty, contested history riddled with sectarian animosities, institutionalised amnesia, and ubiquitous uncertainty. And yet when nothing is solid, codified or certain, everything becomes possible. Across the Middle East where formal archives remain partial and at risk, an increasing number of artists employ the fragments as fodder for new forms of historical preservation and production. Akram Zaatari (b. 1966 Sidon, Lebanon) is a pioneer within this amorphous terrain, marrying personal experiences of the war, an abiding interest in the vernacular performance of identity via photo and film and a quasi-archaeological treatment of lens-based documents as artefacts. Beyond his individual practice, one of Zaatari’s greatest, most enduring contributions in this field may be the Arab Image Foundation (AIF) – an archival institution he co-founded with photographers Fouad Elkoury and Samer Mahdad in 1997 to self-declaredly “preserve, study and exhibit photographs from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora from the 19th century to today.” And while the AIF has successfully amassed over 600,000 images from multiple countries and eras, Zaatari adamantly refutes the onset of institutionalisation – shunning the paralysing conservation practices of museums and libraries to double down on a more radical, generative employment of these materials. In his hands, this archive moves beyond a delicate commodity to circulate as a mutable constellation that partakes in an expanded field of histories with cumulative socio-cultural cargo. As such, the archive can be seen as both Zaatari’s medium and subject, and the AIF as both his fuel and foil – collecting and re-presenting photos as “a form,” in his words, “of creative un-making and re-writing that is no less important than the act of taking images.” Ensuing questions of authorship and appropriation yield to more multi-faceted strategies of displacement, where the re-framing of photos and films as living, changing vessels unfurls invigorating new layers and folds to mine and forage.

He does so, not as an iconoclast seeking to condemn archives as cogs in the machine of hegemony, but rather as a revitalising gesture that replaces rhetorical manipulations with emancipated re-assignment. For Zaatari, this frisson happens most intriguingly in the seemingly ordinary and banal, in the snapshots and mistakes archives historically diminish, where he argues, “It is a misconception that photographs testify to the course of history. It is history that inhabits photographs.” As such, Zaatari regularly subverts the canonical treatment of photos as evidentiary relics hidden away in cold storage to slow their inherent/inevitable chemical entropy. He instead treats images as susceptible material objects, and one could argue, as surrogates for the subjects and structures they depict. Much like the wrinkles, scars and repressions that the human body + mind collects, Zaatari reads the folds endemic to photography as a palimpsest of information and suggestion. Whether it be a purposeful edit or crop, an aesthetic gesture to redirect our viewing, or the natural degradation of materials over time, he argues that “The fold in a photograph is a detail through which a narrative different from that narrated by the photograph unfolds.” As fertile superstructures that expand the interpretive constitution of said photos, such folds are less obfuscations than nascent fonts for alternative narratives to percolate. “In these folds lies a history…” according to Zaatari, “many histories.” In this inclusive arena, the micro and macro flow into one another as citizen and state intermingle, and one discovers pockets of collective history in the pictures we have of ourselves and one another. These photos and their attendant folds do not float unattached in clouds, but instead coalesce as archives of their making, and lenses to look backward and forward.

