Archive for the 'Alec Soth' Category

04
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Expressions’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 7th October 2018

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944) '[Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva]' 1928

 

Erich Salomon (German, 1886-1944)
[Portrait of Madame Vacarescu, Romanian Author and Deputy to the League of Nations, Geneva]
1928
Gelatin silver print
29.7 × 39.7 cm (11 11/16 × 15 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1928, pioneering photojournalist, Erich Salomon photographed global leaders and delegates to a conference at the League for the German picture magazine Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. In a typically frank image, Salomon has shown Vacarescu with her head thrown back passionately pleading before the international assembly.

Elena Văcărescu or Hélène Vacaresco (September 21, 1864 in Bucharest – February 17, 1947 in Paris) was a Romanian-French aristocrat writer, twice a laureate of the Académie française. Văcărescu was the Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1922 to 1924. She was a permanent delegate from 1925 to 1926. She was again a Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1926 to 1938. She was the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador (permanent delegate) in the history of the League of Nations. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

From a distance…

For such an engaging subject, this presentation looks to be a bit of a lucky dip / ho hum / filler exhibition. You can’t make a definitive judgement from a few media images but looking at the exhibition checklist gives you a good idea of the overall organisation of the exhibition and its content. Even the press release seems unsure of itself, littered as it is with words like posits, probes, perhaps (3 times) and problematic.

Elements such as physiognomy are briefly mentioned (with no mention of its link to eugenics), as is the idea of the mask – but again no mention of how the pose is an affective mask, nor how the mask is linked to the carnivalesque. Or how photographs portray us as we would like to be seen (the ideal self) rather than the real self, and how this incongruence forms part of the formation of our identity as human beings.

The investigation could have been so deep in so many areas (for example the representation of women, children and others in a patriarchal social system through facial expression; the self-portrait as an expression of inner being; the photograph as evidence of the mirror stage of identity formation; and the photographs of “hysterical” women of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris; and on and on…) but in 45 works, I think not. The subject deserved, even cried out for (as facial expressions go), a fuller, more in depth investigation.

For more reading please see my 2014 text Facile, Facies, Facticity which comments on the state of contemporary portrait photography and offers a possible way forward: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces.

Marcus

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

 

The human face has been the subject of fascination for photographers since the medium’s inception. This exhibition includes posed portraits, physiognomic studies, anonymous snapshots, and unsuspecting countenances caught by the camera’s eye, offering a close-up look at the range of human stories that facial expressions – and photographs – can tell.

 

 

Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) 'Androgyny' 1982

 

Nancy Burson (American, born 1948)
Androgyny
1982
Gelatin silver print
21.6 × 27.7 cm (8 1/2 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Nancy Burson
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Composite image of portraits of six men and six women

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'Demonstration, New York City' 1963

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
Demonstration, New York City
1963
Gelatin silver print
25.9 × 35.4 cm (10 3/16 × 13 15/16 in.)
© Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Brigitte and Elke Susannah Freed

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) 'Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Negative May 1943; print about 1950

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968)
Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Negative May 1943; print about 1950
Gelatin silver print
26 × 34.4 cm (10 1/4 × 13 9/16 in.)
© International Center of Photography
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Emmett Leo Kelly (December 9, 1898 – March 28, 1979) was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure “Weary Willie”, based on the hobos of the Depression era.

Kelly began his career as a trapeze artist. By 1923, Emmett Kelly was working his trapeze act with John Robinson’s circus when he met and married Eva Moore, another circus trapeze artist. They later performed together as the “Aerial Kellys” with Emmett still performing occasionally as a whiteface clown.

He started working as a clown full-time in 1931, and it was only after years of attempting to persuade the management that he was able to switch from a white face clown to the hobo clown that he had sketched ten years earlier while working as a cartoonist.

“Weary Willie” was a tragic figure: a clown, who could usually be seen sweeping up the circus rings after the other performers. He tried but failed to sweep up the pool of light of a spotlight. His routine was revolutionary at the time: traditionally, clowns wore white face and performed slapstick stunts intended to make people laugh. Kelly did perform stunts too – one of his most famous acts was trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer – but as a tramp, he also appealed to the sympathy of his audience.

From 1942–1956 Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he was a major attraction, though he took the 1956 season off to perform as the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. He also landed a number of Broadway and film roles, including appearing as himself in his “Willie” persona in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also appeared in the Bertram Mills Circus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848) 'Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women' 1843

 

Hill & Adamson (Scottish, active 1843-1848)
Mrs Grace Ramsay and four unknown women
1843
Salter paper print from Calotype negative
15.2 x 20.3 cm (6 x 8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940) 'Connecticut Newsgirls' c. 1912-1913

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Connecticut Newsgirls
c. 1912-1913
Gelatin silver print
11.8 × 16.8 cm (4 11/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Mme Ernestine Nadar]
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21 cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Mme Ernestine Nadar]' 1880-1883 (detail)

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Mme Ernestine Nadar] (detail)
1880-1883
Albumen silver print
Image (irregular): 8.7 × 21 cm (3 7/16 × 8 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Ophelia' Negative 1875; print, 1900

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Ophelia
Negative 1875; print, 1900
Carbon print
35.2 x 27.6 cm (13 7/8 x 19 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) 'W. Canfield Ave., Detroit' 1982

 

Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947)
W. Canfield Ave., Detroit
1982
Gelatin silver print
Image (irregular): 19.7 × 24.6 cm (7 3/4 × 9 11/16 in.)
© Nicholas Nixon
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (German) 'Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student' c. 1927

 

Unknown maker (German)
Close-up of Open Mouth of Male Student
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
5.7 x 8.4 cm (2 1/4 x 3 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alec Soth (American, born 1969) 'Mary, Milwaukee, WI' 2014

 

Alec Soth (American, born 1969)
Mary, Milwaukee, WI
2014
Inkjet print
40.1 × 53.5 cm (15 13/16 × 21 1/16 in.)
© Alec Soth/Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Richard Lovett

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984) 'Los Angeles' January 1960

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Los Angeles
January 1960
Gelatin silver print
22.6 × 33.9 cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
© 1984 The Estate of Garry Winogrand
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

From Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, to Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the human face has been a crucial, if often enigmatic, element of portraiture. Featuring 45 works drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, In Focus: Expressions, on view May 22 to October 7, 2018 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, addresses the enduring fascination with the human face and the range of countenances that photographers have captured from the birth of the medium to the present day.

The exhibition begins with the most universal and ubiquitous expression: the smile. Although today it is taken for granted that we should smile when posing for the camera, smiling was not the standard photographic expression until the 1880s with the availability of faster film and hand-held cameras. Smiling subjects began to appear more frequently as the advertising industry also reinforced the image of happy customers to an ever-widening audience who would purchase the products of a growing industrial economy. The smile became “the face of the brand,” gracing magazines, billboards, and today, digital and social platforms.

As is evident in the exhibition, the smile comes in all variations – the genuine, the smirk, the polite, the ironic – expressing a full spectrum of emotions that include benevolence, sarcasm, joy, malice, and sometimes even an intersection of two or more of these. In Milton Rogovin’s (American, 1909-2011) Storefront Churches, Buffalo (1958-1961), the expression of the preacher does not immediately register as a smile because the camera has captured a moment where his features – the opened mouth, exposed teeth, and raised face – could represent a number of activities: he could be in the middle of a song, preaching, or immersed in prayer. His corporeal gestures convey the message of his spirit, imbuing the black-and-white photograph with emotional colour. Like the other works included in this exhibition, this image posits the notion that facial expressions can elicit a myriad of sentiments and denote a range of inner emotions that transcend the capacity of words.

In Focus: Expressions also probes the role of the camera in capturing un-posed moments and expressions that would otherwise go unnoticed. In Alec Soth’s (American, born 1969) Mary, Milwaukee, WI (2014), a fleeting expression of laughter is materialised in such a way – head leaning back, mouth open – that could perhaps be misconstrued as a scream. The photograph provides a frank moment, one that confronts the viewer with its candidness and calls to mind today’s proliferation and brevity of memes, a contemporary, Internet-sustained visual phenomena in which images are deliberately parodied and altered at the same rate as they are spread.

