Archive for January, 2021

31
Jan
21

Review: ‘DESTINY’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2020 – 14th February 2021

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

“There is no excuse for ignorance, and you should make an effort to understand what happens in our world. How else can you be contemporary?”

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Destiny Deacon

 

 

Embodied Ab/origin

This is a strong, powerful if rather repetitive exhibition by Destiny Deacon at NGV Australia, Melbourne. It’s like being hit over the head with a blakly ironic blunt object many times over, just like Aboriginal people have had both physical and cultural violence enacted upon them many times over since the arrival of the white man in terra nullius, a misnomer if ever there was one.

“Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture.” Aboriginalia is repurposed “historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes”, especially through the use of white-appropriated and conceptualised Blak dolly models that allegedly “possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.” Deacon photographs her reclaimed dollies using Polaroids from which colour prints are enlarged. Technically and aesthetically this means the photographs loose the uniqueness, size and aura of a Polaroid, perhaps not the best outcome for the use of the instant photography process in the making of memorable images.

The exhibition never strays far from its theme: that whities will never understand the symbols of racism perpetrated against Blaks embedded in white culture, unless they are pointed out to them. This concept is expressed through the silent voice of the archetypal Blak doll – dis/embodied, headless, amputated, tied up, trapped in a blizzard, over the fence, adopted – inserted placelessly into whatever scenario bigotry and racism rears its head, a snatched headline of dispossession and grief. While the Blak dolls are a paradigm that Deacon uses to represent the “collective lives” of Aborigines under the heal of a repressive regime, no idea is ever investigated fully for the viewer is only given a snippet of information. Holistically, these snippets add up to a terrible indictment of a dominant race lording it over a vanquished one.

“Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’.” Personally, I don’t feel any sense of postcolonial anxiety when I look at Deacon’s work. I just feel sad, very sad and guilty. Sad for the invasion, sad and guilty for the lives lost, dispossession, poor health, shorter life spans, racism and inequality, the ongoing discrimination and neglect. It’s like sticking the knife in over and over again. I so wish it was different. We KNOW, if we are informed sentient beings, the injustices that Aboriginal people suffered and continue to suffer. As Deacon says, there is no excuse for ignorance. But this is preaching to the converted. How many Joe Public will come and see this exhibition to be informed and to change their mind? As a friend of mine succinctly said, “Don’t come to this exhibition if you don’t want your racism challenged.” Many will not bother. For others this will be a confronting exhibition. And in all this reclaiming of Aboriginalia, all this confrontation, all this looking back, the dredging up of every little inequality – it leaves me thinking: what is the future, where is the positiveness, where is the forward looking cultural creativity of a great people?

I believe that this contemporary reconceptualisation of history from a singular standpoint – that of a unified Ab/original people represented by Blak dolly – is pure hokum. Aboriginal culture is made up of many mobs, many voices, reflecting the difference in backgrounds and experiences of different communities which come together in diversity to present “a statement about the unity of Aboriginal people, the defiant continuity of their cultural traditions and the personal search of many individual artists for their own Aboriginal identity.”1 In this exhibition, where are the homosexual Aboriginals, the lesbian Aboriginals, the transgender Sista Girls, or an investigation into interracial marriages that are loving and kind, instead of just more and more works that reinforce injustices (of history) in the here and now, through the dis/embodied plastic body of a silent doll. Where is the positivity for the future, for example an acknowledgement of the thousands of people that attended Invasion Day rallies this year?

Collectively, the exhibition powerfully questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation using repurposed Aboriginalia but today Aboriginal identities, like all identities, are in a state of transformation and flux. I look at the work of contemporary African artists and I see joy, hope, colour, movement, new identities, new sites of conceptualisation in the evolving struggle to engage new definitions of nationhood in relation to the autonomous, self-governing body. They acknowledge history, discrimination, the struggle for freedom, but are more forward looking, more engaged with the possibilities of the future rather than the deficits of the past expressed in the inequalities of the present. When is a positive voice of embodied (not disembodied, decapitated) Ab/origin going to emerge in contemporary art?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jennifer Isaacs. “Introduction,” in Jennifer Isaacs (ed.,). Aboriginality: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings and Prints. University of Queensland Press, 1996, p. 8.

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Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All the other images, as noted, are iPhone images of the exhibition by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Destiny Deacon is one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists. In the largest retrospective of her work to date, DESTINY marks the artist’s first solo show in over 15 years. Featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, the exhibition includes the premiere of newly-commissioned works. Numerous early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon are also on display.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic worldview. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that ‘serious’ art can also have a sense of humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Abi see da classroom' 2006

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Abi see da classroom 2006 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian, d. 2021)
Abi see da classroom (stills)
2006
10 min. sound
National Gallery of Victoria
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Abi see da classroom

For the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), Destiny Deacon and her long-time collaborator Virginia Fraser were given unrestricted access to the ABC’s archive, possibly the most significant collection of film and television held in Australia. By searching for any keywords that started with ‘Aborigin’ they were able to uncover a large assortment of videos.

In this installation, two CRT television screens play alongside each other, creating a mashup of noise and black-and-white moving images. The television on the right shows archival footage of Aboriginal children attending school, reading and playing musical instruments, while the television on the left presents a series of short clips of people in varying degrees of blackface. Switching from uncomfortable to distasteful, to overtly racist, the two channels juxtapose extreme versions of how Aboriginal people have historically been depicted on television. The footage is problematic and offensive; though, some might say ‘it was a different time’. The flashback to the 1950s prompts audiences to consider Australia’s legacy of televised racism and poses the question: how far have we actually come?

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Blak lik mi 1991 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak lik mi
1991, printed 1995
Exhibition version printed 202
Colour laser print from Polaroid original
80.0 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Blak lik mi

Historically photography has been used as a tool to categorise and document Aboriginal people and their lives. In this work Destiny Deacon reclaims three images taken from a 1960s reproduction of a 1957 Axel Poignant photograph, from his photo essay, originally titled Picaninny Walkabout, later renamed Bush Walkabout. Deacon turns the colonial gaze back on the coloniser, photographing the photograph, and subverting her position as both subject and photographer.

The title Blak lik mi is a reference to John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me, in which Griffin took large doses of an anti-vitiligo drug and spent hour daily under an ultraviolet lamp in order to change the appearance of his skin so that he ‘passed’ as Black. Deacon’s work offers a window into her own interrogation about what constitutes her Aboriginal identity. On this, Deacon often jokes that she ‘took the c, out of black little c**t’. Rude words beginning with ‘c’, of which there are many, are often used as offensive slights, and Deacon recalls being taunted with these words as a child.

‘Blak’, unlike ‘Black’, was Deacon’s way of self-determining her identity, and originating a version of the self that comes entirely from within. The legacy of this work has been massive. Countless Aboriginal people now self-determine their identity as Blak, so much so that a Google search of ‘Blak’ returns a nearly all Australian Indigenous search result.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol) 1997 at left, Last laughs 1995 at centre, and Where’s Mickey 2002 at right, on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Me and Virginia's doll (Me and Carol)' 1997

 

Destiny Deacon (Australian, Kuku/Erub/Mer b. 1957)
Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original

 

 

Destiny Deacon began her professional career in photography in her late thirties as a way to express herself and her political beliefs. A self-taught artist, Deacon is primarily known for her photographs and videos where she subverts familiar icons with humour and wit. Often when Deacon photographs people she poses them like paintings. In this image, Deacon presents herself as Frida, staging the image as an homage to Kahlo’s 1937 painting Me and my doll.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Last laughs' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Last laughs
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In this image Deacon both reclaims and ridicules a genre of colonial photography, which historically depicted Aboriginal women as a highly sexualised or exotic ‘other’. In the nineteenth century it was commonplace for Aboriginal women to appear naked in ethnographic photographs that were mass reproduced and distributed as souvenirs around the world. In Last laughs three Blak women pose for the camera, limbs intertwined, performing their sexuality. Unlike in the colonial photography it references, the subjects in this work are the ones in control.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Where's Mickey?' 2002

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Where’s Mickey?
2002, printed 2016
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Where’s Mickey? plays on the Australian slang phrase ‘Mickey Mouse’, used to refer to something that is substandard, poorly executed or amateurish. Mickey Mouse is also the archetypal figure of an (often white) American consumerist culture. In this portrait of Luke Captain, Deacon pokes fun at the cartoon icon, suggesting his animated spirit has possessed the body of an Aboriginal Australian man, who is dressed as a woman.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Where’s Mickey? 2002, and at right Meloncholy 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Meloncholy' 2000

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Meloncholy
2000
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In 1970 African-American film director, Melvin Van Peebles released Watermelon Man, a movie in which a fictional, white insurance salesman wakes up one morning only  to discover he has turned Black overnight. The film is inspired by John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me. In this image Deacon gives the watermelon a double meaning. The emptied peel of the melon cradles the doll’s body, kind of like the coolamon [Coolamon is an anglicised NSW Aboriginal word used to describe an Australian Aboriginal carrying vessel], but it is also a fruit that has been severed from its skin. She challenges the relationship between identity, skin colour, and how the world perceives and responds to both Blackness and Blakness.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Adoption' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Adoption (installation view)
2000; printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016; copy printed 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In this image Destiny Deacon has placed a collection of plastic, black toy babies into paper cupcake shells. Titled Adoption, this work directly references Australia’s shameful history of government-sanctioned Aboriginal child removal. In addition, Adoption also pokes fun at the deeply offensive misnomer of the nineteenth century that Aboriginal mothers were both infanticidal, as well as cannibals of their newborns. Deacon describes how she came to collect dolls, saying ‘in the beginning I wanted to rescue them, because otherwise they’d end up in a white home or something, somewhere no one would appreciate them’.

 

 

Destiny Deacon, one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists, will be celebrated in her largest retrospective to date opening at the National Gallery of Victoria on 23 November 2020.

DESTINY will mark Deacon’s first solo show in over 15 years, featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, and including the premiere of newly-commissioned works created with the artist and her long-term collaborator Virginia Fraser. The exhibition will also feature a number of early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic world view. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that art can have both pathos and humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture, and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

Featuring early videos which mock negative stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians – Home video 1987, Welcome to my Koori world 1992, I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 – the exhibition will also feature an installation of a lounge room housing Deacon’s own collection of ‘Koori kitsch’. Deacon and Fraser’s highly acclaimed installation Colourblinded 2005 will also be on display. A powerful combination of photographs, sculptures, and video projections, this interactive work leaves the viewer both literally and metaphorically ‘colourblinded’.

“Featuring new NGV commissions and some of the highlights of Deacon’s 30-year career, the retrospective DESTINY pays tribute to an artist who has been challenging audiences for more than 30 years,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria. “Destiny Deacon has never shied away from confronting our country’s difficult history and her work continues to make a vital contribution to Australian cultural discourse,” said Ellwood.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second right, Meloncholy 2000 and at right, Over the fence 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Over the fence' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Over the fence (installation view)
2000, printed 2000
Exhibition version printed 2020
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The nostalgic qualities in Deacon’s poignant photograph Over the fence reinforce a narrative familiar to many Aboriginal people. Two segregated dollies peer at each other across a suburban, wooden fence, leaving the audience wondering who is fenced in, and who is fenced out? The image illustrates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality towards race, which many Aboriginal people would recognise beneath this seemingly ‘friendly’ neighbourhood encounter.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer' 2004 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Peter Blazey, journalist, author and gay activist.

Blazey was born in Melbourne in 1939 and worked for The Australian, the National Times and as a regular columnist for OutRage, a gay magazine. He published a number of books, including a political biography of Henry Bolte, and was co-editor of the short fiction anthology, Love Cries. His personal memoir, Screw Loose, appeared after his death from AIDS in 1997.

“Peter was someone with a lion’s head of loose ends that could never fit into some ideologically sound and tidy space. Storyteller, mythomane, and one of the last great conversationalists in a country wary of the free flow of uncensored language, he was a comet who flashed his tail at everyone.” – Tim Herbert, OutRage, 1997.

Text from the University of Melbourne Scholarship website [Online] Cited 29/01/2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Gary Foley, activist' 1995 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Gary Foley, activist (installation view)
1995, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Often in Deacon’s portrait photography, sitters are posed like those in paintings. In these three images, Deacon presents Gary Foley, an Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor; Peter Blazey, the late journalist, author and gay activist; and Richard Bell, and activist and artist of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. All three men are posed in a near identical way to the 1932 painting The boy at the basin by Australian landscape and portrait artist William Dobell.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back (installation view)
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image is a reference to Charlie Drake’s 1961 song ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’. Drake sings in a halting and staccato manner, wildly grunting ‘ho’ and ‘ugh’ as he narrates the story of an effeminate young Aboriginal boy named Mac, who has been banished from his tribe because he is ‘a big disgrace to the Aborigine [sic] race’ because his ‘boomerang won’t come back’. A single hand (Lisa Bellear’s) reachers upward, grasping a bloody boomerang in front of a black background. Deacon suggests that Drake, whose song is at best a kind of vaudevillian blackface, has assassinated himself.

