Archive for August, 2012

29
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Weegee: Murder Is My Business’ at the International Center of Photography, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th January – 2nd September 2012

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Weegee
Untitled [Anthony Esposito, booked on suspicion of killing a policeman, New York]
January 16, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
The dead man’s wife arrived…and then she collapsed
ca. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Ave.,
ca. 1938
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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“People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film… and when that split second of time is gone, it’s dead and can never be brought back.”

“For the pictures… I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power I can’t explain, and I caught the New Yorkers with their masks off… not afraid to Laugh, Cry, or Make Love. What I felt I photographed, laughing and crying with them.”

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Arthur Fellig (aka Weegee, 1899-1968)

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“Weegee’s work is connected by an umbilical cord to darkness; his images emerged from Gotham City’s nocturnal penumbra, spectrally streaked by streetlights, lit brightly only where there was a human focus, a tabloid John Alton at work.

Weegee called it his “Rembrandt light” as he caught the human protagonists in the white glare of his photo flash, the scene otherwise enveloped in darkness. Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, albeit they were taken by a man who had happenstance and chance as his helpmates; he and his camera, with its flash, seem to have a fateful meeting with his human subjects; pictures seem perfectly arranged, and what we focus on is their human content. Weegee is the quintessential noir photographer.”

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Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

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If you want a good read about the life and times of Weegee then Mark Svetov’s Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website is the way to go. I can’t really add much to this excellent piece of writing in terms of the history of the man and the social milieu in which he surrounded himself. What I can comment on are my personal feelings about his photographs.

Weegee’s photographs are no masterpiece of fine art printing, they are rough and direct, and I love them all the more for this quality. Their roughness – all sellotaped over, edges cut at odd angles, drawn and written on – only adds to their power and immediacy. If you can call photographs of dead bodies in the street vibrant and alive, then these photographs are just that. Svetov sees Weegee as the quintessential noir photographer; I see him not so much as that but as a sensitive, formalist photographer, a wonderful collagist and an artist who is a precursor to the pop art of the mid-late 1950s (think Warhol’s screen prints of the electric chair, or his mangled car crash series).

In the installation photographs of the exhibition Weegee: Murder Is My Business at the Photo League, New York (1941, see below) you get a sense of this master of assemblage, the animator and promoter (another pop trait!) at work. The large prints are casually pinned to the back board, surrounded by drawings of guns with smoke emanating from their barrels, cause of death certificates, photographs of Weegee himself “On the Spot”, Weegee’s press pass, newspaper clippings about the man and his work (including a photograph of his tiny bedroom) where Weegee “introduces” himself to his audience. The photographs flow around the room, from Faces, to Murder and Society. People are drawn into the aura of these photographs, you can see them leaning forward to take in every detail. They peer intently at the them trying to decipher every nuance of the narrative being told (the frequent hats lying about, the discarded pistols, the hand emerging from underneath the draped sheet).

As Svetov notes, Weegee’s news pictures were never haphazard snapshots, for they always seem perfectly arranged. Underneath the spontaneity and the humanism imparted by the artist is that fact that Weegee is a master of formalism. He knows exactly how to structure the picture plane as a classical pianist knows how to bring alive the themes of a Mozart sonata. Usually arriving before any other photographer because he lived opposite the police station and had a police radio in his car, Weegee “cased the joint” as I would put it, prowling quickly around the scene to get the best angle, the best shot before other photographers arrived or the scene was closed off by police. This instinctive framing only comes through having a good eye and training that eye so that what to shoot and how to crop the scene “in camera” becomes second nature.

Evidence of the formal structure implicit in Weegee’s photographs can be seen in my analysis of two photographs Line-Up for Night Court (ca. 1941, below) and Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York (August 24, 1943, below). In the first image the epicentre (or the enigma if you like) of the photograph is the dance of hands at the lower centre of the image, formed by two triangles and emphasised by two radial diagonals. The top points of the upper triangle are anchored by the men and women at both windows (see detail photographs), the patriarchal men in suit and tie at one window – a detective, a chief of police? – separated from the woman at another. Weegee’s splits this triangle with his frieze of faces showing the depths of human despair, despondency and ambivalence.

The second image has a much more complicated structure. In the first analysis we observe the different horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes as they march up the photograph. The “heart” of this image, where the yellow lines cross, is actually a point of absence. Look at the real photograph: it is the heart shaped empty space between the man’s outstretched hands that form the emotional centre of the image. In the second analysis we can simplify this down into a zigzagging line that passes directly through this point. To see this, to assess this and visualise the flowing movement in a split second is in any visual language outstanding. Weegee wasn’t averse to manipulating his images to achieve the desired result. The photograph Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) shows his notations over the top of the image, the crop he envisaged and the words “Take out hat” and “Make sock black” so that he achieved the desired dynamic within the photograph.

Weegee was a master of flash and the use of foreshortening – to create atmosphere in the first instance and used as a visual entre into the photographs in the second. Sometimes he combines both. The policeman at left in Line-Up for Night Court is both out of focus and the highlights (his face) are blown out by the flash. Does this matter: not one iota, for the policeman “grounds” the whole left hand side of the image. Again, in Murder (ca. 1940, below) the backside of the policeman is blown out by the flash but this only leads the eye of the viewer to the foreshortened body of the murder victim nestled in the crook of his knee and then onto the starkly lit pram, beyond. Finally, in Hold up man killed (November 24, 1941, below) the feet of the hold up man actually lead the viewer into the space between the two policeman’s shoes were the Surgeon from Gouverneur Hospital crouches over the body. Weegee also loved to weave detail into his images, so that even though the story is about human content, as Svetov observes, it is just as much about human materiality as well: notice the reflection of people in the car bonnet in At an East Side Murder (1943, below) at lower left and then the procession of worn shoes and the bagginess of the trousers – I didn’t realised they wore their trousers so baggy in the 1940s!