Perhaps equally radical as the introduction of candid photography is the problematic association of photography with facial expression and its adoption of physiognomy, a concept that was introduced in the 19th century. Physiognomy, the study of the link between the face and human psyche, resulted in the belief that different types of people could be classified by their visage. The exhibition includes some of the earliest uses of photography to record facial expression, as in Duchenne de Boulogne’s (French, 1806-1875) Figure 44: The Muscle of Sadness (negative, 1850s). This also resonates in the 20th-century photographs by Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) of Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County Alabama (negative 1936) in that the subject’s expression could be deemed as suggestive of the current state of her mind. In this frame (in others she is viewed as smiling) she stares intently at the camera slightly biting her lip, perhaps alluding to uncertainty of what is to come for her and her family.

The subject of facial expression is also resonant with current developments in facial recognition technology. Nancy Burson (American, born 1948) created works such as Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women) (1982), in which portraits of six men and six women were morphed together to convey the work’s title. Experimental and illustrative of the medium’s technological advancement, Burson’s photograph is pertinent to several features of today’s social media platforms, including the example in which a phone’s front camera scans a user’s face and facial filters are applied upon detection. Today, mobile phones and social media applications even support portrait mode options, offering an apprehension of the human face and highlighting its countenances with exceptional quality.

In addition to photography’s engagement with human expression, In Focus: Expressions examines the literal and figurative concept of the mask. Contrary to a candid photograph, the mask is the face we choose to present to the world. Weegee’s (Arthur Fellig’s) (American, born Austria, 1899-1968) Emmett Kelly, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (about 1950) demonstrates this concept, projecting the character of a sad clown in place of his real identity as Emmett Kelly.

The mask also suggests guises, obscurity, and the freedom to pick and create a separate identity. W. Canfield Ave., Detroit (1982) by Nicholas Nixon (American, born 1947) demonstrates this redirection. Aware that he is being photographed, the subject seizes the opportunity to create a hardened expression that conveys him as distant, challenging, and fortified, highlighted by the opposing sentiments of the men who flank him. In return, the audience could be led to believe that this devised pose is a façade behind which a concealed and genuine identity exists.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne de Boulogne

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) (September 17, 1806 in Boulogne-sur-Mer – September 15, 1875 in Paris) was a French neurologist who revived Galvani’s research and greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. The era of modern neurology developed from Duchenne’s understanding of neural pathways and his diagnostic innovations including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests (NCS), and clinical photography. This extraordinary range of activities (mostly in the Salpêtrière) was achieved against the background of a troubled personal life and a generally indifferent medical and scientific establishment.

Neurology did not exist in France before Duchenne and although many medical historians regard Jean-Martin Charcot as the father of the discipline, Charcot owed much to Duchenne, often acknowledging him as “mon maître en neurologie” (my teacher in neurology). … Duchenne’s monograph, the Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine – also illustrated prominently by his photographs – was the first study on the physiology of emotion and was highly influential on Darwin’s work on human evolution and emotional expression.

In 1835, Duchenne began experimenting with therapeutic “électropuncture” (a technique recently invented by François Magendie and Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière by which electric shock was administered beneath the skin with sharp electrodes to stimulate the muscles). After a brief and unhappy second marriage, Duchenne returned to Paris in 1842 in order to continue his medical research. Here, he did not achieve a senior hospital appointment, but supported himself with a small private medical practice, while daily visiting a number of teaching hospitals, including the Salpêtrière psychiatric centre. He developed a non-invasive technique of muscle stimulation that used faradic shock on the surface of the skin, which he called “électrisation localisée” and he published these experiments in his work, On Localized Electrization and its Application to Pathology and Therapy, first published in 1855. A pictorial supplement to the second edition, Album of Pathological Photographs (Album de Photographies Pathologiques) was published in 1862. A few months later, the first edition of his now much-discussed work, The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy, was published. Were it not for this small, but remarkable, work, his next publication, the result of nearly 20 years of study, Duchenne’s Physiology of Movements, his most important contribution to medical science, might well have gone unnoticed.

 

The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression

Influenced by the fashionable beliefs of physiognomy of the 19th century, Duchenne wanted to determine how the muscles in the human face produce facial expressions which he believed to be directly linked to the soul of man. He is known, in particular, for the way he triggered muscular contractions with electrical probes, recording the resulting distorted and often grotesque expressions with the recently invented camera. He published his findings in 1862, together with extraordinary photographs of the induced expressions, in the book Mecanisme de la physionomie Humaine (The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, also known as The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy).

Duchenne believed that the human face was a kind of map, the features of which could be codified into universal taxonomies of mental states; he was convinced that the expressions of the human face were a gateway to the soul of man. Unlike Lavater and other physiognomists of the era, Duchenne was skeptical of the face’s ability to express moral character; rather he was convinced that it was through a reading of the expressions alone (known as pathognomy) which could reveal an “accurate rendering of the soul’s emotions”. He believed that he could observe and capture an “idealized naturalism” in a similar (and even improved) way to that observed in Greek art. It is these notions that he sought conclusively and scientifically to chart by his experiments and photography and it led to the publishing of The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy in 1862 (also entitled, The Electro-Physiological Analysis of the Expression of the Passions, Applicable to the Practice of the Plastic Arts. in French: Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou Analyse électro-physiologique de l’expression des passions applicable à la pratique des arts plastiques), now generally rendered as The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. The work compromises a volume of text divided into three parts:

  1. General Considerations,
  2. A Scientific Section, and
  3. An Aesthetic Section.

These sections were accompanied by an atlas of photographic plates. …

Duchenne defines the fundamental expressive gestures of the human face and associates each with a specific facial muscle or muscle group. He identifies thirteen primary emotions the expression of which is controlled by one or two muscles. He also isolates the precise contractions that result in each expression and separates them into two categories: partial and combined. To stimulate the facial muscles and capture these “idealized” expressions of his patients, Duchenne applied faradic shock through electrified metal probes pressed upon the surface of the various muscles of the face.

Duchenne was convinced that the “truth” of his pathognomic experiments could only be effectively rendered by photography, the subject’s expressions being too fleeting to be drawn or painted. “Only photography,” he writes, “as truthful as a mirror, could attain such desirable perfection.” He worked with a talented, young photographer, Adrien Tournachon, (the brother of Felix Nadar), and also taught himself the art in order to document his experiments. From an art-historical point of view, the Mechanism of Human Physiognomy was the first publication on the expression of human emotions to be illustrated with actual photographs. Photography had only recently been invented, and there was a widespread belief that this was a medium that could capture the “truth” of any situation in a way that other mediums were unable to do.

Duchenne used six living models in the scientific section, all but one of whom were his patients. His primary model, however, was an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Through his experiments, Duchenne sought to capture the very “conditions that aesthetically constitute beauty.” He reiterated this in the aesthetic section of the book where he spoke of his desire to portray the “conditions of beauty: beauty of form associated with the exactness of the facial expression, pose and gesture.” Duchenne referred to these facial expressions as the “gymnastics of the soul”. He replied to criticisms of his use of the old man by arguing that “every face could become spiritually beautiful through the accurate rendering of his or her emotions”, and furthermore said that because the patient was suffering from an anesthetic condition of the face, he could experiment upon the muscles of his face without causing him pain.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 44, The Muscle of Sadness (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Duchenne and his patient, an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality.” Duchenne faradize’s the mimetic muscles of “The Old Man.” The farad (symbol: F) is the SI derived unit of electrical capacitance, the ability of a body to store an electrical charge. It is named after the English physicist Michael Faraday

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875) 'Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain' Negative 1854-1856; print 1876 (detail)

 

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (French, 1806-1875)
Figure 27, The Muscle of Pain (detail)
Negative 1854-1856; print 1876
From the book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine ou Analyse Electro-Physiologique de l’Expression des Passions
Albumen silver print
11 x 9 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011) 'Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed' 1958-1961

 

Milton Rogovin (American, 1909-2011)
Storefront Churches, Buffalo, preacher head in hand, eyes closed
1958-1961
Gelatin silver prin
11 × 10.5 cm (4 5/16 × 4 1/8 in.)
© Milton Rogovin
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Gift of Dr. John V. and Laura M. Knaus

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2 cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' Negative 1936; print 1950s (detail)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
Negative 1936; print 1950s
Gelatin silver print
24.3 × 19.2 cm (9 9/16 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Depression-era photography

In 1935, Evans spent two months at first on a fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. From October on, he continued to do photographic work for the RA and later the Farm Security Administration (FSA), primarily in the Southern United States.

