Archive for February, 2011

28
Feb
11

Review: ‘Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2010 – 20th March 2011

 

Nici Cumpston. 'Nookamka - Lake Bonney' 2007

 

Nici Cumpston (Barkindji Australian, b. 1963)
Nookamka – Lake Bonney
2007
watercolour and coloured pencils on ink on canvas
74.2 x 203.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2008
© Nici Cumpston

 

 

“It is this irreversibly modified world, from the polar caps to the equatorial forests, that is all the nature we have.”

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Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory 1

 

“The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie 2

 

“And, finally, what of the vexed, interrelated matter of non-Aboriginal Australians’ sense of belonging? While the Australian historian Manning Clark speculated that European settlers were eternal outsiders who could never know ‘heart’s ease in a foreign land, because … there live foreign ancestral spirits’, it now seems plausible that non-Aboriginal Australians are developing their own form of attachment, not to land as such, but to place. Indeed, it has recently been argued that for contemporary non-Aboriginal Australians, belonging may have no connection with land at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why art photographs of the natural landscape have lost their currency and are now far outnumbered by photographs of urban and suburban environments – after all, it is ‘here’ that most Australians live and ‘there’ that the tourist industry beckons them to escape.”

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Helen Ennis. Photography and Australia 3

 

 

This review took a lot of research, reading, thinking and writing, all good stuff – I hope you enjoy it!

 

Heavy Weather: Photography and the Australian Land(e)scape

There is nothing fresh about the work in this exhibition. If feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the term ‘landscape’, the land itself gasping for air, for life. What the exhibition does evince is an “undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests that all is not as it may appear” (wall text) – and on this evidence the process of photographing the Australian landscape seems to have become an escape from the land, a fragmented and dislocated scoping, mapping and photographing of mental aspects of the land that have little to do with the landscape itself. Landscape as a site of psychological performance. In this sense, the title Stormy Weather should perhaps have been Heavy Weather for contemporary photographic artists seem to make heavy going of photographing our sense of belonging to land, to place.

Is it the artists or the curators that seek to name this work ‘landscape photography’ for it is about everything but the landscape – an escape from the land, perhaps even a denial of it’s very existence. I believe it is the framing of landscape and its imaging in terms of another subject matter. While I am not going to critique individual works in the exhibition, what I am interested in is this framing of the work as ‘landscape photography’.

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Since colonial settlement there has been a rich history of photographing the Australian landscape. In the early colonial period the emphasis was on documenting the building of new cities and communities through realist photography and later more picturesque and panoramic vistas of the Australian land as settlers sought comfort in familiar surroundings and a sense of ‘belonging’ to the land (for example day trippers and photographers travelling to the Blue Mountains). Photographers rarely accompanied expeditions into the interior, unlike the exploration and mapping of the land from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States. Unlike America there has been little tradition of photographing sublime places in Australia because they are not of the same scale as in the USA. It is very difficult to photograph the vast horizon line of the Australian outback and make it sublime. Photographing the landscape then ventured through Pictorialism in the interwar years, Modernism after WWII through to the emergence of art photography in the 1970s (for example see my posting on Dr John Cato), wilderness and tourist photography. An excellent book to begin to understand the history of photography in Australia is Photography and Australia by Helen Ennis (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) that contains the chapter “Land and Landscape.” As Ennis comments in this chapter, “… landscape photography has been the practice of settler Australians and the expression of a settler-colonial culture … The viewpoint in landscape photography has therefore been almost exclusively European”4 although this culture has been changing in recent years with the emergence of Indigenous photographers.

Ennis observes that contemporary landscape photographers embrace internationalist styles, showing a distaste for totalising nationalist narratives and a rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints, noting that an overarching framework like multiculturalism has lost its currency in favour of transnationalism (which is a social movement grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the loosening of boundaries between countries) that does not disavow colonial inequalities and asymmetrical relations between countries and continents.5 Photographers have developed a “photographic language that allows for the expression of the contradictions inherent in contemporary settler Australians’ relations with the land,”6 whilst offering visual artists a “non-linear, non-didactic way of dealing with the complexities of Australia history and experience, and the relationship between past and present.”7

This much then is a given. Let us now look at the framing of the work in the exhibition as ‘landscape photography’.

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Simon Schama in his erudite book Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage, 1996) believes that there can never be a natural or neutral landscape (even the brilliant meadow-floor [at Yosemite] which suggested to its first eulogists a pristine Eden was in fact the result of regular fire-clearances by its Ahwahneechee Indian occupants) and that it is our shaping perception that makes the difference between raw matter and landscape. There was also a recognition that ‘nature’ was neither neutral nor beyond ideology during the 1970s – 1980s. Hence there is a double mediation – by both nature and the artist.

Despite the rejection of essentialist or absolutist viewpoints by contemporary photographers and an acknowledgment of the mediated view by/of nature one can say that there is not a single photograph in this exhibition that is just a ‘landscape’. Even the most sublime photographs in the exhibition, David Stephenson’s (Self-portrait), Reflected moon, Tasmania (1985) is cut up into a grid, or Murray Fredericks Salt photographs (2005, see below) where the photographer has waited agonisingly for weeks for just the right weather conditions to take his photographs which the general public, when visiting Lake Eyre, would have no chance of ever seeing. Through this mediation there seems to have emerged an abrogation or denial of landscape by the artists and curators conceptualisation of it, as though they are performing a particular condition, a style; working out a plan of what to do and say. Is it just a denial or is it an artistic strategy?

I believe that these are strategies that limit artists, not strategies that enable them. The curators are equally implicated in these strategies by their naming of these works ‘landscapes’. What purpose does this naming serve, in terms of the development of a sense of place, not nation, that people living in Australia seek to have? We can ask the question: Where do you stand in relationship to the landscape both philosophically and geographically?

After Butler, we can also ask: What forms of cultural myth making are “embedded” in the framing of landscape by the curators, the naming of such work as ‘landscape photography’?

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Rarely is the framing recognised for what it is, when it is the viewer interpreting the interpretation that has been imposed upon us, that limits the visual discourse, producing a view of Australian landscape as fragmented norms enacted through visual narrative frames – that in this case efface the representation of land and place. This conceptual framing of what the work is about limits the grounds for discourse for a frame excludes as much as it corrals. The curators form an interpretative matrix of what is seen (or not seen, or withheld), reinforcing notions of landscape photography, the ‘landscape photography’ “that requires a certain kind of subject that actually institutes that conceptual requirement as part of its description and diagnosis.”8 In other words the description ‘landscape photography’ established by the curators becomes a limiting, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Personally, I think the problem with a landscape exhibition is that this is virtually an inane topic. Somehow “documentary” works as a topic because it is about a mental discipline. But “landscape” is no longer really a topic – it used to be a topic when landscape painters wanted to show the landscape (!) but does anyone really want to show this today? Even when the landscape painters wanted to show the sublime, the landscape was always treated with deference. No-one thinks of Minor White as a landscape photographer for he was a metaphysical photographer. And that’s what this exhibition needs – another word to give sense to a photographers efforts.

This is difficult subject matter. While artists may reject essentialist or absolutist viewpoints what has been substituted in their place is a framing, a definition that is post-nature, that undermines any sense of belonging to land, to place. The dissolutive pendulum has swung too far the other way; we look to theory to be inclusive and sometimes stand on our heads to achieve this to our detriment.

As of this moment we are not at the point where we can look back with some certainty and see that we have reached the beginning of the path of understanding. What I would propose to any artist is a photography that is broadly based, cumulative, offering a layered body of work that builds and refers back to an original body of work, much like the photographs of Robert Adams – photographs that do not make claims but ask questions and hint at a more responsive engagement with the landscape.

