Archive for the 'american photographers' Category

30
Apr
22

Photographs: ‘Carnival attractions and circus photos’

April 2022

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Dryden Fair Circus' Dryden, NY, September 1890

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Dryden Fair Circus
Dryden, NY, September 1890
Cabinet card mounts
Images: 2 5/8 x 2 5/8″

 

 

One image depicts painted banners outside a tent; the other a crowd gathered around a stage, with a stand offering “Hot Taffy” in the background.

 

 

More fascinating circus photographs from the 1890s-1980s, some from the excellent Edward J. Kelty to supplement an earlier posting I did on the artist.

Please remember the photographs of burlesque and “girl revue” show fronts for next week’s posting (and the work of Susan Meiselas).

I have added bibliographic information for the circuses, photographers and sitters where possible. All photographs have been digitally cleaned and colour balanced.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Barnett Bros. Three Ring Circus Sideshow. Morristown, NJ' New York: Century, 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Barnett Bros. Three Ring Circus Sideshow. Morristown, NJ
New York: Century, 1929
Silver gelatin print
11 x 19″

 

 

Sepia toned photo depicts the side show cast in front of their accompanying banners that feature “The Mexican Knife Thrower,” “Prof. Jackson’s Jazz Band and Minstrels,” “Mille Leatrice: Charmer of Reptiles,” and the “Venetian Glass Blower.”

 

The Barnett Bros. Circus was founded in Canada by Vermont native Ray W. Rogers in 1927. The circus showed both Canada and the United States. In 1929 the show closed it’s season in Easley, S.C. and began wintering in York, S.C..

In 1937 Rogers joined with financiers George and Minter Wallace and the circus changed the name to Wallace Bros. Circus for the seasons of 1937 and again 1941 to 1944. Ray Rogers died in 1943 and in 1944 the Wallace Bros. circus merged with the Clyde Beatty Circus.

Information from the York County Library

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ready for the Spec – Ringling Back Yard' New York: Century, 1926

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ready for the Spec – Ringling Back Yard
New York: Century, 1926
Silver gelatin print
7 x 10 1/2″

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus in New York's Mammoth New Coliseum in the Bronx' New York: Century, 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus in New York’s Mammoth New Coliseum in the Bronx
New York: Century, 1929
Silver gelatin print panoramic photograph
12 x 20″

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) moved to New York City following his service in the Navy during World War I, and opened up his first studio, Flashlight Photographers. Kelty was drawn to the circus and visited Coney Island often. In the summer of 1922, he transformed his truck into a mini studio, darkroom and living quarters, and traveled across America. His panoramic views captured the performers – human and animal – associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Sells-Floto, Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and other train, wagon and truck shows.

A typical day for Kelty would have him waking at dawn to set up cameras and tripods, gathering bearded ladies and sword swallowers, snake charmers and giants and shooting all morning. At times he had as many as 1,000 people in a picture. Afternoons were spent processing film and making proofs, taking orders and printing well into the night. The following day, he distributed prints, most often to circus staff and performers, before returning to his New York studio to work on his wedding and banquet photography business.

Kelty was hit hard by the Depression, and by 1942 had cashed in his glass plate negatives to settle a hefty bar tab. He moved to Chicago and, as legend has it, never took another photograph. His extant negatives eventually made their way into a Tennessee collection of circus memorabilia. Since Kelty used Nitrate-based film, which is unstable when improperly housed, the negatives self-destructed and were disposed of.

After Kelty died in 1967, his estranged family found no photographs, cameras or negatives among his belongings – just one old lens and a union concession employee ID card identifying him as a vendor at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. There was no evidence of the man who, along with his custom mammoth-size banquet camera and portable studio, documented America’s greatest traveling circuses.

Text from the Swann Galleries website

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Harold Barnes Featured with Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus Little Falls, N.Y.' July 17, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Harold Barnes Featured with Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus, Little Falls, N.Y
New York: Century, July 17, 1935
Silver gelatin print panoramic photograph
11 1/2 x 19 1/4″

 

 

The World’s Youngest Wire-Walking Wizard (1934)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Blacksmith Shop Dept.' 1938

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blacksmith Shop Dept.
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographer (English?) '"Lil" the Performing Elephant' c. 1920s

 

Unknown photographer (English?)
“Lil” the performing elephant
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver prints
4 3/4 x 6 1/2″

 

 

“Lil” interacting with pedestrians and a trainer in an unknown location, but probably in England. Interesting to note that the trainer is a bowler-hatted black man back in the 1920s.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Performing elephants' 1920s-1930s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Performing elephants
1920s-1930s
Gelatin silver prints

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Monkeyland' Early 1950s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Monkeyland
Early 1950s
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
Minneapolis, June 1964
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
August 1961 Austin, MN
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
Austin, August 1964
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Dales Circus
August 1965
Gelatin silver print

H.H. Bennett Studio (H.H. Bennett photographer, American 1843-1908)
Grand Electrical Display
Moving Pictures
Positively Free From Flickering
See the Great
Valu Artillery Battle
Japanese Soldier Buried Alive
c. 1904
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The only reference I can find to the “Valu Battle” is an entry in the Bendigo Advertiser newspaper from Mon 9 May 1904 when commenting on the Russo-Japanese War, found on the Trove website. The reference to a Japanese soldier “buried alive” can only be a reference to this war.

 

The H. H. Bennett Studio is a historic photographic studio and photography museum located in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, United States. The studio building was built in 1875 by noted landscape photographer H. H. Bennett. It was operated by his family until 1998, when the studio was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Today the studio, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as a historical museum.

Henry Hamilton Bennett (January 15, 1843 – January 1, 1908) was an American photographer famous for his pictures of the Dells of the Wisconsin River and surrounding region taken between 1865 and 1908. The popularity of his photographs helped turn the city of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin into a major tourist destination.

For more information on H. H. Bennett please see the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Carnival light towers' 1950s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Carnival light towers
1950s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

Collins Shows possibly mid-late 1950s (right)
Frank W. Babcock United Shows September 1959 (top centre)
Other photographs are August 1969 (bottom centre), October 1970 (bottom left ) and the colour photo, early 1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Wild animals and motordromes and motorcycle "hell riders"' Various dates

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Wild animals and motordromes and motorcycle “hell riders”
Various dates
Gelatin silver prints

Art 3. Thomas July 20, 1968 Canada

Morris-Hannum
1959 (prints July 1965)

Wild Animals Alive
Nd

Queens of Speed
Thrill Arena
Lady Hell Riders
Nd (mid-late 1950s?)

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Astro Wheels and Roll-A-Whirl' Various dates 1920s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Astro Wheels and Roll-A-Whirl
Various dates 1920s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Carnival entrances' Various dates 1950s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Carnival entrances
Various dates 1950s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

James H. Drew World’s Fair & Exposition
1960s

Dobson Shows
Blue Earth, MN July 2, 1961

Gayland Main Entrance
August 1970

James H. Drew World’s Fair & Exposition
June 1965

Penn Premier Shows Main Entrance
1950s?