Svetlov sees Weegee’s photgraphs as containing an almost sacred squalor, a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape with nothing judgemental or distanced about them. I concur with the last part for Weegee was a man of the people whom he photographed. On the other points I am less sure: to me they are about light not darkness. They are about the aftermath of atrocity, of living, human beings dealing with death and its consequences. I see nothing sacred about this squalor. The photographs are about shining a light into darkness, the darkness that every human being must confront: the fact that we all have to die, somewhere, sometime, in the end.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Weegee
Untitled [Installation view of “Weegee: Murder Is My Business” at the Photo League, New York]
1941
Silver gelatin photographs
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Text and captions from the original Murder Is My Business exhibition:

  • “Introducing Weegee”
  • “Due to an increase in MURDERS The Photo League presents 2nd Edition of “MURDER IS MY BUSNESS” by Weegee”
  • “Weegee Lives For His Work And Thinks Before Shooting” (newspaper headline on the “Weegee” board at left)
  • “This space reserved for the latest muders”
  • “MURDER Manhattan bloodbath”
  • “Arthur Fellig Photographer / Do not disturbe / Except in case of Fire, Murder or Snow Storm” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Why did you kill your Sweetie”?  (caption underneath photograph)
  • “HUMAN BODY MINUS HEAD FOUND ON STREET” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Cop & human head in package” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Killed her husband after drinking brawl” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Just a cheap murder” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “My man” (caption underneath photograph)
  • “Who done that” (caption underneath photograph)

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“Weegee’s captions provided a visceral vernacular for the almost-sacred squalor of his imagery (see “Weegee’s Words” for a sampling). Taken together, they packed more than a mere punch; they were a brash but anguished cry in an endless nightscape. More than mere documents of a violent era, they also exuded a humanity that could only come from the photographer himself. There was nothing judgmental or distanced in Weegee’s work; he was the antithesis of the “slickers” who worked for glossy magazines. He remained a man essentially from the same New York working-class as the people he chose to photograph.”

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Mark Svetov. Life and Death (Mostly Death) in the Streets (2010) on American Suburb X website

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Weegee
Untitled [“Ruth Snyder Murder” wax display, Eden Musée, Coney Island, New York]
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Unidentified Photographer
On the Spot
December 9, 1939
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Line-Up for Night Court
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Construction of the pictorial plane in Line-Up for Night Court

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Weegee
Line-Up for Night Court (details)
ca. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
At an East Side Murder
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
At an East Side Murder (details)
1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Hats in a pool room, Mulberry Street, New York]
ca. 1943
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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“Gangland murders, gruesome car crashes, and perilous tenement fires were for the photographer Weegee (1899-1968) the staples of his flashlit black-and-white work as a freelance photojournalist in the mid­1930s. Such graphically dramatic and sometimes sensationalistic photographs of New York crimes and news events set the standard for what has since become known as tabloid journalism. In fact, for one intense decade, between 1935 and 1946, Weegee was perhaps the most relentlessly inventive figure in American photography. A surprising new exhibition at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street), titled Weegee: Murder Is My Business and organized by ICP Chief Curator Brian Wallis, will present some rare examples of Weegee’s most famous and iconic images, and will consider his early work in the context of its original presentation in historical newspapers and exhibitions, as well as Weegee’s own books and films.

Taking its title from Weegee’s self-curated exhibition at the Photo League in 1941, Murder Is My Business looks at the urban violence and mayhem that was the focus of his early work. As a freelance photographer at a time when New York City had at least eight daily newspapers and when wire services were just beginning to handle photos, Weegee was challenged to capture unique images of newsworthy events and distribute them quickly. He worked almost exclusively at night, setting out from his small apartment across from police headquarters when news of a new crime came chattering across his police-band radio receiver. Often arriving before the police themselves, Weegee carefully cased each scene to discover the best angle. Murders, he claimed, were the easiest to photograph because the subjects never moved or got temperamental.

Weegee’s rising career as a news photographer in the 1930s coincided with the heyday of Murder Inc., the Jewish gang from Brownsville who served as paid hitmen for The Syndicate, a confederation of mostly Italian crime bosses in New York. As a wave of governmental and legal crackdowns swept the city between 1935 and 1941, the rate of organized murders of small-time wiseguys and potential stool pigeons increased dramatically. Weegee often worked closely with the police but also befriended high-profile criminals like Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and Legs Diamond. Weegee called himself the “official photographer for Murder Inc.” and claimed to have covered 5,000 murders, a count that is perhaps only slightly exaggerated. In asserting the true nature of his business, Weegee proudly displayed his check stub from LIFE magazine that paid him $35 for two murders, slightly more, he said, for the one that used more bullets.

Selling his photographs to a variety of New York newspapers in the 1930s, and later working as a stringer for the short-lived daily newspaper PM (1940-48), Weegee established a highly subjective approach to both photographs and texts that was distinctly different from that promoted in most dailies and picture magazines. Utilizing other distribution venues, Weegee also wrote extensively (including his autobiographical Naked City, published in 1945) and organized his own exhibitions at the Photo League, the influential photographic organization that promoted politically committed pictures, particularly of the working classes. In 1941, Weegee installed two back-to-back exhibitions in the League’s headquarters. This visibility helped promote Weegee’s growing reputation as a news photographer, and he began stamping his prints “Weegee the Famous.” The general acceptance of his punchy photographic style, which did not shy away from lower-class subjects and humanistic narratives, led to the acquisition of his work by the Museum of Modern Art and inclusion in two group shows there, in 1943 and 1945.

“Weegee has often been dismissed as an aberration or as a naive photographer, but he was in fact one of the most original and enterprising photojournalists of the 1930s and ’40s. His best photographs combine wit, daring, and surprisingly original points of view, particularly when considered in light of contemporaneous press photos and documentary photography. He favored unabashedly low-culture or tabloid subjects and approaches, but his Depression-era New York photographs need to be considered seriously alongside other key documentarians of the thirties, such as Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, Walker Evans, and Berenice Abbott,” said Wallis.

The exhibition will feature over 100 original photographs, drawn primarily from the comprehensive Weegee Archive of over 20,000 prints at ICP, as well as period newspapers, magazines, and films. It will also include partial reconstructions of Weegee’s studio and his Photo League exhibition. The four galleries will each feature a touch-screen monitor allowing visitors to explore further details regarding the images and artifacts in that room.”