My hope is that a more broadly based view of place and our sense of belonging to the land emerges, one that challenges our contemporary understanding of the landscape, a viewpoint and line of sight that calm our troubled sense of reality. Robert Adams has written eloquently about photography and the art of seeing. Here is a quote from his seminal book Why People Photograph (Aperture Foundation, 1994) that aptly concludes this review.

“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect – a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.”9

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Addendum

Further to my argument above there is a session ‘Australian Identity: Australian Bio-diversity and the Landscape of the Imagination’ at the Festival of Ideas, Friday June 17th 2011 at the University of Melbourne where, in the details of the upcoming session, Ian Burn has been quoted about the loss of the landscape:

Details of the session: ‘The connection between landscape and national identity figures prominently in discussions of Australian experience. Recently the pairing of the two has taken a melancholic turn; artist Ian Burn has remarked that ‘A commitment to representing the landscape has come to be about the “loss” of the landscape’. Has the landscape that once supported the Australian legend disappeared? The landscape is represented not only in art but also through science, law and commerce. Are new landscapes and new identities now being imagined and discovered?’

Quotation: “The idea of landscape does not just invoke rival institutional discourses, but today attracts wider and more urgent reflections. A commitment to representing the landscape has become about the ‘loss’ of landscape in the twentieth century … that is about its necessity and impossibility at the same time. Seeing a landscape means focusing on a picture, implicating language in our seeing of the landscape.”

Burn, Ian quoted in Stephen, Ann (ed.,). Artists think: the late works of Ian Burn. Sydney: Power Publications in association with Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, 1996, p. 8.

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Other sessions on Saturday June 18th 2011 include ‘The Pull of the Landscape’ and ‘Contemporary Visions and Critiques of the Landscape’.

 

Footnotes

  1. Schama, Simon. Landscape and Memory. New York: Vintage, 1996, p. 7
  2. Crombie, Isobel. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15
  3. Clark, Manning quoted by Peter Read in “A Haunted Land No Longer? Changing Relationships to a Spiritualised Australia,” in Australian Book Review CCLXV (October 2004) pp. 28-33 in Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 71-72
  4. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, pp. 51-52
  5. Ennis, Helen. “Land and Landscape,” in Photography and Australia. London: Reaktion Books, 2007, p. 123, p. 133
  6. Ibid., “Land and Landscape,” pp. 71-72
  7. Ibid., “Localism and Internationalism,” p. 128
  8. Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010, p. 161
  9. Adams, Robert. Why People Photograph. New York: Aperture Foundation, 1994, p. 179

 

 

Harry Nankin. 'Of Great Western tears / Duet 2' 2006

 

Harry Nankin (Australian, b. 1953)
Of Great Western tears / Duet 2
2006
From The rain series 2006-07
Gelatin silver photographs
(a-b) 107.1 x 214.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2007
© Harry Nankin

 

Stephanie Valentin. 'Rainbook' 2009

 

Stephanie Valentin (Australia, b. 1962)
Rainbook
2009
From the earthbound series 2009
Colour inkjet print
69.9 x 86.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Philip Ross and Sophia Pavlovski-Ross, 2009
© Stephanie Valentin

 

Murray Fredericks. 'Salt 154' 2005

 

Murray Fredericks (Australia, b. 1970)
Salt 154
2005
From the Salt series 2003-
Colour inkjet print
119.3 x 149.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Murray Fredericks

 

Siri Hayes. 'Plein air explorers' 2008

 

Siri Hayes (Australia, b. 1977)
Plein air explorers
2008
Type C photograph
104.3 x 134.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2009
© Siri Hayes

 

 

The work of the contemporary Australian photographers highlighted in this exhibition comes from a profound engagement with the lived landscape around them. The quiet intensity of their work comes from their close and sustained relationship to particular environments. These photographers may use that lived observation to reveal the layers of history in a landscape; to provoke ecological concerns; as the place for site specific performances; or to use the specific poetics of light to reveal the beauty of a place.  However for all of them, the real world is the starting point for images of particularity.

Photographers’ interest in the landscape has increased in the last few years. Perhaps as a result of heightened environmental awareness, or an evolution in our engagement with Australian history, practitioners are again turning to the natural world as a site for critical practice and inspiration.

Drawn from the permanent collection the National Gallery of Victoria, the selected photographers in this exhibition have a particular focus that comes from their active relationship to various environments. The artists displayed here reveal history in a landscape; provoke ecological concerns; use the landscape as a site of performance; or reveal the distinctive beauty of a place.

Frequently underpinning these works of quiet intensity and considerable beauty is an undercurrent of disruption and contradiction that suggests all is not as it may first appear.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 26/02/2011 no longer available online

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather #9' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing (Australia, b. 1959)
weather #9
2006
From the weather series 2006
Type C photograph
109.9 x 184.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007
© Rosemary Laing and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jill Orr. 'Southern Cross to bear and behold - Burning' 2007)

 

Jill Orr (Australia , b. 1952, lived in the Netherlands 1980-84)
Southern Cross to bear and behold – Burning
2007
Colour inkjet print
65.5 x 134.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2010
Photographer: Naomi Herzog for Jill Orr
© Jill Orr

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square

Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Open daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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27
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Painting on paper – Josef Albers in America’ at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

Exhibition dates: 16th December 2010 – 6th March 2011

 

Josef Albers. 'Study for a Adobe' c. 1947

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Study for a Adobe
c. 1947
Oil and graphite on blotting paper
24.1 × 30.5 cm
The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

 

I really like the work of Josef Albers and these paintings on paper, studies for later work, give insight into that rare quality of Albers – his ability to mould, no that’s not the right word – his ability to accrete colours and spaces together, to build tectonic plates of colour that collide and burst against each other forming an “osmosis of plane and space.” These harmonic oscillations of vibrant colour form a pleasing equilibrium in the mind, freeing the viewer from conceptual thought and allowing us to enter a different state of being. It is fascinating to me that he painted these studies on blotting paper as the paper seems to soak up the colours, intensifying their existence.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Pinakothek der Moderne for allowing me to publish the photographs of the art in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Josef Albers. 'Color Study for a Variant / Adobe' Nd

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Color Study for a Variant / Adobe
Nd
Oil on blotting paper
48.2 × 60.9 cm
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

Josef Albers. 'Study for a Variant / Adobe (I)' c. 1947

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Study for a Variant / Adobe (I)
c. 1947
Oil on blotting paper with pencil
24.1 × 30.6 cm
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

 

The exhibition is the first to show such a concentration of paintings on paper by Josef Albers, some of which will be completely unknown to the general public. Works in oil on paper, painted by the artist since the 1940s in preparation for the Adobe and Variant series in particular, are presented together with a large group related to his principal work “Homage to the Square” from the artist’s late period, that he focused on from 1950 until his death in 1976.

Josef Albers was only able to fully develop into an important artist and influential teacher after emigrating to the USA. From around 1940 onwards, Albers was inspired by Mexico’s pre-Columbian architecture, sculpture and textile art that boosted his sense for the aesthetic and led to idiosyncratic, radiant colour compositions, the likes of which had never been seen at that time in European modern art. Around 1950, Albers discovered what was for him the ideal formal shape of colour – the square.

The works exhibited surprise the viewer with their spontaneity, their search for immediacy and the extraordinary delicacy of their colours. Albers studied the interaction of colours like virtually no other. Through his works on paper in particular it can be seen in detail how the artist achieved such a thorough osmosis of plane and space through increasing the density of the colours used.