Bill Dillard Presents Myers Amusements Co.
August 1973

T. S. & W. T. Main Rides Shows Entrance
Nd

 

 

Unknown photographer (American)
James H. Drew Shows
Torture Show, Sadistic Atrocities First Time Here
See Them Suffer
How Could They Be Unfaithful
September 1959
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Shooting galleries and Prize Games carnival "fronts"' Various dates 1960s-1990s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Shooting galleries and Prize Games carnival “fronts”
Various dates 1960s-1990s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

Long Range Shooting Gallery
February 1966

Prize Every Game
19th April 1998

 

 

Unknown photographers (American)
James E. Strates Shows Inc.,
1940s
Logo and Gelatin silver prints

Hitler’s Monsters(?) after Death
Hitler and Tojo: See The Now

c. 1946-1948

Dwarfs
1947

Magician banner
1948

Wild animals
1947

James E. Strates Shows trailer
1947

 

 

James E. Strates Shows Massive show passes
King of the Midways
1950s-1960s

Unknown photographer (American)
Zola Alive
1950
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
The Great Lester’s Museum of Magic
1952
Gelatin silver print

 

Jack Zipf and unknown photographers (American) The Great Lester c. 1950

 

Jack Zipf and unknown photographers (American)
The Great Lester
c. 1950
Gelatin silver photo collage print
8.5 x 10″

 

 

Photo collage print of The Great Lester and his performance feats, publication honours, and Museum of Magic

The Great Lester’s Museum of Magic

The LESTERS’ (Top right): Picture (right) by Jack Zipf, Staff photographer THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Penna.

MYSTIFYING and marvelous, THE GREAT LESTER’S MUSEUM offers magic and illusions which battle but entertain and fascinate. The refined and clean manner in which the show is presented has brought laudatory comment from the press and educators the nation over. Gorgeous girls add charm and intrigue to the mystifying fantasies. LOOK and LIFE magazines proclaimed Lester the greatest and top magician of the times. Always anxious to witness things which are mysterious, the crowd above is ready for the “come on in” invitation.”

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Monstrosities and oddities shows' 1880s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Monstrosities and oddities shows
1880s-1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Calcutta Monster sideshow “front”
c. 1957

Adolph-Rudolph Siamese Twins
27 years old
Born, Vienna, Austria
c. 1880s

 

Adolph and Rudolph were false Siamese (cojoined) twins traveling with P. T. Barnum in the late 1800’s. Rudolph had tiny malformed legs. It seems Barnum considered the affliction not unique enough in itself and thought there was more money to be made by rigging a “cojoined twin harness” with his twin brother.

Rudolph had malformed legs and considered the affliction not curious enough to command the amount of money that Siamese twins were making at the time, so he rigged a conjoined-twin harness to attach to his twin brother.

 

The Man with the biggest Feet in all the World
“Francisco Sandoval Rios”
Weight: 180 Height: 5’2″
Speaks Spanish Only
He Can Walk
Comes from Central America
Printed in U.S.A.
1970s

 

A Nicaraguan man in his 30’s who probably had Milroy’s disease, as did many who were billed as “Big Foot” people.

 

Arctic Whale
Clyde Beatty Circus
1950s

 

Clyde Beatty (June 10, 1903 – July 19, 1965) was a famed animal trainer, zoo owner, and circus mogul. He joined Howe’s Great London Circus in 1921 as a cage boy and spent the next four decades rising to fame as one of the most famous circus performers and animal trainers in the world. Through his career, the circus impresario owned several circuses, including his own Clyde Beatty Circus from 1945 to 1956.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Calcutta Monster sideshow in Florida' c. 1957

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Calcutta Monster sideshow in Florida
c. 1957
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Primarily a snake show, boas were very rare and were a good draw for a sideshow during this era.

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Monsters shows' 1950s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Monsters shows
1950s-1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Calcutta Monster sideshow
February 1959

Giant Kongo Family Alive
September 1964

Hagen Bros. Circus
Alive! Giant Snakes Alive!
January 1962

 

Front and rear of the same sideshow trailer.

 

Hagen Bros. truck show that was on the road from 1949 until 1961. The circus was owned by Howard W. Suesz who also owned the “Clyde Bros. Circus”, which was an indoor circus, playing in buildings and stadiums.

The Clyde Bros. Circus played mostly Shrine dates in larger towns and the Hagen Bros was set up to show under canvas in smaller cities. The circus was managed by Robert Couls and Joe McMahon was the general agent. The Circus made Edmond Oklahoma it’s winter Home.

Anonymous text from the Circuses and Sideshows website [Online] Cited 09/02/2022

 

Globe Poster Corp. (printer) 'Hagen Bros. 3-Ring-3 Circus' between 1950 and 1961

 

Globe Poster Corp. (printer)
Hagen Bros. 3-Ring-3 Circus
between 1950 and 1961
Colour lithograph
71.44 x 52.07cm (28 1/8 x 20 1/2 in.)
The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Human attractions' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Human attractions
1960s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints

World’s Strangest Married Couple

Alive
Richard King
America’s Smallest Man
27 in tall

“Ronnie & Donnie” In Person

 

Ronnie and Donnie Gaylon were conjoined twins, born on October 28, 1951 and died on July 4, 2020, making them the world’s longest-surviving conjoined twins who worked in carnivals and circuses as a sideshow act from the age of three.

“The twins exhibited themselves in an air-conditioned trailer for most of their carnival show careers. They lounged about watching television while spectators paid to peer in the window to observe them conduct daily life. Old advertisements read: ‘Still a sensation! The Gaylon Siamese twins, the U.S.’s most visited attraction on any Midway.’

Ronnie and Donnie found a community among the sideshow performers and workers who ran the concession stands. Their friends included Johann the Viking Giant; Little Pete, who was billed as the smallest man in the world, and Margaret Pellegrini, an actress who starred as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz.

‘When we were on the road, it was all like one big family,’ said Ronnie to MLive in 2014.

As freak shows and carnival acts became taboo in the United States during the 1970s, the ‘Sensational Siamese Twins’ took their act to Central and South America where they performed as the headlining act in the circus doing magic tricks.

‘They were treated totally different down there,’ said their brother Jim. ‘They were treated like rock stars’.”

Tate Delloye. “World’s longest-surviving conjoined twins who worked in carnivals and circuses as a sideshow act from the age of three – and always insisted they ‘lived a good life’ – die together at the age of 68,” on the Daily Mail website 7 July 2020 [Online] Cited 10/04/2022

 

He weighs 800 lbs
You must See… to believe
ALIVE World’s Biggest
92 st
Fat Albert

 

T.J. “Fat Albert” Jackson (Kent Nicholson) (American, 1941-1988)

One of the last performing fat men in the United States was Kent Nicholson, who used the alias T.J. “Fat Albert” Jackson. He was born around 1941 in Canton, Mississippi. Although he was exceptionally large since birth, his parents taught him never to be ashamed of himself. His highest recorded weight was said to be 898 pounds. Albert’s wife Carrie and daughter Arkeba accompanied him on tour for nine months out of the year. He continued appearing at carnivals and fairs well into the 1980s, along with Eddie Taylor, a dwarf known as the World’s Smallest Man, and successfully avoided being shut down by politically correct reformers who found his show “insensitive”.

“HI! My name is T.J. Albert Jackson, better known as Fat Albert. I was born in the U.S.A. At birth I weighed 22 lbs. 6 ½ oz., and was 26 ½ inches long. At present I am 872 lbs. and 6′ 4 ½” tall and still growing! I also have a wife. She is 110 lbs., and 5’3″ tall. WE ALWAYS LIKE TO MEET NEW FRIENDS. GOD BLESS YOU. HEY, HEY, HEY! FAT ALBERT. Thank you.”

Albert died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on December 18, 1988.

Text from the Find A Grave website 24 Oct 2010 [Online] Cited 10/04/2022

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Girl Shows: Girl reviews and Rock 'N' Roll' 1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Girl Shows: Girl reviews and Rock ‘N’ Roll
1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Kitty’s Starlite Review
Nd

Vals Girls
July 1965

Mickie Girl Review
January 1962

Rock ‘N’ Roll
October 1960

 

Burlesque and “girl revue” shows at carnivals

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Century 21 Shows Presents Roxanne's Playgirls / Century 21 Shows Presents Broadway A-Go-Go' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Century 21 Shows Presents Roxanne’s Playgirls
Century 21 Shows Presents Broadway A-Go-Go

1960s-1970s
Gelatin silver print and colour photographs

 

Burlesque and “girl revue” shows at carnivals

 

Triangle Poster & Printing Company (printer) 'Kunz Century 21 Shows : world's largest motorized midway' c. 1966

 

Triangle Poster & Printing Company (printer)
Kunz Century 21 Shows: world’s largest motorized midway
c. 1966
Colour lithograph
71.12 x 55.56cm (28 x 21 7/8 in.)
The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

 

 

Midway (fair)

A midway at a fair (commonly an American fair such as a county or state fair) is the location where carnival games, amusement rides, entertainment, dime stores, themed events, exhibitions and trade shows, pleasure gardens, water parks and food booths cluster.