In the summer of 1936, while on leave from the FSA, he and writer James Agee were sent by Fortune magazine on assignment to Hale County, Alabama, for a story the magazine subsequently opted not to run. In 1941, Evans’s photographs and Agee’s text detailing the duo’s stay with three white tenant families in southern Alabama during the Great Depression were published as the groundbreaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Its detailed account of three farming families paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty. The critic Janet Malcolm notes that as in the earlier Beals’ book there was a contradiction between a kind of anguished dissonance in Agee’s prose and the quiet, magisterial beauty of Evans’s photographs of sharecroppers.

The three families headed by Bud Fields, Floyd Burroughs and Frank Tingle, lived in the Hale County town of Akron, Alabama, and the owners of the land on which the families worked told them that Evans and Agee were “Soviet agents,” although Allie Mae Burroughs, Floyd’s wife, recalled during later interviews her discounting that information. Evans’s photographs of the families made them icons of Depression-Era misery and poverty. In September 2005, Fortune revisited Hale County and the descendants of the three families for its 75th anniversary issue. Charles Burroughs, who was four years old when Evans and Agee visited the family, was “still angry” at them for not even sending the family a copy of the book; the son of Floyd Burroughs was also reportedly angry because the family was “cast in a light that they couldn’t do any better, that they were doomed, ignorant.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lisette Model (American, born Austria, 1901-1983) '[War Rally]' 1942

 

Lisette Model (American, born Austria, 1901-1983)
[War Rally]
1942
Gelatin silver print
34.4 × 27.6 cm (13 9/16 × 10 7/8 in.)
© Estate of Lisette Model
Courtesy Baudoin Lebon/Keitelman
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Robert Capa (American, born Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Second World War, Naples' October 2, 1943

 

Robert Capa (American, born Hungary, 1913-1954)
Second World War, Naples
October 2, 1943
Gelatin silver print
17.6 × 23.8 cm (6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

View of a group of woman with pained expressions on their faces with several holding handkerchiefs and one holding a card photograph of a young man

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Smiling Man]' 1860

 

Unknown maker (American)
[Smiling Man]
1860
Ambrotype
8.9 x 6.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) '[Ruth St. Denis]' c. 1918

 

Baron Adolf de Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946)
[Ruth St. Denis]
c. 1918
Platinum print
23.3 × 18.7 cm (9 3/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908) '[Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side]' c. 1870

 

Woodbury & Page (British, active 1857-1908)
[Javanese woman seated with legs crossed, basket at side]
c. 1870
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6 cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Photography in Australia, the Far East, Java and London

In 1851 Woodbury, who had already become a professional photographer, went to Australia and soon found work in the engineering department of the Melbourne waterworks. He photographed the construction of ducts and other waterworks as well as various buildings in Melbourne. He received a medal for his photography in 1854.

At some point in the mid-1850s Woodbury met expatriate British photographer James Page. In 1857 the two left Melbourne and moved to Batavia (now Jakarta), Dutch East Indies, arriving 18 May 1857, and established the partnership of Woodbury & Page that same year.

During most of 1858 Woodbury & Page photographed in Central and East Java, producing large views of the ruined temples near Surakarta, amongst other subjects, before 1 September of that year. After their tour of Java, by 8 December 1858 Woodbury and Page had returned to Batavia.

In 1859 Woodbury returned to England to arrange a regular supplier of photographic materials for his photographic studio and he contracted the London firm Negretti and Zambra to market Woodbury & Page photographs in England.

Woodbury returned to Java in 1860 and during most of that year travelled with Page through Central and West Java along with Walter’s brother, Henry James Woodbury (born 1836 – died 1873), who had arrived in Batavia in April 1859.

On 18 March 1861 Woodbury & Page moved to new premises, also in Batavia, and the studio was renamed Photographisch Atelier van Walter Woodbury, also known as Atelier Woodbury. The firm sold portraits, views of Java, stereographs, cameras, lenses, photographic chemicals and other photographic supplies. These premises continued to be used until 1908, when the firm was dissolved.

In his career Woodbury produced topographic, ethnographic and especially portrait photographs. He photographed in Australia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and London. Although individual photographers were rarely identified on Woodbury & Page photographs, between 1861 and 1862 Walter B. Woodbury occasionally stamped the mounts of his photographs: “Photographed by Walter Woodbury, Java.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968) 'The Critic' November 1943

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968)
The Critic
November 1943
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 32.9 cm (10 1/8 x 12 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I go around wearing rose-colored glasses. In other words, we have beauty. We have ugliness. Everybody likes beauty. But there is an ugliness…” ~ Weegee, in a July 11, 1945 interview for WEAF radio, New York City

While Weegee’s work appeared in many American newspapers and magazines, his methods would sometimes be considered ethically questionable by today’s journalistic standards. In this image, a drunk woman confronts two High Society women who are attending the opera. Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies appear nonplussed to be in close proximity to the disheveled woman. Weegee’s flash illuminates their fur wraps and tiaras, drawing them into the foreground. The drunk woman emerges from the shadows on the right side, her mouth tense and open as if she were saying something, hair tousled, her face considerably less sharp than those of her rich counterparts.

The Critic is the second name Weegee gave this photograph. He originally called it, The Fashionable People. In an interview, Weegee’s assistant, Louie Liotta later revealed that the picture was entirely set up. Weegee had asked Liotta to bring a regular from a bar in the Bowery section of Manhattan to the season’s opening of the Metropolitan Opera. Liotta complied. After getting the woman drunk, they positioned her near the red carpet, where Weegee readied his camera to capture the moment seen here.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Hopi Indian, New Mexico' Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Hopi Indian, New Mexico
Negative, c. 1923; print, 1926
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 19.7 cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland

 

 

Dorothea Lange made this portrait study not as a social document but rather as a Pictorialist experiment in light and shadow, transforming a character-filled face into an art-for-art’s-sake abstraction. This image bridges the two distinct phases of Lange’s work: her early, soft-focus portraiture and her better-known documentary work of the 1930s. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Street Scene, New Orleans' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Street Scene, New Orleans
1936
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 16.8 cm (1 1/8 x 6 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Photograph - New York' Negative 1916; print June 1917

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Photograph – New York
Negative 1916; print June 1917
Photogravure
22.4 × 16.7 cm (8 13/16 × 6 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“I remember coming across Paul Strand’s ‘Blind Woman’ when I was very young, and that really bowled me over … It’s a very powerful picture. I saw it in the New York Public Library file of ‘Camera Work’, and I remember going out of there over stimulated: That’s the stuff, that’s the thing to do. It charged me up.” ~ Walker Evans

The impact of seeing this striking image for the first time is evident in Walker Evans’s vivid recollection. At the time, most photographers were choosing “pretty” subjects and creating fanciful atmospheric effects in the style of the Impressionists. Paul Strand’s unconventional subject and direct approach challenged assumptions about the medium.

At once depicting misery and endurance, struggle and degradation, Strand’s portrait of a blind woman sets up a complex confrontation. “The whole concept of blindness,” as one historian has noted, “is aimed like a weapon at those whose privilege of sight permits them to experience the picture. . . .”

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' 1938-41

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16 cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910) '[Madame Camille Silvy]' c. 1863

 

Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910)
[Madame Camille Silvy]
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
8.9 × 6 cm (3 1/2 × 2 3/8 in.)
Gift in memory of Madame Camille Silvy born Alice Monnier from the Monnier Family
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, born 1967) '[Untitled (Making a Void)]' Negative 2001; print about 2007

 

Mikiko Hara (Japanese, born 1967)
[Untitled (Making a Void)]
Negative 2001; print about 2007
Chromogenic print
© Mikiko Hara
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966) 'Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California' Negative 1999; print 2008

 

Lauren Greenfield (American, born 1966)
Sisters Violeta, 21, and Massiel, 15, at the Limited in a mall, San Francisco, California
Negative 1999; print 2008
48.9 × 32.5 cm (19 1/4 × 12 13/16 in.)
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, born 1938) 'Self-portrait' 1997

 

Daido Moriyama (Japanese, born 1938)
Self-portrait
1997
Gelatin silver print
13.2 x 16 cm (5 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchase with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Daido Moriyama

 

 

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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16
Jan
14

Text: ‘Facile, Facies, Facticity’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan; Exhibition: ‘About Face: Contemporary Portraiture’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 9th August 2013 – 19th January 2014

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Facile, Facies, Facticity

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“The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’). More than any other textual system, the photograph presents itself as ‘an offer you can’t refuse’.”