Press release from the ICP

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Weegee
Untitled [Body of Dominick Didato, Elizabeth Street, New York]
August 7, 1936
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Murder
ca. 1940
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Police officer and lodge member looking at blanket-covered body of woman trampled to death in excursion-ship stampede, New York]
August 18, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Hold up man killed
November 24, 1941
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Weegee
Untitled [Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris Linker from East River, New York]
August 24, 1943
Silver gelatin photograph
© Weegee/International Center of Photography

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Pictorial construction of Police officer and assistant removing body of Reception Hospital ambulance driver Morris

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International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York NY 10036
T: 212 857 0045

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Wednesday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Thursday – Friday: 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Saturday – Sunday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Closed: Mondays

International Center of Photography website

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25
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Timothy H. O’Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 7th April – 2nd September 2012

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“Of all the photographers who accompanied the Western surveys of this era, O’Sullivan remains the most admired, studied and debated. This is a result of the distinctly individual quality of his seeing – his particular union of fact and point of view; his understanding of what it meant to make a documentary photograph. O’Sullivan’s work remains inspiring and instructive: the clues it holds – to the nature of photography, 19th-century visual culture and the construction of photographic history – challenge and enlarge each new generation of viewers.”

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About the only decent sized Timothy O’Sullivan photographs online are here on Art Blart – in this posting and one I did earlier of Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Although some of the photographs from the earlier posting are reproduced again here there are also four new ones, and for that we should be thankful for there are so few quality images to look at on the web.

Following my last posting where I ruminated on the nature of photography, we note that O’Sullivan’s understanding of what it meant to make a documentary photograph was embodied in his distinctly individual way of seeing. As the above quotation observes, this was “his particular union of fact and point of view.” With this in mind, the photograph I would like you to focus on in this posting is the last one: a prescient abstract expressionist photograph almost eighty years before their advent. The fallen beams remind me of huge ice crystals in a rock cave and then you notice the pick axe at top left and leg and booted foot at right. Hang on a minute, there is another foot tucked underneath!

To have the temerity to photograph this scene in this way and this point in time in the history of photography is outstanding. Imagine being O’Sullivan coming upon this vista, framing the cave-in with beams at left and right of the image plane and detritus at the bottom. He could have left it at that, but no, he hints at the presence of a man, out of frame, doing what exactly we don’t know. It is this plaisir and jouissance that give this photograph its pleasure and pain. The knowledge that we know this scene, as the subject knows himself or herself, gives the photograph its pleasure; the fact that we don’t know what is beyond the edge of the frame, who the man is and what he is doing, fractures these structures and challenges the readers position as subject. As the viewer transgresses the act of pleasurable looking, of enjoying the formal characteristics and textures of the photograph, doubt sets in – what is the man doing, why is he there? As we transgress the pleasure principle the painful principle of what Lacan calls jouissance kicks in. The viewer suffers a crisis of doubt and, conversely, the pattern of the fallen beams of wood and the axe now create a more threatening, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Sand Dunes, Carson Desert, Nevada
1867
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Pyramid and Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Geyser Mouth in Ruby Valley, Nevada
1868
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc..

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Cañon de Chelle, Walls of the Grand Canon about 1200 feet in height
1873
Albumen print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part, by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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“The photographs made by Timothy H. O’Sullivan as part of the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, or King Survey, comprise an iconic and richly varied body of work. The first of the great post-Civil War Western expeditions, the King Survey was organized under the authority of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers. Between 1867 and 1872, Clarence King, the geologist in charge, and his party studied a vast swath of terrain, approximately 100 by 800 miles, encompassing the path of the soon-to-be-completed transcontinental railroad, from the border of California eastward to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The survey’s official photographer, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, was talented, resourceful and imaginative. In four seasons with King’s group – 1867, 1869 and 1872 – he created a diverse body of photographs: geological studies, landscapes, views of miners and mining operations, records of cities and settlements, studies of the survey itself and self-reflexive meditations on his own presence in the West.

Of all the photographers who accompanied the Western surveys of this era, O’Sullivan remains the most admired, studied and debated. This is a result of the distinctly individual quality of his seeing – his particular union of fact and point of view; his understanding of what it meant to make a documentary photograph. O’Sullivan’s work remains inspiring and instructive: the clues it holds – to the nature of photography, 19th-century visual culture and the construction of photographic history – challenge and enlarge each new generation of viewers.

The King Survey of the Great Basin, from 1867 to 1872, was the model for the other “great surveys” of the 19th-century American West. Rare and iconic works by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, the King Survey’s official photographer, will be featured in an exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art from April 7 through Sept. 2. Keith F. Davis and Jane L. Aspinwall, respectively senior and assistant curators of photography at the Nelson-Atkins, organized Timothy O’Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs.

“There is good reason that O’Sullivan remains so influential after all these years,” said Davis. “Visually speaking, he was the world’s greatest poker player. He always kept his cards close to his vest. His images are at once boldly straightforward and deeply mysterious, a perfect combination of intuition and calculation. His genius lies, in part, in making such originality appear so effortless.”

There are 60 photographs in the exhibition. Nine were borrowed from the American Geographical Society in Milwaukee, WIS; and the remainder are from the holdings of the Nelson-Atkins. Accompanying the exhibition is a major book, co-authored by Davis and Aspinwall, with contributions by three esteemed scholars: John P. Herron, Francois Brunet, and Mark Klett.

“O’Sullivan continues to influence generations of photographers because of his purely individual melding of fact and point of view,” said Aspinwall. “He was a complicated character, a hearty adventurer, a photographic explorer and innovator, with a bit of the daredevil thrown in the mix.” The book emphasizes the context of O’Sullivan’s photographs: his best known images in relation to the complete body of his survey work, the function of the photographs within the survey enterprise, and the scientific and cultural importance of the survey itself. In creating the book, Davis and Aspinwall became engaged in their own kind of “survey,” working from opposite ends of the subject back toward a common center.

“Jane focused on the evidence of the photographs themselves, tracking down every view and putting them into chronological order,” said Davis. “I began with an overview of the history of western exploration and then attempted to describe the King Survey and O’Sullivan’s career in detail. The meeting point, the crux of the whole project, was O’Sullivan’s remarkable photographs.” Davis became fascinated with O’Sullivan’s work 40 years ago, and his respect for the richness and longevity of his work has increased over the years. “Someone once said that writing a biography usually entails a process of ‘falling out of love’ with one’s subject,” said Davis. “That’s absolutely not true in this case. This exhibition and book have resulted in a newer and deeper admiration for a truly one-of-a-kind photographic achievement. That’s O’Sullivan’s gift to us – and we want to share it. Timothy H. O’Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs gives visitors a new appreciation of the visual history of the 19th-century American West, while presenting some of the museum’s rarest treasures for public view.”