In his position that “the traces that transactions leave on a photographic object become part of it,” Zaatari argues that the physical manufacture and decay of a photograph (or film) is as much a contribution to history as that which it depicts. He calls the ensuing composites “informed objects,” which, while partial or possibly broken, highlight the greater whole “like an exploded view of a machine,” or “a model of the human body used in anatomy class.” As a holistic specimen without fixed parameters, “An informed object,” Zaatari elaborates, “is an object that is conscious of the material and processes that produced it, conscious of its provenance, its morphology and displacement over time, conscious of its history in the sense that it is able to communicate it. An informed object is already materialised, activated.” His self-declared “displacement” of these objects is thusly not about post-colonial uprooting, but rather a deeper, wider recognition of the apparatus that informs the production, circulation and reception of such images in, and beyond their respective context/s. In this expanded field, negatives, contact sheets, glass plates, double exposures, mistakes, erosion and all that is habitually left on the cutting room floor are re-valued as revelatory anomalies with “something to say.” Zaatari’s poignant 2017 series A Photographer’s Shadow is a case in point, presenting a number of historical photos where the cameraman’s shadow has infiltrated the composition, which was historically reason to throw the picture away. In Zaatari’s revised appraisal, however, such discards are instead accentuated as elucidating nexus points where author and subject meet within the frame. A diptych of found photos Zaatari premieres in the CAC exhibition thickens this premise even further, displaying a malfunction in the camera of Hashem el Madani (1928-2017) that led to an in-frame doubling of men (presumably father and son) standing upon the rocks of a swelling shoreline. Evoking past hallmarks of romantic painting, a multiplicity gathers with equal muster across this pairing as the images coagulate with the residue and implication of generational, production and art historical lineage. The cresting physicality of this informed object is pushed even further in the 2017 work Against Photography, which removes the image from the equation to instead detail the natural patterns of environmental decay upon a series of 12 photo plates. By extracting the traditional focal point of the photographic process, Zaatari instead surveys iterations of deterioration that take on an uncanny beauty in multiple media – turning the archival chimera of folds and fracture into a verdant topography of patterns, avenues, and stories untold.

The continued consideration of the photograph as a physical entity with corresponding history, memory and lifespan connects to Zaatari’s ongoing exploration of the human body as it is performed for, and by the camera. As an index of experience and identity, the body and its photographic proxy find a surrogate-like relationship in the images he provocatively re-frames – where intimate narratives are gleaned from voluminous collections and otherwise numbing aggregates. And while we are only sometimes privy to the background and/or the names of those photographed, Zaatari is a long-standing student of the ways in which gender, sexuality and taboo are concurrently codified and obscured by indigenous photographic practices. By re-contextualising private photos in a public arena, Zaatari “frequently composes works,” according to Professor Mark Westmoreland, “that force the photographic medium to comment upon social aesthetics that it has been deployed to produce at different historical moments.” A compelling example is found in Zaatari’s 2011 re-presentation of Madani’s timeworn photographs of male bodybuilders performing feats of both physical strength and acrobatic agility in a showcase of masculine prowess. Inferences to homo-eroticism within this display were comparatively forbidden; and, while we must resist the temptation to define historical images through the lens of today, the entropic folds highlighted in Zaatari’s framing of these photos (particularly as diminutive contact sheets) suggests modern cracks in the visual codification of patriarchal rule, male normativity, and the stigma of homosexuality. Like the photographer’s shadow that interrupts the self-contained world of his subjects in Zaatari’s aforementioned work, the humbling eclipse that befalls many an ideology and monument creep over a pantheon of bravado here. The violent exercise of patriarchal custody is on frightening display in Zaatari’s 2012 diptych Damaged Negatives: Scratched Portraits of Mrs. Baqari and her friend, where otherwise benign photographs of two young women are marred by a flurry of black scratches. These disturbing scars are the product of a controlling husband who demanded Madani lacerate the negatives of a portrait session initiated by his wife before they were married. Years later, after Mrs. Baqari burned herself to death to escape his control, the widowed husband came back to Madani’s studio asking for enlargements of these photos. Their display decades later under the auspices of this exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary valence of the fold, which in this case manifests a tragic relationship, evokes the history of effigies and iconoclasm, embodies the systematic societal violence against women, and opens up a plethora of readings that could not exist without slashes that span both object and subject.

