26
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland’ at The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2014 – 9th February 2015

Curators: Scott Wilcox and Jennifer A. Watts

 

Individually, the work of these two photographers is outstanding, but together?

The premise for the exhibition (two American photographers in Britain and Ireland) seems weak, tenuous at best. The exhibition focuses on the contrasting styles of the two photographers – Davidson is a photojournalist and Caponigro practices a pure, formalist approach to landscape photography – “as they trained American eyes on enduring landscapes and changing cultural scenes… “Britain and Ireland are the countries to which each man embarked on significant creative journeys in the course of refining his art.” (Jennifer A. Watts)”

But is this enough? For example, the ground breaking exhibition Caravaggio – Bacon at Gallery Borghese, Rome in 2009-2010 offered the viewer something that they had never thought about before: “Instinctively, intellectually we know how the paintings of a Baroque artist of the early 17th century affect how we look at the paintings of Bacon. This exhibition offers the reverse, in fact it rewrites how we look at Caravaggio – through the benediction of Bacon.”

Here no such revelation occurs. You could argue that the connection lies outside photography in a concern for what is present in the landscape, what is present in a community, what is present beyond bricks and mortar, leaves and rocks – what is our place in the world, full stop. But the work of the artists is so different, one from the other, that this diffident relationship is strained at best. No wonder these humans had never met before the opening of the exhibition, for they seem artistically to have little in common.

I have tried to sequence the photographs in the posting, so that they might have some reflection, some conversation one to the other: the presence of The Duke of Argyll, fag in hand kitted out in traditional Scottish attire, and the grandness of his residence playing off the darkness, isolation and simplicity of the house in Caponigro’s Connemara, County Galway, Ireland; the luminous stones in Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England becoming the dark edged reflections in Davidson’s London (1960); and the church in Caponigro’s Church, St. MacDara’s Island, County Galway, Ireland morphing into the temple of the British sun, the beach holiday, in Davidson’s Blackpool (1965) – but it is hard work.

Best to just enjoy the photographs individually, especially Caponigro’s glorious paen to ancient forces Avebury, Wiltshire, England (1967, below). The life force of the tree, the life force of the stone – the communion of those two things with the landscape – with sheep in the background. A friend of mine who knows Caponigro told me that he said he never travelled anywhere without a blow up sheep in the back of the car.

Marcus

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

 

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932), 'Avebury, Wiltshire, England' 1967

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Avebury, Wiltshire, England
1967
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 × 13 1/8
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'Brighton' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Brighton
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 ×12 7/8 in.,
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Callanish Stone Circle, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland' 1972

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Callanish Stone Circle, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
1972
Gelatin silver print
17 1/4 × 23 3/4 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England' 1967

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
1967
Gelatin silver print
17 × 23 3/8 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'The Duke of Argyll, Inverary, Scotland' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
The Duke of Argyll, Inverary, Scotland
1960
Gelatin silver print
9 × 13 1/4 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Connemara, County Galway, Ireland' 1970

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
1970
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 12 1/8 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Wales' 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Wales
1965
Gelatin silver print
8 1/4 × 12 1/2 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Wales' 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Wales
1965
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 12 5/8 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Running White Deer, Wicklow, Ireland' 1967

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Running White Deer, Wicklow, Ireland
1967
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 19 1/8 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England' 1977

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
1977
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 19 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'London' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
London
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 × 12 7/8 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Wales' 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Wales
1965
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 12 1/2 in
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Wales' 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Wales
1965
Gelatin silver print
8 1/4 × 12 1/2 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Tralee Bay, County Kerry, Ireland' 1977

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Tralee Bay, County Kerry, Ireland
1977
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 13 1/4 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

 

Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland is set to open at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens on Nov. 8 after a successful run at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven over the summer. Focusing on the contrasting styles of two of the greatest American photographers of their generation, the exhibition of 128 works by Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) and Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) showcases their photography of Britain and Ireland beginning in 1960. It will be presented in a newly designed installation in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery through March 9, 2015.

Davidson traveled to England and Scotland in 1960, where he brought the same gritty street sensibility that had made his photography a sensation in the United States. Caponigro went to Ireland and Britain in 1966 on a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship. Those countries became sites of creative energy to which he returned repeatedly in the 1960s and beyond. The exhibition examines the work of the two virtuosic photographers as they trained American eyes on enduring landscapes and changing cultural scenes.

“This is the first exhibition to pair these influential contemporaries who followed overlapping yet distinct creative paths,” said Jennifer A. Watts, the exhibition’s co-curator and curator of photographs at The Huntington. “Britain and Ireland are the countries to which each man embarked on significant creative journeys in the course of refining his art. How fitting, then, to bring these works to The Huntington, where we have one of the strongest collections of British art and historical materials in the country.”