Press release and text from the Nelson-Atkins website

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Lake in Conejos Cañon, Colorado
1874
Albumen print
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Cottonwood Lake, Wasatch Mountains, Utah
1869
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Shaft of Savage Mine, Virginia City, Nevada
1868
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Timothy O’Sullivan, American (1842-1882)
Cave-in, Gould & Curry Mine, Virginia City, Nevada
1868
Albumen print
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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

Opening hours:
Wed, 10 am – 4 pm
Thurs, Fri, 10 am – 9 pm
Sat, 10 am – 5 pm
Sun, Noon – 5 pm

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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22
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 26th August 2012

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On the Nature of Photography

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“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor…. Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”

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Newhall, Beaumont (ed.). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p.281.

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“Carol Jerrems and I taught at the same secondary school in the 1970’s. In a classroom that was unused at that time, I remember having my portrait taken by her. She held her Pentax to her eye. Carols’ portraits all seemed to have been made where the posing of her subjects was balanced by an incisive naturalness (for want of a better description). As a challenge to myself I tried to look “natural”, but kept in my consciousness that I was having my portrait taken. Minutes passed and neither she nor her camera moved at all.

Then the idea slipped from my mind for just a moment, and I was straightaway bought back by the sound of the shutter. What had changed in my face? – probably nothing, or 1 mm of muscle movement. Had she seen it through the shutter? Or something else – I don’t know.”

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Australian artist Ian Lobb on being photographed by the late Carol Jerrems.

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There is always something that you can’t quite put your finger on in an outstanding portrait, some ineffable other that takes the portrait into another space entirely. I still haven’t worked it out but my thoughts are this: forget about the pose of the person. It would seem to me to be both a self conscious awareness by the sitter of the camera and yet at the same time a knowing transcendence of the visibility of the camera itself. In great portrait photography it is almost as though the conversation between the photographer and the person being photographed elides the camera entirely. Minor White, in his three great mantras, the Three Canons, observes:

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Be still with yourself

Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
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Let the Subject generate its own Composition
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When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

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Freed from the tyranny of the visual facts something else emerges.

Celebrities know only too well how to “work” the camera but the most profound portraits, even of celebrities, are in those moments when the photographer sees something else in the person being photographed, some unrecognised other that emerges from the shadows – a look, a twist of the head, the poignancy of the mouth, the vibrancy of the dancer Josephine Baker, the sturdiness of the gaze of Walt Whitman with hands in pockets, the presence of the hands (no, not the gaze!) of Picasso. I remember taking a black and white portrait of my partner Paul holding a wooden finial like a baby among some trees, a most beautiful, revealing photograph. He couldn’t bear to look at it, for it stripped him naked before the lens and showed a side of himself that he had never seen before: vulnerable, youthful, beautiful.

Why do great portrait photographers make so many great portraits? Why can’t this skill be shared or taught? Why can’t Herb Ritts (for example) make a portrait that goes beyond a caricature? Why is it that what can be taught is so banal that it has no value?

In photography, maybe we edit out what is expected and then it seems that photography does something that goes beyond language; it goes beyond function that can be described as a part of speech, metonym or metaphor. When this something else takes over I think it is truly “unrecognised” in the best portraits – and it is fantastic and wonderful.

This is the ultimate understanding of perception and vision – when spirit takes over – the ability to see it in the mind, through the viewfinder and be able to reveal it in the physicality of the print. This, I believe, is the reality of photography itself in its absolute essential form – and here I am deliberately forgetting about post-photography, post-modernism, modernism, pictorialism, ism, ism – and getting down to why I really like photography: the BEYOND the visualisation of a world, the transcendence of time and space that leads, in great photographs, to a recognition of the discontinuous nature of life but in the end, to its ultimate persistence.

This is as close as I have got so far…

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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

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Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Andy Warhol
1966
Dye color diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

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Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves St Laurent
1968
Dye color diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

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Andy Warhol (American, 1928 – 1987)
Grace Jones
1984
Polaroid Polacolor print
9.5 x 7.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Portraits of Renown surveys some of the visual strategies used by photographers to picture famous individuals from the 1840s to the year 2000. “This exhibition offers a brief visual history of famous people in photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich holdings in this genre,” says Paul Martineau, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It also provides a broad historical context for the work in the concurrent exhibition ‘Herb Ritts: L.A. Style’, which includes a selection of Ritts’s best celebrity portraits.”

Photography’s remarkable propensity to shape identities has made it the leading vehicle for representing the famous. Soon after photography was invented in the 1830s, it was used to capture the likenesses and accomplishments of great men and women, gradually supplanting other forms of commemoration. In the twentieth century, the proliferation of photography and the transformative power of fame have helped to accelerate the desire for photographs of celebrities in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and on the Internet. The exhibition is arranged chronologically to help make visible some of the overarching technical and stylistic developments in photography from the first decade of its invention to the end of the twentieth century.

A wide range of historical figures are portrayed in Portraits of Renown. A photograph by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln documents his visit to the battlefield of Antietam during the Civil War. Captured by Nadar, a portrait of Alexander Dumas, best known for his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, shows the author with an energetic expression, illustrating the lively personality that made his writing so popular. Baron Adolf De Meyer’s portrait of Josephine Baker, an American performer who became an international sensation at the Folies Bergère in Paris, showcases her comedic charm, a trait that proved central to her popularity as a performer. An iconic portrait of the silent screen actress, Gloria Swanson, created by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair reveals both the intensity of its sitter and the skill of the artist. A picture of Pablo Picasso by his friend Man Ray portrays the master of Cubism with a penetrating gaze.