The social life of the informed objects that Zaatari presents thereby opens a larger sociological discourse which, in the case of Lebanon, speaks to the ways love and sexuality have been regulated – and liberated – via photography and film. He traces the visual trajectory of this contested history largely by way of Madani’s studio photography, which pictured thousands of people over the course of almost half a century in Zaatari’s hometown of Saida. The ensuing photos demonstrate a complex spectrum of desire as people moved across both sides of the state-sanctioned line, performing the love they coveted and that which they concealed. As a site of concurrent fantasy and societal uniformity, what genders, professions, events and relationships were prescribed to “look like” created an orthodoxy of both restrictions and their corresponding transgressions. In The End of Love (2013), Zaatari presents over 100 photos of wedding portraits taken in Madani’s studio that collectively illustrate the codes surrounding this classic trope. Kissing was forbidden for such a photo which, in Lebanon, was taken a week after the ceremony with the bride wearing her wedding dress, supplemented by a bouquet of plastic flowers and white gloves provided by the photographer. And while the ensuing images are stiff, sober and highly formulaic, this End of Love is not a cynical farewell to the romantic aura of marriage, but rather a site where ideals collect in the margins, in aspirations that exceed both the subject and frame. Much like Arthur Danto’s post-historical 1984 essay “The End of Art,” Zaatari’s collection implies the exhaustion of a particular lineage of love and the opening of a chaotic, open-ended eddy where de-regulated desire could be performed. Madani’s studio was the site and catalyst for many of these performances; but, in this exhibition Zaatari pairs The End of Love with the aspiration of his 2010 video Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, in which a proposed reunion of estranged lovers is told in the form of typewritten dialogue. The voices here remain anonymous throughout, much like the many couples in The End of Love, and we gradually learn that these contemporary, same-sex lovers speak in prose drawn from popular cinematic clichés. Their conflicted flirtation culminates in the familiar romantic trope of a sunset at seashore, and more specifically that portrayed in the 1986 film Le Rayon Vert in which a disillusioned woman’s faith in love is restored after she sees a green flash at twilight. And yet, despite the overt homage, the time stamp in the bottom corner of Zaatari’s version implies this is his personal footage. And, that amidst many formulae, clichés and the already said, in the seams between The End of Love and Tomorrow Everything will be Alright, something unique and human can be spoken.

In contrast to the charge that photos are moments plucked out of time – slowly staving off death in the airless preservation of archives – Zaatari re-situates photos entrusted to the AIF in a multiplied field that spans origins and invention. Rather than entrenching images with fixed historical assignments, he performs subtle interventions to uncover and suggest alternate readings that inject life into said objects. As a stirring case in point, Un-Dividing History (2017) merges historical images by Khalil Raad (1854-1957), a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Yacov Ben Dov (1882-1968), a Zionist-Ukrainian filmmaker and photographer, who dually inhabited Jerusalem from 1907-1948 but “belonged,” in Zaatari’s words, “to completely different universes.” Glass photo plates from each of these men had been acquired into a private collection years later and stored against each other for over a half-century in the same position, slowly and mutually “contaminating” one another with the opposing image. Zaatari’s cyanotypes reveal these beautifully compromised hybrids, depicting “traces of one world inscribed into another,” and symbolically de-partitioning the tragic schisms/folds that have long scarred this population and place. This grid of 8 images is not one of easy, idealistic harmony, but rather a complex, messy, fundamentally human portrait of the way lives intersect and overlap, if only they are allowed. A related moment of extraordinary, stirring empathy is found in the 2013 project Letter to a Refusing Pilot, in which Zaatari realises the rumour of Hagai Tamir, an Israeli fighter pilot, who in 1982, during his country’s invasion of Lebanon, disobeyed the order to drop a bomb on what he knew to be a schoolhouse. The legend, and Zaatari’s ensuing interview with Tamir have taken multiple forms in the translation to art, most notably paper planes that have appeared in both video and physical form, floating across terrain that spans real and virtual, truth and myth. What in theory started as a description, or a document, or a letter, has thereby taken flight via multiple folds – transforming this story into a mutable vessel that lands often, but temporarily – its ultimate destination indeterminate. In this lightness of being and itinerant course, the paper plane embodies Zaatari’s affinity for ephemeral records rather than the weighted gravity of archives. These are images, objects, videos, memories and outtakes that bear creases, evince life, and find renewal in each and every reappraisal.

Steven Matijcio / 2018

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' 2010 (installation view)

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Tomorrow Everything will be Alright' (video still) 2010

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow Everything will be Alright (video still)
2010
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Tomorrow everything will be alright
2010

 

 

Akram Zaatari was born in 1966, in Sidon, Lebanon and currently lives in Beirut. Zaatari works in photography, video, and performance to explore issues pertinent to the Lebanese postwar condition, specifically the mediation of territorial conflicts and wars though television and media. Zaatari collects and examines a wide range of documents that testify to the cultural and political conditions of Lebanon’s postwar society. His artistic practice involves the study and investigation of the way these documents straddle, conflate, or confuse notions of history and memory. By analysing and recontextualising found audiotapes, video footage, photographs, journals, personal collections, interviews, and recollections, Zaatari explores the dynamics that govern the state of image-making in situations of war. The strength of Zaatari’s work lies in its ability to capture fractured moments in time, even if these sometimes confuse because of their disconnect from the audience and lack of context. Regardless, the stories hold their own as fascinating narratives, managing to reflect on such universal themes as love and lust, and sweet reminiscence, even amidst turbulent political realities. The indie film was nominated for the teddy award for best short film in 2011.