Text from the Pinakothek der Moderne website

 

Josef Albers. 'Color Study for Homage to the Square' Nd

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Color Study for Homage to the Square
Nd
Oil and graphite on blotting paper with varnish
30.5 × 30.5 cm
The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

Josef Albers. 'Color Study for Homage to the Square' Nd

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Color Study for Homage to the Square
Nd
Oil on blotting paper
33.2 × 30.9 cm
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

Josef Albers. 'Color Study for Homage to the Square' Nd

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Color Study for Homage to the Square
Nd
Oil on blotting paper with varnish
33.6 × 30.4 cm
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2010 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/VG Bildkunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society, New York

 

 

Pinakothek Der Moderne
Barer Strasse 40
Munich

Gallery hours:
Daily except Monday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 8pm

Pinakothek der Moderne website

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25
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘ANALOG: trends in sound and picture’ at The Riflemaker Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 10th January – 3rd March 2011

 

 

Richard Nicholson
Peter Guest darkroom
2006
Courtesy of the artist and Riflemaker

 

 

I started my life as an artist as a black and white photographer. I spent many hours ensconced in the enveloping black and red safety light of the darkroom, listening to the sound of running water – a nurturing, womb-like environment despite the toxic nature of the chemicals involved. It was magical to see the image appear in the developing tray out of nothing, an alchemical process that never ceased to amaze me, a link to the early days of photography and the wonder that those first images would have generated. At that time the photography course at Phillip Institute (soon to become part of RMIT University) had 3 huge darkrooms; now they have one with only a couple of enlargers.

Working in those darkrooms did teach you a solid foundation for your art practice: for one thing, the value of developing a working methodology – choosing a good negative that you wanted to print, spending time with it, adjusting the enlarger to obtain optimum size and printing it beautifully – for in a good day I could only print one or possibly two negatives a day. Then there was the process of washing the chemicals out of the paper and drying the prints. The whole process taught you patience, precision and dedication to the task at hand so that the negative revealed in the print something else that might be present, some ‘other’ that photography has the ability to capture if you take time, are aware and receptive to this illumination. These disciplines have held me in good stead during the following years.

I still love analogue colour and black and white photographs. To me it is like the difference between an LP and a CD. The CD might have it all over the LP in terms of information captured but there is this ineffable feeling about an LP with it’s scratches and pops, it’s atmosphere. The same goes for an analogue print and it is something that you can’t quite put your finger on. I believe that there is still a place for analogue prints in the world – for the magical process, for their beauty, sensitivity and downright inspiration. Long may they live.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to The Riflemaker Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Richard Nicholson
Roy Bass darkroom, Michael Dyer Associates, Covent Garden
2006
Courtesy of the artist and Riflemaker

 

 

The End of Professional Photographic Darkrooms and Music Recording Studios

The impact of digital technology on print photography and music production is the subject of ANALOG at Riflemaker, Soho from 10 January 2011. The exhibition invites us inside the last of London’s photographic darkrooms as well as taking a visit to a working reel-to-reel music studio, courtesy of an installation by Lewis Durham of the band Kitty, Daisy & Lewis.

 

Richard Nicholson. “A Survey of London’s Remaining Professional Darkrooms 2006-2010”

1979. The year my father constructed a darkroom and introduced me to photography. I was immediately entranced by the printing process and cherished the long hours spent in this dark, private space; standing in the gloom of the red safelight, slowly rocking the print tray, watching the ghost-like image reveal itself through the gently lapping developer solution. As I experimented with the many formulas and techniques detailed in my father’s guidebooks, I often found the most interesting prints were the chemically stained accidents pulled from the bin at the end of a session. The darkroom became a bolt-hole for me; a private space where I could escape from the noise of family life. As I passed through school, university and various jobs, I often sought out a darkroom to escape from the crowd. But as I honed my skills – solarising, masking, bleaching, split-toning, hand-colouring – my prints began to attract public attention.

2006. I’m working in London as a photographer. I’m still shooting film, but digital is becoming ubiquitous. The photographic manufacturer Durst announces that it will no longer be producing enlargers. Annual sales have dropped from a peak of 107,000 units in 1979 to just a few hundred units in recent years. The darkroom has always been integral to my practice as a photographer. But for how much longer? Once bustling hire darkrooms have become eerily quiet, and London labs are dropping like flies. Joe’s Basement, Primary, Metro Soho, Keishi Colour, Ceta, Team Photographic, Sky – all gone. Polaroid has stopped making instant film and Kodak and Fuji are discontinuing one emulsion after another. The recently introduced Canon 5d camera has persuaded many diehard film photographers that digital is the future, and those who remain unconvinced are facing clients who no longer have the budgets for film, Polaroids, clip-tests, contact-sheets and prints. The darkroom’s days are numbered.

Against this backdrop, I begin to look at the darkroom in a new light. My enlarger (a handsomely engineered GeM 504) has been an invisible tool, but now it presents itself as a sad and lumpen creature in the face of extinction. With its long neck, heavy head and inviting focus handles, the thing has a human form which elicits sympathy – the surrounding matt black walls add an air of theatricality. Hearing tales of noble machines being unceremoniously dumped in skips when labs close down, I decide to document them before they all disappear.

I chose to photograph professional darkrooms because they are often shrouded in mystery; hidden behind the tidy glass facade of the lab’s front desk. As a keen printer myself, I was curious to see the workspaces of the master printers; craftsmen who had spent their working lives in darkness. The spaces I discovered were often haphazard and brimming with personal details; coffee cups, CD collections, family snapshots, unpaid invoices, curious knick-knacks brought back by globe-trotting photographers. These human elements transformed what might have been a detached typology of modernist industrial design into something more intimate and nuanced.

I photographed each darkroom on large format film. Working in total darkness, I carefully painted these normally dingy spaces with a flashgun, seeking to reveal the beauty of the machinery, and shed some light on the clutter stained with the patina of time. Some of the darkrooms were busy, whilst others were neglected (all attention being given to the new inkjet printer in the adjoining corridor). Many of the darkrooms were facing imminent closure. (The one with the slogan pinned to the wall, ‘I want to stay here forever’, was dismantled the day after I photographed it and is currently being converted into luxury apartments.)

Many of the iconic images of recent decades were crafted in these rooms. Mike Spry’s high contrast lith prints of U2 and Depeche Mode for music photographer Anton Corbijn, Peter Guest’s black and white prints of the Trainspotting cast for portrait photographer Lorenzo Agius, or Brian Dowling’s intricately masked colour prints for fashion photographer Nick Knight. Such commercial work is now routinely carried out in Photoshop and professional printers have had to seek out new avenues for their skills. The art market is perhaps the last bastion for traditional darkroom printing, but even this area is being taken over by digital machines – Lightjet, Lambda, and Chromira printers. But suddenly there is a resurgence of interest in analog processes amongst younger photographers who were brought up on digital. Left cold by the clinical nature of the virtual workspace, they seek depth and authenticity via the chemical ambience of the traditional darkroom. Alternative processes from the early history of photography are being rediscovered, Polaroid instant film has been relaunched, and the craze for poorly engineered Russian and Chinese film cameras (Lomo, Holga, Diana etc) continues unabated.

I wonder at this enthusiasm. Like many committed film photographers, I experienced a belated epiphany when I finally switched to digital. My darkroom skills were easily transferred to the digital realm, and I soon discovered that Photoshop offered creative printmaking possibilities that far exceeded what I could achieve in the darkroom. Whilst I don’t miss the chemistry of the darkroom – much of it highly toxic – I do miss the aura of the red safelight and the soothing sound of running water. I miss the excited sense of performance when making a complicated print (there’s no ‘undo’ button in the darkroom), and the physicality of dodging and burning – the manual shaping of the light. With film I had a network of contacts across London and felt embedded in the city, whereas with digital I feel disembodied. The history of photography is young and fast moving. The darkroom era was shortlived. This collection of images represents its apotheosis.”

Richard Nicholson, November 2010

I would like to thank all the printers who kindly allowed me to photograph their darkrooms.

 

Nicholson, Richard. “A Survey of London’s Remaining Professional Darkrooms 2006 – 2010,” in Taylor, Tot (ed.,). ANALOG: trends in sound and picture book. London: Riflemaker, 2011, pp. 17-19. ISBN 978-0-9563571-6-8.

