Archive for May 8th, 2012


Exhibition: ‘A New Vision: Modernist Photography’ at the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 13th May 2012


Paul Caponigro. 'Two Pears, Cushing, ME' 1999


Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Two Pears, Cushing, ME
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 11/16 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift of Paul Caponigro, photographer



The conceptual idea of Modernist photography is “look at this,” look at how photography interprets the world: through light, lens, glass, film, paper, brain and eye. Early Modernist photography occurred in the first two decades of the twentieth century (through the vision of Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen et al) before it was even named “Modernism” and led to radically different forms of artistic expression that broke the pictorialist conventions of the era. Gritty realism was the order of the day, clean lines, repetition of form, strange viewpoints where the photographers observation of the subject is as important as the subject itself. Look at how I, and the camera, see the world: that is all there is, the indexical relation to the word of truth.

“Artists and photographers began looking at the photographs used in mass culture, to develop an aesthetic true to the intrinsic qualities of photographic materials: the accurate rendition of visible reality; framing that crops into a larger spatial and temporal context; viewpoints and perspectives generated by modern lenses and typically modern spatial organisations (for example, tall buildings); and sharp, black-and-white images. This objective, mechanised vision became art by foregrounding not its subject matter, but its formal structure as an image.” (Patrizia di Bello. “Modernsim and Photography,” on website [Online] Cited 03/08/2012 no longer available online)

Steiglitz and Strand, “often abstracted reality by eliminating social or spatial context; by using viewpoints that flattened pictorial space, acknowledging the flatness of the picture plane; and by emphasising shape and tonal rendition in highlights and shadows as much as in the actual subject matter.” (Ibid.,) Such use of highlights and shadows can be seen in the most famous work by the photographer Helmar Lerski, Transformation Through Light (1937), a photograph of which is presented below. Have a look on Google Images to see the changes wrought on the same face just through the use of light.

It is interesting to note the inclusion of photographers such as Paul Caponigro and Brett Weston in this exhibition as later examples of artists influenced by language of Modernism. While this may be partially true by the mid-1970s the mechanised vision of early Modernism (with its link to the indexicality of the image, its documentary authority and ability to express the individuality of the artist) had dissipated with the advent of the seminal exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1975). “The pictures were stripped of any artistic frills and reduced to an essentially topographic state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.” These typologies, often shown in grids, “depicted urban or suburban realities under changes in an allegedly detached approach… casting a somewhat ironic or critical eye on what American society had become.” (Wikipedia) While the photographs by Weston and Caponigro do show some allegiance to Modernist Photography they are of an altogether different order of things, one that is not predicated on what the object is or what the artist says it is (its reality), but also, what else it can be.

Of course, this leads into more critical readings on the meaning of photographs that emerged in the late 1970s-80s. As Patrizia di Bello has insightfully written,

“John Tagg, in The Burden of Representation (1988), argues that the indexical nature of the photograph does not explain its meanings. “What makes the link between the pre-photographic referent and the sign is a discriminatory technical, cultural and historical process in which particular optical and chemical devices are set to work to organise experience and desire and produce a new reality – the paper image which, through further processes, may become meaningful in all sorts of ways.” Rather than being a guarantor of realism, the camera is itself an ideological construct, producing an all-seeing spectator and effacing the means of its production. Analyses of who has possessed the means to represent and who has been represented reveal that photography has been profoundly implicated in issues of political, cultural, and sexual domination. This area of investigation has especially drawn upon Michel Foucault’s (1926-84) reflections on the emergence of forms of knowledge; on the modern notion of the subject; and on practices of power which produce subjects actively participating in the dominant disciplinary order. Particularly influential have been his rejection of the notion of a pre-given self or human nature, and his insistence that every system of power and knowledge also creates possibilities of resistance. The role of critics then becomes the deconstruction of dominant assumptions within and about representations, to identify works embodying the possibility of resistance.” (Patrizia di Bello. “Theories of Photographic Meaning,” on website [Online] Cited 03/08/2012 no longer available online)

The camera as ideological construct. Photography as profoundly implicated in issues of political, cultural, and sexual domination. In other words who is looking, at what, what is being pictured or excluded, who has control over that image (and access to it), who understands the language of that representation and controls its meaning (this picturing of a version of reality), and who resists the dominant assumptions within and about its representations.

Modernist Photography does indeed have a lot to answer for.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Currier 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.


Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp' c. 1980


Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 13 11/16 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive


Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Branches and Snow' c. 1975


Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Branches and Snow
c. 1975
Gelatin silver print
12 3/4 x 10 5/8 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive


Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis through Light #587' 1935-36


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis through Light #587
Vintage gelatin silver print
11 1/2 x 9 1/4 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire



Helmar Lerski (18 February 1871, Strasbourg – 19 September 1956, Zürich) was a photographer who laid some of the important foundations of modern photography. He focused mainly on portraits and the technique of photography with mirrors. Lerski concentrated on archetypal characteristics rather than on individual features, favouring extreme close-ups and tight cropping, and he became renowned for his experiments with multiple light sources.