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 1
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 2
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 3
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot4
2013

 

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot 5
2013

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Letter to a Refusing Pilot' (installation view) 2013

 

Akram Zaatari
Letter to a Refusing Pilot (installation view)
2013
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In the summer of 1982, a rumour made the rounds of a small city in South Lebanon, which was under Israeli occupation at the time. It was said that a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force had been ordered to bomb a target on the outskirts of Saida, but knowing the building was a school, he refused to destroy it. Instead of carrying out his commanders’ orders, the pilot veered off course and dropped his bombs in the sea. It was said that he knew the school because he had been a student there, because his family had lived in the city for generations, because he was born into Saida’s Jewish community before it disappeared. As a boy, Akram Zaatari grew up hearing ever more elaborate versions of this story, as his father had been the director of the school for twenty years. Decades later, Zaatari discovered it wasn’t a rumour. The pilot was real. Pulling together all of the different strands of Zaatari’s practice for the first time in a single work, Letter to a Refusing Pilot reflects on the complexities, ambiguities, and consequences of refusal as a decisive and generative act. Taking as its title a nod to Albert Camus’ four-part epistolary essay “Letters to a German Friend,” the work not only extends Zaatari’s interest in excavated narratives and the circulation of images in times of war, it also raises crucial questions about national representation and perpetual crisis by reviving Camus’s plea: “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

In an October 2012 interview with anthropologist Mark Westmoreland, Zaatari further probed whether emotions can be preserved with pictures. The difficulty in resolving the matter perhaps motivated the artist’s move into increasingly abstract terrain. The exhibition’s titular work confirms Zaatari’s current reticent position. Against Photography (2017) – 12 aluminium engravings produced from weathered negatives scanned and then put through a 3D scanner that records only surface texture – withdraws from the image entirely, leaving behind only the shine of relief.

Close, Rebecca. Akram Zaatari [online]. ArtAsiaPacific, No. 104, Jul/Aug 2017: 108. ISSN: 1039-3625. [cited 07 Dec 18]

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

Akram Zaatari

Against Photography (installation view, right)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Against Photography' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Against Photography (installation view detail)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Installation view, 'Akram Zaatari: The Fold - Space, time and the image'

 

Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image with at left, Un-Dividing History 2017
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (installation view) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (installation view)
2017
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

 

These cyanotypes merge two bodies of work from a collection which is no longer in the Arab Image Foundation’s custody, and which consisted of glass plates of Khalil Raad, a photographer from Jerusalem, and those of Yacov Ben Dov, a Zionist filmmaker and photographer of Ukrainian descent. Raad and Ben Dov shared the same city, Jerusalem, but belonged to completely different universes. Zaatari conceived this series as a statement against partitioning history. As the glass plates were stored against each other for over 50 years in the same position, each plate was contaminated by the plate it was leaning against. The cyanotypes depict traces of a world impressed onto another and speak of the ineluctable shared history of Palestine and Israel, safeguarded by a passionate collector. (Text from the Sfeir-Semler Gallery website)

 

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

Akram Zaatari. 'Un-Dividing History' (details) 2017

 

Akram Zaatari
Un-Dividing History (details)
2017

 

Akram Zaatari. 'History' (detail) 2018

 

Akram Zaatari
History (detail)
2018
Installation view, Akram Zaatari: The Fold – Space, time and the image
© Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2018
Photo: Tony Walsh

 

History retraces Zaatari’s pursuit of damaged, erased, withdrawn or scrapped off photographic descriptions from the nineties until the present day. The earliest is a self-portrait he made in 1993, and the most recent are part of Photographic Phenomena, 2018 series.

 

 

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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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