 

Richard Nicholson. 'Roy Snell darkroom, Earlsfield' 2006

 

Richard Nicholson
Roy Snell darkroom, Earlsfield
2006
Courtesy of the artist and Riflemaker

 

Richard Nicholson. 'Gordon Bishop Associates, Paddington Street' 2006

 

Richard Nicholson
Gordon Bishop Associates, Paddington Street
2006
Courtesy of the artist and Riflemaker

 

 

The Riflemaker Gallery
79 Beak Street, Regent Street,
London W1

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 12.00 pm – 6.00 pm

Riflemaker website

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23
Feb
11

Vale Dr John Cato (1926-2011)

February 2011

 

It is with much sadness that I note the death of respected Australian photographer and teacher Dr John Cato (1926-2011). Son of Australian photographer Jack Cato, who wrote one of the first histories of Australian photography (The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955)), John was apprentice to his father before setting up a commercial studio with Athol Shmith that ran from 1950-1971. Dr Cato then joined Shmith at the fledgling Prahran College of Advanced Education photography course in 1974, becoming head of the course when Shmith retired in 1979, a position he held until John retired in 1991.

I was fortunate enough to get to know John and his vivacious wife Dawn. I worked with him and co-curatored his retrospective with William Heimerman, ‘…and his forms were without number’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, South Yarra, in 2002. My catalogue essay from this exhibition is reproduced below.

John was always generous with his time and advice. His photographs are sensitive, lyrical renditions of the Australian landscape. He had a wonderful ear for the land and for the word, a musical lyricism that was unusual in Australian photographers of the early 1970s. He understood how a person from European background could have connection to this land, this Australia, without being afraid to express this sense of belonging; he also imaged an Aboriginal philosophy (that all spirits have a physical presence and everything physical has a spiritual presence) tapping into one of the major themes of his personal work: the mirror held up to reveal an’other’ world – the language of ambiguity and ambivalence (the dichotomy of opposites e.g. black / white, masculine / feminine) speaking through the photographic print.

His contribution to the art of photography in Australia is outstanding. What are the precedents for a visual essay in Australian photography before John Cato? I ask the reader to consider this question.

It would be fantastic if the National Gallery of Victoria could organise a large exhibition and publication of his work, gathering photographs from collections across the land, much like the successful retrospective of the work of John Davis held in 2010. Cato’s work needs a greater appreciation throughout Australia because of it’s seminal nature, containing as it does the seeds of later development for Australian photographers. His educational contribution to the development of photography as an art form within Australia should also be acknowledged in separate essays for his influence was immense. His life, his teaching and his work deserves nothing less.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

‘… and his forms were without number’

John Cato: A Retrospective of the Photographic Work 1971-1991

This writing on the photographic work of Dr John Cato from 1971-1991 is the catalogue essay to a retrospective of his work held at The Photographers’ Gallery in Prahran, Melbourne in 2002. Dr Cato forged his voice as a photographic artist in the early 1970s when photography was just starting to be taken seriously as an art form in Australia. He was a pioneer in the field, and became an educator in art photography. He is respected as one of Australia’s preeminent photographers of the last century.

 

With the arrival of ‘The New Photography’1 from Europe in the early 1930’s, the formalist style of Modernism was increasingly adopted by photographers who sought to express through photography the new spirit of the age. In the formal construction of the images, the abstract geometry, the unusual camera angles and the use of strong lighting, the representation ‘of the thing in itself’2 was of prime importance. Subject matter often emphasised the monumentality of the factory, machine or body/landscape. The connection of the photographer with the object photographed was usually one of sensitivity and awareness to an external relationship that resulted in a formalist beauty.

Following the upheaval and devastation of the Second World War, photography in Australia was influenced by the ‘Documentary’ style. This “came to be understood as involved chiefly with creating aesthetic experiences … associated with investigation of the social and political environment.”3 This new movement of social realism, “… a human record intimately bound with a moment of perception,”4 was not dissimilar to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ (images a la sauvette) where existence and essence are in balance.5

The culmination of the ‘Documentary’ style of photography was The Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen that toured Australia in 1959.6 This exhibition, seen many times by John Cato,7 had a theme of optimism in the unity and dignity of man. The structure of the images in ‘Documentary’ photography echoed those of the earlier ‘New Photography’.

Max Dupain “stressed the objective, impersonal and scientific character of the camera; the photographer could reveal truth by his prerogative of selection.”8 This may have been an objective truth, an external vocalising of a vision that concerned itself more with exterior influences rather than an internal meditation upon the subject matter.

 

John Cato. 'Untitled' from the series 'Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure' 1971-1979

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Untitled from the series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure
1971-1979
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

In 1971, John Cato’s personal photographic work was exhibited for the first time as part of the group show Frontiers at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.9 Earth Song emerged into an environment of social upheaval inflamed by Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. It provided a group of enthusiastic people who were beginning to be interested in photography as art, an opportunity to see the world, and photography, through a different lens. The 52 colour photographic prints in Earth Song, were shown in a sequence that used melodic line and symphonic form as its metaphoric basis, standing both as individual photographs and as part of a total concept.10

In the intensity of the holistic vision, in the connection to the subconscious, the images elucidate the photographers’ search for a perception of the world. This involved an attainment of a receptive state that allowed the cracks, creases and angles inherent in the blank slate of creation to become meaningful. The sequence contained images that can be seen as ‘acts of revelation’,11confirmed and expanded by supporting photographs, and they unearthed a new vocabulary for the discussion of spiritual and political issues by the viewer. They may be seen as a metaphor for life.

The use of sequence, internal meditation and ‘revelation’, although not revolutionary in world terms,12 were perhaps unique in the history of Australian photography at that time. During the production of Earth Song, John Cato was still running a commercial studio in partnership with the photographer Athol Shmith and much of his early personal work was undertaken during holidays and spare time away from the studio. Eventually he abandoned being a commercial photographer in favour of a new career as an educator, but found this left him with even less time to pursue his personal work.13

Earth Song (1970-1971) was followed by the black and white sequences:

 

Tree – A Journey 18 images 1971-1973
Petroglyphs 14 images 1971-1973
Seawind 14 images 1971-1975
Proteus 18 images 1974-1977
Waterway 16 images 1974-1979

 

Together they form the extensive series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure, parts of which are held in the permanent photography collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.14

 

John Cato. 'Untitled' from the series 'Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure' 1971-1979

 

John Cato (Australian, 1926-2011)
Untitled from the series Essay I, Landscapes in a Figure
1971-1979
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

The inspiration for Essay I and later personal work came from many sources. An indebtedness to his father, the photographer Jack Cato, is gratefully acknowledged. Cato also acknowledges the influence of literature: William Shakespeare (especially the Sonnets, and As You Like It), William Blake, Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass), the Bible; and of music (symphonic form), the mythology of the Dreamtime and Aboriginal rock paintings.15 Each body of work in Essay I was based on an expression of nature, the elements and the Creation. They can be seen as Equivalents16 of his most profound life experiences, his life philosophy illuminated in physical form.

John Cato was able to develop the vocabulary of his own inner landscape while leaving the interpretation of this landscape open to the imagination of the viewer. Seeing himself as a photographer rather than an artist, he used the camera as a tool to mediate between what he saw in his mind’s eye, the subjects he photographed and the surface of the photographic negative.17 Photographing ‘in attention’, much as recommended by the teacher and philosopher Krishnamurti,18 he hoped for a circular connection between the photographer and the subject photographed. He then looked for verification of this connection in the negative and, eventually, in the final print.

