21
Oct
14

Review: ‘Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 26th October 2014

Artists: Cherine Fahd, Vivian Maier, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Debra Phillips, Patrick Pound, Clare Rae, Simone Slee, David Wadelton And Kellie Wells and Vivian Maier.

Curators: Naomi Cass, Louise Neri and Karra Rees

 

Over rated and over here…

Apologies to the wonderful and hard working Director of the CCP Naomi Cass for what I am about to say, but this is one of the most disappointing photographic exhibitions in Melbourne this year.

Let’s start with the Australian work. There is nothing at all wrong with any of the Australian work. Some of it is very strong, such as the found images of Patrick Pound and the social documentary work of David Wadelton. The problem comes with the lack of connection to the photographs of Vivian Maier. For work that is supposed to be “crossing paths” conceptually with the images of Maier many of the connections are so esoteric as to be almost indistinguishable, so obtuse (as Tim Robbins would say in the Shawshank Redemption) as to be almost unintelligible to the uninitiated. Where the work is conceptualised around the performative context of identity and the occupation of space(s), such as in Claire Rae’s digital colour lightbox images of people jumping in the air stopped in suspended animation or the beautiful reinscription of the body in the almost dance like video work of Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, then the juxtaposition simply does not work. The ties that bind one to another simply are not strong enough to sustain the inquiry of the viewer. More interesting would have been the investigation of the concept of an artist taking photographs in her own time, hidden, secretive, and then being discovered later after she had died – which brings up issues of visibility (the cameras and her gendered own), celebrity, posthumous recreation of identity, the fame of the artist after death, and how the self-portraits fit into this theme etc…

.
The photographs by Vivian Maier printed by ? are far more disappointing.

Touted as the NEXT BIG THING by curators who are always looking for the next big thing and people out to make a healthy buck or two, VM is a person who has been “posthumously invented” and her work, which was largely unprinted during her lifetime, has been brought to market in a commercial process. As Abigail Solomon-Godeau notes at the end of her excellent essay “Inventing Vivian Maier” on the Jeu de Paume website:

“Here one can see how the terms of an “aesthetic” discourse within the world of contemporary photography, turning on the individual author and her work, and the far less lofty realities of market and marketing, property relations, public relations, media relations and all the other apparatuses, illuminate one another, or even collide. “Her big project,” remarks Michael Williams, “was her life,” but perhaps the even larger project is her posthumous invention.”

.
With this invention in mind (and the product that you want to sell being paramount), you would have thought that the people who now control her archive would have got a damn good black and white printer to print the work. But no. Some of the prints are appalling, so flat that there is little if any true black in them at all. As for the content of the images, they look better in reproduction than they do in real life. Maier, as I have said elsewhere, is a competent photographer – but she will never be a great photographer. Periodically (and I use the word my female friend supplied) she is very good, but too often she lapses into cliche. There are lots of low depth of field photographs but the construction of the images is cold and stilted, there is little engagement it would seem but for the snap of the shutter as she wanders around city after city, keeping the resulting negatives securely hidden.

There is also little mystery in her photographs which is probably why they don’t rise to that next level: look at the photograph of the two men staring at a length of hose on the ground on a rainy street in NY. The hose just sits there, the men are caught mid-gesture… and that’s it. Lots of her photographs are like this. And there also seem to be some anger towards the world as well. If you compare the photograph of the two boys, Undated, Canada (below) with that of the twins by Diane Arbus, there seems to be a darkness and maelevolence to VM’s photograph that contrasts with the mystery and joy in that of Arbus – not so much in the subject matter but in the feeling that the photographer projects towards what she is photographing.

There is a coldness when you see the prints in the flesh (like the wind whistling off Lake Michigan onto the Chicago streets), an ice chill, a lack of humour, something that is a little creepy and screwy (if you will pardon the colloquialism) about the work. She wants us to know she is there in the photograph, even when she is not physically present, as in the image September 18, 1962 (below) where the viewer understands that the photographer is down on one knee to get the shot. There is also a healthy dose of narcissism in the photographs: the self-portraits with this serious woman peering back at us, one who’s eyes hardly ever smile (you can tell a lot from a person’s eyes!) are not psychological investigations like the self-portraits of Rembrandt as he ages throughout the years – portraits in which Rembrandt explores what it is to be him – they are something more obsessive which VM then hides under a bushel. The use of fragmentation and shadows in the two self-portraits that I have put together (New York City, September 10, 1955 and Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY, below) speak of a schism inside the person, one who exposes herself through photography and then possesses but disclaims the results.