The term originated from the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. It was the first world’s fair with an area for amusements which was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This area, which was concentrated on the city’s Midway Plaisance, included amusement rides (among them the original Ferris Wheel), belly dancers, balloon rides, and other attractions.

After the Exposition, the term midway came into use as a common noun in the United States and Canada to refer to the area for amusements at a county or state fair, circus, festival, or amusement park.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Drugs and Weird Creatures carnival "fronts"' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Drugs and Weird Creatures carnival “fronts”
1960s-1970s
Colour photographs

Drug Horror
Nitemares, Scream!

Drug Abuse
Can A Show Go To Far

See The
Weird Creatures
From Outer Space Alive
They’re Watching Us!
Weird Creatures
Menace from Outer Space

 

 

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17
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something’ at the Museum of the City of New York

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 31st December 2022

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928) 'Christmas Shoppers' 1954

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928)
Christmas Shoppers
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Happy Easter to everyone around the world!

I had to have an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday night. Due to complications with low blood pressure and a reaction to the general anaesthetic I nearly didn’t pull through. I turned blue on the operating table, twice, for thirty seconds. Home now but not feeling so well just taking it easy… therefore a short text.

A fabulous exhibition in New York of photographs about New York: working, going, shopping, playing, gathering, loving, gazing, being, reflecting and buildings. Some excellent photographs that I have never seen before which evidence the soul of this imaginative city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

At left: Joseph Maida. Ben with fan 2001

At right: Mitch Epstein. Untitled [New York #3] 1995

 

Installation views of the exhibition Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something at the Museum of the City of New York, showing in the bottom photograph at left, Bruce Cratsley’s Brooklyn Bridge Centennial 1983
Photos: Brad Farwell

 

 

Celebrating the City: Recent Photography Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something highlights a gift that has dramatically advanced the Museum’s already exceptional photography collection. Juxtaposing striking recent images with work by some of the 20th century’s most important photographers, including the Museum’s first images by Robert Frank and William Klein, the exhibition is a moving celebration of the power of photography to capture New York and New Yorkers.

Since the invention of photography, the streets of New York City have lured picture-makers from across the world. Each borough, neighbourhood, and corner offers and opportunity to see something new through the lens, yielding images as varied as the street life itself. New York’s diverse built environment provides a backdrop for the true subject of many photographers: the varied lives of New Yorkers.

The photographers in this exhibition have immortalised this ever-changing urban centre. Each has created a distinctive vision of the city, providing a window into a vast and complex metropolis. The have also made use of the changing technology of photography itself to produce images whose meanings range from apparently objective reflections of reality to highly crafted expression of the artists’ responses to the people and the city around them.

 

Introduction

New York City may always be in flux, but shared activities and experiences connect New Yorkers across time and space. For more than a century, many of the world’s best photographers have used their cameras to capture iconic scenes of New Yorkers in action – from mundane daily routines to special events of gathering and ritual. They have sought out the deeply personal moments that occur within this city of millions and have capture both the “New Yorkiness” of its inhabitants and he ways New York experiences are linked to the larger human condition.

The photographs in this gallery are arranged into themes that capture these quintessential New York moments without consideration to chronology. The images allow us to see a range of photographic styles applied to experiences that are common to so many New Yorkers, while also highlighting the ever-changing state of the city over many decades.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Working

 

Michael Spano. 'Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)' 1994

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)
1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Michael Spano has made New York City the constant subject of his work over a long career, while exploring the possibilities of the medium, from print solarisation to collage. This photograph exemplifies Spano’s keen observational eye and attention to composition, with repeating patterns and visual dichotomy produced through light and shadow. Several other examples of work by this artist are on also on view in this gallery, including photographs from the series “Auto Portraits” and “Splits.”

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947) 'Flag Day' 1917

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947)
Flag Day
1917
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Pizza Delivery' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Pizza Delivery
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York City #21)' 1997

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York City #21)
1997
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Going

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'A Llama in Times Square' 1957

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
A Llama in Times Square
1957
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Inge Morath

 

 

The noted photojournalist Inge Morath made this photograph of a llama in Times Square, easily her most recognisable photograph, for Life magazine in 1952. Although the image looks spontaneous, it was part of a highly planned assignment. The image was published in a one-page story, in the magazine’s humorous “Animals” section, and was entitled “High-paid llama in big city.” The piece featured a menagerie of television animals – including, in addition to the llama, dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a kangaroo, and a miniature bull – living at home with their trainers in a Manhattan brownstone. Morath’s full caption for the image reads, “Linda, the Lama [sic], rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s ABC studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.”

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949) '5th Ave. & the Park' 2005

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
5th Ave. & the Park
2005
From the series Auto Portraits
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Going Slushy Street, Times Square' 1948

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Going Slushy Street, Times Square
1948
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was an American photographer, described as an influential member of the New York school of photography during the 1940s and 1950s. His images are said to represent the best example of this movement.

Born in Baltimore in 1922 and raised in North Carolina, Croner developed an interest in photography while in high school. He honed his skills while serving as an aerial photographer in World War II before settling in New York City in 1947. At the urging of fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives, he enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s class at The New School where he studied with Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lisette Model. During this period he produced many of his most memorable images including “Taxi, New York Night, 1947-1948”, which appears on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times. Another of Croner’s photographs was used on the cover of Luna’s album Penthouse.

Croner also had a successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer – his work was published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He also worked extensively with corporations such as Coca-Cola and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was born in Baltimore, MD. and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the army during World War II, Croner worked as an aerial photographer with the United States Army Air Corps stationed in the South Pacific. In1946, Croner went to New York where he and Bill Helburn, another former Air Corps photographer, used their G.I. Bill aid to open a small photography studio on West 57th street in Manhattan. Shortly after that, Croner enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s photography class at the New School. Perhaps Croner’s best-known work, Taxi – New York Night, 1947-1948, was taken while he was a student in Brodovitch’s legendary “design laboratory”.

In 1948 Edward Steichen, then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chose to include Croner in two exhibitions at the Museum: “In and Out of Focus” and “Four Photographers” which included three other photographers: Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan and Lisette Model. Other exhibitions of Croner’s work followed. As he continued to accept commercial work at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Croner pursued his own photography, producing vigorously experimental, cinematic images of cafeterias, solitary diners and the city after dark.

Interest in Croner’s work was revived with the publication of The New York School, Photographs by Jane Livingston in 1992 which followed the 1985 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. For the cover of the book, Livingston chose a picture by Croner, “New York at Night, 1948” which shows a Manhattan skyline reduced to abstract slashes of white light among black tall buildings against a gun-metal grey sky. This was followed by inclusion in the exhibition “By Night” at The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 1996, the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition “American Century Part II” and in 2005, in the exhibition “At The Crossroads of Time: A Times Square Centennial” at the Axa Gallery in New York, and in “Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959” at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Anonymous text from the Howard Greenberg Gallery website [Online] Cited 11/02/2022

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Home of the Brave, Times Square' late 1940s

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Home of the Brave, Times Square
late 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Street – Design for a Poster' 1903

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Street – Design for a Poster
1903
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was perhaps no more important figure for the advancement of photography’s position in the arts than Alfred Stieglitz. At a time when photography was viewed as a fact-based, scientific craft, Stieglitz had an unerring ambition to prove that the medium was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. This photograph, taken at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, with its moody scene and soft-focused, impressionistic aesthetic, exemplifies the painterly qualities Stieglitz espoused (sometimes described as Pictorialism). In later years, the photographer changed course and embraced “straight” sharp-focused photography as the best representation of the artistic qualities of the medium.