Yves St. Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Grace Jones are among the contemporary figures included in the exhibition. Fashion designer Yves St. Laurent was photographed by Marie Cosindas using instant color film by Polaroid. The photograph, made the year his first boutique in New York opened, graced the walls of the store for ten years. A Cosindas portrait of Andy Warhol shows the artist wearing dark sunglasses, which partially conceal his face. Warhol, who was fascinated by celebrity, delighted in posing public personalities like Grace Jones for his camera.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Man Ray (American, 1890 – 1976)
Pablo Picasso
1934
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

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Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868 – 1946)
Portrait of Josephine Baker
1925
Collotype print
39.1 x 39.7 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823 – 1896)
Walt Whitman
about 1870
Albumen silver print
14.6 x 10.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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19
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Status – 24 Contemporary Documents’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 9th June – 26th August 2012

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The word status (noun) can mean the position of an individual in relation to another or others, especially in regard to social or professional standing. The word derives from the Latin posture, from stãre  to stand. What is the standing of these photographs (as documents)? What does their posturing suggest, when the time of contemporary photographs has become but a series of disconnected presents/presence.

Mike Featherstone observes that, “Postmodern everyday culture is a culture of stylistic diversity and heterogeneity (comprising different parts or qualities), of an overload of imagery and simulations which lead to a loss of the referent or sense of reality. The subsequent fragmentation of time into a series of presents through a lack of capacity to chain signs and images into narrative sequences leads to a schizophrenic emphasis on vivid, immediate, isolated, affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world – of intensities.1

It is these intensities that we confront in the (Facebook) frenzy of contemporary photography. It is this schizophrenic inability to sustain a coherent identity that the photographs in this posting address. The words embedded in the media statement give ample latitude for the exploration of these immediaces: complex network, loose associations, immediate relationships, current status, apparent jumps and various themes to name but a few. But Annette Kuhn notes, “The truth/authenticity potential of photography is tied in with the idea that seeing is believing. Photography draws on an ideology of the visible as evidence. The eye of the camera is neutral, it sees the world as it is: we look at a photograph and see a slice of the world. To complete the circuit of recording, visibility and truth set up by the photograph, there has to be someone looking at it …”2 Kuhn continues, “A photograph, however much it may pretend to authenticity, must always in the final instance admit that it is not real, in the sense that what is in the picture is not here, but elsewhere.”3

The photograph evacuates its own meaning, its status as document; its posturing lies elsewhere. This very quality of absence may augment the voyeuristic pleasure of the spectator’s look.4 We return again and again to look at these fleeting, fetishistic images, to confirm their documentary status, that they do exist – to confirm our pleasure, the scopophilic desire for pleasurable looking. In the end we can ask, what do the photographs of a fake Prada shop in the desert, the perfect pink circles of identity/identical absence represent?

What are we really seeing? Do they really exist, do we really exist. Is living really believing?

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Elmgreen & Dragset
Untitled (Prada Marfa)
2007
C-print
160 x 204 cm
© Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset / Courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Paris

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Jérôme Leuba
Battlefield #60, Goldmine
2009
C-print, 40 x 58 cm
© Jérôme Leuba / Courtesy Blancpain Art Contemporain, Geneva

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Willem Popelier
Showroom Girls (detail)
2011
5 Inkjet prints, each 128 x 90.5 cm
© Willem Popelier

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“Photographer Willem Popelier (Eindhoven, 1982) found by accident 91 photographs and two films made by two girls on a publicly accessible computer. This was the start of a long-running project in which Popelier researched the role of photography on the internet and in social media. The result is the exhibition,  Showroom Girls, an intimate portrait of one of the girls in the form of pictures and texts by her hand that Popelier found online.

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Webcam

Whilst working on another project, ‘Showroom’,  Popelier was looking for showroom computers which visitors use to take pictures of themselves by using the computer’s webcam. He discovered that people leave these pictures on the computer in the shop. Popelier started to collect these images. Photographs of anonymous people who portray themselves in the public domain and upon occasion rather obsessively.

On one particular computer Popelier found almost a hundred pictures made by two girls. After more research he discovered that the girls had produced around two hundred images in almost an hour. A large number of these shots were removed, but the girls had left a number on purpose. One of the girls wore a necklace stating her name. Popelier started to look for her on the internet and found both girls on various websites such as Hyves, Facebook and Twitter. Via the internet Popelier got access to the tweets of one of the girls, but also managed to find her address and even her school results. And all of this he found legally, without hacking into any secret or inaccessible data. With all the collected material he put together the exhibition Showroom Girls.”

Text from the Foam website

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wearethe99percent.tumblr.com

Tumblr website, since August 2011.

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“A few years after the digital turn the shift from analog to digital image production and archiving, Foto­museum Winterthur explores the current state of the document and the documentary image in the exhibition Status – 24 Contemporary Documents. Whereas the term “status” used to have a thorou­ghly positive connotation, indicating a confident display of one’s own condition or state, today we ask about the “status” of things almost with a sense of apprehension, knowing full well that situations are often uncertain, precarious, and usually in flux. This uncertainty carries over into the field of photo­graphy. The rapid dissemination and availability of images and videos in print media, on the Internet, on social platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Flickr have led to new forms of com­munication through documentary images. Often we do not know who took the picture, nor do we know how the picture has made its way to us. How are these photographic documents to be understood? How do the schemata of seeing, understanding, deleting, and saving function in our contemporary multi-media environment?

The 24 exemplary “documents” selected for this exhibition come together in a complex network of loose associations and immediate relationships, which attempts to capture the current status of the documentary image. The apparent jumps between various themes and media formats, between official press images (Vladimir Putin fishing) and anthropological studies of the family image (the Vox Populi work by Fiona Tan) correspond to our current viewing experience as alternating between high and low, surface and depth. The conquest of unknown territory and the quiet contemplation of a personal theme form two poles of the exhibition. Whereas Trevor Paglen uses meticulous, scientific precision to offer proof of hidden US satellites operating in the night sky, Sammy Baloji, Jérôme Leuba, and Lara Almarcegui rescue removed sites or unusual biographies from oblivion. In 2009 Almarcegui was able to photograph the overgrown lots in East London that have now been built up and will be the sites of the Summer Olympics 2012.