People have been flocking to see the film with sold out sessions all over the city, and they were flocking into the CCP to see the exhibition last Saturday when we were there. People love the back story as it has been sold to them by “marketing, property relations, public relations, media relations and all the other apparatuses” and there has been a veritable feeding frenzy about this work: THE DISCOVERY OF KING TUT’S TOMB WITH 100,000 NEGATIVES AND ASSORTED ARTEFACTS!

.
Kudos to the CCP for getting these images to Australia and exhibiting them and its great to see so many people in the gallery but please, let’s understand the hype and then really look at the work. The ART in FACT is that these are not well printed images, and most of them are pretty prosaic in composition and feeling. There are maybe four really good images, but that is about it. As always, go and see for yourself and keep my words in mind.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

“I don’t believe in reincarnation but in a previous life I did!”

.
Frederick White

 

 

Vivian Maier. 'East 108th Street. September 28, 1959, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
East 108th Street. September 28, 1959, New York, NY
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'August 1960. Chicago, IL' 1960

 

Vivian Maier
August 1960. Chicago, IL
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Diane Arbus. 'Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967' 1967

 

Diane Arbus
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1950ies'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1950ies
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'April 7, 1960. Florida'

 

Vivian Maier
April 7, 1960. Florida
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January 1956'

 

Vivian Maier
January 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January, 1953, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
January, 1953, New York, NY
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1953'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1953
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1953'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1953
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'July 1957. Chicago Suburb, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
July 1957. Chicago Suburb, I
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'January 9, 1957, Florida'

 

Vivian Maier
January 9, 1957, Florida
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, New York, February 3, 1955'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, New York, February 3, 1955
1955
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'March 1954, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
March 1954, New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL
1957
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'June 1963. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
June 1963. Chicago, IL
1963
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

“During her lifetime, Vivian Maier (1926-2009) produced more than 100,000 photographic images, which remained largely undiscovered until after her death. CCP celebrates this reluctant artist’s timely relevance, juxtaposing her work with contemporary Australian photography, performance and video.

Maier’s prolific body of work recording both herself and the world around her – predominately with a distinctive medium format Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera – is a precursor to our age of compulsive photographic documentation via smart phones and digital media. The posthumous construction of her identity is almost as compelling as her images and her ability to determine and frame a gripping moment with poignancy and beauty. Time has been Maier’s collaborator, where nostalgia plays a significant role in the popularity of her archive.

In Crossing Paths with Vivian Maier, Maier’s photography – printed well after her death – is presented with contemporary Australian artists working in still, moving and found photography and who also document the street and themselves in an equally obsessive manner.

Against the gritty street life captured by her probing lens, Patrick Pound responds with second-hand images gleaned from junk shops and the Internet, while Debra Phillips and David Wadelton make an inventory of the city and its quirky features. Maier’s self-portraits reverberate with Australian women artists who turn the camera on themselves in performative ways, in the work of Cherine Fahd, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Clare Rae, Simone Slee and Kellie Wells.”

Text from the CCP website

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 27, 1970. Chicago, IL'

 

Vivian Maier
May 27, 1970. Chicago, IL
1970
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'May 28, 1954, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
May 28, 1954, New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York City, September 10, 1955'

 

Vivian Maier
New York City, September 10, 1955
1955
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait; October 18, 1953, New York, NY
1953
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-Portrait, 1959'

 

Vivian Maier
Self-Portrait, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, New York, NY
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'October 31, 1954. New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
October 31, 1954. New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'July 27, 1954. New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
July 27, 1954. New York, NY
1954
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 18, 1962'

 

Vivian Maier
September 18, 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 1956, New York, NY'

 

Vivian Maier
September 1956, New York, NY
1956
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Undated, Vancouver, Canada'

 

Vivian Maier
Undated, Vancouver, Canada
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled, Undated'

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled, Undated
Nd
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 30.5 cm
Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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