 

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Hear come the judge (installation view)
2006
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Deacon references the 1968 comedic funk song ‘Here Comes the Judge’ by American entertained Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham, which is regarded by many to be the first recorded hip-hop song. Markham’s lyrics ridicule the formalities of courtroom etiquette by painting a picture of a make-believe world where justice is in the hands of Black people. Deacon’s photograph uses humour to disarm and interrogate something that is inherently unfunny. The Blak / Black judge is only comical because it is supposedly unbelievable, a notion Deacon challenges audiences to reconsider.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Border patrol' 2006 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Border patrol (installation view)
2006, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“And they figured a dispossessed people as racial types, suggesting that authentic Aboriginal identity was purely tribal and something to be trivialised as curios and knick-knacks…

But the figurines of a racialised people, of warriors, beautiful girls and adorable children, took this interest into a different realm of curiosity, namely objectification.

Elder women, who were often savagely vilified in popular newspapers as “unsightly frights”, never appear among these figurines. Lithe young women, deep-chested warrior tribesmen, dignified elder “noble savages” and sweetly smiling “piccaninnies” were particularly prized. In the early prints of artists Peg Maltby and Brownie Downing, endearing Aboriginal children are orphaned by the bush rather than being at home in the country of their birthright. They find playmates with baby native animals but are divested of family and community. They seem to be crying out for the care that only the state, it was thought, could properly provide. …

The figures found in Aboriginalia evoke a troubling presence, in which visual appeal, sometimes libidinal, stands in for the profound ambivalence at the heart of settler-colonialism, which has benefited from the violent dispossession of a people.

While townships were campaigning to exclude Aboriginal kids from schools, families from housing and adults from pubs, these nostalgic, perplexing images were being taken into white homes in the form of bric-a-brac.

Sociologist Adrian Franklin has described the “semiotic drenching” of souvenirs with Aboriginal motifs and argues “these objects became ‘repositories of recognition’ of what was often entirely absent, denied or undermined in the everyday political and policy spheres”.

These objects, he suggests, gave some expression to the sadness surrounding dispossession and removal. In more recent years, Indigenous artists such as Destiny Deacon and Tony Albert have repurposed Aboriginalia.

Thus it is finally being historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes.

Deacon uses dolls and kitsch ephemera from her own extensive collection to turn the tables on the uncritical consumption of racist imagery. In one of her best backhanders, she puts plastic, black babies in cupcake shells and titles the photograph Adoption.”

Extract from Dr Liz Conor. “Friday essay: the politics of Aboriginal kitsch,” on The Conversation website March 3, 2017 [Online] Cited 29/01/2021 CC

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right Border patrol 2006
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second left, Heart broken 2006, and at fourth from left,
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Heart broken' 2006

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Heart broken
2006
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ask your mother for sixpence' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ask your mother for sixpence
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist © Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image takes its name from a cheeky nursery rhyme Deacon recalls learning when living in Port Melbourne as a child. The playful limerick teases audiences with the threat of a rude word: ‘Ask your mum for sixpence, to see the big giraffe, pimples on his whiskers, and pimples on his – ask your mum for sixpence’. The work was originally displayed in juxtaposition with a photograph of a half-built Crown Casino in Melbourne, challenging audiences to consider the dynamic between the main character, a Blak woman working in service sweeping up coins, and the multinational gambling corporation.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley’s I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020. Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 with at left, Whitey’s watching 1994; and at right, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004)
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at centre, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004), and at right Thought cone (A-F) 1997
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princess' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princess (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Moomba princess and Moomba princeling show Deacon’s young niece and nephew dressed in the robes and regalia of Moomba sovereigns. Moomba is an annual parade and community festival held in Melbourne, which each year crowns a ‘Moomba monarch’. The portraits reference Elizabethan Armada portraiture, a style of painting which first depicted the Tudor queen seated in royal garb and surrounded by symbols against a backdrop depicting the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. At first glance, the Moomba portraits can be read as innocent children playing dress ups, but by presenting two Aboriginal models in this type of colonial ceremonial dress, Deacon challenges audiences to consider the legacy and impact of British invasion.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princeling' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princeling (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Thought cone (A-F) (installation view details)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Whitey's watching' 1994

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For more than thirty years Destiny Deacon has forged a path as an international artist with a distinct brand of artistic humour unlike any other. Descended from the Kuku and Erub / Mer peoples of Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait, Deacon has been living and working in Melbourne since she arrived here as a small child.

Deacon’s work sits in the uncomfortable but compelling space between comedy and tragedy, and contrasts seemingly innocuous childhood imagery with scenes from the dark side of adulthood. She actively resists interpretation and so called ‘art speak’, instead choosing to let her work speak for itself. The more we look, the greater we understand that the world Deacon conjures is a complex one. Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture. Decapitated, amputated, pants down, tied up, trapped in a blizzard or flying through the air, the characters in Deacon’s world both reflect and parody the one in which we live.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, Regal eagles (A-B) 1994
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Regal eagles (A-B) (installation views)
1994, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Academic, historian and Indigenous rights activist Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’. This diptych combines two congruent images: the photo on the left shows a pair of young, white boys holding plastic Union Jacks and eating in front of a disregarded, spread-eagled Black doll. The image on the right shows another Black dolly in a Koori flag T-shirt pinned onto a board surrounded by appropriated Aboriginalia. As always in Deacon’s work, the dolls possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Tom Ross

 

 

Adapting the quotidian formats of snapshot photography, home videos, community TV and performance modes drawn from vaudeville and minstrel shows, Deacon’s artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet melancholy comedic and satirical disposition. In decidedly lo-fi vignettes, friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives that amplify and deconstruct stereotypes of Indigenous identity and national history. For Melbourne Now, Deacon and Fraser present a trailer for a film noir that does not exist, a suite of photographs and a carnivalesque diorama. The pair’s playful political critiques underscore a prevailing sense of postcolonial unease, while connecting their work to wider global discourses concerned with racial struggle and cultural identity.

Text from Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 1

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Melbourne Noir' 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

Digital prints, Digital prints on plywood, wood, gelatin silver photographs, high-definition video, sound
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing in the foreground Snow storm 2005
Photos: Tom Ross

Colour Blinded

Man & doll (a)
Man & doll (b)
Man & doll (c)
Baby boomer
Back up
Pacified
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian)
Snow storm (installation views)
2005
Golliwogs, polystyrene and perspex cube
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Man & doll (installation view details)
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ebony and Ivy face race' 2016 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ebony and Ivy face race (installation view)
2016, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Sand minding / Sand grabs (installation views)
2017, printed 2020
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

More than half of all mining projects in Australia are in close proximity to Indigenous communities. This relationship has long been, and continues to be, the source of much debate. In this work Deacon condemns the violence committed by the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its people. A latex-gloved hand makes an incision in a bag of soil, destructively releasing the sand inside. The white hand grasps the contents and takes a handful. Two disturbing characters look on with a seemingly perplexed expression, perhaps inviting us to consider the consequences of mining.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Arrears windows 2009; at centre, Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017; and in the background Koori lounge room 2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Arrears windows' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Arrears windows
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
60.0 x 80.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Gazette

Gossip walks
Look out!
Action men
Arrears windows
Come on in my kitchen

In 2009 Deacon produced the series Gazette. These now eerily familiar scenes appear like vignettes, offering windows into the lives of those living inside Melbourne’s public housing towers. Recent scenes from the news are echoed in Arrears windows, which shows Deacon’s collection of black and brown dolls crammed into yellow plastic tubs. The series draws attention to the individual lives and struggles of residents within these buildings, while also reminding viewers of the often-overcrowded conditions these residents live in. Each image brings to light Deacon’s idiosyncratic take on current global and national events with her semi-autobiographical edge.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Action men' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Action men
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
80.0 x 60cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly eyes (A-H)
2020
Lightjet print
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A doll with piercing blue eyes and dark brown skin is among the unblinking, manic faces that make up Destiny Deacon’s most recent series, Dolly Eyes, 2020. While people of colour can and do have an array of different-coloured eyes, blue eyes are often seen as a signifier of whiteness. Deacon’s tightly cropped images reduce these dollies to just eyes and skin tone, highlighting the problematic nature of using physical features to signify of racial identity.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly lips (A-E)' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly lips (A-E)
2017, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Dolly lips extracts surprising expressions from some of Deacon’s regular models. Some of these dolls have been posing for Deacon for decades, but these sensitive and suggestive images show them in a new light.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Smile' 2017

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Smile 2017 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Smile' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Smile
2017
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Deacon undercuts our trust in the innocuous smiley face emoji and prompts the viewer to look more closely at the everyday symbols that proliferate in our lives. The dolls appear decapitated, but perhaps even more ominously the disembodied heads are actually poking through a yellow sheet. Deacon uses an op-shop boomerang to complete the smile. When broken down, the individual features that make up the happy face are all racially charged. However, when viewed at a glance, all people see is the familiar smiley face emoji.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies
1998
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Deacon produced Oz, a series of works parodying the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the original film, Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farmhouse in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. In this series, Deacon transforms the journey undertaken by the original characters into a contemporary recognition of Aboriginality. Dorothy, now known as the ‘traveller’, appears alongside a ‘sad’ tin man, a ‘slow’ scarecrow in blackface and a ‘scared’ cowardly lion. The character’s quest for self-realisation resembles the personal journeys many Aboriginal people go through every day.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, On reflection 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'On reflection' 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
On reflection
2019
Lightjet print
100.0 x 80.0cm
Collection of the artist
© Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Escape – From the whacking spoon' 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Escape – From the whacking spoon
2007
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Whacked

Escape – from the whacking spoon
Whacked to sleep (B)
Fence sitters (A)
The goodie hoodie family
Waiting for the bust
Whacked & coming home

2007, printed 2020
Lightjet print

This series of photographs references familiar imagery from news media and contemporary culture, making a link between themes of terrorism, surveillance, suppression and Australian nationalism. Playing with stereotypes, Deacon and her friends have masked themselves in long johns with disturbing painted faces. The images use sinister humour to highlight shared similarities between fanatics around the world.

 

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

 

Installation view of Postcards from Mummy 1998 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left Dolly eyes (A-H) 2020; and at right, Blak 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Throughout her career, this cast of characters has become central to Deacon’s practice, as has her subversive use of language. For Deacon, language, and in particular spelling, has provided an opportunity to reframe and assert her identity on her own terms. In its deceptive simplicity the recasting of ‘Black’ to ‘Blak’ resonated with Aboriginal communities everywhere. What started as Deacon asserting her personal identity as a Kuku / Erub / Mer woman, has since morphed into a Community-owned declaration of Aboriginal pride. It is fitting to conclude this exhibition with a singular photographic work: the letters b-l-a-k emblazoned across the surface with seventeen of Deacon’s regular dolly models.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak' 2020 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak (installation view)
2020
Light jet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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27
Jan
21

Photographs: ‘Women’ 1960s Australian 35mm colour slides Part 1

January 2021

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (1)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

 

Before lockdown struck Melbourne I travelled up to Daylesford (an hour and a half from the city) and purchased a Hanimex carousel containing approximately 88 colour slides of nude women, from an antique centre for $80. Mounted in Kodak Ready-mounts, the slide film itself has no markings – no number and no name, completely blank. These could therefore be dupe (duplicate) slides, where the film has no brand.

I have spent hours digitally restoring these slides for they were in a poor state. You can see a detail from an unrestored slide below. Unfortunately the colour has gone but I felt the slides were so interesting, so beautiful, that they were worth preserving. What makes them rare is that most of the slides are Australian, set on the beach and in the bush. I have never seen anything like them in Australian photography before. This posting features the most Australian of the slides with background of surf, sand and sea, Australian gums and fauna.

There is nothing prudish or smutty about these photographs. Despite the professional? amateur? photographer being almost certainly male (and all the appellations that the male gaze brings with it), the women are joyful when displaying their bodies, unafraid and uninhibited in the posing of their bodies before the camera. Here “the enshrining of Woman as a blank screen upon which the ideas and desires of both artist and viewer are projected” is balanced by the identity, presence and vitality of the women themselves. They take possession of their image, not simply as passive participants in the act of representation, but as active, engaged, powerful human beings who have a vital role in their own portrayal.

This posing has historical links to the history and photography of naturism (naturism is a lifestyle of non-sexual nudity, and the cultural movement which advocates for and defends that lifestyle. Both may also be referred to as nudism) and vitalist1, movements which sprung up around the world before and after the First World War.2 Examples of magazines and pamphlets from 1921-1949 can be seen at the bottom of the posting including an Australian publication, Physique Culture Art Album, c. 1936-40. As with early male physique magazines, early naturist magazines link the beauty of the physical form to the classical ideal; and being natural, in the sun, outdoors to health and vitality (“A Magazine for all interested in Physical Fitness, Hygiene, Diet, Sunbathing, and a Healthy Natural Life”).

Whether these photographs were for personal use, or for publication, remains unknown. Either way, the photographer has access to numerous models. In this posting there seem to be 6 separate photo sessions featuring different models – 1-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-22, 23-32, and 33-37. Numbers 1-9 and 10-14 may be the same model but I am unsure of this.