 

 

Shopping

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006) 'Chick's Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY' 1938

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006)
Chick’s Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY
1938
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Walter A. Rosenblum (1919-2006) was an American photographer. He photographed the World War II D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. He was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp.

Rosenblum was a member of the New York Photo League where he was mentored by Paul Strand and Lewis Hine. He became president of the League in 1941. He taught photography at Brooklyn College for 40 years.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936 (detail)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets (detail)
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

A llama in Times Square… fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge… polar bears playing in a pool at the zoo… subways, skylines, shadows, and stolen moments… all these things and more tell the varied story of New York City, captured by the lenses of many of the medium’s greatest photographers. Now, these images will be on view as part of “Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something,” opening February 18th at Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition will feature approximately 100 photographs selected from the more than 1,000 images recently gifted to the Museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the photographic arts.

“Photographs of New York are instantly recognisable and help us celebrate and elevate the many stories of our vibrant city that might otherwise go unnoticed,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of Museum of the City of New York. “As we continue to emerge from the challenges of the COVID pandemic, this magnificent gift from the Joy of Giving Something dramatically advances MCNY’s already stellar 400,000+ image photography collection and gives us an even greater ability to share the stories of our beloved city and its inhabitants.”

“JGS is extremely pleased to donate a substantial group of prints from our collection to the Museum of the City of New York. Most of the work in our donation features New York as subject and it is a great match that the photographs stay in New York to be enjoyed by audiences far and wide,” says Jeffrey Hoone, President of Joy of Giving Something (JGS). “New York continues to be a subject for photographic artists from around the world and JGS is proud to help continue that legacy as we support younger artists through our many different programs. We applaud the Museum for their forward-thinking programs and their commitment to preserving and celebrating New York as a vibrant subject for photographers past, present, and future.”

Devoted to the field of photography, and ever on the search for its very best practitioners, JGS founder Howard Stein never limited himself to a single genre or style. Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, eventually forming one of the most comprehensive collections in private hands, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries. His understanding of the photographic medium and discerning eye for print quality and condition yielded a remarkable collection shared through exhibition loans around the world.

With images ranging from documentary to quirky, architectural to atmospheric, “Celebrating the City” features selections from this transformative donation, which notably includes works by 30+ creators new to the MCNY collection (see list on Page 4). The exhibition presents multiple images from Helen Levitt‘s dynamic and celebrated street photography; Sylvia Plachy‘s playful and eccentric examination of the people, animals, and moments of NYC; and Michael Spano‘s slice-of-life city shots spanning the 1990s and 2000s. Other key figures in 20th century photography are incorporated into the show, including Ilse Bing, Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, and Paul Strand, to name a few – all capturing indelible, sometimes implausible, intimate, and often incredible moments of the city.

MCNY’s “Celebrating the City” is organised into 10 categories, from working, going shopping, playing, and gathering to loving, gazing, being, reflecting and building, all illustrating the universality of the city and offering the opportunity to compare how some of the best-known photographers have returned to the same subjects again and again.

Some exhibition highlights include:

  • Bruce Cratsley’s “Brooklyn Bridge Centennial” (1983)
  • Bruce Davidson’s “Square Riggers, South Street Seaport” (1996)
  • Elliott Erwitt’s “New York City” (1955)
  • Larry Fink’s “Studio 54” (1977)
  • Ken Heyman’s “Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York” (1985)
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Alice (Alice Rose George)” (1987)
  • Inge Morath’s “A Llama in Times Square” (1957)
  • Sylvia Plachy’s “Baseball Plié” (1982)

.
“In addition to offering glimpses of life in the city, ‘Celebrating the City’ juxtaposes various picture-making approaches, showing the different ways in which photographs are created as well as illuminating the decision-making process behind photography, collecting, and curation,” says Sean Corcoran, senior curator of prints and photographs, Museum of the City of New York. “We’ve paired the JGS photographs with a handful of recently acquired works – presented in the anteroom – in an effort to tell the story of a diverse and contemporary city from a range of perspectives.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Playing

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Dogs' Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York' 1985

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York
1985
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009) 'Dog in Central Park' c. 1955

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009)
Dog in Central Park
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Paul Himmel

 

 

Paul Himmel (1914 – February 8, 2009) was a fashion and documentary photographer in the United States.

Himmel was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. He took up photography as a teenager and studied graphic journalism under art director Alexey Brodovitch. From 1947 to 1969, he worked as a professional photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and several of his photographs were included in Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition.

In the 1950s, Himmel started his own projects, including series on boxers, the circus and ballet. He experimented with grain structure in his negatives and prints, using a series of silhouetted and elongated forms abbreviated almost to the point of abstraction.

Himmel took his last photograph in 1967, and by 1969, he became disenchanted with photography and retrained as a psychotherapist. An exhibit of his photographs in New York City in 1996 brought him back to public attention. Himmel’s photographs are fresh and unusual. Many are high-contrast, emphasising the design and patterns contained in an image. His subjects ranged from New York City scenes to nudes reduced to grainy vestiges to colour abstractions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941) 'Studio 54' 1977

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941)
Studio 54
1977
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Larry Fink was born in Brooklyn in 1941. In the 1960s, he studied with noted photographer Lisette Model. This photograph from Studio 54, made in 1977 in the hedonistic heyday of the disco era, is a well know image from Fink’s series “Social Graces,” which explored social class in America by comparing two different worlds: that of urban New Yorkers of “high society” and that of rural, working-class Pennsylvanians through social events like birthday parties. Fink has described his approach to his subject in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner, “The one thing I was trained in being was non-hierarchical. I don’t have an internal class system. Who you are is who is in front of me and who I am in the same, and that’s how we have to relate to each other.”

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Soccer Game' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Soccer Game
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Pablo Delano. 'Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954) 'Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

 

Gathering

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'New York City' 1955

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954) 'Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn' 1978

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954)
Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1978
From the series Williamsburg, Brooklyn Portfolio
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947) 'Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY' 1995

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947)
Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY
1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Ed Grazda, from Flushing, Queens, had been photographing in Pakistan and Afghanistan for almost 15 years when the underground garage at the World Trade Center became the site of a car bomb attack, on February 26, 1993. The explosion killed six people and injured more than a thousand; in both print and televised media, the grisly scene was often accompanied by the phrase “Muslim terrorist.” As a counter to the spreading media stereotypes, Grazda began a new effort: to document some of the dozens of communities of New Yorkers who practice Islam. He engaged both the immigrant populations and the native New Yorkers, including converts, the longstanding African-American Muslim community, and a growing Latino-Muslim community. This project was eventually published as the book New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York in 2002.

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Men in Park' 2001

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Men in Park
2001
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Loving

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Top Hats at Horse Show' 1947-1949

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Top Hats at Horse Show
1947-1949
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming, NYC' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming, NYC
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

 

After Stephen Barker graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1980, he became an assistant for noted portraitist Hans Namuth and architectural photographer Wolfgang Hoyt. In response to the growing AIDS crisis, Barker became an activist, working with ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and managing the Brooklyn Needle Exchange for two years. He also took his camera into New York City’s sex clubs. Given the necessity for anonymity, many of the figures that appeared in this work, entitled Nightswimming, appear indistinct at first glance. The settings are often darkened cinemas and hallways, yet there are flashes of intelligibility – tenderness, passion, and even introspection.