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Victor Burgin 1

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Facies simultaneously signifies the singular air of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the genre or species under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of representation, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

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Georges Didi-Huberman 2

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How shallow contemporary portrait photography has become when compared to the sensual portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, the grittiness of Gordon Parks or the in your face style of Diane Arbus. I think the word facile (from Latin facilis ‘easy’, from facers ‘do, make’) with its link to the etymologically similar word ‘face’ (Old Latin facies) is a good way to describe most of the photographs in this posting. These simplistic, nihilistic portraits, with their contextless backgrounds and head on frontally (also the name of an insipid Australian portrait photography prize), are all too common in contemporary portraiture. People with dead pan expressions stare at the camera, stare off camera. The photographs offer little insight and small engagement for the viewer. If these photographs are representative of the current ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’ vis a vis the construction of identity then the human race is in deep shit indeed. As we accept an offer that we can’t refuse – the reflexivity of selfies, an idealised or passive image of ourselves reflected back through the camera lens – we uncritically accept the mirror image, substituting passive receptivity for active (critical) reading. We no longer define and engage critically with something we might call ‘photographic discourse’:

“A discourse can be defined as an arena of information exchange, that is, as a system of relations between parties engaged in communicative activity. In a very important sense the notion of discourse is a notion of limits. That is, the overall discourse relation could be regarded as a limiting function, one that establishes a bounded arena of shared expectations as to meaning. It is this limiting function that determines the very possibility of meaning. To raise the issue of limits, of the closure affected from within any given discourse situation, is to situate oneself outside, in a fundamentally metacritical relation, to the criticism sanctioned by the logic of the discourse…

A discourse, then, can be defined in rather formal terms as the set of relations governing the rhetoric of related utterances. The discourse is, in the most general sense, the context of the utterance, the conditions that constrain and support its meaning, that determine its semantic target.”3

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These photographs have few conditions that support their meaning. The context of their utterances is constrained by their own efficacy and passivity. Paul Virilio, speaking of contemporary images, describes them as ‘viral’. He suggests that they communicate by contamination, by infection. In our ‘media’ or ‘information’ society we now have a ‘pure seeing’; a seeing without knowing.4 A seeing without knowing… quite appropriate for these faceless images, images that contaminate how we observe humans living in the world. Of course, one can be involved in logical criticism of the discourse from within but that still gives the discourse power. By situating yourself outside the conditions that constrain the discourse, you can criticise from a different perspective, “seeing something new” as an active, temporal protension of seeing. “Such is the fundamental instability of the pleasure of seeing, of Schaulust, between memory and threat.”5 We may glance, instead of staring (as the subject of these portraits blankly stare back) – the glance becoming a blow of the eye, the acting-out of seeing.6

Here is a possible way forward for contemporary photographic portraiture: a description of the states of the body and the air of the face through a subtle and constant art of the recovering of surfaces, an inquiry that always seeks depth – conceptual depth – in the filmy fabric or stratum of the cameras imaging of the constructed subject. In other words an inquiry into the source, the etiology and logic of the subjects own being – through the glance, not the passive gaze. Even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity, that knowledge can slip away from itself into what Georges Didi-Huberman calls the paradox of photographic resemblance.7

“Thus photography is ultimately an uncertain technique (see Barthes. Camera Lucida. p.18.), changeable and ill-famed, too. Photography stages bodies: changeability. And at one moment or another, subtly, it belies them (invents them), submitting them instead to figurative extortion. As figuration, photography always poses the enigma of the “recumbence of the intelligible body,” even as it lends itself to some understanding of this enigma, and even as this understanding is suffocated…

And when one comes to pose oneself, before a photograph, paradoxical questions: whom does this photographed face resemble? Exactly whose face is being photographed? In the end, doesn’t a photograph resemble just anyone? Well, one cannot, for all that, simply push resemblance aside like a poorly posed problem. Rather, one points a finger at Resembling as an unstable, vain, and phantasmatic temporal motion. One interrogates the drama of imaginary evidence.
For “to resemble,” or Resembling, is the name for a major concern about time in the visible. This is precisely what exposes all photographic evidence to anxiety, and beyond it, to staging, compromises, twisted meanings, and simulacra. And this is how photography circumvents itself – in its own sacrilege. It blasphemes it own evidence because evidence is diabolical. It ruins evidence, from a theater.”8

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Only through slippage may we stumble upon the uncertainty of the soul in the uncertainty of the photographic technique. Only through the facticity of the face, the “thrownness” – Heidegger’s Geworfen, which denotes the arbitrary or inscrutable nature of Dasein, being there or presence, that connects the past with the present, just as photographs do – of the individual rendered in the lines of the human face can we engage with the intractable conditions of human existence. Not a bland resemblance-filled anxiety (the hair covering the face, the face in suburban ephemera, the compressed face pressed up against the condensation-filled window), but an unstable signification that has been passionately re(as)sembled in the anxiety of photographic evidence. Only then can contemporary portrait photography make visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.

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“Into this world we’re thrown /
Like a dog without a bone”
(Jim Morrison, Riders on the Storm, 1971)

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog.

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Footnotes

1. Burgin, Victor (ed.,). Thinking Photography. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982, p. 146

2. Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49

3. Burgin, pp.84-85

4. Virilio, Paul. “The Work of Art in the Electronic Age,” in Block No. 14, Autumn, 1988, pp.4-7 quoted in McGrath, Roberta. “Medical Police,” in Ten.8 No.14, 1984 quoted in Watney, Simon and Gupta, Sunil. “The Rhetoric of AIDS,” in Boffin, Tessa and Gupta, Sunil (eds.,). Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1990, p.143

5. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., pp. 27-28

6. Ibid., “Coup d’oeil, signifying “glance,” literally means the “blow of an eye.” Here as elsewhere, Didi-Huberman draws on the notion of the glance as a blow. He also works with the various meanings of trait, including trait, line, draught, and shaft of an arrow” – Translator

7. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 59

8. Didi-Huberman, op. cit., p. 65

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

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Rachel Herman, American 'Hannah and Tim' 2007

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Rachel Herman, American
Hannah and Tim
2007
Inkjet print (printed 2012)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977) 'City of Destiny (Covered)' 2007

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Anna Shteynshleyger, Russian (b. 1977)
City of Destiny (Covered)
2007
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958) 'Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.' 2012

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Lise Sarfati, French (b. 1958)
Emily, 2860 Sunset Blvd.
2012
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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2011-67-54_Soth-MotherAndDaughter_front_WEB

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Alec Soth
Mother and daughter, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1999
1999

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LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982) 'Momme' 2008

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LaToya Ruby Frazier, American (b. 1982)
Momme
2008
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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“This exhibition will explore the breadth and global diversity of contemporary photographic portraiture since 2000, highlighting recent acquisitions to the museum’s permanent collection.

About Face will include works by twenty-nine artists from the United States, England, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Iran and South Africa. Though each of these photographers approaches portrait-making differently, certain thematic threads resonate throughout the show, including questions of racial, cultural, ethnic, class and gender identity; the relationship between individuals and typologies; the way photographic processes themselves inform meaning; the relevance of historical precedents to contemporary practice; and the impact of media stereotypes on self-presentation. Considered collectively, the works in About Face offer a provocative and engaging forum for considering the question: how do we define portraiture today?

The project will present two distinct, simultaneous exhibitions: About Face, our in-gallery exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins, and Making Pictures of People, a digital exhibition presented online for web-based audiences worldwide. Visitors will be able to access the Flak Photo exhibition via touch screens in the gallery and on mobile devices outside the museum. The goal of our collaboration is twofold: to celebrate the complementary experiences of engaging with photographs as objects and as images, and to connect museum visitors in Kansas City with an international community deeply engaged in thinking about portraiture and contemporary photographic practice.

“Contemporary photographers approach portraiture from multiple perspectives, and this show reflects that diversity,” said April M. Watson, who co-curated this exhibition with Jane L. Aspinwall (both are Associate Curators of Photography). “Some portraits emphasize the construction of identity through race, gender and class, while others question the relationship between individuality and typology, or the impact of the media on self-presentation. At the core is the relationship between the photographer and his or her subject, and how that interaction translates in the final portrait.” Adds Aspinwall: “Some of these photographers use antiquated processes such as the daguerreotype and tintype to make portraits of contemporary subjects. These historical resonances add an interesting dimension to the show.”