Lerski was involved concurrently in the two major, emergent mediums of his time: film and photography. Born in Alsace in the then German city of Strausburg, he became involved in the theatre and, in 1896, moved to New York to pursue a career in acting, eventually working at the Irving Place Theater and later the German Pabst Theater. It was in this setting that Lerski first became aware of the unique visual effects achievable with stage lighting. Drawing from his acting experience, he began investigating photography as an artistic medium after meeting his wife, also a photographer. While photographing their colleagues, Lerski experimented with a series of portraits that severely manipulated the lighting effects. The resulting images formed a base for his later success in both commercial and art photography… This body of work upholds the artist’s declaration that “in every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on.”

In 1937 he created his masterpiece, Transformation Through Light, on a rooftop terrace in Tel Aviv, in which he projected 175 different images of a single model, altered using multiple mirrors to direct intense sunlight towards his face at various angles and intensities. Siegfried Kracauer wrote about this series in his Theory of Film (Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 162):

“His model, he [Lerski] told me in Paris, was a young man with a nondescript face who posed on the roof of a house. Lerski took over a hundred pictures of that face from a very short distance, each time subtly changing the light with the aid of screens. Big close-ups, these pictures detailed the texture of the skin so that cheeks and brows turned into a maze of inscrutable runes reminiscent of soil formations, as they appear from an airplane. The result was amazing. None of the photographs recalled the model; and all of them differed from each other…

Out of the original face there arose, evoked by the varying lights, a hundred different faces, among them those of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman, a monk. Did these portraits, if portraits they were, anticipate the metamorphoses which the young man would undergo in the future? Or were they just plays of light whimsically projecting on his face dreams and experiences forever alien to him? Proust would have been delighted in Lerski’s experiment with its unfathomable implications.”

Text from Wikipedia, Weimar Blog and Articles and Texticles websites


Margaret Bourke-White. 'Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co.,' 1928


Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co.,
Gelatin silver print
13 1/2 x 9 1/2 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Photo © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY



The Currier Museum of Art’s latest special exhibition traces the development of the modernist movement from the 1920s to its impact on artists today. Featuring more than 150 works displayed in three expansive galleries, A New Vision: Modernist Photography reflects the international nature of modernism, and includes American photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Margaret Bourke-White, Man Ray and Charles Sheeler, as well as European artists including Lotte Jacobi, László Moholy-Nagy, Helmar Lerski and Imre Kinszki…

[Marcus: Imre Kinszki (1901-1944) was a pioneer of modernist photography in Hungary, and a founder member of the group called Modern Hungarian Photographers. His son died in Buchenwald while he died on a death march to Sachsenhausen in 1944. See a moving video on YouTube where his daughter, who survived the ghetto, Judit Kinszki Talks About Her Father. The heartbreaking quotation below comes from the Articles and Texticles website which is no longer available online. It makes me very angry and very sad.

“In the ghetto we didn’t know anything about Auschwitz and what happened to those in forced labor service. It didn’t even occur to us that my father might not be alive. My mother and I went every day to the Keleti railroad station and went up to everybody who got off and asked them. Once my mother found a man who had been in the same group, and he remembered my father. He said that their car had been unhooked and the train went on towards Germany. They got off somewhere and went on foot towards Sachsenhausen – this was a death march. They spent the night on a German farm, in a barn on straw, and the man [who came back] said his legs had been so full of injuries that he couldn’t go on, and had decided that he would take his chances: he wormed himself into the straw. He did it, they didn’t find him, and that’s how he survived. He didn’t know about the others. We never found anyone else but this single man. So it’s clear that somewhere between this farm and Sachsenhausen everyone had been shot. But we interpreted this news in such a way that all we knew about him was that he would arrive sometime soon. We didn’t have news of my brother for a long time, then my mother found a young man who had worked with my brother. He told us that when they arrived in Buchenwald in winter, they were driven out of the wagon, and asked them what kind of qualifications they had. My brother told them that he was a student. This young man told us that the Germans immediately tied him up, it was a December morning, and they hosed him down with water just to watch him freeze to death. Those who didn’t have a trade were stripped of their clothes and hosed with cold water until they froze. I think that at that moment something broke in my mother. She was always waiting for my father, she refused to declare him dead even though she would have been eligible for a widow’s pension. But she waited for my father until the day she died. She couldn’t wait for my brother, because she had to believe what she had heard. Why would that young man have said otherwise?”]

Boris Ignatovich’s 1930s Tramway Handles and Margaret Bourke-White’s 1928 photo Turbine, Niagara Falls Power Co. [see below] showcase modernist images of isolated elements from the manmade world. While close-ups of nature, such as Brett Weston’s 1980 (Untitled) Tide Pool and Kelp, reveal striking abstract compositions that emphasise the repetition of patterns and dramatic contrast of light and shade. This new vision shared by modernist photographers makes form and composition as important as subject matter in their photographs.