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #9)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #9)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Since the 1970s, Mitch Epstein has been an early proponent of colour photography as a fine art, which he often uses to subtly examine American society. This photograph, and several others on view in this gallery, are drawn from a body of work entitled “The City.” The photographer describes the collection as a “series of photographs that reveal the blurred line between New York City’s public and private space and question its increasing surveillance. These pictures describe a chaotic and layered city, where people create an intimate solar system of family, friends, and associates to survive the brute anonymity of public space.”

 

 

Gazing

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) 'New York (Woman and taxi)' 1982

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York (Woman and taxi)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013) 'Dick and Adele, the Village' c. 1947

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013)
Dick and Adele, the Village
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929) 'Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx' 1954

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929)
Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

George S. Zimbel (born July 15, 1929) is an American-Canadian documentary photographer. He has worked professionally since the late 1940s, mainly as a freelancer. He was part of the Photo League and is one of its last surviving members. Born in Massachusetts, he settled in Canada about 1971. His works have been shown with increasing frequency since 2000, and examples of his work are part of several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He has been described as a humanist. He has published several books of his photographs and in 2016 was the subject of a documentary retrospective film co-directed by his son Matt Zimbel and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956) 'Brooklyn, NY' 2000

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956)
Brooklyn, NY
2000
From the series The Glass Between Us
Chromogenic development print

 

 

Rebecca Norris Webb has lived in New York City for more than 25 years. Originally a poet, she brings a lyrical sensibility to her photography and often interweaves text into her imagery. This photograph is part of a larger series published as a book entitled The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures (2006), that examines people’s complex relationship with animals in cities, primarily in the context of “conservation parks” such as zoos and aquariums. This image, taken at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, uses reflections and distortion of the water tanks to blur the boundaries between the young boy and the aquatic life he is observing.

 

 

Being

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Willie' 1962

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Willie
1962
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

 

Ken Heyman met noted anthropologist Margaret Mead while attending Columbia University. The two became friends and worked together on several projects; the experience influenced Heyman to focus his photography on human relationships and interactions. Heymen went on to become a leading photojournalist, working for Life, LOOK, and TIME magazines. In the mid-1950s Haymen photographed “Willie,” a four-year-old boy from Hell’s Kitchen, over the course of several months in an attempt to observe him negotiate his one-block world. The results were published in Heymen’s first book in 1962. He went on to publish 45 additional books, including collaborations with composer Leonard Bernstein, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and artist Andy Warhol.

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951) 'Alice (Alice Rose George)' 1987

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Alice (Alice Rose George)
1987
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, currently lives in New York City.He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with other notable New York-based photographers David Armstrong and Nan Goldin. Beginning in the 1980s, he created an influential body of work that blurred the lines between fact and fiction, blending a documentary style with staged photography techniques. The resulting photographs, often depicting mundane moments of life, are known for their dramatic cinematic quality. This image of noted writer, curator, and photography editor Alice Rose George exemplifies the taut psychological quality of diCorcia staged tableaux.

 

DiCorcia alternates between informal snapshots and iconic quality staged compositions that often have a baroque theatricality.

Using a carefully planned staging, he takes everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality, trying to inspire in his picture’s spectators an awareness of the psychology and emotion contained in real-life situations. His work could be described as documentary photography mixed with the fictional world of cinema and advertising, which creates a powerful link between reality, fantasy and desire.

During the late 1970s, during diCorcia’s early career, he used to situate his friends and family within fictional interior tableaus, that would make the viewer think that the pictures were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life, when they were in fact carefully staged and pre-planned. His work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography. He would later start photographing random people in urban spaces all around the world. When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject, often isolating them from the other people in the street.

His photographs give a sense of heightened drama to accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions of those passing by. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached from the world around them, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity. Each of his series, Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, A Storybook Life, and Lucky Thirteen, can be considered progressive explorations of diCorcia’s formal and conceptual fields of interest. Besides his family, associates and random people he has also photographed personas already theatrically enlarged by their life choices, such as the pole dancers in his latest series.

His pictures have black humour within them, and have been described as “Rorschach-like”, since they can have a different interpretation depending on the viewer. As they are pre-planned, diCorcia often plants in his concepts issues like the marketing of reality, the commodification of identity, art, and morality.

In 1989, financed by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship of $45,000, DiCorcia began his Hustlers project. Starting in the early 1990s, he made five trips to Los Angeles to photograph male prostitutes in Hollywood. He used a 6×9 Linhof view camera, which he positioned in advance with Polaroid tests. At first, he photographed his subjects only in motel rooms. Later, he moved onto the streets. When the Museum of Modern Art exhibited 25 of the photographs in 1993 under the title Strangers, each was labeled with the name of the man who posed, his hometown, his age, and the amount of money that changed hands.

In 1999, diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and took a series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights. This resulted in two published books, Streetwork (1998) which showed wider views including subjects’ entire bodies, and Heads (2001), which featured more closely cropped portraits as the name implies.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Reflecting

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival' 1950

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival
1950
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Louis Faurer was born in Philadelphia, where he worked as a photo technician in portrait studios. After serving in the U.S. Signal Corps of Philadelphia during World War II, he began to commute to New York City for work at magazines and attended classes at Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory. There, he met fellow photographer Robert Frank. The two became fast friends and Faurer eventually moved into Frank’s large loft and used his darkroom. At the time, Faurer worked for various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Vogue, and the short-lived Flair.

This image, made in those early days in New York, reflects Faurer’s close relationship with Frank and his then-wife Mary. The late 1940s and 1950s were especially important to Faurer’s development as a photographer and were when he created his most memorable images of New York. As in this photograph, Faurer concentrated his image making on people out on the streets, reflections of store windows, and the bright city lights. This psychologically charged work highlights the complexity and energy of city life.

 

Louis Faurer (August 28, 1916 – March 2, 2001) was an American candid or street photographer. He was a quiet artist who never achieved the broad public recognition that his best-known contemporaries did; however, the significance and caliber of his work were lauded by insiders, among them Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Edward Steichen, who included his work in the Museum of Modern Art exhibitions In and Out of Focus (1948) and The Family of Man (1955).

“Faurer … proves to be an extraordinary artist. His eye is on the pulse [of New York City] – the lonely “Times-Square people” for whom Faurer felt a deep sympathy. Every photograph is witness to the compassion and obsession accompanying his life like a shadow. I am happy that these images survive while the world keeps changing.” ~ Robert Frank

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Andrea on Third Avenue' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Andrea on Third Avenue
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Swiss-born Robert Frank immigrated to New York in 1947 to work for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Frank continued to create editorial work for magazines such as Life, LOOK, and Vogue until he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955. The award freed him to travel throughout the country for two years to make the photographs that would result in his seminal book, The Americans. This photograph, of Frank’s daughter Andrea in their apartment near Astor Place on Third Avenue, is emblematic of much of the photographer’s work; it is tender and intimate while remaining slightly enigmatic.

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943) 'Virgil Thomson' 1986

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943)
Virgil Thomson
1986
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896 – September 30, 1989) was an American composer and critic. He was instrumental in the development of the “American Sound” in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neo-romantic, a neoclassicist, and a composer of “an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment” whose “expressive voice was always carefully muted” until his late opera Lord Byron which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to “moments of real passion”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #11)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #11)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #3)' 1995

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #3)
1995
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Buildings

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York
1915
Plate from Camera Work No. 49/50, June 1917
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956) 'East River, New York' 1914

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956)
East River, New York
1914
Platinum print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Arthur D. Chapman (1882-1956) was born in Bakersfield, California. An amateur photographer, he moved to New York and worked as a printer for The Globe and Commercial Advertiser and The New York American; he also listed himself in the New York City directories as a bookbinder (1913) and a photographer (1917). Chapman lived in Greenwich Village from 1911 until 1917 and, in his afternoons off from work, photographed everyday scenes around Manhattan. In his own neighbourhood, he chose to show not the Bohemian image the Village then projected, but rather what the residential Village looked like. With the use of shadow, Chapman was able to give depth and character to his photographs, and those focused down a street usually featured a striking foreground. His subjects include rooftops, buildings, and street scenes with such titles as “9½ Jane Street,” “Clinton Court,” and “Kelly’s Alley.” Most of the photographs are from the 1910s and show a quaint side of the Village that has all but vanished.