Press release from the  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966) 'Erika' 2007

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Richard Learoyd, English (b. 1966)
Erika
2007
Ilfachrome print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation in honor of the 75th anniversary of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962) 'Untitled (Julia and Greenery)' 2005

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Jocelyn Lee, American (b. Italy, 1962)
Untitled (Julia and Greenery)
2005
Chromogenic print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953) 'Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo' 2008

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Jim Goldberg, American (b.1953)
Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo
2008
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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2012-17-93_Winship-Hakkari8_WEB

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Vanessa Winship, British (b. 1960)
Hakkari 8
2007/2008
Inkjet print (printed 2008)
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976) 'Annebelle Schreuders (1)' 2012

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Pieter Hugo, South African (b. 1976)
Annebelle Schreuders (1)
2012
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954) '12-Year Old Boy with His Father' 2009

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Sage Sohier, American (b. 1954)
12-Year Old Boy with His Father
2009
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954) 'Tokyo Compression #18' 2010

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Michael Wolf, American (b. 1954)
Tokyo Compression #18
2010
Inkjet print
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

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Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977) 'Recruit/BLACK' 2006

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Tomoko Sawada, Japanese (b. 1977)
Recruit/BLACK
2006
Chromogenic print
Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Photography Society

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

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

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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06
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now’ at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

Exhibition dates: 21st September 2012 – 13th January 2013

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I hope you enjoy this HUGE posting. There are some rare photographs and little known artists. I have kept the photographs in the sections of the exhibition as explained by the accompanying wall text. Three essays from the catalogue investigating history, landscape and photography can be found as pdfs below, essential reading for anyone interested in the subject (especially the first two essays):

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Many thankx to  the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design for allowing me to publish the text and most of the photographs in the posting (the others I researched myself). Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

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“An understanding of landscape theory therefore suggests that not every photograph of land is a landscape, and not every landscape necessarily features the land. The standard definition points to places – places in the world, or places seen in pictures – which take on the quality of a thing. But “landscape” is probably better understood as that set of expectations and beliefs – about both the environment and the conventions of its representation – that we project upon the world. These conventions and expectations are subject to historical change and are culturally specific…”
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Douglas Nickel. Photography, Perception, and the Landscape 2012 in America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now catalogue, p.26

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“Once continental expansion had reached its limits, however, and no existential threats to white settlement remained, American landscape images began to reflect a new criticality – at turns romantic and realistic – that persists to this day. Indeed, for the last century, landscape photography has consistently mirrored Americans’ anxieties about nature, or rather its imminent loss, whether due to industrialization, pollution, population growth, real estate profiteering, or bioengineering. Alternately portraying nature as a balm for the alienated modern soul or a dystopian fait accompli, modern and postmodern photographic landscapes mark a progressively disquieting understanding of humanity’s relationship to the natural universe.”
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Deborah Bright. Photographing Nature, Seeing Ourselves 2012 in America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now catalogue, p.32

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Surveying the Field

At the end of the American Civil War photographers turned their lenses toward both the wild territories of the West and scenic tourist destinations in the newly established national parks. Although these images are now commonly exhibited in art museums, they were not originally considered art objects, nor were the photographers who made them considered artists. Instead, many of the photographers represented here were hired to document the projects of governmental agencies and the progress of federal survey expeditions to the western territories. Others produced images for the growing tourist market or recorded the construction of tracks through the country’s interior for railroad companies. The majority of these images were published in governmental reports and presentation albums.

The albumen prints produced in America through the 1880s were made from glass-plate negatives created by the laborious process of coating glass plates the size of the prints with a thick photosensitive solution called collodion. These plates had to be prepared on-site, exposed, and developed before the collodion dried, so photographers traveled with portable darkrooms. The prints were made later in a studio by placing paper coated with albumen (solution suspended in egg whites) under a glass-plate negative and exposing the paper to sunlight. By contact printing on this glossy surface, the image was recorded in minute detail.

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Unknown artist (American), 'Providence Panorama from Grosvenor or Bannigan Building' ca. 1900

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Unknown artist (American)
Providence Panorama from Grosvenor or Bannigan Building
ca. 1900
Six cyanotype prints
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) 'Gardiners River Hot Springs, Diana's Baths' 1871

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William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
Gardiners River Hot Springs, Diana’s Baths
1871
From U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories
Albumen print
RISD Museum: Jesse Metcalf Fund

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In this photograph William Henry Jackson captures the painter Thomas Moran, who was also part of the 1871 survey team. Shot from slightly below and at a distance, the photograph emphasizes the textures of the mineral deposits in the foreground, while Moran’s figure seems dwarfed by the rock formations around him. Jackson often included figures in his photographs to impart a sense of scale. This inclusion of a single figure also heightens the impression that the photograph has captured a moment of discovery, the first contact between intrepid explorers and an uncharted land.

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Carleton E. Watkins. 'Cape Horn, Columbia River' 1867

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Carleton E. Watkins
Cape Horn, Columbia River
1867
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund.
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Cape Horn, Columbia River exemplifies not only the fine detail characteristic of Carleton Watkins’s images, but also his close attention to pictorial structure. Unlike many of the photographers represented in this gallery, Watkins worked independently of industrial concerns or government sponsorship. To make images that would appeal to an audience more familiar with traditional art forms, Watkins borrowed long-established conventions of landscape paintings, in particular carefully modulated lighting effects and harmonious compositions. Like the painters he emulated, Watkins depicts the West as a romantic wilderness and place of spiritual refuge.

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William H. Bell. 'Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona' 1872

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William H. Bell (American, 1830–1910)
Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona
1872
From the album Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen print
Jesse Metcalf Fund. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Timothy O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Water Rhyolites, Near Logan Springs, Nevada' 1871

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Timothy O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Water Rhyolites, Near Logan Springs, Nevada
1871
From the album Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen print
RISD Museum: Jesse Metcalf Fund

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Timothy O’Sullivan and William H. Bell, official photographers on survey expeditions through Nevada and Arizona from 1871 to 1873, disavowed the traditional conventions of landscape painting in favor of unadorned observation. Spare and anti-picturesque, O’Sullivan’s radical views – depicting the western territories as foreign-looking, even hostile – accorded perfectly with the interests of those invested in seeing these empty territories studied, secured, and settled. One scholar has postulated that O’Sullivan’s photographs were intentionally crafted to look like products of technology – optically precise, printed on glossy albumen papers – a look that stood for industrial progress within a milieu that valued the machine-made over the handmade. In Perched Rock, Rocker Creek, Arizona and Rock Carved by Drifting Sand, Below Fortification Rock, Arizona, the two photographers treat unusual rock formations like specimens, isolating them from the surrounding landscape to be examined and measured.

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Luminous Realms

Kodak’s introduction of the handheld camera in 1888 made photography an affordable and popular leisure-time amusement, creating a generation of amateur photographers seemingly overnight. At the same time, photographers with artistic ambitions feared that the mechanical, point-and-shoot approach of the new “button pressers” would jeopardize the medium’s elevation to the status of high art. In response, this group of artists – who called themselves Pictorialists – emphasized the photographer’s expertise and embraced labor-intensive processes to create expressive and impressionistic images. Many favored platinum prints because of their wide range of tones, soft contrast, and matte surface – qualities of more traditional artistic media such as drawings and etchings. The Pictorialists’ landscape photographs are especially evocative. Rather than capturing a particular place and time, they transformed the landscape into a backdrop for human emotions and actions through visual effects and the inclusion of figures.

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Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925) 'Morning' 1905

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Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Morning
1905
From Camera Work, No. 23, July 1908
Photogravure RISD Museum: Walter H. Kimball Fund

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Laura Gilpin (American, 1891-1979) 'Footprints in the Sand' 1931

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Laura Gilpin (American, 1891-1979)
Footprints in the Sand
1931
Platinum print
RISD Museum: Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

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Laura Gilpin portrays the Colorado sand dunes in the soft-focus style of the Pictorialists, but the reductive forms of her composition are strikingly modern. The sinuous lines of the wind-sculpted dunes are echoed in the subtle patterning of the figure’s footprints. His presence not only provides a sense of scale, but suggests that the human impact on the landscape can be small, fleeting, and beautiful.

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Abstracting Nature

In the 1920s, photographers began to question whether Pictorialism was the style best suited to win acceptance for photography as a fine art. On the east coast, Alfred Stieglitz, who had formerly championed Pictorialism, became its most vocal critic. In northern California, a group of photographers who would come to call themselves Group f/64 developed a new style. Opposing the soft focus, painterly approach, the f/64 photographers embraced a hard-edged, sharp-focus machine aesthetic. Optical reality was transformed into surface pattern, rhythm, tone, and line in prints precisely detailed on glossy, gelatin silver papers. Indeed, f/64 refers to the smallest aperture on their large-format cameras, which resulted in sharp focus from foreground to background.