What I am sure of is this: the photographer is not some drongo who does not know how to use a camera. He is wonderfully proficient with a camera, an artist in every sense of the word. I just look at the line of the body in No. 4 and 5 and note the light, the placement of the figure against the background and the position of the horizon line, the elongation of the female form, the sensuous curve of the body… similarly, the beauty, suppleness, lighting and placement of the body in No’s 23-27 is a delight. How he fills the pictorial frame with the horizontal body in No. 25 with the knee touching the edge of the frame on the right hand side, the feet and hands touching the sand, the head thrown back and cropped, the upper line of the body following the line of the dam behind, the undulating curve of the upper and lower body mimicking the curve of the hand, low depth of field and beautiful light, is superlative.

I have never had the opportunity to photograph the female form but in finding these colour slides, rescuing them from oblivion, studying them, imbibing them, the process has given me a greater insight into the vitality and beauty of the female form, a deeper understanding of the anima (originally used to describe ideas such as breath, soul, spirit or vital force, Jung began using the term in the early 1920s to describe the inner feminine side of men),3 and of mother / earth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ “Faced with ‘a queasy sickening feeling that all was not right’, by the fin-de-siècle many Modernists in America, Australia, Britain, Canada and Europe expanded the field of art into raw nature, ethnic communities and tribal cultures as vitalisers of energy that could be emotionally and creatively liberating. Following theories of Vitalism by Henri Bergson, Hans Driesch, Alois Riegl and Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘the vital state’ (‘l’élan vital’) became widely engaged for its conception of life as a constant process of metamorphosis, impelled by the free flow of energies able to generate what Bergson called ‘creative evolution’. Imbricated within Neo-Lamarckian ecological evolutionary theories, Vitalism was also embraced for being anti-rationalist and anti-mechanistic, particularly in its opposition to Thomas Huxley’s conception of plants and animals as machines, and its reconception of them as inspiring organisms within unspoiled nature, perpetually mutating into increasingly complex species and solidarist colonies following the Transformist concept of ‘life-force’.

Pitched against mechanistic productivity and repressive materialism, Vitalism spawned an expanding field of Modernist art in which artists embraced nature, intuition, instinct, spontaneity, chance, intense emotion, memory, unconscious states, uncanny vibrations, and a psychology of time. This pursuit was enhanced by the further expansion of art into Anthroposophy, Organicism, Supernaturalism, Magnetism, Eurhythmics, Freikorperkultur, Heliotherapy, Herbalism, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Nudism, Theosophy and Vegetarianism, free dance plus regenerative new sports and physical cultures. The artists exploring this expanded field were doing so … within cultures as geopolitically widespread as Britain, China, France, Iceland, Oslo, Switzerland and the Soviet Union.”

Anonymous. “Vitalist Modernism,” on the Association for Art History website [Online] Cited 27/01/2021.

2/ Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. …

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique.

Anonymous wall text from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, July – October 2017

3/ Anima originated from Latin, and was originally used to describe ideas such as breath, soul, spirit or vital force. Jung began using the term in the early 1920s to describe the inner feminine side of men.

Anima: The inner self of an individual; the soul. In Jungian psychology, the unconscious or true inner self of an individual, as opposed to the persona, or outer aspect of the personality. In Jungian psychology, the feminine inner personality as present in the unconscious of the male.

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (2)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s? (detail unrestored)

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (2) (detail unrestored)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (3)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (4)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (5)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (6)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (7)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (8)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (9)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (10)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (11)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (12)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (13)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (14)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (15)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (16)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (17)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (18)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (19)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (20)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (21)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (22)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (23)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (24)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (25)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (26)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (27)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (28)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (29)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (30)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (31)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (32)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (33)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (34)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (35)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (36)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (36) (detail unrestored)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (37)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

Athletic Publications Ltd. (London) (Publisher). 'Through the Day. How workers can easily increase their health, efficiency, and happiness' 1921

 

Athletic Publications Ltd. (London) (Publisher)
Through the Day. How workers can easily increase their health, efficiency, and happiness
1921

 

Vivre Integralement #103 15th October 1931 French Naturist Magazine

 

Vivre Integralement #103
15th October 1931
French Naturist Magazine

 

Health & Physical Culture Publishing Co. Ltd. (Sydney Australia) (Publisher) 'Physique Culture Art Album' c. 1936-40

 

Health & Physical Culture Publishing Co. Ltd. (Sydney Australia) (Publisher)
Physique Culture Art Album
c. 1936-40

 

Sun Bathing Review Summer 1939

 

Sun Bathing Review
Vol. 7, No. 26
Summer 1939

 

Health & Efficiency April 1941

 

Health & Efficiency
Volume XI, No. 4
April 1941

 

Health & Efficiency April 1941

 

Health & Efficiency
Volume XI, No. 4
April 1941

 

The Naturist May 1943

 

The Naturist
May 1943

 

The Naturist May 1943

 

The Naturist
Vol. VI, No. 6
May 1943

 

Sun Bathing Review Autumn 1943

 

Sun Bathing Review
Vol. II, No. 43
Autumn 1943

 

Rosemary Andrée. 'My Life Story' 1945

 

Rosemary Andrée
My Life Story
1945

 

 

British performer, actress, dancer and physical culture expert Rosemary Andrée. Andrée became known as Britain’s “Pocket Venus” and toured internationally in stage shows, modelled for Britain’s finest photographers, made home exercise movies for women and enjoyed great public appeal during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

Douglas Stewart. 'Beauty and Naturism' April 1947

 

Douglas Stewart
Beauty and Naturism
Paperback
April 1947

 

Health and Efficiency May 1949

 

Health and Efficiency
May 1949

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?). 'Nude portrait' 1960s?

 

Unknown photographer (Australian?)
Nude portrait (38)
1960s?
35mm colour slide

 

 

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22
Jan
21

Photographs: Walker Evans. ‘Subway portraits 1938-41’

January 2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Unguarded moments

“Tell those friends with cameras for eyes”

 

It’s going to be really hot in Melbourne for the next few days so I won’t be able to get into the computer room to work – so a posting today, Friday 22 January, and the next one on Wednesday next week.

These iconic Walker Evans New York subway portraits of anonymous travellers (both physically and mentally) are remarkably unprepossessing. They just are. They exist. Taken with a hidden 35mm camera, they picture human beings in (allegedly) unposed, unguarded moments, unaware that they are being photographed. But un/aware in another sense – un/aware of their surroundings, the person opposite them, or the time, un/aware of their dreams – of past, present and future. Engrossed in reading, staring vacantly into space, deep in thoughtful repose, or possessing a sadness beyond belief, now, they impinge on our consciousness through their very facticity.

You could make up stories about their lives: the boy above in his postal cap(?), gay, nervous, lonely in the big city; the man with the spectacles staring down at his paper, an accountant, or a watchmaker, working all his life to support his family. The black man with his immaculate dress, coat, scarf and Fedora battling for his place in society; and the two woman together, polar opposites, she, clasping her bag, possibly an immigrant arrived through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe, and she, fur edged coat and steepling hat, severe, dour, rich, matronly.

Here they are, this panoply of archetypes, clothed in complete protection for spiritual warfare. Unguarded moments to the photographer they may be, but the mask is definitely not off. In my observation, human beings on public transport are always un/guarded, always protecting themselves from the stranger next to them, the unknown threat, or wandering off in daydreams to another time and place, absenting themselves so that only the shell, the husk, is left. Here and there, present but absent, absent but present, these creatures of the underground still roam the corridors of human consciousness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of educational research and informed comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions-by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.””

Anonymous text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

 

 

The Unguarded Moment  ~ The Church

 

So hard finding inspiration
I knew you’d find me crying
Tell those girls with rifles for minds
That their jokes don’t make me laugh
They only make me feel like dying
In an unguarded moment
So long, long between mirages
I knew you’d find me drinking
Tell those men with horses for hearts
That their jibes don’t make me bleed
They only make me feel like shrinking
In an unguarded moment
So deep, deep without a meaning
I knew you’d find me leaving
Tell those friends with cameras for eyes
That their hands don’t make me hang
They only make me feel like breathing
In an unguarded moment

 

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
35mm negative strip of Subway Portraits
1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to stay still for pictures. Walker Evans was among the photographers who capitalised on this flexibility. Between 1938 and 1941, he took his camera underground, where he photographed subway riders in New York City. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he wrote, “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” (Walker Evans, quoted in Belinda Rathbone. Walker Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995, 170-71)

In order to discreetly capture these candid Subway Portraits, Evans came up with an undercover method of taking photographs. He concealed his 35-millimeter Contax camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. For extra assurance, he asked his friend and fellow photographer Helen Levitt to join him on his subway shoots, believing that his activities would be less noticeable if he was accompanied by someone. With these methods, Evans managed to capture people immersed in conversation, reading, or seemingly lost in their own thoughts and moods. His subjects’ faces display a range of emotions. He also succeeded in accomplishing a difficult challenge in making truly unposed portraits.

Anonymous text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 22/01/2021

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

Walker Evans’ book Many Are Called is a three-year photographic study of people on the New York subway. Using a camera hidden in his jacket and a cable release running down his sleeve, Evans snapped unsuspecting passengers while they traveled through the city. Evans said that these photographs were his “idea of what a portrait ought to be,” he wrote, “anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.” As photographic technology advanced – cameras became more portable and film more sensitive to light, requiring shorter exposure times – people were no longer required to pose for pictures. In an effort to capture candid images of people in public places, Walker Evans affixed a right angle viewfinder to his camera to make it look as if he was pointing it off to the side rather than directly at his subjects. For his Subway Portraits, he went even further and concealed his camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket. As a result, these portraits show people in unguarded moments.

Text from ‘Seeing Through Photographs’ online course, Coursera, 2016.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway portrait' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway portrait
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View Down Subway Car with Accordionist Performing in Aisle, New York City
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

 

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17
Jan
21

Exhibition: ‘The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography’ at the National Nordic Museum, Seattle

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2020 – 31st January 2021

Curator: Dr Patricia Berman

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in Åsgårdstrand
1904
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

The camera is located so close to Munch that his looming head is out of focus. Reversing photographic norms, the background is in sharp focus, revealing a chest that had been given to the artist by his on-and-off-girlfriend Tulla Larsen, and a lithograph tacked to the wallpaper above it – a bitterly satirical commentary on their relationship.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Caricature: The Assault' 1903

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Caricature: The Assault
1903
Lithograph printed in black on medium heavy cream paper
Sheet: 237 x 487mm
Image: 180 x 415mm

 

 

Munch says to a woman friend – “What do you think of me?”
She says, “I think you are the Christ”

.
Peter Watkins (director) Edvard Munch (film) 1974

 

 

The semi-transparent self

What a fascinating study of an artist in motion – physically and spiritually.

Through his informal, experimental photographs, Munch explores issues of identity and self-representation, friendship, work and location. In his photographs, he “assumes a range of personalities, from the vulnerable patient at the clinic to the vital, naked artist on the beach”, many of which undermine “the function of a camera as a straight-forward documentary tool.”

“Faulty” focus, distorted perspectives and eccentric camera angles combined with low and selective depth of field allow Munch to create a body of self-images in which “the artist himself appears in some pictures as a shadow or a smear rather than a physical presence.” There is a subtle mystery to much of the artist’s photographic work, a sense of loneliness and isolation trading off visions of heroic creatures; mirror images questioning the stability of him/self playing off the vitalism of male body culture; and variations of melancholy opposing a better life which lay in nature and good health, stages in the theatre of life.

His ghost-like, semi-transparent self-image appears as if seen in a far off dream – flickering images in light – out of space and time / asynchronous with the effects of time and motion.

What strong, e-motionless photographs of self these are. Here is observation but not self pity. Here is Munch investigating, probing, the mirror stage of “the formation of the Ego via the process of identification, the Ego being the result of identifying with one’s own specular image.”1 (Lacan). Munch explores the tension between the subject and the image, between the whole and fragmented body as revealed in psychoanalytic experience, seeking access to representations of the unified self, in order to understand the human condition, of becoming. Who am I? How am I represented to myself, and to others?

The attempt to locate a fixed subject proves ever elusive. “The mirror stage is a drama… which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality.” (Écrits 4). With its link to a belief in spiritualism (popular in his day), Munch speculates that if we had different eyes we would be able to see our external astral casing, our different shapes. The exhibition text notes, “It is easy to read his layered, flickering images in light of such speculation.” Indeed it is. But the spectres that haunt Munch’s photographs are as much grounded in the reality of the everyday struggle to live a life on earth as they are in the spirit world. They are of the order of something, something that haunts and perturbs the mind, a questioning as to the nature of the self: am I a good person, am I worthy of a good life, where does the path lead me. I have been there, I am still there, I know his joy and pain.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. The specular image refers to the reflection of one’s own body in the mirror, the image of oneself which is simultaneously oneself and other – the “little other”.

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

 

Internationally celebrated for his paintings, prints, and watercolours, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) also took photographs. This exhibition of his photographs, prints, and films emphasises the artist’s experimentalism, examining his exploration of the camera as an expressive medium. By probing and exploiting the dynamics of “faulty” practice, such as distortion, blurred motion, eccentric camera angles, and other photographic “mistakes,” Munch photographed himself and his immediate environment in ways that rendered them poetic. In both still images and in his few forays with a hand-held moving-picture camera, Munch not only archived images, but invented them.

On loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, the 46 copy prints in the exhibition and the continuous screening of the DVD containing Munch’s films are accompanied by a small selection of prints from private collections, as well as contextualising panels and others that examine Munch’s photographic exploration. Similar to the ways in which the artist invented techniques and approaches to painting and graphic art, Munch’s informal photography both honoured the material before his lens and transmuted it into uncommon motifs.

 

” …these photographic images of the artist rise to the level of what Munch called “selfscrutinies”: emotional but hard-edged, and pierced with a dread of modern life that has outlived the Modernist era.” ~ New York Times

” …an unfinished playfulness with technical manipulation and subject matter that is not as readily seen in Munch’s more well-known work” ~ Hyperallergic

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Scan from negative

 

 

One of the nurses at Daniel Jacobson’s clinic in Copenhagen posed in a fontal manner that mirrors representations of women throughout Munch’s work. The slight movement of the camera blurs the figure and her surroundings, undermining the function of a camera as a straight-forward documentary tool.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nurse at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

After a successful run at New York’s Scandinavia House that received great reviews from New York Times and others, the photography of Edvard Munch is currently on display at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle now through January 31, 2021. Curated by distinguished Munch scholar, Dr. Patricia Berman of Wellesley College, The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography presents works from the rich collection of Oslo’s Munch Museum and shares new research on one of the most significant artists of his day.

“After displaying the journalistic photography of Jacob Riis this spring and discussing a picture’s power to change lives, it is wonderful to host another celebrated Nordic artist whose photography reflects the artistic potential found in the camera of the late 19th and early 20th century,” said Executive Director / CEO Eric Nelson.

Internationally celebrated for his paintings, prints, and watercolours, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) experimented with both still photography and early motion picture cameras. The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography displays his photographs and films in a way that emphasises the artist’s exploration of the camera as an expressive medium. By probing and exploiting the dynamics of “faulty” practice, such as distortion, blurred motion, eccentric camera angles, and other photographic “mistakes,” Munch photographed himself and his immediate environment in ways that rendered them poetic.

“In many ways, these works reveal an unknown Munch,” said Leslie Anne Anderson, Director of Collections, Exhibitions, and Programs at the National Nordic Museum. “The photographs were never displayed during the artist’s lifetime, and this exhibition invites visitors to peer into the keyhole of Munch’s private life.”

Press release from the National Nordic Museum

 

Ragnvald Vaering. 'Munch in his Winter Studio in Ekely on his seventy fifth birthday' 1938

 

Ragnvald Vaering
Munch in his Winter Studio in Ekely on his seventy fifth birthday
1938
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Introduction: The Experimental Self

Edvard Munch was among the first artists in history to take “selfies.” Like his paintings, prints and writings, his amateur photographs are often about self-representation. Munch assumes a range of personalities, from the vulnerable patient at the clinic to the vital, naked artist on the beach. Sometimes he staged himself and people around him almost theatrically. Munch pursued his informal photography as an experimental medium, just like his paintings and prints. The artist himself was more than often the experimental subject. This exhibition, containing around 60 photographs and movie fragments in dialogue with graphic works, highlights the connection between Munch’s amateur photography and his more recognised work as an artist.

Munch took up photography in 1902, months before he and his lover Tulla Larsen ended a multi-year relationship with a pistol shot that mutilated one of his fingers. This event, and an accelerating career, triggered a period of increasing emotional turmoil that culminated in a rest cure in the private Copenhagen clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson in 1908-09. After a pause of almost two decades, Munch picked up the camera again in 1927. This second period of activity lasted into the mid-1930s and was bracketed by triumphant retrospective exhibitions in Berlin and Oslo but also by a haemorrhage in his right eye, temporarily impairing his vision. This was also the time that Munch tried his hand at home movies.

Unlike his prints and paintings, however, Munch did not exhibit his tiny, copy-printed photographs. Yet he wrote in 1930, “I have an old camera with which I have taken countless pictures of myself, often with amazing results … Some day when I am old, and I have nothing better to do than write my autobiography, all my self-portraits will see the light of day again.”

 

The Amateur Photographer

Munch’s photographs are often out of focus, and the artist himself appears in some pictures as a shadow or a smear rather than a physical presence. As an amateur photographer, he seems to have exploited the expressive potential in photographic “mistakes” such as “faulty” focus, distorted perspectives and eccentric camera angles. By including the platforms on which he stabilised his small, hand-held camera, he created out-of-focus, undefined areas cutting across the foreground. What may have begun as accidents, eventually became a habitual element in his work.

In many of his self-portrait photographs, Munch moved during the camera’s exposure time, transforming his own body into a ghost-like figure. In the photographs from his studio, Munch and his work seem to exist out of space and time with one another. He often experimented with such effects: “Had we different, stronger eyes,” wrote Munch, “we would be able, like X-rays … to see our external astral casing – and we would have different shapes.” It is easy to read his layered, flickering images in light of such speculation. On the other hand, Munch also regarded his self-images with humour. Writing to his relative Ludvig Ravensberg in June 1904, he confessed: “When I saw my body photographed in profile, I decided, after consulting with my vanity, to dedicate more time to throwing stones, throwing the javelin, and swimming.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch took up photography in 1902, the same year that this picture was taken. There are three preserved versions of the motif, with subtle variations. Munch sent two of the images to his aunt Karen in Norway with the description: “Here are two photographs taken with a little camera I procured. You can see that I have just shaved off my moustache.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait on a Valise in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

The artist stages himself amidst his paintings (see below) in the studio he rented in Berlin at the time. The valise doubles as furniture and a symbol of Munch’s restless nature – he was often on the move.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Evening on Karl Johan' 1892

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Evening on Karl Johan
1892
Oil on canvas
84.5cm (33.2 in) x 121cm (47.6 in)
KODE, Rasmus Beyers samlinger
Public domain

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Back Yard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Back Yard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand' 1903

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand
1903
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Courtyard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Courtyard at 30B Pilestredet, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This is assumed to be one of Munch’s earliest photographs, taken in one of his childhood homes. An inscription on the back reads “Outhouse window. 30-40 years old. Photograph of Pilestredet 30. A swan on the wall.” The swan that Munch refers to is actually a stain on the wall by the door. Can you see it? In moving the camera during the exposure, Munch erased the communal outhouse of his childhood and transformed it into a kind of dream image. This effect was later explored in avant-garde photography.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Karen Bjølstad and Inger Munch on the steps of 2 & 4 Olaf Ryes Plass, Kristiania' 1902(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Karen Bjølstad and Inger Munch on the steps of 2 & 4 Olaf Ryes Plass, Kristiania
1902(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch has photographed his aunt Karen and his sister Inger on the steps of one of his childhood homes in Oslo. The camera is stabilised on a flat surface that dominates the foreground of the image. This is the case in several of Munch’s photographs, perhaps to mark the camera’s position, create a sense of distance and frame the subjects. What likely began as the accident of an amateur eventually became an aesthetic choice.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand' 1904(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Åsgårdstrand
1904(?)
Collodion contact print

 

 

In the summer of 1904, Munch organised an informal “health vacation” for several of his friends in Åsgårdstrand by the Oslo fjord. Munch had owned a small fisherman’s cabin there since 1898. In that period, he worked on the painting Bathing Young Men. Munch described to his relative and close associate Ludvig Ravensberg “a huge canvas … ready to be populated by the strong men wandering among the waters. Here we train our muscles by swimming, boxing, and throwing rocks.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Ludvig Ravensberg in Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Ludvig Ravensberg in Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Ludvig Ravensberg was Munch’s close friend and relative who helped him organise exhibitions and get other practical work done. He also assisted Munch when the artist took some of his self-portraits in Åsgårdstrand. Here Ravensberg gets to pose in front of the camera himself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Was this picture taken by Munch himself or another person? The filtered light, the human shadow projected onto Munch’s body and the dynamics of his pose help set the stage for the subtle mystery.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent' 1906(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent
1906(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This photograph exists in two versions. One mirrors the other, probably a result of Munch flopping the negative as he developed the picture. The mirroring of motifs is something Munch often explored in his graphic work, such as the woodcuts Evening. Melancholy and Melancholy III – perhaps a dynamic he wanted to emulate in his photography. Chemical stains on the print testify to Munch’s hands-on approach to development and printing. In contrast to the products of a commercial printing house, he was not terribly concerned with a perfect print.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent (mirrored)' 1906(?)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in a Room on the Continent (mirrored)
1906(?)
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Evening. Melancholy I (Aften. Melankoli I)' 1896

 

Edvard Munch, Berlin (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
M.W. Lassally, Berlin (printer)
Evening. Melancholy I (Aften. Melankoli I)
1896
Woodcut
Composition: 16 1/4 x 18″ (41.2 x 45.7cm)
Sheet: 16 15/16 x 21″ (43 x 53.3cm)

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) Melancholy III (Melankoli III)' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Melancholy III (Melankoli III)
1902
Woodcut with gouache additions
Composition: 14 3/4 x 18 9/16″ (37.5 x 47.2cm)
Sheet: 20 1/2 x 25 7/8″ (52 x 65.8cm)

 

 

Variations of Melancholy

Edvard Munch made his first woodcuts and lithographs in 1896. He mastered an innovative technique in which he used the wood grain to emphasise his own lines. Using this technique, he created a number of related woodcuts on the theme of melancholy, including Evening. Melancholy I (1896), in which the brooding figure sits facing right, under an imposing crimson sky.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Ludvig Ravensberg, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Ludvig Ravensberg, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch used himself and his friends as models for his canvas Bathing Men. Here is a description by his friend Christian Gierløff: “The sun baked us all day and we let it do so. Munch worked a little on a painting of bathers, but for most of the day, we lay, overcome by the sun, in the sand by the water’s edge, between the large boulders, and we let our bodies drink in all of the sun they could. No one asked for a bathing suit.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Painting "Bathing Young Men" in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Painting “Bathing Young Men” in the Garden, Åsgårdstrand
1904
Collodion contact print

 

 

Several photographs from the summer of 1904 picture Munch’s painting Bathing Young Men. Shadows cast by leaves at the upper left of the painting seem integral to canvas and have the effect of linking the painting to its natural surroundings. Ludvig Ravensberg stands on the extreme right, seemingly holding the painting. The out-of-focus foreground, the painted figures, and the living man holding the canvas aloft document not only the painting but, playfully, photographic representation itself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Bathing Young Men' 1904

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Young Men
1904
Oil on canvas
Munch Museum
Public domain

 

 

Bathers were a popular subject around the turn of the last century. Sojourns at health spas were fashionable and people pursued sports, nudism and the healthful effects of the natural environment. It was seen as cleansing to bathe in the sea, while the sun constituted a rejuvenating force of life.

In this painting we see a virile, muscular, naked man emerging from the cool, turquoise sea after a swim. The picture can be read as a reflection of the period’s “vitalism” – a world view that assumed all living things to be suffused with a magical life force. This philosophy found its pictorial expression in particular in dynamic motifs of naked men and youths.

As a cultural phenomenon, vitalism was a reaction against the decadence of the period, and against industrialism, with the great cities and ways of life it brought with it. Instead of cool-headed rationalism and scientific technology, vitalism preferred to emphasise instinct and intuition – and believed the key to a better life lay in nature and good health.

Text from the National Museum website

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Exhibition at Blomqvist, Kristiania' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Exhibition at Blomqvist, Kristiania
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch took this image of his one-man exhibition at the influential art dealer Blomqvist in 1902. He also recorded himself, standing in the background, out of focus, hands in his pockets, facing directly into the camera.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Model in the Studio, Berlin' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Model in the Studio, Berlin
1902
Collodion contact print

 

 

This is among the few photographs that directly relate to Munch’s work in paint and graphic media. There are two versions of the motif, and subtle variations suggest that the photographer himself might have offered some instructions.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude with Long Red Hair' 1902

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude with Long Red Hair
1902
Oil on canvas

 

 

A Record of Healing

Munch often photographed in times and places where he struggled with his health and sought new energy. The pictures from the town of Warnemünde on Germany’s Baltic Coast show him as part of male body culture and include images of the artist naked and semi-naked on the beach. Munch also took tourist shots with his female models on the sand during the summers he spent there in 1907 and 1908.