During the early 1950s Chapman thought it would be of historical interest to re-shoot some of the areas in Manhattan he had photographed almost a half-century before, in order to document how time had changed those places. Unfortunately, some of the scenes he wanted to photograph were still considered too “sensitive” so soon after the Second World War, and he was unable to obtain permission from the city government.

The New-York Historical Society bought this collection from Chapman between 1950 and 1955 as he, in his retirement, found and printed from old negatives which had lain hidden in his extensive collection. In 1953, Chapman gave two self-portraits to the Society as a gift, one taken in New York in 1913 and the second taken in 1953 in New Jersey. Both show him working with his photographic equipment.

In 1921, following his World War I service in France with the Photographic Section of the Army Signal Corp Chapman moved to New Jersey, where he continued with his “hobby” until his death on June 5, 1956. He was a member of Pictorial Photographers of America, and a member of New York Typographical Union No. 6 for over fifty years.

Anonymous text from the New York Historical Society website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'A Brick-Built Wall, New York' 1961

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
A Brick-Built Wall, New York
1961
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998) 'Brooklyn Bridge Centennial' 1983

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998)
Brooklyn Bridge Centennial
1983
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

John Reid. 'Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC' c. 1870

 

John Reid
Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC
c. 1870
Albumen print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St.,

Opening hours:
Open Daily 10am – 6pm

Museum of the City of New York website

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09
Apr
22

Photographs: ‘Circus performers in America’

April 2022

 

Chicago Photo Co. 'Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)' early 1900s

 

Chicago Photo Co., 389 State Street, Chicago (John B. Wilson, photographer)
Ada Zingara (Harriett O. Shipley, 1861-1937)
early 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

A selection of albumen photographs on cabinet cards and cartes de visite of wonderful human beings. I have added biographical and other information about the photographers and subjects where possible.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education and teaching. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y. 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Obermüller and Kern, 388 Bowery, N.Y.
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

About Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann was an American photographer. His work, which dates from the Victorian-era “Gilded Age” (1870-1890), focused almost exclusively on the “freaks” of the circuses, sideshows, and living museums of New York’s Bowery area. The subject matter was profitable enough to provide a living for both Eisenmann and Frank Wendt, his successor in the business.

Eisenmann was born in Germany in 1850 and emigrated to the United States some time before 1870, settling in New York City. At an early age, Eisenmann established a photography studio in the Bowery. A lower class area that was the hub of popular entertainment, the Bowery was known for its cheap photographic galleries and dime museums. Here Eisenmann discovered his clientele. Dime museums were modelled on P.T. Barnum‘s American Museum on Broadway which exhibited various human “curiosities” as well as many unusual and questionable “scientific” exhibits. Similar in many respects to the circus sideshows, these museums featured human “freaks” who displayed their odd physiognomies and performed before gawking visitors. To help these performers market themselves, Eisenmann and his successor Frank Wendt supplied them with small photographs that they could sell or distribute to publicists. Precisely why Eisenmann was drawn to and focused on this peculiar clientele is not known, though there was evidently money to be made.

Among Eisenmann’s subjects were the famous as well as obscure. They included the “father” of the sideshow, P. T. Barnum, and performers like General Tom Thumb, Jo Jo the Dog-faced Boy, the Wild Men of Borneo, Annie Jones the Bearded Lady, and the Skeleton Man. He also photographed Siamese twins, giants, dwarfs, armless and legless “wonders,” albinos, tattoo artists, and even abnormal animals, such as two-headed cows. While many of these “freaks” were genuine, many were not, having been created out of the imagination and costuming talents of sideshow managers.

Eisenmann’s career in New York began to decline around 1890, and in 1899 he relocated to Plainfield, New Jersey. Wendt joined Eisenmann during this period, at first becoming his business partner, and then son-in-law. Around this same time the warm-toned albumen print process began to disappear, and to be replaced by the cooler silver gelatin process. The change in process did not favour Eisenmann’s techniques. …

The verso of many of Eisenmann’s photographs contained his characteristic tagline, “extra inducements to the theatrical profession,” which reflected the emphasis he placed on his primary clientele.

Anonymous text. “Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs,” on the Syracuse University Library website 1998 updated 2016 [Online] Cited 02/04/2022

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Amy Arlington, snake charmer' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927)
Amy Arlington, snake charmer
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Serpent Queens

Snake charming was another speciality that moved from being an almost exclusively male occupation to domination by women. In fact, as snake charming and handling moved into the twentieth century it became almost exclusively a female calling.

Large exotic snakes were exhibited in early museums, and the 1876 and 1893 world fairs imported male snake charmers as part of native villages. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when demand for freaks was so high, people, especially partially clad and exotic-looking women, handling or “charming” boas, anacondas, rattlers, cobras, and other serpents became common freak show fare.

Snake charmers – or serpent enchantresses, as they were also called – were, like tattooed persons and Circassians, easy to come by. Although there were tricks to make large snakes lethargic and poisonous snakes benign, some acts contained a distinct elements of danger. For the most part, however, snake charming involved little skill and, aside from the ability to master repulsion and fear, few personal qualifications. There was a seemingly unending supply of charmers – more charmers than snakes by far. Indeed, the cost and supply of snakes was a bigger factor in controlling the number of acts than the number of applicants. While charmers became commonplace and never demanded the high salaries of featured attractions, there was always a place for them on the platform. Audiences continued to squirm in delighted disgust year after year, and, as with human art galleries, innovation provided a continuous element of novelty. After Circassians became commonplace, there were Circassian snake-charmers. In search of novelty, one man wrestled pythons in a five-hundred-gallon tank. Although the types and number of snakes the charmer worked with provided some variety as well, the most important element of the exhibit was the presentation.

There were snake charmers and serpent queens who claimed to be from the East, having learned their skill through apprenticeship to mystics. Others claimed to be born with serpent power. Even though a few who practiced the art probably were from India and other far-off places, most were homegrown Americans…

Whether a domestic exotic or an import, one’s story and stage presence were important elements of success. The difference between a fill-in and an attraction was ingenuity and flair. But most snake charmers were minor attractions, and we know very little about the women around whom the snakes wrapped themselves. A few, however, like Amy Arlington who as with Barnum and Bailey in the 1890s, left many photo portraits of themselves entwined by serpents. Some “true life” booklets are preserved, and, although less elaborate and sophisticated than those of featured stars, they do provide a glimpse of their presentation – a presentation in the high exotic mode.

Robert Bogdan. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 256-258

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Charles B. Tripp "Armless Wonder"' 1888

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Charles B. Tripp “Armless Wonder” (33 years old)
1888
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Albumen print on original studio mount features the armless Tripp drinking tea with his feet. Notice the date “1888” near Tripp’s right foot.

 

 

Charles B. Tripp (Canadian-American, 1855-1930) was an artist and sideshow performer known as the “Armless Wonder”.

A native of Woodstock, Ontario, Tripp was born without arms but learned to use his legs and feet to perform everyday tasks. He was a skilled carpenter and calligrapher and started supporting his mother and sister when he was a teenager. In 1872, Tripp visited P. T. Barnum in New York City and was quickly hired to work for Barnum’s Great Traveling World’s Fair. He worked for Barnum (and later James Anthony Bailey) for twenty-three years, then toured for the Ringling brothers for twelve years.