Essay II, Figures in a Landscape, had already been started before the completion of Essay I and it consists of three black and white sequences:

 

Alcheringa 11 images 1978-1981
Broken Spears 11 images 1978-1983
Mantracks 22 images in pairs 1978-1983

 

The photographs in Essay II seem to express “the sublimation of Aboriginal culture by Europeans”19 and, as such, are of a more political nature. Although this is not obvious in the photographs of Alcheringa, the images in this sequence celebrating the duality of reality and reflection, substance and shadow, it is more insistent in the symbology of Broken Spears and Mantracks. Using the metaphor of the fence post (white man / black man in Broken Spears) and contrasting Aboriginal and European ‘sacred’ sites (in pairs of images in Mantracks), John Cato comments on the destruction of a culture and spirit that had existed for thousands of years living in harmony with the land.

In his imaging of an Aboriginal philosophy (that all spirits have a physical presence and everything physical has a spiritual presence) he again tapped one of the major themes of his personal work: the mirror held up to reveal an’other’ world. Cato saw that even as they are part of the whole, the duality of positive / negative, black / white, masculine / feminine are always in conflict.20 In the exploration of the conceptual richness buried within the dichotomy of opposites, Cato sought to enunciate the language of ambiguity and ambivalence,21 speaking through the photographic print.

The theme of duality was further expanded in his last main body of work, Double Concerto: An Essay in Fiction:

 

Double Concerto (Pat Noone) 30 images 1984-1990
Double Concerto (Chris Noone) 19 images 1985-1991

 

Double Concerto may be seen as a critique of the power of witness and John Cato created two ‘other’ personas, Pat Noone and Chris Noone, to visualise alternative conditions within himself. The Essay explored the idea that if you send two people to the same location they will take photographs that are completely different from each other, that tell a distinct story about the location and their self:

“For the truth of the matter is that people have mixed feelings and confused opinions and are subject to contradictory expectations and outcomes, in every sphere of experience.”22

This slightly schizophrenic confusion between the two witnesses is further highlighted by Pat Noone using single black and white images in sequence. Chris Noone, on the other hand, uses multiple colour images joined together to form panoramic landscapes that feature two opposing horizons. The use of colour imagery in Double Concerto, with its link to the colour work of Earth Song, can be seen to mark the closing of the circle in terms of John Cato’s personal work. In Another Way of Telling, John Berger states that …

“Photography, unlike drawing, does not possess a language. The photographic image is produced instantaneously by the reflection of light; its figuration is not impregnated by experience or consciousness.”23

.
But in the personal work of John Cato it is a reflection of the psyche, not of light, that allows a consciousness to be present in the figuration of the photographic prints. The personal work is an expression of his self, his experience, his story and t(his) language, is our language, if we allow our imagination to speak.

Dr Marcus Bunyan 2002

 

Footnotes

1 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 109.
2 @ Newton, Gael. Max Dupain. Sydney: David Ell Press,1980, p. 34.
3 @ Ibid., p. 32.
4 @ Greenough, Sarah (et al). On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography. Boston: National Gallery of Art, Bullfinch Press, 1989, p. 256.
5 @ Ibid., p. 256.
6 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 131.
7 @ Ibid., p. 131.
8 @ Newton, Gael. Max Dupain. Sydney: David Ell Press, 1980, p. 32.
9 @ Only the second exhibition by Australian photographers at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
10 @ Shmith, Athol. Light Vision No.1. Melbourne: Jean-Marc Le Pechoux (editor and publisher), Sept 1977, p. 21.
11 @ Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, p. 118.
12 @ Hall, James Baker. Minor White: Rites and Passages. New York: Aperture, 1978.
13 @ Conversation with the photographer 29/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
14 @ Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Sydney: Australian National Gallery, William Collins, 1988, p. 135, Footnote 7; p. 149.
15 @ Conversation with the photographer 22/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
16 @ Norman, Dorothy. Alfred Stieglitz. New York: Aperture, 1976, p. 5.
17 @ Ibid.,
18 @ Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131.
19 @ Strong, Geoff. Review. The Age. Melbourne, 28/04/1982.
20 @ Conversation with the photographer 22/01/1997, Melbourne, Victoria.
21 @ The principal definition for ambiguity in Websters Third New International Dictionary is:

“admitting of two or more meanings … referring to two or more things at the same time.” That for ambivalence is “contradictory and oscillating subjective states.”

Quoted in Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 21.

22 @ Levine, Donald. The Flight From Ambiguity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
23 @ Berger, John and Mohr, Jean. Another Way of Telling. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982, p. 95.

 

 

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20
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Joan Fontcuberta: Landscapes without Memory’ at Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2010 – 27th February 2010

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Derain' 2004

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Derain
2004
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

 

It might be useful to know the meaning and application of the word ‘orogenesis’ in relation to the work of Fontcuberta.

 

Orogeny refers to forces and events leading to a severe structural deformation of the Earth’s crust due to the engagement of tectonic plates. Response to such engagement results in the formation of long tracts of highly deformed rock called orogens or orogenic belts. The word “orogeny” comes from the Greek (oros for “mountain” plus genesis for “creation” or “origin”), and it is the primary mechanism by which mountains are built on continents. Orogens develop while a continental plate is crumpled and thickened to form mountain ranges, and involve a great range of geological processes collectively called orogenesis

An orogenic event may be studied as (a) a tectonic structural event, (b) as a geographical event, and (c) a chronological event. Orogenic events (a) cause distinctive structural phenomena related to tectonic activity, (b) affect rocks and crust in particular regions, and (c) happen within a specific period of time.” (Wikipedia)

 

In his post-landscape, post-memory worlds constructed by computer technologies there are mediated memories present – of the original paintings, shifting and reinterpreted by the computer and of place interpreted by the original artist – that form a simulated memory of double amnesia. Orogensis is a perfect title for these works as they map such a double memory over time in an future anterior (the death of the past (this has been) and the present (this will have be), pace Barthes); the word and the works also closely align to the word erogenous for these images stimulate the senses and heighten our appreciation and personal memory of the constructed environment. And how beautiful they are!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Kandinsky' 2004

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Kandinsky
2004
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Pollock' 2002

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Pollock
2002
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

 

For the project Landscapes without Memory Catalan artist Joan Fontcuberta (b. 1955, Barcelona) used software developed by the US Air Force. It translates two-dimensional cartographic data into a simulated three-dimensional image. Instead of feeding maps into the software, in Landscapes without Memory Fontcuberta inserts painted landscapes: from Gauguin to Van Gogh, from Cezanne to Turner and Constable. The software translates them into new, virtual landscapes that Fontcuberta calls ‘post-landscapes’. They form a no-man’s land between the virtual and the real, between truth and illusion.

Ever since the medium was first invented, photography’s relationship with the real world has been as perplexing as it is fascinating. Far more than a medium such as paint, photography was supposed to have a certain level of truth. In recent decades in particular the idea has taken root that truth and reality are ambiguous concepts in photography. The unprecedented digital revolution has brought the potential for manipulation into focus. How much more reliable is the photographic image of the real world? Who and what can we still believe? This juxtaposition of illusion and reality lies at the heart of Spanish artist Joan Fontcuberta’s oeuvre. At the same time, he also refers to the connection between science and truth. Like photography (itself a product of science), we see science as a way of expanding our knowledge of the real world using rational, objective, verifiable methods. Science has a certain authority: what science proves is true. Fontcuberta turns the myth of scientific authority around and manages to persuade the public in many of his projects of the veracity of a purely fictitious narrative – simply by expressing himself in the language of science.

In recent years, Fontcuberta has been especially fascinated by the influence of the digital revolution on the way we communicate and on our use of image. Landscapes without Memory is one such project. He begins here by subjectively interpreting and portraying a landscape, and then using software to interpret and translate the artificial object. The result is a new reality which Foncuberta calls ‘technologically-defined contemporary hallucinations’.

This exhibition is part of the Life Like platform, a project launched by Foam, EYE Film Institute of the Netherlands and Van Gogh Museum to draw attention to the realist art movement. The three museums join forces from 8 October 2010 to 16 January 2011 to throw light on the different aspects of this multi-disciplinary movement.