In autumn 1908, Munch checked into a private clinic in Copenhagen managed by the physician Daniel Jacobson and his nurses. Munch was broken down by exhaustion, distress and alcoholism. The clinic became his home for over half a year. Within its walls, he painted, drew, created graphic motifs, organised exhibitions and took photographs in which he consistently appears semi-transparent. In the pictures of Munch’s room at the clinic we often get a glimpse of his paintings and prints. Sometimes he seems to have staged his body in postures that echo these paintings.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Rosa Meissner at Hotel Rohn, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Rosa Meissner at Hotel Rohn, Warnemünde
1907
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Most of Munch’s photographs cannot be firmly associated with specific artworks. This photograph is however closely related to the motif Weeping Woman, which Munch rendered in several oil versions, a lithograph and a sculpture. While the foreground figure has remained static, the figure in the background has moved. Blurred movement is specific to photography and film, a phenomenon that Munch exploited repeatedly in his photographs. The effect of motion reproduces the appearance of spirit photographs – the spectral bodies of the departed allegedly registered on photographic plates and film. Munch expressed interest in such photographs in the 1890s. Ghosts and spectres also began to appear in cinema in the medium’s infancy.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and his Housekeeper, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and his Housekeeper, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

In this picture, Munch has exploited the effects of movement and time. His housekeeper in Warnemünde has moved during exposure and is out of focus. Munch himself is sharply rendered in the background, and at the same time barely present. He has perched on a dark sofa long enough to be registered in detail and then moved out of the camera’s range. He now appears almost as a ghost where both the couch and the back wall are visible through his body. This effect mirrors his experimentation with layered woodblock printing in his graphic work, in which figures appear embedded in wood graining.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch with Model on the Beach, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch with Model on the Beach, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

This photograph stages the beach at Warnemünde as Munch’s outdoor studio. The painter is strategically covered beside his monumental canvas Bathing Men. The naked man is one of Munch’s models holding a pose depicted in the painting.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Bathing Men' 1907-08

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Men
1907-08
Oil on canvas
206 x 227cm

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Nude Self-Portrait, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Nude Self-Portrait, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Canal in Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Canal in Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with a Valise' c. 1906

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with a Valise
c. 1906
Collodion contact print

 

 

Back lit and smudged with chemicals, this photograph deviates from the instructions that accompanied the popular Kodak cameras intended for amateur use. Munch’s bodily envelopment by darkness and the light that dissolves the window in the background make this a staged image of isolation and longing. It echoes the mood and composition of the woodcut Evening. Melancholy I (above).

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner on the Beach, Warnemünde' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner on the Beach, Warnemünde
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

Munch posed for this photograph with Rosa Meissner, a model with whom he had worked in Berlin and later in in Warnemünde. Rosa’s sister Olga Meissner, who appears in another photograph in the same location, may have taken the image. A similar picture exists with double exposure, perhaps as a result of instructions given by Munch himself.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner, Warnemünde (mirrored)' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch and Rosa Meissner, Warnemünde (mirrored)
1907
Collodion contact print

 

 

By flopping the negative Munch demonstrated a curiosity with the dynamics of motif. This is something he explored over many years when he translated one of his painted motifs into a graphic image – the result was always mirrored. Sometimes Munch went even further and mirrored the motif itself on the printing stone or block – just as he did with this negative.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In the autumn of 1908 Munch suffered a psychological and physical collapse and sought treatment at the private Copenhagen clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson. He remained there for over half a year. Some years earlier, he had been wounded by a shot from his own pistol in a quarrel with his then lover Tulla Larsen. Munch’s voluminous writings attribute this event to the beginning of the decline for which he sought treatment. Here, the wounded hand is sharply focused in the foreground. Towards the end of his stay at the clinic, Munch painted a self-portrait which is related in posture and gesture, if not in mood, with this photograph.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in the Clinic' 1909

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in the Clinic
1909
Oil on canvas
KODE, Rasmus Meyers samlinger

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch à la Marat at the Clinic, Copenhagen' 1908-09

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch à la Marat at the Clinic, Copenhagen
1908-09
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch has staged himself semi-naked next to a bathtub, suggesting a reference to Jacques-Louis David’s canonical painting of the murdered French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat. Munch made several paintings with the title The Death of Marat. The photograph can also be seen in relation to Munch’s painting On the operating table, which he made following the accident that wounded his hand. Unlike in his heroically staged nude self-portraits from Åsgårdstrand and Warnemünde, Munch appears softened and vulnerable. Whether this is a homage or satire, we can only imagine.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'The Death of Marat' 1907

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
The Death of Marat
1907
Oil on canvas

 

 

The starting point for The Death of Marat was the harrowing break-up with Tulla Larsen, who Munch was engaged to from 1898 to 1902. During a huge quarrel at his summer house at Aagaardsstrand in 1902, a revolver went off by accident, injuring Munch’s left hand. Munch laid the lame on Tulla Larsen and the engagement was broken off. The episode developed into a trauma which was to haunt Munch for many years, and which he worked on in several paintings, such as The Death of Marat I and The Death of Marat II, also called The Murderess.

The title Death of Marat refers to the murder of the French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat who, in 1793, was murdered by Charlotte Corday when he was lying in the bathtub. This was a motif many artists had treated up through the years. Marat was often presented as a hero, whilst Corday was regarded as a traitor.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-portrait on the Operating Table' 1902-03

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-portrait on the Operating Table
1902-03
Oil on canvas

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with a Sculpture Draft, Kragerø' 1909-10

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with a Sculpture Draft, Kragerø
1909-10
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Following his return to Norway in 1909, Munch tried his hand at designing a monument for the centennial of Norway’s constitution. He identified this composition as “Old Mother Norway and Her Son.” It is one of the few informal images that picture the artist at work, or posing as though in the process of making his art.

 

 

Munch’s Selfies

When Munch picked up the camera again in 1927, after a pause of over fifteen years, he often posed in and around his life’s work at his home. The small size and flexibility of the popular camera models that he had chosen – about the size of a smartphone – made it easy to hold the apparatus in one hand and take a picture. Munch’s “selfies”, sometimes playful and always self-analytical, reveal a public life lived in private. They show us the artist outside of public scrutiny, as his camera recorded both staged and spontaneous moments of his everyday life. In his many self-portraits, we might recognise our own daily practices as we turn the camera back on ourselves.

In the late spring of 1930, Munch suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye, seriously compromising his vision. In that year, he created a series of “selfies.” In one photograph of great pathos, Munch closed his eyes, transforming his camera into both mirror and eye. “The camera cannot compete with brush and palette as long as it cannot be used in Heaven or in Hell,” Munch had written. With Munch’s eye closed and his aperture open, his own camera – disclosing both humour and pain – surely came close.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Edvard Munch's Housekeeper, Ekely' 1932

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Edvard Munch’s Housekeeper, Ekely
1932
Silver Gelatin

 

 

In the years 1927-1932, during Munch’s second period of photographic activity, the artist almost exclusively took photographs of himself and his work. This is a rare exception. Munch’s housekeeper is posing in a doorway and is doubled as a reflection on the shiny table on which the artist placed the camera. In fact, the woman is tripled, as a light, located behind her, throws her shadow onto the door to her left. The shadowing and expressive use of the foreground seem to have been strategic – an electrical plug and cord, snaking around the door jamb, appear to lead to a light source behind the model.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In several of Munch’s pictures, his body is transparent or ghosted as he moved his body during a time exposure. The images in the background (below), on the other hand, are rendered sharply. Perhaps the photograph tells us something about how volatile a human life is, while art endures.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Woman with a Samoyed' 1929-30

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Woman with a Samoyed
1929-30
Watercolour

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait with Paintings, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Fips on the Veranda, Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Fips on the Veranda, Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This “self-portrait” with the artist’s dog together with his own shadow exploits the effects of architectural space and direct and reflected light. Charmingly, Fips’s head and right paw are perfectly aligned with the shadow of a wall and light thrown through its mullioned window. Munch often photographed motifs with his back to the sun, causing his shadow to fall into the frame. A similar exploration of shadows appears in his painting and prints, sometimes with foreboding or pathos, and sometimes, as seen here, with humour.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Double Exposure of "Charlotte Corday", Ekely' c. 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Double Exposure of “Charlotte Corday”, Ekely
c. 1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In this photograph of the painting Charlotte Corday, Munch appears almost as a ghost. To achieve this affect, he used double exposure, taking two pictures on top of each other. Shadow figures such as this were emblematic of an absent presence, a kind of haunting, in Munch’s work. What began as a “mistake” in amateur snapshot photography became a common motif in experimental photography of the 1920s and ’30s as well as macabre effects in horror films from the same period.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Charlotte Corday' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Charlotte Corday
1930
Oil on canvas

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

This is one of several prints that carries the words: “Photo: E. Munch 1931. After the eye disease.”

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait at Ekely' 1930

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait at Ekely
1930
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

In this image Munch is a spectral presence through which his well-lit paintings materialise. A similar union of body and material is found in the paintings and graphics, where figures become enmeshed in paint drips or wood grain patterning. Here the artist seems to stage himself as a figure in Evening. Melancholy (see above), embodying the contemplative state of mind conveyed by the title.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Still Life with Cabbage and other Vegetables' 1926-30

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Still Life with Cabbage and other Vegetables
1926-30
Oil on wooden panel

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Self-Portrait in front of "Metabolism", Ekely' 1931-32

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Self-Portrait in front of “Metabolism”, Ekely
1931-32
Silver gelatin contact print

 

 

Munch stretches his arm outward and moves slightly to render himself out-of-focus. He appears almost transparent in this self-portrait at the feet of the figures in the painting Metabolism.

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Metabolism' 1898-99

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Metabolism
1898-99
Oil on canvas

 

 

Munch’s Films

Munch’s short films can best be described as the charming experiments of an amateur. This was, however, an amateur with a long-term exploration of motion in art and photography. Electrified by cinema, Munch had even announced his intention of opening his own movie house. The short sequences he shot both mirror popular cinema, such as the films of Charlie Chaplin, and explore the industrial aesthetic of Dziga Vertov’s silent documentary Man with a Movie Camera from 1929.

Munch shot his “home movies” in the summer of 1927 using a Pathé-Baby camera that he had purchased in Paris. The portable device, which had come on the market in 1922, had helped to spark a surge of amateur home movies all over the world. The 9.5 mm projector that accommodated the film, and which Munch also owned, was likewise inexpensive and marketed for home projection. “Every decade extends the influence of cinema, enlarges its domain and multiplies its applications,” stated the Pathé promotional literature, ” …Today, in order to enter our home, it has made itself small, simple, affordable.”

Munch’s camera had a spring-loaded drive, rather than a hand-driven crank, allowing for a uniform recording speed and simplifying his act of filming. His fascination with the effects of time and motion are played out with humour and deliberation in his few forays into motion pictures. The artist peering into his own lens is a performance knowingly looking at a self that will be projected later, an actor in his large body of self-images.

 

 

Munch’s Films
1927
3:40

 

 

Munch’s short amateur films, stitched together in this video, were shot in Dresden, Oslo and on his property Ekely. One segment, a panning shot in a park, includes a man and woman seated on a bench, echoing Munch’s 1904 painting Kissing Couples in the Park. The high-angle shot of the boys looking through a fence, as we watch them, points to the artist’s canny and humorous analysis of point of view. Munch’s fragmentary films share the experimental camerawork with the genre of “city symphony” films of the 1920s.

 

 

Munch’s cameras

Munch purchased his first camera in Berlin in February 1902. This was most likely a Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2, a simple and hugely popular amateur’s model. Because his later prints exist in three additional formats, he probably owned or borrowed other cameras. The first Kodak hand-held film camera was marketed in 1888. Successive innovations by Kodak made picture taking increasingly simple and inexpensive, establishing a mass market of amateur photographers. Early amateur photography was marketed as “fun” and “sport.” Munch was an early and eccentric practitioner.

The photographic manuals instructed amateurs to avoid mistakes such as out-of-focus or tilted images, ghosted figures, or shadows laid across the subjects. These were the very photographic elements that Munch repeated, turning the rules of good picture taking upside down.

Munch likely made his own contact prints using an Eastman Kodak-marketed kit outfitted for home use. There are both fingerprints and chemical spills on some of the images. He occasionally double-exposed his photographs or flopped the negative to achieve mirror-image prints, demonstrating a curiosity about the printing process itself. Munch’s exploration of the means and materials of amateur photography extends his groundbreaking strategies in lithography and woodcut.

 

Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2

 

Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2

 

 

This popular portable model seems to have been the type that Munch had as his first camera. Because the camera used light-proof film cartridges, had a fixed focus lens, and a small window indicating the exposure number, Kodak advertised this model as “Easy Photography,” suitable for the unskilled amateur. An instruction manual from the Eastman Kodak Company was sold with each camera. It included helpful graphics to guide the aspiring amateur and warnings against “absolute failure” to follow instructions. These “failures” were the effects that Munch seemed to favour.

 

Kodak Vest-Pocket Autographic

 

Kodak Vest-Pocket Autographic

 

 

This small, lightweight camera could be folded to fit a shirt pocket. Released during the Great War, it was advertised by Kodak to be “as accurate as a watch and as simple to use.” Requiring just a small pressure on the shutter release, the modest size and flexibility of the camera was well suited to some of the intimate images taken by Munch in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

 

 

Kodak No. 3A Series III

 

Kodak No. 3A Series III

 

 

Eastman Kodak issued the No. 3A, its first postcard format camera, between 1903 and 1915. The company produced variants such as the Series III until 1943. A bellows that collapsed into a folding bed made the camera portable.

 

Kodak No. 3 Series III Folding Pocket Camera

 

Kodak No. 3 Series III Folding Pocket Camera

 

 

Munch took most of the “selfies” at Ekely using this model. First produced from 1900 to 1915, and then with variants issued though the early 1940s, it was a camera that, like the No. 3A, could be operated by direct touch or via a pneumatic release.

 

Pathé Baby Ciné Camera

 

Pathé Baby Ciné Camera

 

 

This is one of the first cinema cameras intended for home use. The lightweight apparatus had a built-in clockwork which enabled amateurs such as Munch to make hand-held films. Pathé’s projectors made it possible to view the results at home.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Edvard Munch' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Edvard Munch
Nd

 

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 12 December 1863 – 23 January 1944) was a Norwegian painter. His best known work, The Scream, has become one of the most iconic images of world art.

His childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. Studying at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (today’s Oslo), Munch began to live a bohemian life under the influence of nihilist Hans Jæger, who urged him to paint his own emotional and psychological state (‘soul painting’). From this emerged his distinctive style.

Travel brought new influences and outlets. In Paris, he learned much from Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, especially their use of colour. In Berlin, he met Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, whom he painted, as he embarked on his major canon The Frieze of Life, depicting a series of deeply-felt themes such as love, anxiety, jealousy and betrayal, steeped in atmosphere.

The Scream was conceived in Kristiania. According to Munch, he was out walking at sunset, when he ‘heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature’. The painting’s agonised face is widely identified with the angst of the modern person. Between 1893 and 1910, he made two painted versions and two in pastels, as well as a number of prints. One of the pastels would eventually command the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction.

As his fame and wealth grew, his emotional state remained insecure. He briefly considered marriage, but could not commit himself. A breakdown in 1908 forced him to give up heavy drinking, and he was cheered by his increasing acceptance by the people of Kristiania and exposure in the city’s museums. His later years were spent working in peace and privacy. Although his works were banned in Nazi Germany, most of them survived World War II, securing him a legacy.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

National Nordic Museum
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Seattle, WA 98107
Phone: 206.789.5707

Opening hours:
Wed: 10am – 5pm
Thu: 10am – 5pm
Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat: 10am – 5pm
Sun: 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

National Nordic Museum website

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10
Jan
21

Exhibition: ‘Max Beckmann: feminine-masculine’ at Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Exhibition dates:

Curator: Dr Karin Schick

 

 

Max Beckmann. 'Early humans – primeval landscape' 1939 (revised 1947/48)

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Frühe Menschen – Urlandschaft
Early humans – primeval landscape

1939 (revised 1947/48)
Gouache, watercolour and ink
49.8 x 64.5cm
Courtesy of Daxer & Marschall, München
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Daxer & Marschall, München

 

 

If ever there were a time in history that I would like to go back to and work as an artist, it is most definitely the interwar years in Paris, or Berlin up until 1933 when the Nazis took control of German culture. I would have revelled in the freedom of expression, freedom of identity, sexuality, gender, New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), New Woman, news ways of experimentation, and new ways of thinking about the human condition (Jung, Freud, Benjamin). I would have been empowered as an artist to push the boundaries of conservative society, to break prescriptive and outdated cultural norms.

And so with Max Beckmann. There is a basic and fundamental feeling to his paintings, a primordial feeling, in which the artist breaks the boundaries of the taboo fully aware that there may be consequences for doing so. In his paintings Beckmann crafts his stories of passion, desire, mythology and the jouissance of everyday life, expressed through ever more delineated black-outlined caricatures which feature elongated claw-like hands, distorted bodies and mobile, multiple perspectives (see Das Bad (The bathroom) 1930, below). These paintings so generate and compose their own existence (their presence) – one which opposes conventional classical portraiture – that the Nazis labelled them De/generate Art. “Although not Jewish, he was beleaguered by the Nazis, who dismissed him from his teaching post in Frankfurt in 1933 and removed his “degenerate” work from public collections.” (NY Times)

As with any artist, the journey is the key to the development of the work. Look at the assured, slightly fey, well-dressed man in Beckmann’s classical Self-portrait, Florence (1907, below) and then compare it to his Self-Portrait with Horn (1938, below). In the first self-portrait Beckmann is aged 23, seemingly untouched by the vicissitudes of life, debonair, staring straight at the camera, ooh I mean mirror – sorry, canvas – the mouth held in a small thin line, eyes almost blank, cigarette in nonchalantly curled hand. Thirty one years later, age/d 54, Beckmann’s features (having lived through the desolation of the First World War, famine, revolution, the Great Depression, assassination, violence) are gnarled and wizened, his expression grim, his clothing that of a concentration camp inmate, his horn silent and occluded, reminding me of the hearing trumpet of the composer Beethoven. Unable to hear, not wanting to face, the clamour of the onrushing maelstrom.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Self-portrait, Florence' 1907

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Self-portrait, Florence
1907
Oil on canvas
98 x 90cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle Dauerleihgabe Nachlass Peter und Maja Beckmann
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Foto: Elke Walford

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Self-Portrait with Horn' 1938

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Self-Portrait with Horn
1938
Oil on canvas
101 x 110cm
Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection
Used under fair use conditions

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Adam and Eve' 1917

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Adam and Eve
1917
Oil on canvas
79.8 x 56.7cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
Erworben mit Unterstützung der Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB
Foto: André van Linn

 

Max Beckmann. 'Portrait of a Romanian (Portrait of Dr. Heidel)' 1922

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Bildnis einer Rumänin (Bildnis Frau Dr. Heidel)
Portrait of a Romanian (Portrait of Dr. Heidel)
1922
Oil on canvas
100 x 65cm
Dauerleihgabe der Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© SHK / Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Foto: Elke Walford

 

Max Beckmann. 'Portrait of Käthe von Porada' 1924

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Bildnis Käthe von Porada (Portrait of Käthe von Porada)
1924
Oil on canvas
120 x 43cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
Foto: U. Edelmann

 

Max Beckmann. 'Portrait of Ludwig Berger' 1945

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Bildnis Ludwig Berger (Portrait of Ludwig Berger)
1945
Oil on canvas
135.6 x 90.9cm
Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Das Bad' (The bathroom) 1930

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Das Bad (The bathroom)
1930
Oil on canvas
174.9 x 121.3cm
Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May

 

 

Max Beckmann: feminine-masculine is the first exhibition to examine in detail the often contradictory roles played by women and men in the works of Max Beckmann (1884-1950), one of the great artists of modernism and a potent interpreter of his times. With some 140 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, the show demonstrates the impressive breadth of this subject area in the artist’s oeuvre while enabling viewers to come to a deeper understanding of Beckmann’s multifaceted art. Important loans from public and private collections in Germany and abroad – including the Max Beckmann Estate, the Städel Museum, Frankfurt on the Main, the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri / USA, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – supplement the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s extensive Beckmann holdings.

The exhibition explores both the historical significance of Beckmann’s paintings as well as their relevance in today’s world. His incisive self-portraits, his double portraits with his wives, the stately likenesses of his sponsors and patrons as well as his mythological and biblical figure paintings compellingly evoke basic constants of human togetherness: desire, devotion and conflict, power and powerlessness, the urge for freedom and the longing to become one with another human being.

Beckmann both exaggerated and blurred gender roles; he discovered tenderness in both female and male figures, power in the heroine as well as the hero. Fascinated by the myths of different cultures, he was familiar with the age-old notion that male and female once split off from a single, androgynous gender and are doomed to yearn forever to be reunified. The artist also read and commented on contemporary writings by Carl Gustav Jung and Otto Weininger that are still the subject of frequent discussion today and which explain individuality as a combination of female and male elements. Beckmann nonetheless liked to style himself as a manfully resolute interpreter of the world, an image that to this day dominates the reception of his work, hindering a more open understanding of his many-layered art.

Accompanying the exhibition are a richly illustrated scholarly catalogue (Prestel Verlag, Munich), an audio guide and regular theme-based guided tours (Saturdays at 3 pm). The museum education offerings uncover multiple perspectives on Beckmann’s art and enable visitors to take part in an on-site dialogue between the curator and further experts (for example on gender research). On 15 January 2021, the Kunsthalle will also host a public, international symposium on Beckmann’s multifaceted examination of the topic of “femaleness and masculinity”.

The exhibition Max Beckmann: feminine-masculine is a true highlight on the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s agenda for 2020. It represents a further instalment in a series of highly acclaimed exhibitions devoted to Beckmann’s art, including Self-Portraits (1993), Landscape as Stranger (1998) and Max Beckmann: The Still Lifes (2014).

Press release from the Hamburger Kunsthalle

 

Max Beckmann. 'Double portrait (Max and Mathilde Beckmann)' 1941

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Doppelbildnis (Max und Mathilde Beckmann)
Double portrait (Max and Mathilde Beckmann)
1941
Oil on canvas
193.5 x 89cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Messingstadt' 1944

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Messingstadt (City of Brass)
1944
Oil on canvas
115 x 150cm
Saarlandmuseum – Moderne Galerie, Saarbrücken, Stiftung Saarländischer Kulturbesitz
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Saarlandmuseum – Moderne Galerie, Saarbrücken, Stiftung Saarländischer Kulturbesitz
Foto: Tom Gundelwein

 

 

Max Beckmann addresses the relationship between man and woman as the starting point for the repetitive torments of human existence. In this question too, he is inspired by the archetype of the fairy tale Messingstadt “Brass City”. (From “The Thousand and One Nights” or “Arabian nights”) In this story it is the hero Musa who manages to get inside the brass city. He enters a palace where he discovers a girl as “beautiful as the shining sun”. At the same time, he realises that it’s just her lifeless body.

Note: The Thousand and One Nights, also called The Arabian Nights, Arabic Alf laylah wa laylah, collection of largely Middle Eastern and Indian stories of uncertain date and authorship. Its tales of Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sindbad the Sailor have almost become part of Western folklore, though these were added to the collection only in the 18th century in European adaptations.

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Odysseus and Calypso' 1943

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Odysseus and Calypso
1943
Oil on canvas
150 x 115.5cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Foto: Elke Walford

 

 

Max Beckmann

Max Carl Friedrich Beckmann (February 12, 1884 – December 27, 1950) was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer. Although he is classified as an Expressionist artist, he rejected both the term and the movement. In the 1920s, he was associated with the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), an outgrowth of Expressionism that opposed its introverted emotionalism. His work became full of horrifying imagery and distorted forms with combination of brutal realism and social criticism.

 

Life

Max Beckmann was born into a middle-class family in Leipzig, Saxony. From his youth he pitted himself against the old masters. His traumatic experiences of World War I, in which he volunteered as a medical orderly, coincided with a dramatic transformation of his style from academically correct depictions to a distortion of both figure and space, reflecting his altered vision of himself and humanity.

He is known for the self-portraits painted throughout his life, their number and intensity rivalled only by those of Rembrandt and Picasso. Well-read in philosophy and literature, Beckmann also contemplated mysticism and theosophy in search of the “Self”. As a true painter-thinker, he strove to find the hidden spiritual dimension in his subjects (Beckmann’s 1948 Letters to a Woman Painter provides a statement of his approach to art).

Beckmann enjoyed great success and official honours during the Weimar Republic. In 1925 he was selected to teach a master class at the Städelschule Academy of Fine Art in Frankfurt. Some of his most famous students included Theo Garve, Leo Maillet and Marie-Louise von Motesiczky. In 1927 he received the Honorary Empire Prize for German Art and the Gold Medal of the City of Düsseldorf; the National Gallery in Berlin acquired his painting The Bark and, in 1928, purchased his Self-Portrait in Tuxedo. By the early 1930s, a series of major exhibitions, including large retrospectives at the Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (1928) and in Basel and Zurich (1930), together with numerous publications, showed the high esteem in which Beckmann was held.

His fortunes changed with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, whose dislike of Modern Art quickly led to its suppression by the state. In 1933, the Nazi government called Beckmann a “cultural Bolshevik” and dismissed him from his teaching position at the Art School in Frankfurt. In 1937 the government confiscated more than 500 of his works from German museums, putting several on display in the notorious Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich. The day after Hitler’s radio speech about degenerate art in 1937, Beckmann left Germany with his second wife, Quappi, for the Netherlands.

For ten years, Beckmann lived in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, failing in his desperate attempts to obtain a visa for the United States. In 1944 the Germans attempted to draft him into the army, although the sixty-year-old artist had suffered a heart attack. The works completed in his Amsterdam studio were even more powerful and intense than the ones of his master years in Frankfurt. They included several large triptychs, which stand as a summation of Beckmann’s art.

In 1948, Beckmann moved to the United States. During the last three years of his life, he taught at the art schools of Washington University in St. Louis (with the German-American painter and printmaker Werner Drewes) and the Brooklyn Museum. He came to St. Louis at the invitation of Perry T. Rathbone, who was director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Rathbone arranged for Washington University in St. Louis to hire Beckmann as an art teacher, filling a vacancy left by Philip Guston, who had taken a leave. The first Beckmann retrospective in the United States took place in 1948 at the City Art Museum, Saint Louis. In St. Louis, Morton D. May became his patron and, already an avid amateur photographer and painter, a student of the artist. May later donated much of his large collection of Beckmann’s works to the St. Louis Art Museum. Beckmann also helped him learn to appreciate Oceanian and African art. After stops in Denver and Chicago, he and Quappi took an apartment at 38 West 69th Street in Manhattan. In 1949 he obtained a professorship at the Brooklyn Museum Art School.

He suffered from angina pectoris and died after Christmas 1950, struck down by a heart attack at the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West in New York, not far from his apartment building. As the artist’s widow recalled, he was on his way to see one of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Beckmann had a one-man show at the Venice Biennale of 1950, the year of his death.

 

Themes

Unlike several of his avant-garde contemporaries, Beckmann rejected non-representational painting; instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. He greatly admired not only Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also Blake, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, such as Bosch, Bruegel, and Matthias Grünewald. His style and method of composition are partially rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Engaging with the genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and history painting, his diverse body of work created a very personal but authentic version of modernism, one with a healthy deference to traditional forms. Beckmann reinvented the religious triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into an allegory of contemporary humanity.