On stage, Tripp cultivated a gentlemanly persona and exhibited his skills in carpentry and penmanship. He also cut paper, took photographs, shaved, and painted portraits. For extra income, he signed promotional pictures of himself with his feet. Tripp often appeared in photographs with Eli Bowen, a “legless wonder” from Ohio. In the photographs, the two rode a tandem bicycle, with Tripp pedalling and Bowen steering.

By the 1910s, Tripp was no longer drawing large crowds for the major circuses, so he joined the traveling carnival circuit. He was accompanied by his wife, Mae, who sold tickets for midway attractions. Tripp died of pneumonia (or asthma) in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he had been wintering for several years. He was buried in Olney, Illinois.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann

Charles Eisenmann (October 5, 1855 – December 8, 1927) was a famous New York photographer during the late 1880s who worked in the Bowery district.

Eisenmann’s photography was sold in the form of Cabinet cards, popular in this era, available to the middle class. Eisenmann also supplied Duke Tobacco Company with cheesecake photography to stuff in their tobacco cans. The book Victorian Cartes-de-Visite credits Eisenmann with being the most prolific and well known photographer when it comes to Cabinet cards.

His work was the subject of a 1979 monograph, Monsters of the Gilded Age, focusing on his work on human oddities from the Barnum and Bailey circus, with a notable widely circulated picture of Jojo the Dog-faced Boy. Although a number of his photographs were of obvious fakes (called “gaffed freaks”), many others were genuinely anomalous, including the giant Routh Goshen, the four-legged girl Myrtle Corbin, and the Siamese twins Chang and Eng and Millie and Christine. …

 

Humbugs

In his book, Secrets of the Sideshows, Joe Nickell points out that Eisenmann used a number of notable humbugs or gaffs. These included his “Circassian beauties”, women with teased, large hairdos who were said to have escaped from Turkish harems. The models were locals from the Bronx with hair made frizzy and wild by washing in beer, who earned money for posing. …

 

Victorian society and circus freaks

In the late 1880s, A new phenomenon appeared with Victorian society’s fascination and sympathy for people who appeared to have genetic abnormalities. There was much publicity, for example, over Princess Alexandra’s attention to Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man.”

Eisenmann saw the golden opportunity in this fascination, and photographed circus people dressed as Victorian society, and conversely Victorian society with circus props. In New York city circus people were quite well received, as evidenced by the proliferation of dime museums and the PT Barnum circus located in New York.

One of Eisenmann’s subjects, Charles Stratton (Major Tom Thumb) was quite well known, and his wedding was quite the affair. “The couple’s elaborate wedding took place in Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. The Astors and the Vanderbilts were said to have attended as Barnum sold tickets for $75.”

Other prestigious clients included Mark Twain, and Annie Oakley. In some ways Eisenmann can be considered a kind of Annie Leibovitz of the Victorian Bowery district. His career suffered a downturn with the introduction of Gelatin silver process photography which made photographs more inexpensive and available for mass consumption. Also, Vaudeville overtook circuses in popularity at this time as well. In 1898 Eisenmann closed his studio and was succeeded by Frank Wendt. Frank was a sort of intern of his. For a few years, he sold photographic equipment and took conventional portraits in Plainfield, New Jersey but by 1907 he had disappeared from the public record, some believing he went to Germany. This was the second time he went off the radar, the first time being when his first wife died. At that time he was believed to have gone to Asia.

Eventually, in the early 1900s, he resurfaced as the head of the photography department for DuPont taking pictures of employees. He died in 1927.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927) 'Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Miss Delina Rossa (age 28)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Rossa is presumed from Paris, as one photo of her is marked “born in Paris” but nothing much else is known about her.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age' c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Mademoiselle Zana, The only Bearded Russian Lady, 20 years of age
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). "Bearded Girl and her Mother" c. 1880s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
“Bearded Girl and her Mother”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York. 'Waino and Plutano "The Wild Men of Borneo" (60-70 years old)' c. 1880s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), New York
Waino and Plutano “The Wild Men of Borneo” (60-70 years old)
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
Image: 5 1/2 x 3 7/8 in. (14 x 9.8cm)
Mount: 6 1/2 x 4 1/4 in. (16.5 x 10.8cm)

 

 

Wild Men of Borneo

The Wild Men of Borneo, Waino and Plutanor, were a pair of exceptionally strong dwarf brothers who were most famously associated with P. T. Barnum and his freak show exhibitions.

 

Life

Waino and Plutanor were actually Hiram W. and Barney Davis, two mentally disabled brothers from Pleasant Township, Knox County, Ohio farm, born in 1825 in England and 1827 in Ohio respectively. The 1850 census for them suggests they were born slightly later in 1829 and 1831. Their parents were David Harrison Davis and Catherine Blydenburgh. After their father’s death in 1842, their mother remarried to William Porter. They were each 40 inches tall (100cm) and weighed about 45 pounds (20kg), yet could perform feats of great strength such as lifting heavy weights and wrestling with audience members on stage. Discovered and subsequently promoted by a traveling showman known as Doctor Warner in 1852, Hiram and Barney were given new names, Waino and Plutanor, and a sensational back story – they were said to be from the island of Borneo, where they had been captured after a great struggle with armed sailors. They initially had modest success, but at least one newspaper believed them to be dwarves from the United States. The two soon went on to be exhibited at state fairs across the United States. At the time of the 1860 census they were living in Somerville, Massachusetts in the household of Henry Harvey, a showman. At some point in the next few years management of the pair was transferred to a relative of Doctor Warner, Hanford A. Warner.

In 1874 they were valued at $50,000. In January 1877 they were performing at the New American Museum located in Manhattan. In June 1880 at the time of the federal census, they were touring with William C. Coup’s circus and were enumerated under their assumed identities. By 1882 Waino and Plutanor became involved with P. T. Barnum and his traveling exhibitions. With Barnum’s fabled promotional skill, the careers of the Wild Men of Borneo took off and over the course of the next 25 years, the pair earned approximately $200,000, which was an enormous sum in that era, equivalent to $6,000,000 today. Their exhibitions primarily consisted of performing acts of great strength, such as lifting adult audience members and wrestling with both audience members and each other. They were said to be able to lift up to 300 pounds (140 kg) each. In November 1887 they were performing at Eugene Robinson’s Dime Museum and Theatre. In the 1890s Hanford’s son Ernest took over the management duties of the Davis brothers due to the elder Hanford becoming blind.

In 1903 the brothers were withdrawn from exhibitions by the Warner family. Hiram died in Waltham, Massachusetts on March 16, 1905. Barney stopped working after his brother’s death. Their former manager Hanford Warner died in 1910. Barney died on May 31, 1912 at Waltham, Massachusetts at the Warner family home. The two are buried together in Mount Vernon, Ohio, under a gravestone marked “Little Men.” Newspapers from the time report them being buried in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is unknown when their bodies were moved to Ohio.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939). 'Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack' c. 1890s

 

Morris Yogg (American, active c. 1885 to 1935, d. 1939), Newark, NJ
Sharpshooter Wyoming Jack
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 3/4 x 4 1/4″

 

 

The long-haired sharpshooter posing with a revolver at his waist and three rifles at his side.

Stated on the verso of Yogg’s cards: “If you have beauty, come, we’ll take it; if you have none, come, we’ll make it.” Where Yogg was challenged by lack of beauty, he used accessories in an effort to enhance the sitter’s appearance. The photographer was at 162 Springfield Ave. between 1885-1914.