“This exhibition illustrates the diversity of the modernist movement and its important contribution to the art of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Kurt Sundstrom, curator of the exhibition. Adding, “Modernist photographers expanded the visual vocabulary of art – making everyday objects – from grass, drying laundry, machinery and lumber to details of the human body – subjects worthy of artistic interest.”

Contemporary New England photographers are still building upon the artistic language that their predecessors developed. Paul Caponigro, who lives in Cushing, Maine, Carl Hyatt of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Arno Minkkinen of Andover, MA all clearly connect to modernism and are part of A New Vision.

A New Vision also explores the reciprocal influences among all media that shaped the modern art movement. Artists in the varied media shared a common vision; to illustrate this interconnectedness, paintings by Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler and Childe Hassam are paired with photographs in this exhibition.

Press release from the Currier Museum of Art website


Boris Ignatovich. 'Tramway Handles' 1930s (printed 1955)


Boris Ignatovich (Russian, 1899-1976)
Tramway Handles
1930s (printed 1955)
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 3/8 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
Art © Estate of Boris Ignatovich/RAO, Moscow/VAGA, New York.



Boris Ignatovich, born in Lutsk, Ukraine in 1899, was a Soviet photographer and a member of the Russian avant-garde movement. Ignatovich began his career in 1918, first working as a journalist and a newspaper editor before taking up photography in 1923. In the early 1920s he worked for a number of publications, most notably, Bednota (Poverty), Krasnaya Niva (Red Field) and Ogonyok. Ignatovich’s first photographic success was a documentary series about villagers in the Ramenskoe’s Workers’ settlement, which coincided with the first 5-year plan after Stalin’s victory. Ignatovich tried to alter the traditional format of documentary photography by using very low and very high unconventional angles, developing new perspectives, and including birds-eye constructions, which rendered the landscape as an abstract composition. In 1926 Ignatovich participated at the exhibition of the Association of Moscow Photo-Correspondents, and later became one of its leaders. In 1927, he photographed power plants and factories for Bednota and developed close association with Alexander Rodchenko, as they photographed for Dajosch together. Ignatovich’s famous photo stories also included the first American tractors in the USSR and aerial photographs of Leningrad and Moscow. In 1928, Ignatovich participated in the exhibition 10 Years of Soviet Photography, in Moscow and Leningrad, which was organized by the State Academy of Artistic Sciences. Due to his companionship with Rodchenko, Ignatovich was greatly influenced by his style and unconventional techniques. Both became members of the distinguished Oktiabr, the October group, which was a union of artists, architects, film directors, and photographers. In February of 1930, a photographic section of the October group was organised. Rodchenko was the head of the section and wrote its program. Other members include Dmitrii Debabov; Boris, Ol’ga, and Elizaveta Ignatovich; Vladimir Griuntal’; Roman Karmen; Eleazar Langman; Moriakin; Abram Shterenberg; and Vitalii Zhemchuzhnyi. The October group, whose styles favored fragmentary techniques and the distortion of images in an avant-garde manner, captured the idea of a world in dynamic form and rhythms.

First general October exhibition opened at Gorky Park, a park of culture and rest named after Gorky in Moscow. The photography section, organised by Rodchenko and Stepanova, includes the magazine Radioslushatel, designed by Stepanova and illustrated with photographs by Griuntal, Ignatovich, and Rodchenko. When Rodchenko was expelled from the October group for his formalist photography, Ignatovich took over as head of the photographic section of the group until the group was dissolved in 1932 by governmental decree.  Apart from October, Ignatovich worked on documentary films from 1930 to 1932. As a movie cameraman, Ignatovich worked on the first sound film, Olympiada of the Arts. After 1932 he began to pioneer ideas such as the theory of collectivism in photojournalism at the Soyuzfoto agency where he developed specific rules and laws of photography, so much so that the photographers working under him were obliged to follow and jointly credit their work to Ignatovich by signing their photographs “Ignatovich Brigade.” Ignatovich participated in 1935 Exhibition of the Work of the Masters of Soviet Photography as well as the All-Union Exhibition of Soviet photography at the State Pushkin Museum in 1937. During the 1930s, Ignatovich also contributed photographs to the USSR In Construction, and in 1941, worked as a war photo correspondent on the front. After the War, Ignatovich concentrated on landscape and portraiture, experimenting with the use of symbols, picture captions, and ideas of collectivism, particularly at the Soyuzfoto agency where he continued to work as a photojournalist until he died in 1976.

Text from the Nailya Alexander Gallery website


Brett Weston. '(Untitled) Fremont Bridge, Portland' 1971


Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
(Untitled) Fremont Bridge, Portland
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 x 10 1/2 in
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire. Gift from the Christian K. Keesee Collection
© The Brett Weston Archive



Currier Museum of Art
150 Ash Street, Manchester
New Hampshire 03104
Phone: 603.669.6144

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

The Currier Museum of Art 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, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor 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.

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