This period revitalized landscape photography, with many photographers looking to views of nature as a place to escape from the problems of urban life. These photographers captured instants of intensified vision that only the camera offered, creating the photograph mentally before it was realized physically. Whether majestic views of dramatic natural features or abstracted details of quiet settings, these images expressed metaphysical, ethical, or personal reflections on humankind’s relationship to nature.

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Ansel Adams. 'Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, California' ca. 1955

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Ansel Adams
Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, California
ca. 1955 (printed 1970s)
Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 2012 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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This photograph depicts the iconic tourist destination of Yosemite as sublime and untouched. By removing any evidence of human impact, Ansel Adams allows us to escape (at least temporarily) from the intrusions of culture. High contrast adds visual drama to an already majestic view, capturing the textures of the rock wall and the light filtering through the blowing snow. Throughout his life, Adams embraced the notion that nature could provide the harried, urbanized citizen of the modern age with a place of spiritual refuge. A long-time member of the Sierra Club, he was a devoted and vocal advocate for wilderness conservation and his photographs were crucial to the conservation effort.

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Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985) 'Father and Sons Walking in the Face of a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma' 1936

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Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Father and Sons Walking in the Face of a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma
1936
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gilman Angier

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In 1936 Arthur Rothstein traveled to the Oklahoma panhandle, the area of the country most affected by drought, wind, and erosion. In his image (above) he captured one of the few families in the area that had not yet abandoned their farm. His portrayal of the farmer and his sons fighting to make their way home through the elements can be read as a larger statement about the struggle between man and nature. Rothstein’s dark, low contrast print further conveys the oppressive atmosphere of the dust storm.

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Harry Callahan. 'Eleanor, Chicago' ca. 1952

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Harry Callahan
Eleanor, Chicago
ca. 1952
Gift from Harry Callahan ca. 1953 Wayne Miller
© The Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Aaron Siskind. 'Martha’s Vineyard, 114B' 1954

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Aaron Siskind
Martha’s Vineyard, 114B
1954
Gift of Mr. Robert B. Menschel. Courtesy Aaron Siskind Foundation
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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In Martha’s Vineyard 114B, Aaron Siskind focuses on two small rocks nestled in a stone wall. As Siskind explained, he “began to feel the importance of how these rocks hovered over each other, touched each other, pushed against each other.” He likened this contiguity to family relationships, especially that between mother and child. He believed that the pair of rocks pictured in the photograph would – consciously or not – evoke emotions in the viewer, and that these emotions were both deep-seated and universal. In his depiction of the landscape, he found metaphors for what he called “human drama.”

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Frederick Sommer (American, 1905–1999) 'Arizona Landscape' 1943

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Frederick Sommer (American, 1905-1999)
Arizona Landscape
1943
Gelatin silver print
Promised gift from the collection of Marc Harrison

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Frederick Sommer’s photographs of the Arizona desert, made between about 1939 and 1945, omit the horizon line to create an overall field of pattern where scale and orientation are confounded. The vast space of the desert is pulled to the surface of the image, making the work less a landscape and more an independent construction. Sommer intently considered much of his work before executing it. He might study an area of the desert for days before deciding how to take the picture and then spend weeks in the darkroom perfecting the print.

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'View of Easton, Pennsylvania' 1936

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Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
View of Easton, Pennsylvania
1936
From the portfolio American Photographs II
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of James Dow

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By compressing distance and flattening perspective, Walker Evans collapses the two cityscapes of Easton, Pennsylvania, and Phillipsburg, New Jersey, into one plane. Evans’s aesthetically neutral style seems to depict the world without the intervention of the photographer’s point of view. At the same time, he forces the details of every building and smokestack to the surface of the image, making the plight of the cities and their inhabitants – the Depression had crippled the shipping and manufacturing industries that were the lifeblood of both towns – impossible to ignore.

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Jack Warren Welpott (American, b. 1923) 'White Sands' 1977

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Jack Warren Welpott (American, b. 1923)
White Sands
1977
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Aaron Siskind

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Joe Deal. 'Colton, California' 1978

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Colton, California
1978
From the portfolio The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal. 'Chatsworth, California' 1980

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Chatsworth, California
1980
From the portfolio The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal. 'Indio, California' 1978 from The Fault Zone

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Joe Deal (American, 1947–2010) (RISD Provost 1999–2005, Faculty 2005–2009)
Indio, California
1978
From The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
RISD Museum: Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke

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Joe Deal. 'Santa Barbara, California' 1978, from The Fault Zone

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Joe Deal
Santa Barbara, California
1978
From The Fault Zone 1981
Portfolio of 19 gold-toned gelatin silver prints
RISD Museum: Museum Purchase: Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund and Gift of James D. and Diane D. Burke

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Inspired by conceptual art, Joe Deal generally developed his work in series, choosing a particular location and adhering to a strict visual formula. As in The Fault Zone, his landscapes were typically square in format, viewed from above, lacking a horizon, and empty of people. Edges and divisions in nature and the landscape fascinated him, and the fault lines in California, though invisible on the surface, in many ways define that landscape. Using maps from the Los Angeles County engineering office that indicated where the fault lines were apt to be, Deal looked for sites that would metaphorically suggest volatility. The first image in the series is the only one that was actually taken on the San Andreas Fault; all others symbolically represent the fault lines with torn or disrupted terrain.

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Topographic Developments

By the time the landmark exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opened in 1975, the accelerating degradation of the environment had become an inescapable reality. Inverting the Ansel Adams principle of exclusion, the exhibit voiced the belief that the landscape could no longer be portrayed as a refuge from the ills of industrial life: any consideration of the modern environment had to include both wilderness areas and the vacant lot next door.

The New Topographics photographers captured recently constructed tract homes, industrial parks, and highway culture with medium and large format cameras. As aesthetically neutral as real estate snapshots, the photographs showed the facts without offering their opinions about the rapid development they recorded. Seemingly stripped of expressivity, their photographs have the appearance of objective or “topographic” renderings rather than subjective impressions. In emphasizing the landscape of the American West and experimenting with anti-Romantic landscape imagery, these photographers looked back to the works of 19th-century survey photographers and to Walker Evans’s documentary style.

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Lewis Baltz. 'Model Home, Shadow Mountain' 1977

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Lewis Baltz
Model Home, Shadow Mountain
1977
From the portfolio Nevada
Gift from the
Collection of Joe Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Lewis Baltz. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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In Nevada, Lewis Baltz alternates unbuilt views with home construction, trailer parks, and roads in a documentation of a rapidly changing landscape in the desert valleys surrounding Reno, an area he once described as “landscape-as-real-estate.” Baltz, like Joe Deal and Harold Jones, whose works are on view in this gallery, developed projects as portfolios, believing that a single photograph cannot capture a complete portrait of a place. In Baltz’s series, a multifaceted, occasionally contradictory image of Nevada emerges through the accumulation of photographs.

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Thomas Barrow. 'f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) - Field Star' 1975

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Thomas Barrow
f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) – Field Star
1975
Gift from the Collection of Joel Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Thomas Barrow. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Barrow scratched through his landscape negatives, calling attention to the materiality of the medium itself and the fact that regardless of how much information is given, reality remains an accumulation of belief, knowledge, and one’s own experience.

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Harold Henry Jones. 'With Emmet' 1978

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Harold Henry Jones
With Emmet
1978
From the portfolio Tucson
Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal
© 1986 Harold Jones. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Harold Jones moved to Tucson sight unseen in 1974. The Tucson Portfolio documents his first years living in, exploring, and adapting to this unfamiliar landscape. In an accompanying text he relates his initial impressions of the Southwest, a landscape he had only seen in Westerns and “in the background of Roadrunner cartoons.” It was, he writes, “white bright and oven hot. Driving through the spiney leafless plants of the desert gave me the impression of being on an ocean floor – except someone had removed the water. A primordial landscape in a sea of light. Shocking and enchanting, at the same time.”

