25
Jan
17

Exhibition: ‘Surveillance’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Exhibition dates: 16th September 2016 – 29th January 2017

 

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition on a very interesting subject. It’s such a pity I cannot comment on the exhibition itself due to the small number of media images, and having no idea how the images I do have fit into the themes of the exhibition, although one can make guesses: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Brussels (1932, below) surveys the watchers; his Hyeres, France (1932, below) is taken by an unseen camera; and Professor Lowe’s balloon Intrepid was used by the Union in the American Civil War to spy on Confederate troop movements. Others I have absolutely no idea.

“Dating from 1864-2014, the works in Surveillance fall under these categories: spying or hidden cameras, photography of the forbidden, military surveillance, areas of heavy surveillance and mapping satellites and drones. There are also examples of counter-surveillance that either prevent watching or surveille the watchers.”

My favourite images in this posting of surreptitious photography are those of Tomas van Houtryve from his series Blue Sky Days. I love the titles play on the ideas of blue sky thinking (original or creative thinking, unfettered by convention and not grounded in reality) and blue skies research (scientific research in domains where “real-world” applications are not immediately apparent) – views of the world that are quantifiable but not grounded in reality, and where the “reality” of the world is not immediately apparent. Such a clever and insightful “point of view” which engages with “the changing nature of surveillance, personal privacy, and war”, a projection on a vertical plane. More intriguing images from this series can be seen on his website.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Brussels' 1932

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Brussels
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 14 3/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Hyeres, France' 1932

 

Henri Cartier Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Hyeres, France
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum

 

Tomas van Houtryve (Belgian) Schoolyard From the series 'Blue Sky Days' 2013-2014

 

Tomas van Houtryve (Belgian)
Schoolyard
From the series Blue Sky Days
2013-2014
150×100 cm gelatin-silver print

 

Tomas van Houtryve (Belgian) 'Domestic gathering' 2013-2014

 

Tomas van Houtryve (Belgian)
Domestic gathering
From the series Blue Sky Days
2013-2014

 

 

“The images captured from the drone’s perspective engage with the changing nature of surveillance, personal privacy, and war.” ~ Tomas van Houtryve

 

“In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her house. At a briefing held in 2013 in Washington, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of five lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

Over the past decade, drones have become the weapon of the United States military and the CIA for strikes overseas. Their use for surveillance and commercial purposes is also rapidly expanding both at home and abroad.

Tomas van Houtryve attached his camera to a small drone and traveled across America to photograph the very sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for foreign air strikes – weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as prisons, oil fields, industrial feedlots, and stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Text from the Pulitzer Center website

 

Mishka Henner (Belgian, b. 1976) 'Staphorst Ammunition Depot' 2011

 

Mishka Henner (Belgian, b. 1976)
Staphorst Ammunition Depot
2011
Inkjet print
31 1/4 × 35 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

British photographer Mishka Henner, in his series Dutch Landscapes, uses Google satellite views of locations that have been censored by the Dutch government because of concerns about the visibility of political, economic and military locations. Many countries blur, pixilate or whiten sensitive sites. The Dutch method, however, employs bold, multi-colored polygons. The resulting photograph is an artistic, visual contrast between secret sites and the surrounding rural environment, providing an unsettling reflection on surveillance and the contemporary landscape.

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Rochester, New York' 1886

 

Unknown maker (American)
Rochester, New York
1886
Albumen print, 5 5/8 × 5 5/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

 

“Surveillance cameras in the 21st century are practically everywhere – on street corners, in shops, in public buildings, silently recording our every movement. Yet this is not a construct of modern times. As soon as cameras were introduced in the 1880s, anyone could be unknowingly photographed at any time. It was an unfortunate fact of life. The exhibition Surveillance opened at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City September 16, examining the role of surreptitious photography from the mid-19th century to the present day.

“This body of work represents a sign of our times,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO and Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Cameras have been recording our movements, many times secretly, since photography began. But it was the tragedy of 9/11 that increased our awareness of this constant presence and brought a new and chilling meaning to the art, and the intention, of surveillance.”

Dating from 1864-2014, the works in Surveillance fall under these categories: spying or hidden cameras, photography of the forbidden, military surveillance, areas of heavy surveillance and mapping satellites and drones. There are also examples of counter-surveillance that either prevent watching or surveille the watchers.

“Twenty-first century technology – like Google Earth View and drone photography – have provided photographers with a treasure trove of surveillance images,” said Jane L. Aspinwall, Associate Curator, Photography. “This work provokes uneasy questions about who is looking at whom and the limits of artistic expression.”

Photographer Roger Schall, formerly a French news reporter, secretly recorded the Nazi occupation of Paris beginning in June 1940. His photographs document his daily routine and illustrate how completely the Nazis permeated every facet of Parisian life.

British photographer Mishka Henner, in his series Dutch Landscapes, uses Google satellite views of locations that have been censored by the Dutch government because of concerns about the visibility of political, economic and military locations. Many countries blur, pixilate or whiten sensitive sites. The Dutch method, however, employs bold, multi-colored polygons. The resulting photograph is an artistic, visual contrast between secret sites and the surrounding rural environment, providing an unsettling reflection on surveillance and the contemporary landscape.