The exhibition is also curated by Scott Wilcox, chief curator of art collections and senior curator of prints and drawings at the Yale Center for British Art. Watts and Wilcox also coauthored a richly illustrated catalog of the exhibition, published by Yale University Press.

 

The Artists and Their Work in Britain and Ireland

While Caponigro and Davidson were acquainted with each other’s work, the two had never met until the opening of the exhibition in New Haven.

Davidson is a photojournalist and member of the prestigious Magnum Agency; Caponigro practices a pure, formalist approach to landscape photography. Both are devoted to black-and-white film and continue to make prints by hand. And both of them produced important bodies of work in Britain and Ireland beginning in 1960.

In trips to Britain in 1960 and 1965, Davidson created an evocative and sometimes tongue-in-cheek portrait of the British people at work and play. During numerous visits starting in 1967, Caponigro focused on the ancient stone circles, dolmens, and early churches in the British and Celtic landscape. “There’s a force in the land and it’s intelligent” became Caponigro’s mantra and guide. He returned repeatedly to the United Kingdom and Ireland (his latest photographs in the exhibition are from 1993).

Paul Caponigro was born in Boston, a shy child in a boisterous Italian-American family. Drafted into the Army in 1953, he was sent to San Francisco and eventually fell under the influence of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and other luminaries of the Bay Area school, a loose affiliation of photographers who took the natural landscape as their subject and used razor-sharp focus and superb printing techniques as expressive tools. In 1966, he went to Ireland and Britain on a Guggenheim grant. He had intended to travel to Egypt, but unrest in the Middle East interrupted his plans. “Ireland became my Egypt,” he said, “and the stones my temples.”

That year marked the beginning of a sustained relationship with places that significantly shaped his career. He returned a dozen times over the next decade.

Bruce Davidson grew up in suburban Chicago and purchased his first camera as a young boy. In 1952, he enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, encountering there the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. The spontaneity and emotional depth of their pictures proved a revelation.

In the late 1950s, Davidson was invited to join Magnum, the elite organization of photojournalists founded by Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and several others. He received wide acclaim with the publication in 1960 of Brooklyn Gang, a series featuring a notorious group of streetwise teens. He left the United States shortly thereafter for England and Scotland on a two-month assignment for British magazine The Queen.

He would return to the United Kingdom periodically thereafter, producing photography documenting a range of people in diverse settings, including Blackpool, the mining districts of southern Wales, and a traveling circus in rural Ireland.

 

Still Looking (excerpt)

 

Installation

The installation will divide the gallery into two separate but equal sections devoted to each artist’s work. Davidson’s photographs are organized according to the four trips he made on assignment between 1960 and 1967. Caponigro’s work will be seen in geographic sections that account for the numerous trips he made to the British Isles over more than two decades. The Huntington’s presentation of the show will incorporate two recently acquired Caponigro prints. (The institution also holds a substantial collection of Caponigro’s work that focuses on California and the West.)

Still Looking, a film featuring both photographers and produced exclusively for the exhibition, is installed in a separate room of the exhibition and is also posted online. Created in early 2014 by Huntington filmmaker Kate Lain, the 16-minute film is a series of evocative moments with Davidson and Caponigro on location in their respective homes in New York City and Maine.”

Press release from The Huntington Library website

 

Still Looking

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'Trafalgar Square, London' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Trafalgar Square, London
1960
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 × 8 7/8 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall, England' 1977
Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall, England
1977
Gelatin silver print
19 × 13 1/2 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Paul Capongiro (b. 1932) 'Church, St. MacDara’s Island, County Galway, Ireland' 1989

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Church, St. MacDara’s Island, County Galway, Ireland
1989
Gelatin silver print
19 1/8 × 14 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'Blackpool' 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Blackpool
1965
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 8 3/4 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'Brighton' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Brighton
1960
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 × 8 7/8 in
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'London' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
London
1960
Gelatin silver print
13 1/4 × 9 in.
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Richard S. and Jeanne Press
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Dead Calf in the Sand, County Kerry, Ireland' 1993

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Dead Calf in the Sand, County Kerry, Ireland
1993
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933) 'Albert Hall, London' 1960

 

Bruce Davidson (b. 1933)
Albert Hall, London
1960
Gelatin silver print
13 × 8 7/8 in
Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund
© Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932) 'Reefert Church, Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland' 1988

 

Paul Caponigro (b. 1932)
Reefert Church, Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland
1988
Gelatin silver print
19 × 13 1/4 in
© Paul Caponigro

 

 

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road San Marino, CA 91108

Opening hours:
Monday 12 pm – 4.30 pm
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 12 pm – 4.30 pm
Thursday 12 pm – 4.30 pm
Friday 12 pm – 4.30 pm
Saturday 10.30 am – 4.30 pm
Sunday 10.30 am – 4.30 pm

The Huntington Library 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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