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Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942) 'Near Crowley, Texas' 1978

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Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942)
Near Crowley, Texas
1978
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift from the Collection of Joe Deal and Betsy Ruppa

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Lee Friedlander. 'Atlantic City, New Jersey' 1971

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Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Atlantic City, New Jersey
1971
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts

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Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984) 'Utah' 1964

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Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Utah
1964
From the portfolio Garry Winogrand, 1978
Gelatin silver prints RISD Museum: Gift of Frederick J. Myerson

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In the 1960s nature was apt to be viewed from a car window or in a rear-view mirror rather than from a hilltop. The large-format magisterial views of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were replaced by a 35mm “grab-shot” style that captured the flux and contradictions of modern life with a fresh immediacy. Photographers were among the restless peripatetics crisscrossing the continent on new interstates and side roads, retrieving evidence of the “Americas” they found. The grainy, gritty aesthetic matched the sensations and energy of this environment.

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“America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now accompanies a major exhibition of that title tracing a history of photographs of the American landscape primarily through the collection of the RISD Museum. The show takes a broad look at the ever-evolving definition of American landscape photography – from seemingly pristine views of nature captured with 19th-century view cameras to images of the decaying contemporary urban streets composed from Google Street View. The RISD Museum’s collection of American landscape photography begins at the end of the Civil War in 1865, when photographers traveled west with government survey teams and railroad companies to record the country’s extraordinary natural features and resources. Ever since, the landscape has remained a compelling subject for photographers who have revealed through their images our nation’s ambition and failings, beauty and degradation, politics and personal stories.

The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design announces its major fall exhibition, America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now, a broad panorama of our country’s topographies and correlating narratives that reveals a nation’s ambitions and failings, beauty and loss, politics and personal stories through about 150 photographs spanning nearly 150 years. “The landscape has inspired and challenged artists since the earliest days of our nation,” says Museum Director John W. Smith. “The remarkable works in this exhibition not only capture photography’s evolving relationship with the landscape but also trace the larger narrative of America itself.”

From the earliest images in the show, it is clear how purpose guided style. Carlton Watkins’ 1860s painterly and atmospheric views of the sublime landscape portray the wilderness as a place of spiritual renewal and a refuge from urban problems. In contrast, Timothy O’Sullivan, employed for the government’s geological surveys in the 1870s, made purposefully spare and anti-picturesque images that seemingly provide proof of empty territories needing to be studied, secured, and settled.

In her essay for America in View’s accompanying catalogue, photographer Deborah Bright, chair of the Fine Art Department at Pratt Institute, suggests that some of the historical shifts in environmental consciousness seen in the photographs “illuminate how the works also reflect changing conceptions of landscapes as bearers of cultural meaning.” Ansel Adams, whose mid-20th-century views of nature’s majesty and vastness represent many people’s ideals of American landscape photography, omitted human impact on the land. Widely used by the Sierra Club, his stunning images of untouched wilderness encouraged conservation in the face of an increasingly industrial society.

By the 1970s, artists including the late RISD provost and photography professor Joe Deal saw that the environment entailed both wilderness and the vacant lot next door. Their “New Topographics” imagery depicts recently constructed tract homes, industrial parks, and highway culture – inverting Adams’ exclusion. “‘Landscape’ is probably better understood as that set of expectations and beliefs… we project upon the world,” explains Brown University art historian Douglas Nickel, in the catalogue. “Not every photograph of land is a landscape, and not every landscape necessarily features the land.”

The past 20 years reveal a return to romantic views of the landscape, even in its degraded state, often including figures to create narratives. Justine Kurland’s landscape under an overpass shows a stunning place of fantasy and escape. RISD alumnus Justin Kimball explores fantasies of finding wilderness in public parks – where instead we find others seeking the same.

Press release from the RISD website

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Barbara Bosworth (American, b. 1953) 'Niagara Falls' 1986

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Barbara Bosworth (American, b. 1953)
Niagara Falls
1986
Gelatin silver print
Private collection

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Old Hanford City Sites and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington' 1986

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Old Hanford City Sites and the Columbia River, Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington
1986
Toned gelatin silver prints
Promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. William G. Tsiaras

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Alluvial Fan, Natural Drainage near Yuma Proving Ground and the California Arizona Border' 1988

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Alluvial Fan, Natural Drainage near Yuma Proving Ground and the California Arizona Border
1988
Toned gelatin silver prints
Promised gift of Dr. and Mrs. William G. Tsiaras

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967) 'Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, Arkansas' 1989

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Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941) (RISD MFA 1967)
Aeration Pond, Toxic Water Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
1989
Toned gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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Emmet Gowin’s carefully constructed prints of strip mining sites, nuclear testing fields, large-scale agriculture, and other scars in the natural landscape seductively draw us in to examine what these lushly patterned and toned images represent. Predating Google Earth, these photographs are shot from the air and provide information about the environment that questions our role as stewards of the planet. A master darkroom printer, Gowin makes images come alive through hand-toning. Each print is transformed from grayscale into hues ranging from warm highlights to cool shadows, emphasizing the illusion of three-dimensionality.

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David T. Hanson. 'Coal Strip Mine, Power Plant and Waste Ponds' 1984

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David T. Hanson
Coal Strip Mine, Power Plant and Waste Ponds
1984
Museum Purchase: Gift of the Artist’s Development Fund of the Rhode Island Foundation
© 1984 David T. Hanson, from the book Colstrip, Montana by David T. Hanson (Taverner Press, 2010). Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Terry Evans (American, b. 1944) 'Terraced Plowing with a Grass Waterway' 1991

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Terry Evans (American, b. 1944)
Terraced Plowing with a Grass Waterway
1991
From the series Inhabited Prairie
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Jan Howard and Dennis Teepe in honor of Joe Deal

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Neither the striking abstract design of the terraced field nor the effectiveness of this type of farming are what interests Terry Evans. She is drawn to the specific place and how the marks on the land, as she has said, “contain contradictions and mysteries that raise questions about how we live on the prairie. All of these places are beautiful to me, perhaps because all land, like the human body, is beautiful.”

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Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969) 'Smoke Bombs' 2000

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Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969)
Smoke Bombs
2000
From the series Runaway Girls
Color chromogenic print
RISD Museum: Mary B. Jackson Fund

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The neglected space under a New Jersey highway overpass was an ideal spot for three girls to act out Justine Kurland’s fictive story about fugitive teenagers. The figurative grouping recalls pastoral scenes in historical paintings so that the danger of the girls’ pursuit in this dicey no-man’s land is temporarily suspended in the hazy romantic fantasy of escape. The strong light streaming across the scene and the overall beauty of the composition suggests a desire to pursue the sublime even in the most degraded landscapes.

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Justin Kimball. 'Deep Hole, New Hampshire' 2002

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Justin Kimball
Deep Hole, New Hampshire
2002
From the series Where We Find Ourselves
Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Deep Hole, New Hampshire captures light filtering through the trees as a dozen young men and women distribute themselves among rocky outcroppings, poised for adventure in the water below. The composition recalls the quiet drama of Thomas Eakins’s 19th-century painting of nude swimmers. This reference drew Kimball to the picture as it played out in front of him, along with the palpable sense of elation in the youths’ encounter with the landscape, no matter the deteriorating state of the site due to its heavy use. Kimball’s series Where We Find Ourselves explores the fantasy of finding wilderness in state and national parks, where we only find other people looking for it, too.

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Alec Soth. '2008_08zl0031' 2008

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Alec Soth
2008_08zl0031
2008
Mary Ann Lippitt Acquisition Fund
© Alec Soth
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Where We Find Ourselves

Current representations of the American landscape reveal a continually fraught relationship with the environment. Recent landscape photography reflects its history while constructing new notions of what such an image can be. Some artists continue to see the landscape as a place of refuge or spirituality. Others focus on its more disturbing psychological impact, even haunted with battle scars. Some pick up from the 1970s New Topographics approach with a more pointed investigation of environmentalism, documenting and questioning the impact of industry and development on the natural world. Still others have found that with the introduction of the figure the landscape can act as a stage, albeit one charged with political and social resonance.

Notable shifts have also been driven by new processes and techniques. The photographs of the last several decades are predominantly in color and are much larger than their precedents. While many artists working today use digital technology, their motive is rarely to alter or fabricate imagery but instead to have easier and better control over how these larger images are presented. Surprisingly, many of today’s photographers are using largeformat cameras very similar to those of the 19th century to create negatives or digital files capable of being enlarged to the scale of contemporary work.