Press release from the Foam website

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Le Gray' 2004

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Le Gray
2004
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Turner' 2003

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Turner
2003
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

Joan Fontcuberta. 'Orogenesis Weston' 2004

 

Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, b. 1955)
Orogenesis Weston
2004
© Joan Fontcuberta

 

 

Foam Fotografiemuseum
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 (0)20 551 6500

Opening hours:
Mon – Wed 10 am – 6 pm
Thu – Fri 10 am – 9 pm
Sat – Sun 10 am – 6 pm

Foam website

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17
Feb
11

Sculpture: ‘Before The After’ (2010) by Fredrick White

February 2011

 

Fredrick White. 'Before The After' 2010

 

Fredrick White
Before The After
2010
Steel
220 x 105 x 95cm

 

 

Another beautiful new sculpture by Australian sculptor Fredrick White that will be appearing in the Montalto Sculpture Prize that opens this weekend at 33 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, Victoria and continues until 1st May, 2011. The work has great presence and continues the artist’s exploration into the matrix of what is seen and not seen, what lies above and below. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

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

 

Fredrick White. 'Before The After' 2010

 

Fredrick White. 'Before The After' 2010

 

Fredrick White
Before The After
2010
Steel
220 x 105 x 95cm

 

 

Fredrick White Sculpture website

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16
Feb
11

Judith Butler: Who I am – vectoring the body, a life worth living, framing war

February 2011

 

 

This is a photograph I took of Lord Buddha at Wot Poh, Bangkok, something beautiful to meditate on!
Click on the photograph for a larger version.

 

 

I love reading Judith Butler; she challenges you to think about the world in different ways, always intelligently and insightfully.

 

“We can think about demarcating the human body through identifying its boundary, or in what form it is bound, but that is to miss the crucial fact that the body is, in certain ways and even inevitably, unbound – in its acting, its receptivity, in its speech, desire, and mobility. It is outside itself, in the world of others, in a space and time it does not control, and it not only exists in the vector of these relations, but as this very vector.11 In this sense, the body does not belong to itself.

The body, in my view, is where we encounter a range of perspectives that may or may not be our own. How I am encountered, and how I am sustained, depends fundamentally on the social and political networks in which this body lives, how I am regarded and treated, and how that regard and treatment facilitates this life or fails to make it liveable. So the norms of gender through which I come to understand myself or my survivability are not made by me alone. I am already in the hands of the other when I try to take stock of who I am. I am already up against a world I never chose when I exercise my agency. It follows, then, that certain kinds of bodies will appear more precariously than others, depending on which version of the body, or of morphology in general, support or underwrite the idea of the human life that is worth protecting, sheltering, living, mourning. These normative frameworks establish in advance what kind of life will be a life worth living, what life will be a life worth preserving, and what life will become worthy of being mourned. Such views of lives pervade and implicitly justify contemporary war. Lives are divided into those representing certain kinds of states and those representing threats to state-centered liberal democracy, so that war can then be righteously waged on behalf of some lives, while the destruction of other lives can be righteously defended.”

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010. pp. 52-53

 

Footnote 11. A given morphology takes shape through a specific temporal and spatial negotiation. It is a negotiation with time in the sense that the morphology of the body does not stay the same; it ages, it changes shape, it acquires and loses capacities. And it is a negotiation with space in the sense that no body exists without existing somewhere; the body is the condition of location, and every body requires an environment to live. It would be a mistake to say that the body exists in its environment, only because the formulation is not quite strong enough. If there is no body without environment, then we cannot think the ontology of the body without the body being somewhere, without some “thereness.” And here I am not trying to make an abstract point, but to consider the modes of materialization through which a body exists and by means of which that existence can be sustained and/or jeopardized.

 

 

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13
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Acquisitions of Twentieth-Century Photography’ at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 7th December 2010 – 14th February 2011

 

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

 

 

Lewis Hine. 'Don't Smoke, Visits Saloons' 1910

 

Lewis Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Don’t Smoke, Visits Saloons
1910

Lewis Hine. May 1910. Wilmington, Delaware. “James Lequlla, newsboy, age 12. Selling newspapers 3 years. Average earnings 50 cents per week. Selling newspapers own choice. Earnings not needed at home. Don’t smoke. Visits saloons. Works 7 hours per day.”

 

Gordon Parks. 'Bessie Fontenelle and Little Richard in bed, Harlem New York' 1968

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Bessie Fontenelle and Little Richard in bed, Harlem New York
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Helen Levitt. 'Squatting girl/spider girl, New York City' 1980

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Squatting girl/spider girl, New York City
1980

 

 

From 7 December, the Rijksmuseum will display a selection of 20th-century photographic works acquired in recent years with the support of Baker & McKenzie. The sponsorship from the renowned law firm has already allowed the museum to purchase more than thirty photographs, including works by László Moholy-Nagy, Bill Brandt, Robert Capa and Helen Levitt, as well as photography books by Man Ray and others. When it reopens in 2013, the Rijksmuseum will be the only museum in the Netherlands able to provide an overview of the history of photography in the Netherlands and abroad.

The most recent acquisition sponsored by Baker & McKenzie and the independent art fund Vereniging Rembrandt is a monumental photograph by Bauhaus photographer László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). The photograph from 1929 is a key work that marks the transition into modernity. From atop a high bridge, the Pont Transbordeur in Marseille, Moholy-Nagy pointed his camera straight down, where an almost abstract pattern of metal beams contrasted with the sailing boat passing under the bridge. Metal, bridges, machines, aeroplanes and cars formed the icons of a new era for Moholy-Nagy’s generation of artists. They were faced with advancing technology, an enormous increase in scale and mechanisation, and a faster pace of life.

The other photographs to be displayed represent a range of movements in the history of photography. Two photographs by Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) will be displayed. They are both studies of form focusing first and foremost on composition, just as in the Moholy-Nagy work. It was in around 1920 that Hoppé photographed the play of light on cobblestones in New York, and the building of a metal construction in Philadelphia.

The documentary aspects of photography will also be highlighted, with magnificent portraits of a black mother and her child in a report about Harlem in the late 1960s (by Gordon Parks), and a portrait of two men in the southern ‘Cotton States’ of America during the Great Depression of the 1930s (by Peter Sekaer). As early as 1909, Lewis Hine used photography as a weapon in the struggle against injustice. Commissioned by the National Child Labour Committee he documented the child labour industry, in this case a small boy standing on the street selling newspapers.

During the 1930s, Bill Brandt published a (now famous) book on life in London at the time, from which came the photograph Sky lightens over the suburbs, which is both a study of form and documentary in nature. It shows a forest of glistening roofs, depicted in a melancholy yet realistic manner.

In 1942, Piet Mondrian was photographed in his studio by Arnold Newman, a session from which the Rijksmuseum has acquired a range of photographs. There are few portraits of Mondrian in Dutch collections, making this series particularly special.

A work by Helen Levitt is one of the few colour photographs included in the exhibition. Until the 1980s, colour photography was simply ‘not done’ and Levitt was one of the first to experiment with the method. The photograph of a girl searching for something underneath a green car is a marvellous example of composition in colour.

Press release from the Rijksmuseum website

 

Arnold Newman. 'Piet Mondrian, New York' 1942

 

Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006)
Piet Mondrian, New York
1942
Gelatin silver print

 

Emil Otto Hoppé. 'Steel construction, Philadelphia' 1926

 

Emil Otto Hoppé (German-born British, 1979-1942)
Steel construction, Philadelphia
1926
Gelatin silver print

 

László Moholy-Nagy. 'View from Pont Transbordeur, Marseille' 1929

 

László Moholy-Nagy (Hungary, 1895-1946)
View from Pont Transbordeur, Marseille
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Jan Luijkenstraat 1, Amsterdam

Opening hours:
Every day from 9.00 to 17.00

Rijksmuseum website

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10
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde’ at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Exhibition dates: 27th October 2010 – 13th February 2011

 

Alexander Calder. 'Still life'

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Still life
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

 

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know of my love of exceptional jewellery. This posting satiates my desire!