Other photographers employ techniques to circumvent surveillance. Adam Harvey creates “looks” that block online facial recognition software [CV Dazzle]. The contours of the face are manipulated in such a way that a computer is not able to identify a person, which can be a useful tool for social media sites like Facebook, in which users can search an entire archive for one particular face.”

Press release from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Brady Studio (American active c. 1843-1885) 'Professor Lowe inflating balloon Intrepid' 1862

 

Brady Studio (American, active c. 1843-1885)
Professor Lowe inflating balloon Intrepid
1862
Albumen print
3 1/4 × 2 3/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Intrepid being cross-inflated from Constitution in a spur-of-the-moment attempt to get the larger balloon in the air to overlook the imminent Battle of Seven Pines. The balloon Intrepid, one of six to eventually be constructed by Thaddeus Lowe and the Union Army Balloon Corps.

 

 

Peninsula Campaign

The battlefront turned toward Richmond in the Peninsula Campaign. The heavy forestation inhibited the use of balloons, so Lowe and his Balloon Corps, with the use of three of his balloons, the Constitution, the Washington, and the larger Intrepid, used the waterways to make its way inland. In mid May 1862, Lowe arrived at the White House on the Pamunkey River. This is the first home of George and Martha Washington, after which the Washington presidential residence is named. At this time, it was the home of the son of Robert E. Lee, whose family fled at the arrival of Lowe. Lowe was met by McClellan’s Army a few days later, and by 18 May, he had set up a balloon camp at Gaines’ Farm across the Chickahominy River north of Richmond, and another at Mechanicsville. From these vantage points, Lowe, his assistant James Allen, and his father Clovis were able to overlook the Battle of Seven Pines. 

A small contingent from Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman’s corps crossed the river toward Richmond and was slowly being surrounded by elements of the Confederate Army. McClellan felt that the Confederates were simply feigning an attack. Lowe could see, from his better vantage point, that they were converging on Heintzelman’s position. Heintzelman was cut off from the main body because the swollen river had taken out all the bridges. Lowe sent urgent word of Heintzelman’s predicament and recommended immediate repair of New Bridge and reinforcements for him. 

At the same time, he sent over an order for the inflation of the Intrepid, a larger balloon that could take him higher with telegraph equipment, in order to oversee the imminent battle. When Lowe arrived from Mechanicsville to the site of the Intrepid at Gaines’ Mill, he saw that the aerostat’s envelope was an hour away from being fully inflated. He then called for a camp kettle to have the bottom cut out of it, and he hooked the valve ends of the Intrepid and the Constitution together. He had the gas of the Constitution transferred to the Intrepid and was up in the air in 15 minutes. From this new vantage point, Lowe was able to report on all the Confederate movements. McClellan took Lowe’s advice, repaired the bridge, and had reinforcements sent to Heintzelman’s aid. An account of the battle was being witnessed by the visiting Count de Joinville who at day’s end addressed Lowe with: “You, sir, have saved the day!”

Text from the Union Army Balloon Corps Wikipedia entry

 

Paul Strand (American 1890-1976) 'Blind woman, New York' 1916

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Blind woman, New York
1916
Photogravure
8 13/16 × 6 9/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Roger Schall (French, 1904-1985) 'Taking the subway' c. 1941

 

Roger Schall (French, 1904-1985)
Taking the subway
c. 1941
Gelatin silver print
7 7/16 × 7 1/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Jeffrey and Polly Kramer

 

 

Born in 1904, Roger Schall was one of the most renowned photographers of the 1930s and 1940s. He worked in all photographic disciplines from fashion, portraits, nudes, still lives and reporting. He began working with his father, a portrait photographer in 1918. 10 years later he would be one of the first reporters to work with a Leica or Rolleiflex. In 1939, he closed the studio-agency he had opened with his brother. From June 1940 to August 1944 he photographed German occupied Paris – hiding the negatives so they would not be seen by the censors. When the occupation was over his brother, Raymond Schall, published a book: A Paris sous la botte des Nazis (Paris under the heel of the Nazis) that was illustrated with the photographs of Roger Schall, Parry, Doisneau, the Seeberger brothers and many others. He then continued working in fashion, doing commercial and publicity work instead of news reporting. From 1970 until his death in 1995, he would manage his archive of some 80,000 images. (Text from the Real Life is Elsewhere blog)

His work covered a number of topics, especially Parisian everyday life, his favourite subject, which he photographed before, during and after the German occupation. Formed in 1931, Le Studio in Montmartre was the first agency to publish his work in leading international magazines, such as Vu, Vogue, L’illustration, Life, and Paris-Match. 150 covers and 10,000 shots were published in his lifetime. (Text from the Yellow Korner website)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'An Attentive Cat' 1953

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
An Attentive Cat
1953
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum

 

Raphaël Dallaporta (French b. 1980) 'Kafir Qala Citadel, Balkh Province, Afghanistan, from the Achaemenid period (6th-4th century BC) to the Ghorid period (12th-13th century AD)' 2010

 

Raphaël Dallaporta (French b. 1980)
Kafir Qala Citadel, Balkh Province, Afghanistan, from the Achaemenid period (6th-4th century BC) to the Ghorid period (12th-13th century AD)
2010
Inkjet print
59 × 47 1/4 × 1 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

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

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

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art 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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