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Steven B. Smith (American, b. 1963) (RISD Faculty 1996-present) 'Coolers, Ivins, Utah' 2007

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Steven B. Smith (American, b. 1963) (RISD Faculty 1996-present)
Coolers, Ivins, Utah
2007
From the series Irrational Exuberance
Color inkjet print
RISD Museum: Gift of Heather Smith in honor of Joe Deal

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Steven Smith’s subject matter follows in the tradition of the 1970s New Topographic artists. What differentiates Smith’s view of a recently suburbanized desert from his predecessors is the humor with which he captures the extravagant building in this arid place. In this image, from the aptly titled series Irrational Exuberance, fluorescent-colored coolers, like the red rocks, become part of the landscape, even creating their own waterfall.

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Joe Deal. 'Kite, Chino Hills, California' 1984

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Joe Deal (American, 1947-2010) (RISD Provost 1999-2005, Faculty 2005-2009)
Kite, Chino Hills, California
1984
From the portfolio Subdividing the Inland Basin
Gift of the artist
© The Estate of Joe Deal, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Joe Deal often found his picture at the border between the built and unbuilt landscape. The driveway makes for a convenient spot to fly a kite, surrounded as it is here with a bit of open space remaining in a new development. In the distance to the right the residential growth that will soon cover this piece of land is visible through the atmospheric smog. In the distance to the left are still untouched hills. The inclusion of people – evidence of a rapidly exploding community near the intersection of the Pomona and Orange freeways – marks a shift in Deal’s photography to embracing the landscape as a site for narrative.

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Uta Barth (German, b. 1958) 'Field #14' 1996

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Uta Barth (German, b. 1958)
Field #14
1996
Color chromogenic print
RISD Museum: Gift of the Buddy Taub Foundation, Jill and Dennis Roach, Directors

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Uta Barth radically softens the camera’s focus to remove all signs of historical specificity and to saturate a flat industrial-looking non-place with a dream-like atmosphere. As such she creates a generic landscape as viewed through a heavily fogged window, with an uncanny sense that is deeply familiar.

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Henry Wessel (American, b. 1942) 'Night Walk, Los Angeles, No. 28' 1995

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Henry Wessel (American, b. 1942)
Night Walk, Los Angeles, No. 28
1995
From the series Night Walk: LA
Gelatin silver print
RISD Museum: Gift of Mark Pollack

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Millee Tibbs (American, b. 1976) (RISD MFA 2007) 'Self-Portrait in the Fog' 2009

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Millee Tibbs (American, b. 1976) (RISD MFA 2007)
Self-Portrait in the Fog
2009
From the portfolio Self Portraits
Color inkjet print
RISD Museum: Gift of the artist in honor of Joe Deal

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Robert Frank
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Silver gelatin photograph

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Installation views of America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903
T: 401 454-6500

Opening hours:
Tuesdays – Sundays, 10 am – 5 pm; Thursdays, 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) website

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08
Feb
09

‘The Last Days of W.’ exhibition by Alec Soth at Gagosian Gallery, New York

January 20 – March 7, 2009

 

Another fantastic group of Americurbana from this wonderful photographer!

MB

 

Alec Soth. 'Civic Fest, Minneapolis, MN (Presidential office)' 2008

 

Alec Soth
‘Civic Fest, Minneapolis, MN (Presidential office)’
2008

 

“Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, “The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks.” But I don’t think the world would have been a better place if these photographers had headed off to a war zone. The question is whether you can be a political photographer while you photograph rocks. My pictures don’t have a specific social commentary but I think they have social and political meaning.”

Alec Soth on the Gagosian Gallery website

 

Alec Soth. 'Dynell, Bemidji, MN (Girl in store)' 2007

 

Alec Soth
‘Dynell, Bemidji, MN (Girl in store)’
2007

 

Alec Soth. 'Josh, Joelton, Tennessee' 2004

 

Alec Soth
‘Josh, Joelton, Tennessee’
2004

 

“Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “The Last Days of W.,” color photographs taken by Alec Soth between 2000 and 2008.

Although originally conceived without explicit political intent, in retrospect Soth considers this selected body of work, which spans both terms of George W. Bush’s presidency, to represent “a panoramic look at a country exhausted by its catastrophic leadership.” Soth’s earlier series such as “Sleeping by the Mississippi,” “NIAGARA,” and “Dog Days, Bogotá” – all subjective narratives containing disenfranchised figures and decaying landscapes — laid the conceptual groundwork for “The Last Days of W.” It provides a wry commentary on the adverse effects of the national administration, perhaps best exemplified by an unwittingly ironic remark that Bush made in 2000: “I think we can agree, the past is over.” 

 

Alec Soth. 'The Last Days of W' installation view at Gagosian Gallery

 

‘The Last Days of W’ installation view at Gagosian Gallery

 

“Following in the humanist tradition established by the great chroniclers of the American experience such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Stephen Shore, Soth captures diverse images of a country disillusioned with, and deceived by, its own identity, from mothers of marines serving in Iraq to teenage mothers in the Louisiana Bayou; from religious propaganda in the American workplace to the mortgage crisis in Stockton, CA. His incisive depiction of contemporary American reality confronts the ideals romanticized in the American Dream with the hastening decline of the American Empire.”

 

Alec Soth. 'Home Environment, Billings, MT' 2008

 

Alec Soth
‘Home Environment, Billings, MT’
2008

 

Alec Soth. 'Republican National Convention, Saint Paul, MN' 2008

 

Alec Soth
‘Republican National Convention, Saint Paul, MN’
2008

 

 

Text from the Gagosian Gallery website

980 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075
Tel 212.744.2313 Fax 212.772.7962
Tue-Sat 10-6

03
Dec
08

Exhibition: ‘Potraiture Now: Feature Photography’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Exhibition dates: 26th November 2008 – 27th September 2009

 

Jocelyn Lee. "Untitled (Kara on Easter)" 1999

 

Jocelyn Lee
Untitled (Kara on Easter)
1999
Chromogenic print
©
 Jocelyn Lee

 

 

“America is a snapshot culture. Armed with a portable camera and a spirit of inquiry, we revel in the images that we create. Although we often treat still photographs – including portraits – as ephemeral fragments to be discarded or replaced by the next image, there are portrait photographers today who create pictures that defy an easy death. Often working on a specific commission or editorial assignment, these photographers compose portraits that cause us to pause and reflect.”

Portraiture Now: Feature Photography focuses on six photographers who, by working on assignment for publications such as the New Yorker, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine, each bring their distinctive “take” on contemporary portraiture to a broad audience. Critically acclaimed for their independent fine-art work, these photographers – Katy Grannan, Jocelyn Lee, Ryan McGinley, Steve Pyke, Martin Schoeller, and Alec Soth – have also pursued a variety of editorial projects, taking advantage of the opportunities and grappling with the parameters that these assignments introduce. Their work builds upon a longstanding tradition of photographic portraiture for the popular press and highlights creative possibilities for twenty-first-century portrayal. The exhibition has additional portraits not included in this website; it opened on November 26, 2008, and closed on September 27, 2009.”

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

  • KATY GRANNAN
  • JOCELYN LEE
  • RYAN MCGINLEY
  • STEVE PYKE
  • MARTIN SCHOELLER
  • ALEC SOTH

 

 

Alec Soth
Misty
2005
Part of the Niagara project
Pigmented ink print
Collection of the artist
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York City
© Alec Soth

 

 

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Eighth and F Streets, NW
Washington D.C.

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

National Portrait Gallery website

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23
Nov
08

Alec Soth Photography

Alec Soth. "Two Towels" 2004

 

Alec Soth
“Two Towels”
2004

from the series ‘Niagara

23
Nov
08

Alec Soth Photography

Website of Minneapolis-based photographer Alec Soth who has attained international recognition for his photographic series. Notable are the two series ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ (1999- 2004) portraying the river and the life along it’s banks and ‘Niagara’ (2006) where Soth focuses his large format camera on the hotels, residents loves and lives and the environs around Niagara Falls.
His work is firmly rooted in the documentary traditions of Walker Evans and Robert Frank but takes the documentary form further. Whereas Frank used a foreigners eye and ‘snapshot’ photography to challenge traditional notions of American culture in his seminal book ‘The Americans’ (1958), Soth photographs everyday events of American life – home, romance, religion, bliss, heartbreak and agony – and constructs his vision of the land and people in poetic form. His use of handwritten notes is especially poignant.
His view of America is both narrative, truth and epic construction. Working in a serial form Soth builds the themes within his series so that the connections between people living their lifes and facing their plight together with dignity and connection becomes fully evident.

 

Alec Soth website




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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