The Calder pieces are just outstanding.

Marcus

 

“Calder possessed an uncanny ability to synthesize a variety of influences from the world around him to create often simple, always meaningful, and ultimately modern jewelry. In the early 20th century, many avant-garde artists began to collect African tribal art and to reference it in their paintings and sculptures. Likewise, Calder’s brooches, tiaras, and necklaces have more in common with the pectorals, collars, diadems, and neckpieces made by ancient cultures than traditional western European jewelry. For example, Calder repeatedly incorporated the spiral – a typical motif in late Bronze Age artifacts – into his jewelry, as well as his wire figures, drawings, paintings, and other decorative arts. The artist’s personal collections, which included objects from African, Oceanic, and Precolumbian cultures, substantiate his eclectic taste.

Calder’s exploration of jewelry in the 1930s also coincided with his burgeoning interest in Surrealism. As his largest and most dramatic ornaments are unwieldy to wear, Calder’s jewelry may be seen as a Surrealistic strategy to entrap the wearer into participating in an art performance or being metamorphosed by the object. Among those who wore his jewelry were sophisticated art aficionados and artists, such as Peggy Guggenheim, Mary Rockefeller, French actress Jeanne Moreau, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

His sculptural art, regardless of category, has less to do with solidity than with lightness, air, motion, and graceful formal relationships. Calder’s sense of economy, balance, and adaptability, so characteristic of the artist’s much larger and more familiar mobiles and stabiles, extends to his jewelry. While Calder’s more diminutive avant-garde creations converged closely with the aesthetics of the modern age, they remain unmistakably Calder.”1

 

  1. Anon. “Metropolitan Museum of Art features Alexander Calder – Inventive Jewelry” on Art Knowledge News website Nd. [Online] Cited 11/01/2011 no longer available online

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Many thankx to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs to see a larger version of the image.

 

Hector Guimard. 'Brooch' 1909

 

Hector Guimard (French, 1867-1942)
Brooch
1909
© 2010 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

Jewelry by US artist Alexander Calder from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Jewellery by US artist Alexander Calder from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

Salvador Dalí, 'Time's Eye' Nd

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Time’s Eye
Nd
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

Salvador Dalí. 'Ruby's lips' 1949

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Ruby’s lips
1949
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dali, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

 

Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde explores the approach to the world of jewellery by leading artists of the main art movements in the first decades of the fertile 20th century. The exhibition gathers almost 350 works, chiefly jewels, that strike a dialogue with paintings, sculptures, photographs, fabrics and objets d’art, showing how jewellery made up the little universe of great artists.

Artist’s jewels. From Modernisme to the avant-garde reveals the relations between jewellery and the work of art. This exhibition, the first on this subject to be held in our country, shows the less well-known side of Auguste Rodin, Hector Guimard, Josef Hoffmann, Josep Llimona, Serrurier-Bovy, Henri Van de Velde, Manolo Hugué, Paco Durrio, Pau Gargallo, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Charlotte Perriand, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, Juli González, Henri Laurens and many others.

Painters and sculptors, since earliest times, have transferred their artistic forms to the world of jewellery, but it was not until the end of the 20th century, under the powerful influence of Art Nouveau, that artists approached this discipline more openly: ‘Carrying out a large work’, according to Otto Wagner, ‘means expressing beauty without distinguishing between large and small’.

The merger of arts that was a feature of Modernisme and the subsequent elimination of borders between the arts reached a crescendo in the 1920s and 1930s and crystallised in the numerous interesting incursions into the world of jewellery by the painters, sculptors and architects of the historic avant-garde. In producing these small-format objects (‘micro-sculptures’ or ‘painted jewels’), artists channelled their artistic thinking from different perspectives.

The exhibition opens with a selection of items produced by jeweller artists, who very often also cultivated multiple skills and who incorporated into their creations the offerings of the artistic movements of the time.

The high point of the first section of the exhibition are the jewels by René Lalique, which were purchased at the time of their production by European museums, rich amateurs and collectors. This is the case of the pendant purchased by the director of the Hamburg Museum at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the jewels purchased by Calouste Gulbenkian and the unique pendant Antoni Amatller bought in Paris for his daughter Teresa. In a dialogue with these works are the ones with rich enamelling and varied ranges of colour made by the Barcelona jeweller Lluís Masriera, who played a key role in introducing the new style to Barcelona.

Making up the core of the exhibition are the jewels conceived by artists who were not jewellers, such as Hector Guimard, Paco Durrio, Manolo Hugué, Herich Heckel, Pau Gargallo, Juli González, Joaquim Gomis, Ramón Teixé, Anni Albers, Charlotte Perriand, Alexander Calder, Henri Laurens, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Salvador Dalí. This second section shows these artists’ production in relation to their usual work of painting, sculpture, photography and other creations, establishing parallels with the artistic disciplines they worked at and revealing the affinities and echoes between them.

The legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Bauhaus, which were committed to integration between all the arts, can clearly be seen in the work of these artists, who opened the way to experimentation in the arts, questioning the very nature of jewellery, and who incorporated new materials into their production that were foreign to the tradition of precious metals. Examples of this are Ramon Teixé’s unusual creations in iron, glass, enamel and string and the jewellery by the sculptor Josep de Creeft made with bits of scrap metal from his motor car, not forgetting the jewellery by the architect and designer Charlotte Perriand or the ones produced by the photographer Joan Gomis in collaboration with Manuel Capdevila, which make use of shells and pebbles like real objets trouvées.

Alongside these hand-made items of jewellery that are often produced with non-precious materials, we are exhibiting the ones designed by Braque and Dalí and manufactured by professional jewellers using noble materials like rubies, sapphires or diamonds.

A third section of the exhibition explores the relationship between jewels and the body and shows a selection of clothes, mainly loaned by the Museo del Traje in Madrid, and photographs from the 1930s by Man Ray, Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huené and Horst P. Horst.

The works presented in this exhibition come from public institutions and museums all over the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Institut d’Art Modern (IVAM) in Valencia, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao and the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí in Figueres, who have generously made an exception in lending some of the most emblematic jewels in their collections, as well as from the MNAC itself and from numerous European and American private collections.”

Press release from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya website

 

Manuel Capdevila / Ramon Sarsanedas. 'Spain falled back' Broooch Nd

 

Manuel Capdevila / Ramon Sarsanedas
Spain falled back
Nd
Brooch
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – MNAC

 

Alexander Calder. 'The jealous husband' c.1940

 

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
The jealous husband
c. 1940
Necklace
Brass wire
14″ x 16″
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Calder Foundation New York/ VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

Erich Heckel. 'Drei Badende' (Three bathers) 1912

 

Erich Heckel (German, 1883-1970)
Drei Badende (Three bathers)
1912
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg
© Erich Heckel, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2010

 

Boucheron, Paris (design by Lucien Hirtz ). 'Corsage ornament' 1925

 

Boucheron, Paris (design by Lucien Hirtz)
Corsage ornament
1925
© Boucheron, Paris

 

 

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Palau Nacional
Parc de Montjuïc
08038 Barcelona

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat 10am – 7pm
Sunday and public holidays: 10am – 2.30pm

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya website

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07
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Mark Morrisroe’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 27th November 2010 – 13th February 2011

 

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled [Self-Portrait]
1979
T-108 Polaroid
8.5 x 10.7 cm
Sammlung Matthew Marks
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

 

This is an emotional posting for me. I came out as a gay man in 1975, six short years after the Stonewall Riots in New York City that were the touchstone of the gay liberation movement. I partied hard in my youth in London and didn’t have my first HIV test until 1982/3. We just didn’t know about the disease at all. Those two weeks waiting for the result of that first test, for that is how long it took to get the test results back in those days, seemed terribly long. Even worse was the time spent sitting outside the doctor’s office waiting to be called in to get the test results – literally life and death as there was no treatment, no drugs to help, no hope.