The exhibition Status – 24 Contemporary Documents pursues the traces photography leaves behind, travelling at both analog and digital speeds. Through her video camera, Moyra Davey delves into a volume of photographs that is important to her, Portraits in Life and Death by Peter Hujar, and thereby creates a parable of decelerated reading and looking. Willem Popelier examines the shifting identities and presentations of the self through his work Showroom Girls, which offers an exemplary reflection on a younger generation’s behavior in social networks. Conceived and realized by Jules Spinatsch, the 24-hour panorama of the trading floor of the German stock exchange in Frankfurt – a site highly familiar from media images – enables us to witness the simultaneous recording, receiving, and saving of information in the form of a 14-meter wall installation, whose individual components will come together at Fotomuseum Winterthur over the course of the opening day of the exhibition on June 8, 2012 and depict a complete calendar day.

The exhibition is organized by Thomas Seelig, curator at Fotomuseum Winterthur.

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Participating artists

Lara Almarcegui, Dimitry Astakhov, Sammy Baloji, Walead Beshty, Ursula Biemann, Fernando Brito, Moyra Davey, Lukas Einsele, Cédric Eisenring/Thomas Julier, Michael Elmgreen/Ingar Dragset, Alfredo Jarr, Jérôme Leuba, Market Photo Workshop, Erica Overmeer, Trevor Paglen, Willem Popelier, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Jules Spinatsch, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fiona Tan, Jonas Unger, Unknown Taliban, Lidwien van de Ven, wearethe99percent”

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Anonymous
Taliban
2001
C-print, 9 x 13 cm
© Collection Thomas Dworzak / Courtesy Magnum Photos, Paris

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Jonas Unger
Gérard Depardieu
2010
C-print
60 x 40 cm
© Jonas Unger

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Trevor Paglen
LACROSSE/ONYX II Radar Imaging Reconnaissance Satellite Passing Through Draco (USA 69)
2007
From the series: A Compendium of Secrets
C-print, 152 x 122 cm
© Trevor Paglen / Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

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1. Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage Publications, 1991, p.124.

2. Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, pp.27-28.

3. Ibid., pp.30-31.

4. Ibid., pp.30-31.

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

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

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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17
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Before Color: William Eggleston’ at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 26th August 2012

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“As these rediscovered prints reveal, the man who made colour photography into an artform worked brilliantly in monochrome – and his eye for unsettling detail is every bit as sharp”

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Sean O’Hagan

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These are magnificent, intelligent photographs. They are works from the master that show that Eggleston found his own style early on. His understanding of the “quietness” of space and form within the picture plane is already fully developed and his aesthetic decision to use grainy, black and white high speed film just adds to the stillness and eeriness of the photographs. His signature style, his unique messianic voice, really shines through in these recently discovered images which could be seen to be BC – before the beginning of colour (photography) as eulogised by the museum establishment.

Highlights in these photographs include:

  • The pose of the women caught mid-stride, about to put the telephone back in its cradle
  • The man and the woman frozen mid-conversation in a minimal hotel lobby(?) with the shroud of a dark man on the plaque behind
  • The barren hotel room with old air conditioner, vinyl chair, floral bedspread and newspapers strewn over the floor (remeniscent of the spaces of so many of his later colour photographs)
  • And my favourite, Untitled (1960, below), the bulk of the heavy car looming out of the murk at the bottom of the picture frame, the intransigent windscreen wipers, the rain and the blurred traffic moving behind. You can almost touch and taste the atmosphere of this moment, in this day, of that year…

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The wondrous thing is that Eggleston’s voice transfers beautifully through into the saturation of his later colour dye-transfer prints. His pared down vision of life and world become unmistakably his own in the colour photographs. Unlike the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, whose panache in his black and white photographs is matched only by the shallowness of his colour work, here Eggleston lays the ground work for the rest of his monumental career.

Great to see these early photographs. I’m so glad they found them!

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

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Vegard Kleven, Oslo

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1966
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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“The American photographer William Eggleston (1939) is known as one of the first major pioneers of artistic colour photography. His book William Eggleston’s Guide was one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century and still inspires many today. Eggleston’s black-and-white photographs are less well-known. In Before Color, the Nederlands Fotomuseum highlights this famous photographer’s earliest work, which was only recently discovered. The photographs show that Eggleston found his own style early on. Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston used a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film to photograph the American way of life in the early 1960s. We see his own surroundings: suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, as well as the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there. Before Color by William Eggleston will be on display from 16 June until 26 August.

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Black-and-white snapshots

When Eggleston started taking photographs in the early 1960s, he was particularly inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his book The Decisive Moment from 1952. Contrary to the big names in American photography at the time – who were preoccupied with the stunning landscape, like Ansel Adams – Cartier-Bresson took snapshots of everyday life. Eggleston found this approach very appealing. Using a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film he began photographing his own surroundings. These were predominantly shaped by suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, but he also focused on the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there.

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Breaking a tradition

At the same time Eggleston experimented with colour photography. Together with Joel Meyerowitz, Joel Sternfeld and others, he broke the long tradition of black-and-white photography by working in colour and focusing on subjects from daily life. In 1972 he completed an extensive series of 2,200 photographs entitled Los Alamos, which provided a unique picture of life in America in the ’60s and early ’70s. He discovered the deep and saturated colours of the so-called dye-transfer printing technique, originally a commercial application that he perfected and that would become his international trademark. His first solo exhibition in 1976 was also the first exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art devoted to colour photography. The exhibition was accompanied by what would become the acclaimed and influential book William Eggleston’s Guide.

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Before color

Eggleston would later abandon black-and-white film altogether and his earliest work was forgotten. So it was a surprise when a box of his black-and-white photographs was recently found in the archives of the William Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis. The photographs were exhibited for the first time in 2010 at the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York and published in the book Before Color (Steidl, 2010).

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Before Color
exhibition

This is the first time that Before Color has been exhibited in the Netherlands and includes nearly 40 photographs from William Eggleston’s early career. The images show that Eggleston found his personal style and photographic motifs early on and provide a wonderful picture of the American way.”