From his beginnings in the fin de siècle to the period after World War II, Beckmann reflected an era of radical changes in both art and history in his work. Many of Beckmann’s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologised references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate.

His Self-Portrait with Horn (1938), painted during his exile in Amsterdam, demonstrates his use of symbols. Musical instruments are featured in many of his paintings; in this case, a horn that the artist holds as if it were a telescope by which he intends to explore the darkness surrounding him. The tight framing of the figure within the boundaries of the canvas emphasise his entrapment. Art historian Cornelia Stabenow terms the painting “the most melancholy, but also the most mystifying, of his self-portraits”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) 'Venus – Mars' 1945

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Venus – Mars
1945
India ink and watercolour
36,2 x 19.5cm
Private collection
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Privatbesitz

 

Max Beckmann. 'Two women (in glass door)' 1940

 

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950)
Zwei Frauen (in Glastür)
Two women (in glass door)
1940
Oil on canvas
80 x 61cm
Museum Ludwig, Köln
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020
© Foto: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

 

 

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03
Jan
21

Exhibition: ‘Unearthed: Photography’s Roots’ at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 8th December 2020 – 9th May 2021

Curator: Alexander Moore

The exhibition will include work by the following 41 artists (in alphabetical order):

Nobuyoshi Araki, Anna Atkins, Alois Auer, Cecil Beaton, Karl Blossfeldt, Adolphe Braun, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Mat Collishaw, Imogen Cunningham, Roger Fenton, Adam Fuss, Ori Gersht, Cecilia Glaisher, Joy Gregory, William Henry Fox Talbot, Sir John Herschel, Gyula Holics, Jan van Huysum, Henry Irving, Charles Jones, Sarah Jones, André Kertész, Nick Knight, Lou Landauer, Richard Learoyd, Pradip Malde, Robert Mapplethorpe, John Moffat, Sarah Moon, James Mudd, Kazumasa Ogawa, T Enami, Dr Albert G Richards, Scowen & Co., Scheltens & Abbenes, Helen Sear, Edward Steichen, Josef Sudek, Lorenzo Vitturi, Edward Weston, Walter Woodbury.

 

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Broccoli Leamington' c. 1895-1910

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Broccoli Leamington
c. 1895-1910
© Sean Sexton
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

A difficult thing said simply

What a wonderful selection of photographs to start the year 2021.

As Laura Cumming observes, there is a profound connection between photography and photosynthesis – both created through light, both constructed and political. For the photograph is ALWAYS the choice of the photographer, and the landscape has ALWAYS been shaped and constructed since human beings emerged on this earth. Nothing in the natural world is ever “natural” but always mediated by time, space, context, power and desire. Desire to control the direction of a river, desire for food and shelter, desire for Lebensraum or living space as a practice of settler colonialism, desire to celebrate the “natural” world, desire to procreate, desire to propagate the (genetically modified) vegetable. A desire to desire.

Photography’s symbiotic relationship with the natural world is the relationship of photography and transmutation (the action of changing or the state of being changed into another form), photography and transmogrification (the act or process of changing or being changed completely). The natural world, through an action (that of being photographed), changes its state (flux) and, further, changes its state to a completely different form (fixed in liquid fixer; fixed, saved, but fluid, in the digital pixel). Flowers and vegetables are alive then wither and die, only to remain “the same” in the freeze frame of the death-defying photograph.

Photography’s fluidity and fixity – of movement, time, space, context, representation – allows “the infinite possibility of experimentation” not, as Cumming argues, “without the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement” but through their very agency. It is the human hand that arranges these pyramidal broccoli, the accident of light in the photogram that allows us to pierce a clump of Bory’s Spleenwort root structure. It is human imagination, the movement of the human mind, that allows the artist Charles Jones to darken the Bean Longpod cases so that these become seared in the mind’s eye, fixed in all time and space as iconic image: the “transformation of an earthy root vegetable into an abstracted object worthy of adulation.”

While the process of photographing flower and vegetable may well be due to the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement, contemplation or decisive moment, the final outcome of the image – the representation of the natural in the physicality of the print – usually attempts to hide these processes in images that are frozen in time, images that play on the notion of memento mori and the transient nature of life. In the presence of a triple death (ie. the death of the plant or flower, the time freeze or death moment of the photograph, and our knowledge that these plants and flowers in the photograph have already died), it is the abstraction of the death reality in images of flowers, plants and vegetables that allows for a touch of the soul. These photographs “provide a glimpse into the terrain of the unseen, or what German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin coined the “optical unconsciousness”.”1 Here, photography allows us to capture the realm of the unseen and also allows us to glimpse the expansive terrain of the human imaginary. The camera reveals aspects of reality that register in our senses but never quite get processed consciously. (Is there anything “real” about Cunningham’s Two Callas 1929 other than a vibration of the energy of the cosmos?)

Still, still, still we are (unconsciously) aware of all that is embedded within a photograph for photography makes us feel, makes us remember “that which lies beyond the frame, or what photographs compel us to remember and forget, what they enable us to uncover and repress…”. Like any great work of art, when we look at a great photograph it is not what we BELIEVE that matters when we look, but how the art work makes us FEEL, how it touches the depths of our soul. These are the roots of photography, un/earthed, in the languages of image – (sub)conscious stories of the human imagination which seek to make sense of our roots in Earth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1. A different nature presents itself to the movie camera than to the naked eye. Instead of being something we enter into unconsciously or vaguely, in film we enter nature analytically. While a painter lovely caresses the surfaces of nature, the cameraman chucks a piece of dynamite at it, then reassembles the pieces:

“Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-clung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go travelling.”

A movie camera can be mounted on a speeding locomotive, dropped down a sewer, or secreted in a valise and carried surreptitiously around a city. The camera reveals aspects of reality that register in our senses but never quite get processed consciously. Film changed how we view the least significant minutiae of reality just as surely as Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life changed how we look at incidental phenomenon like slips of the tongue. In other words, film serves as an optical unconscious. Benjamin asserts the film camera “introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

“Richard Prouty. “The optical unconsciousness,” on the One-Way Street website Oct 16, 2009 [Online] Cited 03/01/2021

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

 

 

“The Dulwich show amounts to a political history of photography by other means. Should it aspire to nothing more than the fictions of painting? Should it be a catalogue, a document, a celebration of the natural life? Where Glaisher records the precise difference between two varieties of fern, Jones observes the Sputnik-like eccentricity of a plucked turnip. Where Imogen Cunningham sees the perfect abstraction of a calla lily, Edward Weston anthropomorphises a pepper, so that it momentarily resembles the torso of a body-builder. …

Perhaps the desire to photograph the vegetable world brings its own peace, as well as the infinite possibility of experimentation without the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement. But perhaps it also has something to do with the profound connection between photography and photosynthesis. The very light that gives life to a rose, before its petals drop, is the same light that preserves it in a death-defying photograph.”

.
Laura Cumming. “Unearthed: Photography’s Roots review – cauliflowers saying cheese…” on the Guardian website Sun 29 Nov 2020 [Online] Cited 23/12/2020

 

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871) 'Ceylon' c. 1850

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Ceylon [examples of ferns]
c. 1850
Cyanotype

 

 

After publishing her own book of cyanotype photograms of British algae in the 1840s, Atkins collaborated with her childhood friend and fellow scholar Anna Dixon on a second book of photograms. The book, Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, was published in 1853 and now resides in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

This particular image [above] is a selection from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns. A collection of four distinct ferns, it’s simply captioned “Ceylon”. At the time these cyanotypes were being made, the island of Ceylon – modern day Sri Lanka – was under British rule. It would be nearly another century before the island declared independence from Atkins’ home country. Despite the abundant difficulties of travel in the 1850s, Atkins’s many scientific and business connections no doubt helped her obtain several foreign specimens for this book of fern cyanotypes.

Anonymous text on the 20 x 200 website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020

 

This unique camera-less photograph was part of an extensive project to document plants from Great Britain and British colonies like Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and illustrates an early example of how important photography would become in our attempts to learn about and protect the natural world. Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871) was a trained botanist who adopted photographic processes in order to describe, analyse, and, in a manner of speaking, preserve plant specimens from around the world. She is widely considered the first person to use photographs to illustrate a book, her British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions published in 1843. This particular photograph was produced with Anna Dixon for a later compilation: Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns in 1854. With these and other projects, Atkins helped establish photography as an important tool in scientific and ecological observation. …

Atkins made all of her cyanotypes in England, often receiving specimens through imperial trade. This image, therefore, was produced over 5,000 miles away from where the plant originated

Brian Piper. “Object Lesson: Ceylon cyanotype by Anna Atkins,” on the New Orleans Museum of Art website March 23, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871) 'Plate 55 – Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit' 1853

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Plate 55 – Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit
1853
From Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions Volume 1 (Part 1)
Cyanotype
Photo copyright Horniman Museum and Gardens

 

Cecilia Glaisher (British, 1828-1892) 'Bory's Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris)' c. 1853-56

 

Cecilia Glaisher (British, 1828-1892)
Bory’s Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris)
c. 1853-56
Salted paper print

 

 

Cecilia Glaisher (20 April 1828 – 28 December 1892) was an English amateur photographer, artist, illustrator and print-maker, working in the 1850s world of Victorian science and natural history. …

The British Ferns – Photographed from Nature by Mrs Glaisher was planned as an illustrated guide to identifying ferns, with the entomologist Edward Newman (1801-1876), a fern expert and publisher. Made using William Henry Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawing process during what has come to be known as the Victorian fern craze, it was to be published in a number of parts and intended to appeal to the growing number of fern collectors whose enthusiasm was fuelled by increasingly informative and magnificently illustrated fern publications. The use of photography, according to the printed handbill produced by Newman to promote the work, would allow fern specimens to be “displayed with incomparable exactness, producing absolute facsimiles of the objects, perfect in artistic effect and structural details”. A portfolio of ten prints, in mounts embossed with Newman’s publishing details, was presented by him to the Linnean Society in London in December 1855. However, perhaps due to an inability to raise sufficient subscriptions, or difficulties in producing prints in consistent quantities, the project appears to have been abandoned by 1856.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Roger Fenton. 'Fruit and Flowers' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Fruit and Flowers
1860
Albumen print from a collodion negative
Victoria & Albert Museum

 

 

In tackling still lifes, Roger Fenton gave form to his ardent belief that no subject was off limits to photography, even one intimately linked to the history of painting and seemingly so dependent on colour. Faced with terrible weather in 1860 that curtailed his ability to photograph landscapes, Fenton drew upon the skills he had perfected earlier in the decade while photographing the collection of the British Museum and trained his lens on carefully balanced still-life arrangements. Cleverly massing and juxtaposing forms and tonal values, and brazenly taking advantage of photography’s ability to convey detail, Fenton quickly produced a series of unprecedented vivaciousness that convincingly demonstrated why photography should be counted as an art. Fruit and Flowers is among the last images this towering figure in the history of photography made before quitting photography for good at age 41.

Fruit and Flowers is an ebullient, in-your-face celebration of summer’s bounty. Shot head on and close up, the densely packed arrangement seems ready to tumble from the large, glossy 14- by nearly 17-inch albumen print made from a collodion negative. Dozens of juicy, sensuous grapes flank a tall, centred vase decorated with a tendril pattern; the vase holds pansies at its top while plums nestle at the base. At right, a few grapes dangle over the edge of a marble tabletop, falling into the viewer’s space, as does a striped, tasseled cloth at left. Star-shaped hoyas are reflected in a chased silver goblet, and two immense lilies, their stems obscured, appear to hover untethered above. The lilies are balanced compositionally by a large rose that faces the viewer, while a second rose, near the bottom, separates the grapes and a nude figurine. Ferns and lily of the valley complete the floral medley.

The prominent roses and lilies may allude to the sacred, as both are associated with the Virgin Mary, but myriad wine references, such as the grapes, the chalice decorated with grape vines, and especially the impish figurine, whose physical attributes link him to bacchanalian Roman festivals, point decidedly to the profane. At the same time, the withering rose, drooping leaves, and tired-looking plums remind the viewer that such pleasures are ephemeral.

Anonymous. “Fruit and Flowers: Roger Fenton,” on the National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Bean Longpod' c. 1895-1910

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Bean Longpod
c. 1895-1910
© Sean Sexton
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

In Bean Longpod (1895-1910), now on view in “Unearthed,” the titular plant cuts through the centre of the composition, leaving little room for anything else. Other works play with their subjects’ placement: Broccoli Leamington (1895-1910), for instance, finds large broccoli heads sitting atop one another in a pyramid-like formation. The overall effect of this unusual treatment, notes the Michael Hoppen Gallery, is the “transformation of an earthy root vegetable into an abstracted” object worthy of adulation. …

According to the Michael Hoppen Gallery, which hosted a 2015 exhibition on Jones, “[t]he extraordinary beauty of each Charles Jones print rests in the intensity of focus on the subject and the almost portrait-like respect with which each specimen is treated.”