I lost many friends over the years to this terrible disease that continues to decimate human beings all around the world. It was only by pure luck that I survived. This posting shows the work of one artist who didn’t survive. He as experimenting with his sexuality (and documenting it) in Boston at much the same time that I was in London and so I feel an affinity with this beautiful and gifted man. What great images he made! How much poorer is the world without his presence and indeed the presence of all human beings who have succumbed to the disease.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
After the Laone (In the Home of a London Rubber Fetishist, Dec 82)' 1982

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
After the Laone (In the Home of a London Rubber Fetishist, Dec 82)
1982
C-Print von Sandwich-Negativ, bearbeitet mit Retuschefarben und Marker
39.5 x 50.6 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
Blow Both of Us, Gail Thacker and Me, Summer 1978' 1986

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Blow Both of Us, Gail Thacker and Me, Summer 1978
1986
C-Print, bearbeitet mit Marker
40.5 x 40.5 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
La Môme Piaf [Pat and Thierry]' 1982

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
La Môme Piaf [Pat and Thierry]
1982
C-Print von Sandwich-Negativ, bearbeitet mit Retuschefarben und Marker
50.7 x 40.5 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe
. 'Pat as Kiki, fall 81 Paris' 1985

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Pat as Kiki, fall 81 Paris
1985
Silbergelatine-Abzug von T-665 Polaroid Negativ, bearbeitet mit Retuschefarbe
25.2 x 20.2 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

 

More than twenty years after Mark Morrisroe’s early death, Fotomuseum Winterthur is presenting the first comprehensive survey exhibition on his work – an extraordinarily diverse body of works that has usually been shown in group shows, mostly in connection with his famous Boston colleagues Nan Goldin and David Armstrong. The exhibition, curated by Beatrix Ruf and Thomas Seelig, is a collaboration between Fotomuseum Winterthur and the Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection).

In the Boston of the early 1980s, Mark Morrisroe was a well-known, charismatic figure, who often appeared in drag together with the artist friends he had met while studying and who performed in bars and clubs with Stephen Tashjian (alias Tabboo!) as the “Clam Twins.” As an artist and photographer he was also at the center of the lively Boston punk scene, whose most important protagonists were known well beyond the city. Like Nan Goldin and David Armstrong before him, Mark Morrisroe moved to New York in the mid-1980s to try his luck there. He died – far too early – in July 1989, at the age of just 30, from the consequences of AIDS.

References to Morrisroe’s origins and past are surrounded by a dense mist that makes it impossible to differentiate between truth and fantasy. By continually inventing and varying scenarios about himself, the settings for which extended from the past to the future, Morrisroe always understood how to collaborate actively in shaping his own myth, feeding it with fanciful layers of lies, or indeed letting it float into the void. His public presence could be engaging, and sometimes loud and disturbing, too, but silence fell after his death – both around the artist and his photography.

In retrospect, Morrisroe’s art studies in Boston and his years in the punk and art world of that city can in fact be seen as his most content and productive period. There he discovered a positive approach to his sexuality, and in the person of Jonathan “Jack” Pierson, who appears in many of his photographs and Polaroids, found his first great love. The first intimate portraits of close friends such as Lynelle White (with whom he published five editions of the collaged, photocopied and colored-in Dirt fanzine in 1975–76) were produced there, as were many of his first narcissistic self-scenarios in front of the camera. There Morrisroe shot the low-budget trash film Nymph-O-Maniac in the style of his idol John Waters, with Pia Howard as the main performer.

Mark Morrisroe’s short creative period, of barely ten years, was characterized by an amazing output of photographic experiments, and stands out for its constantly searching, inquisitive, and always individual aesthetic, as a glance at the photographer’s extensive estate reveals. The estate was acquired by the Ringier Collection in 2004 and was placed in the care of the Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2006. The estate comprises around 600 color prints – a few of them duplicates – approximately as many gelatin silver prints, about 800 of the 2,000 known Polaroid shots by Morrisroe, all the negatives, contact prints, and some of his personal papers, giving some idea of the unbridled enjoyment and energy with which Mark Morrisroe threw himself into his life and work.

The exhibition will feature early color and black-and-white prints, Polaroids, and Polaroid negatives from which it was possible to make enlargements, as well as the early and late photograms he processed by hand. During his art studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (1978–1982) Morrisroe was already experimenting with various interpretations of reprography, trying to understand the possibilities of the medium and its inherent limitations, and using different ingenious printing processes for his photographic prints. Within his close circle of friends he soon laid claim to the “invention” of what are called “sandwich” prints – enlargements of double negatives of the same subject mounted on top of one another – which yielded an elaborate pictorial quality, producing a very iconic impression in the final result, which over time Morrisroe learned to use in an increasingly controlled way. Early on, the artist recognized the intrinsic value of prints – irrespective of the medium used to produce them – as pictorial objects that he could manipulate, color, paint, and write on at will.

By all accounts, Mark Morrisroe was a man driven to achieve fame and recognition. Restless and demanding – of himself as well as of others – he always wanted more, and from this inner restlessness he derived enormous resources of artistic energy. Right to the very end, his life and work, down to the photograms feverishly produced in the makeshift darkroom in his hospital, which have hardly ever been publicly shown until today, attest to an unlimited and ecstatic search for a sensual, aesthetic, and always ambivalently charged pictorial world.

The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Collection Ringier) at the Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Following Pat Hearn’s untimely death in 2000, there was a break in exhibition activities focusing on Mark Morrisroe. From 1998 the Ringier Collection had been continuously in contact with Pat Hearn about Mark Morrisroe’s work and they continued the discussion with Pat Hearn’s husband, Colin de Land of American Fine Arts, who had inherited the Mark Morrisroe estate. In 2002 Colin de Land approached Michael Ringier and Beatrix Ruf to discuss options for the future of the Morrisroe estate because he had also fallen ill and was very aware that he was going to die soon himself. In their conversations, the main concern was how responsibility for this important artist could be taken on by keeping the oeuvre together as a comprehensive group of works and making it accessible to a broad audience internationally as well. The Ringier Collection proposed to Colin de Land that they secure the estate by acquiring it and placing it in the Fotomuseum Winterthur. Furthermore, the decision was made to form a foundation for the Morrisroe estate, which would be the home to a comprehensive group of works and would keep the estate together, provide conversational and curatorial continuity, and act as the leading force in communicating and distributing the work through exhibitions and publications.”

Press release from Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
Self-Portrait (to Brent)' 1982


 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Self-Portrait (to Brent)
1982
C-Print von Sandwich-Negativ, bearbeitet mit Retuschefarben und Marker
50.5 x 40.5 cm
Privatsammlung Brent Sikkema
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled [Lynelle]
ca. 1985
T-665 Polaroid
10.7 x 8.5 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe
. 'Untitled [Self-Portrait with Jonathan]' c. 1978

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled [Self-Portrait with Jonathan]
c. 1978
T-665 Polaroid
10.7 x 8.5 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe.
 'Untitled [Self-Portrait]' 1986


 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled [Self-Portrait]
1986
Silbergelatine-Abzug
42.5 x 29.8 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
Untitled' 1987

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled
1987
Silbergelatine-Abzug, Fotogramm von Drucksache
50.4 x 40.3 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Mark Morrisroe. '
Untitled' c. 1988

.

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled
c. 1988
C-Print von Sandwich-Negativ
50.7 x 40.5 cm
© Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400 Winterthur (Zurich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am to 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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