Press release from the Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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Nederlands Fotomuseum
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am -5 pm
Free entrance on Wednesday

Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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14
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 28th July – 4th November 2012

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

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #12801
1986
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photograph
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #22916
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #23514
1988
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #27403
1989
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Lime Hills #29211
1990
Chromogenic print
11 13/16 in. x 14 15/16 in (30 cm x 38 cm)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Lime Hills (Quarry Series), 1986-1991

Each year nearly two hundred million tons of limestone – virtually the only natural resource in Japan – are cut to produce the cement necessary to build the nation’s many cities, as well as to make additives used in paper, medicine, and food products. Hatakeyama was drawn to this industrial subject from a young age; his first artistic explorations took the form of paintings of the cement factory that he passed each day as a child. For Lime Hills, his earliest photographic series, Hatakeyama returned to the area near his hometown on the northeastern coast of Japan to investigate the nearby limestone quarries and their corresponding factories. Over the next five years he broadened his scope to include mines throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Reflecting on the physical connection between these sites and civilization, the artist later noted: “If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.”

These small-scale photographs offer visions of the excavated land that at first glance seem idyllic. Often shooting in the golden evening light with a large-format camera, Hatakeyama captured the sculptural contours of the processed earth, infusing it with the luminous glow seen in many Romantic landscape paintings of the nineteenth century. Yet the Romantic tradition, which highlighted the awesome terror of nature, is upended in Hatakeyama’s pictures, which instead uncover unexpected pleasures in the tamed and built environment, ultimately suggesting the artificiality of conventional notions of beauty.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
from the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Sollac Méditerranée, Fos-sur-Mer, #06709
2003
from the series Atmos
Chromogenic print
27 9/16 in. x 35 7/16 in (70 cm x 90 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Atmos, 2003

In 2003 Hatakeyama was invited to the Camargue, near Fos-sur-Mer, France, to photograph the landscape surrounding a steel factory located on the eastern edge of the Rhône delta. He worked from two perspectives, shooting on the factory grounds as well as from the surrounding landscape, much of which is conserved as a nature park. His photographs contrast the idyllic serenity of the flat plains where the Rhône river meets the Mediterranean Sea with the dramatic clouds of steam – formed when the coke used in steel making is doused in cool water – that often rise above this terrain.

Upon discovering this impressive phenomenon the artist reflected: “The etymology of ‘atmosphere’ is the ancient Greek words for vapor (atmos) and sphere (sphaira). Once I learned this, the air that filled the Camargue and the steam from the factory seemed to fuse into one before my eyes. It no longer felt strange to see signs of humanity in the sky and the land, or to sense nature in the cloud of steam from the factory. And I began to feel that it would no longer be possible to draw a clear line at the border between nature and the artificial.” Through Hatakeyama’s lens, the factory seems at once tranquil and volatile, surrounded by the golden light, billowing pastel clouds, and thick atmosphere found in many early twentieth-century paintings of industrial sites. Like the Impressionists, who embraced modern life by finding their subjects in new technologies, Hatakeyama presents new landscapes that complicate the conventional boundaries between nature and industry.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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“From July 28 through November 4, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the work of one of Japan’s most important contemporary photographers in the exhibition Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories. This will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum and the first presentation of his work on the West Coast.

Organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in association with SFMOMA, the exhibition gathers work spanning Naoya Hatakeyama’s entire career, including more than 100 photographs and two video installations, offering viewers new insight into the artist’s practice and place in the rich history of Japanese photography. The presentation at SFMOMA, the sole U.S. venue for this internationally traveling retrospective, is overseen by Lisa J. Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography.

Hatakeyama is known for austere and beautiful large-scale color pictures that capture the extraordinary powers routinely deployed to shape nature to our will – and, in the case of his photographs made after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the equally powerful impact of natural forces on human activities. Whether photographing factories, quarries, mines, or tsunami-swept landscapes, Hatakeyama has developed a thorough and analytical method for observing the ways in which the human and natural worlds have both coexisted and clashed. “For the past 25 years Naoya Hatakeyama has made pictures that focus on the complicated relationship between man and nature,” says Sutcliffe. “Approaching his subjects from diverse perspectives and across time, he redefines the ways in which we visualize the natural world.”

Hatakeyama has long been interested in the relationship between human industry and the natural environment. His early series of photographs of limestone quarries, Lime Hills (1986-91), references the Romantic painterly tradition of the sublime, but links it to the relentless pursuit of raw materials for modern development. After observing that “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph,” Hatakeyama began to investigate urban centers built from limestone and concrete. In Underground (1999), he explores the pitch-black depths of Tokyo’s underbelly from the tunnels of the Shibuya River, revealing the ecosystems of the city’s sewer network that often go unseen. Nearly a decade later he returned to the subject, photographing the remnants of decaying limestone quarries underneath Paris in Ciel Tombé (2007).

Several of Hatakeyama’s photographic series capture scenes of destruction with calm precision. Contemplating the abandoned structures surrounding a disused coal mine, Zeche Westfalen I/II Ahlen (2003/2004) includes images of a German factory hall seemingly suspended in midair at the moment of its demolition. For the Blast series (2005), the photographer used a high-speed motor-driven camera to document explosions in an open-cast limestone mine, framing the instant of impact in a series of still photographs. The exhibition will present the U.S. debut of Twenty-Four Blasts (2011), a video installation of his still photographs from Blast that transforms these explosions into a found sculptural event.

Hatakeyama has applied his measured and unsentimental method of observation to landscapes in transition around the world. In the series Atmos (2003), his representations of tranquil French landscapes include steam clouds generated by steelworks. Also made in France, the series Terrils (2009-10) pictures the massive conical hills created by coal mining, documenting landscapes transformed by the human exploitation of natural resources. Considering a different type of human impact on the natural world, Hatakeyama observes the conquest of the Swiss Alps by tourism in Another Mountain (2005), invoking the sublime both through choice of subject matter and through the contrast in scale between man and nature.

The most recent series in the exhibition, Rikuzentakata (2011), records the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. For Hatakeyama, the disaster struck very close to home: his hometown of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture was left in ruins, his mother was killed, and the house he grew up in was destroyed. Although these are some of the most personal photographs the artist has ever exhibited, they are remarkably unsentimental, displaying the same clarity and refinement that mark the rest of his work. The video installation Kesengawa (2002-10), named after the river that flows through Rikuzentakata, presents his personal photographs of the area made before the tsunami, creating a poignant dialogue with the 2011 series.”