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Iris Kaempferi' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Iris Kaempferi
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Japanese Lilies' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Japanese Lilies
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

Ogawa Kazumasa lived from the 1860s to almost the 1930s, surely one of the most fascinating 70-year stretches in Japanese history. Ogawa’s homeland “opened” to the world when he was a boy, and for the rest of his life he bore witness to the sometimes beautiful, sometimes strange, sometimes exhilarating results of a once-isolated culture assimilating seemingly everything foreign – art, technology, customs – all at once. Naturally he picked up a camera to document it all, and history now remembers him as a pioneer of his art. During the 1890s he published Some Japanese Flowers, a book containing his pictures of just that.

The following year, Ogawa’s hand-coloured photographs of Japanese flowers also appeared in the American books Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by the renowned Anglo-Irish expatriate Japanese culture scholar Francis Brinkley and published in Boston, the city where Ogawa had spent a couple of years studying portrait photography and processing.

Ogawa’s varied life in Japan included working as an editor at Shashin Shinpō (写真新報), the only photography journal in the country at the time, as well as at the flower magazine Kokka (国華), which would certainly have given him the experience he needed to produce photographic specimens such as these. Though Ogawa invested a great deal in learning and employing the highest photographic technologies, they were the highest photographic technologies of the 1890s, when colour photography necessitated adding colours – of particular importance in the case of flowers – after the fact.

… Even as everything changed so rapidly all around him, as he mastered the just-as-rapidly developing tools of his craft, Ogawa nevertheless kept his eye for the natural and cultural aspects of his homeland that seemed never to have changed at all.

Colin Marshall. “Beautiful Hand-Colored Japanese Flowers Created by the Pioneering Photographer Ogawa Kazumasa (1896),” on the Open Culture website March 22nd, 2019 [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

The stunning floral images … are the work of Ogawa Kazumasa, a Japanese photographer, printer, and publisher known for his pioneering work in photomechanical printing and photography in the Meiji era. Studying photography from the age of fifteen, Ogawa moved to Tokyo aged twenty to further his study and develop his English skills which he believed necessary to deepen his technical knowledge. After opening his own photography studio and working as an English interpreter for the Yokohama Police Department, Ogawa decided to travel to the United States to learn first hand the advance photographic techniques of the time. Having little money, Ogawa managed to get hired as a sailor on the USS Swatara and six months later landed in Washington. For the next two years, in Boston and Philadelphia, Ogawa studied printing techniques including the complicated collotype process with which he’d make his name on returning to Japan.

In 1884, Ogawa opened a photographic studio in Tokyo and in 1888 established a dry plate manufacturing company, and the following year, Japan’s first collotype business, the “K. Ogawa printing factory”. He also worked as an editor for various photography magazines, which he printed using the collotype printing process, and was a founding member of the Japan Photographic Society.

Anonymous. “Ogawa Kazumasa’s Hand-Coloured Photographs of Flowers (1896),” on The Public Domain Review website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Chrysanthemum' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Chrysanthemum
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Morning Glory' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Morning Glory
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

A central focus for the show and a truly rare opportunity for visitors will be a display of 11 works by the inventor and pioneer, Kazumasa Ogawa, whose effectively coloured photographs were created 30 years before colour film was invented. Ogawa combined printmaking and traditions in Japan to create truly original and pioneering photographs. By developing up to 16 different colour plates per image from expertly hand coloured prints he made Japan the world’s leading producer of coloured photographs, the display of which is hoped to be a revelation for many.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920s
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Steichen. 'Magnolia Blossoms, Voulangis, France' c. 1921

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Magnolia Blossoms, Voulangis, France
c. 1921
Gelatin silver print
19.4 x 23.8cm

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Foxgloves, France' 1925

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Foxgloves, France
1925
Gelatin silver print

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern' before 1926

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern
before 1926
Private Collection, Derbyshire

 

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) 'Impatiens Glandulifera' 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932)
Impatiens Glandulifera
1928
Gelatin silver print
27 x 20.5cm

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Two Callas' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Pepper No. 30' 1930

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pepper No. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print contact print
24.1 × 19.2cm

 

 

A year later, during a four-day period from August 2-6, 1930, Weston took at least thirty more negatives of peppers. He first tried again with plain muslin or a piece of white cardboard as the backdrop, but for these images he thought the contrast between the backdrop and the pepper was too stark. On August 3 he found a large tin funnel, and, placing it on its side, he set a pepper just inside the large open end. He wrote:

It was a bright idea, a perfect relief for the pepper and adding reflecting light to important contours. I still had the pepper which caused me a week’s work, I had decided I could go no further with it, yet something kept me from taking it to the kitchen, the end of all good peppers. I placed it in the funnel, focused with the Zeiss, and knowing just the viewpoint, recognizing a perfect light, made an exposure of six minutes, with but a few moments’ preliminary work, the real preliminary was on in hours passed. I have a great negative, – by far the best!

It is a classic, completely satisfying, – a pepper – but more than a pepper; abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind.

To be sure, much of my work has this quality… but this one, and in fact all of the new ones, take one into an inner reality, – the absolute, – with a clear understanding, a mystic revealment. This is the “significant presentation” that I mean, the presentation through one’s intuitive self, seeing “through one’s eyes, not with them”: the visionary.”

By placing the pepper in the opening of the funnel, Weston was able to light it in a way that portrays the pepper in three dimensions, rather than as a flat image. It is this light that gives the image much of its extraordinary quality.

Edward Weston (1961). Nancy Newhall (ed.,). The Day-books of Edward Weston, Volume II. NY: Horizon Press. p. 180 quote on the Wikipedia website.

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Delphiniums' 1940

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Delphiniums
1940
Dye imbibition print
Digital image courtesy of the George Eastman Museum
© 2019 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Gyula Holics (Hungarian, 1919-1989) 'Peas' 1950s

 

Gyula Holics (Hungarian, 1919-1989)
Peas
1950s
Gelatin silver print
23.8 x 18.1cm

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989) 'Tulip' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulip
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Orchid' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Orchid
1985
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

 

Trace the history of photography from the 1840s to present day, as seen through depictions of nature. In Summer 2020, we present our first major photography exhibition, tracing the rich history of the medium told through depictions of nature, bringing together over 100 works by 25 leading international photographers.

This autumn, Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first exhibition to trace the history of photography as told through depictions of nature, revealing how the subject led to key advancements in the medium, from its very beginnings in 1840 to present day. Unearthed: Photography’s Roots will be the first major photography show at Dulwich Picture Gallery, bringing together over 100 works by 35 leading international photographers, many never seen before.

Presenting just one of the many possible histories of photography, this exhibition follows the lasting legacy of the great pioneers who made some of the world’s first photographs of nature, examining key moments in the medium’s history and the influences of sociological change, artistic movements and technological developments, including Pictorialism through to Modernism, experiments with colour and contemporary photography and new technologies.

Arranged chronologically and with a focus on botany and science throughout, the exhibition will highlight the innovations of some of the medium’s key figures, including William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) and Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) as well as several overlooked photographers including Japanese artist, Kazumasa Ogawa (1860-1929) and the English gardener, Charles Jones (1866-1959). It will be the first show to publicly exhibit work by Jones, whose striking modernist photographs of plants remained unknown until 20 years after his death, when they were discovered in a trunk at Bermondsey Market in 1981.

Questioning the true age of photography, the exhibition will open with some of the first known Victorian images by William Henry Fox Talbot, positioning his experimentation with paper negatives as the very beginning of photography. It will also introduce a key selection of cyanotypes by one of the first women photographers, Anna Atkins (1799- 1871), who created camera-less photograms of the algae specimens found along the south coast of England. Displayed publicly for the first time, these works highlight the ground-breaking accuracy of Atkins’ approach, and the remarkably contemporary appearance of her work which has inspired many artists and designers.

The exhibition will also foreground the artists who produced unprecedented photographic art in the twentieth century without artistic intention. The medium allowed for quick documentation of nature’s infinite specimens, making it an important tool for scientists and botanists such as the German photographer and teacher Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) who captured close-up views of plant specimens in order to study and share an understanding of nature’s ‘architecture’. A selection of Blossfeldt’s ‘study aids’ will be displayed alongside work by the proud gardener Charles Jones, who used a glass plate camera to keep a meticulously illustrated record of his finest crops. Seen together for the first time, the two artists will be examined for their pragmatic approach that set them apart from the romanticised style of their time.

A central focus for the show and a truly rare opportunity for visitors will be a display of 11 works by the inventor and pioneer, Kazumasa Ogawa, whose effectively coloured photographs were created 30 years before colour film was invented. Ogawa combined printmaking and traditions in Japan to create truly original and pioneering photographs. By developing up to 16 different colour plates per image from expertly hand coloured prints, he made Japan the world’s leading producer of coloured photographs, the display of which is hoped to be a revelation for many.

Unearthed: Photography’s Roots will aim to highlight how nature photography has remained consistently radical, inventive and influential over the past two centuries with the final rooms in the exhibition dedicated to more recent advancements in the medium. A selection of work by the renowned symbolist photographers Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe will highlight the coded language of nature in photography. Both artists used nature to tackle the oppression experienced in their lives by channelling the strength and the sexuality of the natural subjects they photographed. This powerful symbolism, in works such as Mapplethorpe’s Tulips (1984) and Cunningham’s Agave Design I (1920s), allowed both artists to express themselves at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and women artists fought for recognition.

The final room culminates with contemporary works that reveal the enduring influence of early forms of photography and still life, with a spotlight on the artists today who are re-shaping the definition of these mediums through digital processes. Mat Collishaw’s (b.1966) Auto-Immolation (2010) combines new technology and ancient religious ideals, whilst Richard Learoyd’s (b.1966) camera-obscura photographs present a new dimension in the traditional still life genre pioneered by the artists of the Dutch Golden Age. The Gallery’s Mausoleum will host On Reflection (2014), by renowned Israeli video artist, Ori Gersht (b.1967), displayed publicly for the first time in the UK. An homage to the work of Flemish still-life painter Jan Brueghel the Elder, this ambitious work uses modern technolgy to capture the dynamic explosion of mirrored glass reflecting meticulously detailed floral arrangements by the Old Master. Brueghel’s Still Life A Stoneware Vase of Flowers, 1607-08, will also be included in the exhibition, on loan from St John’s College, Oxford for the first time in 300 years.

Unearthed: Photography’s Roots is curated by Alexander Moore, Creative Producer at Dulwich Picture Gallery, and former Head of Exhibitions for Mario Testino. He said:

“I am thrilled to present this extensive survey of photography which celebrates botany in its various guises – from Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautifully shot tulips, to Anna Atkins’ algae specimens. There is beauty to be found in all of the works in the exhibition, which includes some new discoveries. More than anything though, this exhibition reveals nature as the gift that keeps on giving – a conduit for the development of photography, it is also a force for hope and well-being that we have come to depend on so much in recent months. I hope the energy of this timely exhibition provides visitors with a new perspective on the power of the natural world – and perhaps the encouragement to take some pictures themselves!”

The exhibition will include a number of major loans from public and private collections, many never displayed publicly before. Lenders include The Horniman Museum, the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Michael Hoppen Gallery and Blain Southern. A catalogue will accompany featuring essays by Alexander Moore and art historian and 17th-century still life painting specialist, Dr Fred Meijer.

Press release from the Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Mat Collishaw (English, b. 1966) 'Auto Immolation 002' 2010 (still)

 

Mat Collishaw (English, b. 1966)
Auto Immolation 002 (still)
2010
Hard Drive, LCD Screen, Steel, Surveillance Mirror, Wood
300 x 113.5 x 52cm

 

Lorenzo Vitturi (Italian, b. 1980) 'Yellow and Red Bokkom Mix #2' 2013

 

Lorenzo Vitturi (Italian, b. 1980)
Yellow and Red Bokkom Mix #2
2013
Giclee print on Hahnemuhle bamboo paper
29.5 x 44cm
Edition of 7
© Lorenzo Vitturi
Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection
2014
© the Artist

 

 

Ori Gersht explores the binary oppositions of attraction and repulsion by capturing the moment when “destruction in the exploding mirrors becomes… the moment of creation.”

In the adjacent exhibition rooms, viewers are faced with ten enlarged video stills from the film presented as archival pigment prints. The images somewhat reverse the symbolic value of still-life paintings, or the idea that they are meant to immortalise the experience of nature. Frozen in time, images of the explosion also plays on the notion of memento mori and the transient nature of life. Thanatotic [the name chosen by Freud to represent a universal death instinct] undertones are also seen in the fine network of cracks in the mirrors, which are especially noticeable in On Reflection, Material E01 and On Reflection, Material B02 (both 2014). Gersht’s works provide a glimpse into the terrain of the unseen, or what German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin coined the “optical unconsciousness.” The outcome is a powerful reminder of the fragility of existence.

Crystal Tong. “On Reflection: Ori Gersht,” on the ArtAsiaPacific website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014 (detail)

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection (detail)
2014
© the Artist

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014 (detail)

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection (detail)
2014
© the Artist

 

Richard Learoyd (British, b. 1966) 'Large Poppies' 2019

 

Richard Learoyd (British, b. 1966)
Large Poppies
2019
© the Artist
Image courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

 

 

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Gallery Road, London
SE21 7AD
Phone: 020 8693 5254

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays (except Bank Holiday Mondays)

Dulwich Picture Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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