Press release from the SFMOMA website

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Naoya Hatakeyama
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#7 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
A BIRD/Blast #130
2006
#15 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
8 in. x 10 in (20.32 cm x 25.4 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, promised gift of Kurenboh
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Still from Twenty-Four Blasts
2011
HD video installation from a sequence of 35 mm film
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Blast, 1995
Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, 2003-2004

While photographing Japanese quarries and factories for Lime Hills, Hatakeyamabecame intrigued by the regular explosions designed to free limestone from the cliffs. He was interested in the violence and force of the blasts as well as in the engineers’ deep understanding of the “nature” of the rock. Working with these experts, he was able to calculate exactly how close he could place his remotecontrolled, motorized camera to the blast to capture the explosion in still frames. The striking large-scale photographs this method produced dramatize the tension between the slow geologic formation of the rocks and the split-second detonation that destroys them. Distilling his study to a series of frozen moments of intense scrutiny, Hatakeyama emphasizes the volatile character of the blast, offering a perspective that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In the video projection Twenty-Four Blasts, presented in the next room, these explosions are set to motion, serving as documentation of the mining process while also reflecting an understanding of the blast as a sculptural event.

In Zeche Westfalen I/II, Ahlen, a series taken in Germany, Hatakeyama used a remote-controlled camera shutter to photograph the destruction of the Zeche Westfalen coal plant at the time of detonation. An industrial center since the mid-nineteenth century, the area is experiencing new development as mines are destroyed to make way for commercial and residential growth. These pictures serve as a record of one such transition, trapping the building as it hovers in midair in the moments just before its destruction. Although photography is often used to capture an image of something before it is gone, these pictures reveal Hatakeyama’s interest in documenting destruction analytically and in real time, as a celebration of the future rather than an elegy to the past.

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #7109
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #6302
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Underground #7001
1999
Chromogenic print
19 5/16 in. x 19 5/16 in (49 cm x 49 cm)
Collection of Michael and Jeanne Klein
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Underground, 1999 / Ciel Tombé, 2007

After photographing the limestone quarries around Japan, Hatakeyama realized that the urban fabric of Tokyo resembles a mirror image of the excavated earth when viewed from above. As he later wrote, “the quarries and the cities are like negative and positive images of a single photograph.” This revelation led him to photograph the city from great heights and, later, to document the tunnels snaking beneath it. The Shibuya River, diverted beneath Tokyo like a sewer, echoes the chambers Hatakeyama observed within the quarries, yet it is shrouded in darkness and mystery. His abstract and often theatrically lit pictures of the underground river, illuminated by a strobe at the center of each composition, investigate the process of photographing complete darkness.

Long interested in exploring the subterranean landscapes of France, where limestone was quarried in the carrières below Paris beginning in the thirteenth century, Hatakeyama followed his Tokyo pictures with a Parisian series. For Ciel Tombé he photographed the tunnels beneath the Bois de Vincennes, a wooded park to the east of the city. The series title, which translates literally as “fallen sky,” is a term often used to describe the collapsed ceilings in Parisian underground tunnels. The resulting pictures, which share the dramatic lighting of his Shibuya River series, emphasize the fragility of a built environment exposed to the ravages of time. Hatakeyama has remarked that in these tunnels, “the sky has now become an ancient layer of earth permeating below the city [in which] we live.””

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Noyelles-sous-Lens, #07729
2009
from the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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Naoya Hatakeyama
Loos-en-Gohelle, #02607
2009
from the series Terrils
Chromogenic print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in (60 cm x 75 cm)
Courtesy the artist
© Naoya Hatakeyama, courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery

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“Terrils, 2009-2010

During 2009 and 2010 Hatakeyama was a photographer in residence in the Nord-Pas de Calais, a region in northern France along the Belgian border. A historically contested area often in the path of wars between France and its neighbors, the Nord became a major center for industry in the nineteenth century due to its wealth of coal mines, steel mills, and textile factories. Today the landscape is marked by terrils, slag heaps composed of waste products from the mining process, which in the context of the region’s current economic troubles serve as monumental reminders of a prosperous industrial past.

Hatakeyama’s photographs explore the terrain from different perspectives, with conical towers of slag looming in nearly every picture. While some of the pictures expose the burnt orange soil just beneath the earth’s surface, others soften the mining site with a wintry, atmospheric haze. By transforming this man-made wasteland to the point that the viewer can no longer determine its contours, Hatakeyama reveals a complex natural environment that incorporates human developments. According to the artist, “history is not simply a list of events, but a human narrative which weaves together time and memory. The interweaving of passing time and the memory of events creates the fabric where History appears as a pattern from which each individual perceives his own personal story.” In these pictures Hatakeyama maps the traces of one such story on the landscape through the conical forms of the mining deposits. These “hills” not only serve as reminders of the ways in which the land has been used but also evoke the long-established cultural role of mountains as mythological symbols.”

Wall text from the exhibition

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Opening hours:
Open daily (except Wednesdays): 11 am – 5:45 pm
Open late Thursdays, until 8:45 pm

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website

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10
Aug
12

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: within, 1992/4

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The titles from this period tend to be poetic, pragmatic or composed, like Japanese haiku. The two photographs How will it be when you have changed and Tell me your face before you were born (1994, below) were included in the seminal exhibition Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS’ at the National Gallery of Australia in 1994. The floater (1992-94) is one of the best black and white photographs I ever took.

I am scanning my negatives made during the years 1991 – 1997 to preserve them in the form of an online archive as a process of active memory, so that the images are not lost forever. These photographs were images of my life and imagination at the time of their making, the ideas I was thinking about and the people and things that surrounded me.

All images © Marcus Bunyan but can be used freely anywhere with the proper acknowledgement. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image; remember these are just straight scans of the negatives !

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Marcus Bunyan
Gryphon, Luna Park, St Kilda
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Paul, Windsor railway station
1992-94

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Marcus Bunyan
Night, Windsor
1992-94

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Marcus Bunyan
The dusty city
Stillness
blossoms and mist within
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Afterlife
1992-94

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Marcus Bunyan
The face of man
in the surface of Moon
blinks
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
How will it be when you have changed
1994
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Tell me your face before you were born
1994
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
The floater
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Keyhole, Source, Form No. 1, Fredrick White
1993
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Gryphon and palms, St Kilda
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan
Untitled [divinity]
1992-94
Silver gelatin photograph

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive page

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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