 

Charles Stacy (American) 'Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn Col. W. F. Cody "Buffalo Bill"' c. 1900s

 

Charles Stacy (American) Corner 9th St. & 5th Ave. Brooklyn
Col. W. F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”
c. 1900s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Charles Eisenmann (American, 1855-1927), New York
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

 

Ettie Rogers was an albino woman who featured in many traveling shows, notably P. T. Barnum’s travelling museums.

 

Unknown photographer (American). 'Ettie Rogers' c. 1880s-1890s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Ettie Rogers
c. 1880s-1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cartes de visite
4 1/4 x 2 1/2″

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1880s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Card imprinted with Chang’s height and weight, advertising that he is now appearing with Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson

 

Abraham Bogardus

Abraham Bogardus (November 29, 1822 – March 22, 1908) was an American daguerreotypist and photographer who made some 200,000 daguerreotypes during his career. …

Wanting to retire in 1884, Bogardus advertised in the Philadelphia Photographer: “Wishing to retire from the photographic business, I now offer my well-known establishment for sale, after thirty-eight years’ continuous existence in this city. The reputation of the gallery is too well known to require one word of comment. The stock of registered negatives is very valuable, containing a large line of regular customers, and also very many of our prominent men, Presidents, Senators, etc., and for which orders are constantly received. They include Blaine and Logan. Entire apparatus first-class; Dallmeyer lens, etc. For further information, address Abraham Bogardus & Co., 872 Broadway cor. 18th St., New York.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Bogardus thought extensive retouching of images a kind of representational violence. In national venues he spoke in favour of minimal intervention on the negative – “I retouch but very little, just enough to smooth down the rough parts of the picture, and remove the freckles or spots, or anything we want removed, and soften down the heavy lights.” For Bogardus, altering some defect of a sitter’s appearance for the better violated the verisimilitude of the photographic resemblance, that very thing that made the image true and valuable. This modesty stood at odds with the aesthetic of Sarony, and particularly Mora, who wished to push celebrity images in the direction of the ideal. For this reason, Bogardus enjoyed a particularly high regard among prominent male sitters. He was the only photographer that Cornelius Vanderbilt allowed to sell his image. Politicians, churchmen, plutocrats, and soldiers reckoned him the reliable artist who could fix their characters on paper.

Bogardus had a second talent that rivalled his skill with a camera. He was an excellent writer, with a familiar plain style, and an orderly way of presenting complex subjects. For much of the 1880s he edited an eight-page monthly entitled The Camera, cherished as a fund of wit and common sense. He contributed frequently to the pages of the photographic journals. He retired from active business in 1887, and spent the remainder of his life restoring daguerreotypes, insuring that the first popular vehicle of “light writing” remained in pristine condition for posterity to experience.

Like most of the successful New York celebrity photographers, Bogardus hired a chief camera operator and a good chemist as a head of his print processing department. In the 1880s these assistants, Charles Sherman and A. Joseph McHugh, were granted a credit line on prints, and in 1889 took over the running of the portrait aspect of the business. This partnership ceased in 1895.

Anonymous. “Abraham Bogardus,” on the Broadway Photographs website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm)

 

 

Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893), ‘The Chinese Giant’

Born in the Canton Province, China, Gow grew to the height of 7 feet and 8.75 inches (235.5cm) tall. Well-travelled, he was a man of exceptional intelligence, speaking at least 10 languages. Believed to be the tallest man in the world, he earned money through appearances billed as ‘The Chinese Giant’, becoming a popular tourist attraction. In Australia he met his second wife Catherine who bore him two sons, Edwin (born in Beijing) and Ernest (born in Paris). After appearing in Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ he tired of 30 years of travelling the world as a marvel and retired. To cure his suspected tuberculosis, the family settled in Bournemouth (1890), establishing an Oriental-bazaar and tea-room business at their home. He became a popular local ‘attraction’ in Bournemouth when he and his wife took walks in the evenings, now known as ‘The Gentle Giant’ he was always kind and friendly, but he sought a quiet life. Heartbroken at the death of his wife, he died 4 months later. Still mourning the loss of his wife, on his deathbed he requested a quiet funeral. His funeral was therefore kept a secret to prevent hundreds of onlookers from attending. He was buried in an unmarked grave alongside his wife in a coffin said to be eight and a half feet long.

Anonymous. “Chang Woo Gow (Chang Yu Sing) (1841-1893),” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908). 'Chang Yu Sing "The Chinese Giant"' c. 1890s

 

Abraham Bogardus (American, 1822-1908), New York
Chang Yu Sing “The Chinese Giant”
c. 1880s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet cards
5 7/8 in. x 4 in. (150 mm x 101 mm) (each)

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther (American, b. 1859), Buffalo, NY
Gustavo Arcaris Knife-Thrower
c. 1890
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Jacob J. Ginther, born 1859 in NY, and was working into the early 1930’s in Buffalo, is said to have started his Buffalo photography business in 1884.

Sepia-toned albumen print on original studio mount of a knife (and other weapons) thrower, Arcaris, and his female assistant with her body outlined in knives against a board.

 

Gustavo Arcaris, Father of Modern Knife Throwing

Gustavo Arcaris, better known as “The Great Arcaris”, was discovered by P. T. Barnum in Italy in the late 1880s. Barnum brought him to the US to act as a show man for the Barnum circus. The woman who performed as his assistant was Gustavo’s sister Kate.

Gustavo Arcaris and his wife were born in Italy. He came from Naples and in 1887 he emigrated with his wife Mary to America, first living in Illinois and then settled in Detroit, Michigan. In 1897 he and his wife were naturalised. According to the 1920 census he was living with his wife Mary and their four children in Detroit. The couple is listed with their three sons, Salvatore, Louis, and George, and one daughter, Virginia – who was still with the circus.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Nettie Littell' c. 1885

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Nettie Littell
c. 1885
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Early albumen print of Littell, with pencil inscription on verso reading “Capt. Nettie Littell Champion Long Distant (sic) Rider of America”. Littell was a Colorado long distance rider and shooter.

 

 

Frank Wendt (American, 1858-1930), Bowery N.Y.
Mille Mojur, Sword Walker
c. 1890s
Photo-Albumen silver cabinet card
6 1/2 x 4 1/4″

 

 

Other than Charles Eisenmann, Frank Wendt was the most well-known freak and dime museum photographer of the 19th century. Wendt was Charles Eisenmann’s protege, successor and son-in-law, taking over his father-in-law’s business in 1875 at 229 Bowery in New York City.

Anonymous text. “Frank Wendt, photographer,” on the Show History website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2022

 

Mille Mojur posing by a ladder made of swords. Signed faintly in pencil on the verso, likely by the performer herself.

 

 

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05
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus’ at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2021 – 27th March 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Armando Cristeto (Mexico, b. 1957) Apolo urbano, c. 1981; Antonio Reynoso, La Gorda, c. 1960; Herb Ritts, Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood, c. 1987

 

 

I’m working from my iPad at the moment as my computer has gone down, so this will be short and sweet.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, that in this day and age a museum provides so few media images on such an important theme that I had to spend many hours digging around trying to find images for this posting. I examined the labels on the installation photographs, and then looked at the museum’s Instagram account where there was much more information, before searching for large enough images online for the posting. Some artists are little known so this proved very difficult.

It’s good to see Arlene Gottfried’s strong, brash, direct photographs of gay icons, Jewish bodybuilders and street urchins but they are standard clubbing / street fare and there is little subtlety in her work.

While Gottfried may have survived to tell her story her own way the work only documents. For a photograph is that ever enough? Here the photographs in no way provide a fresh perspective on a clubbing street aesthetic grounded in the milieu of the mid 70s to early 80s Studio 54, pre-AIDS, groovy, disco party vibe. Nostalgia, history and memory are their appeal today.

Tastes have changed. Personally I find more power and sensitivity in Kike Arnal’s Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) (2018, below) than most of Gottfried’s graphic photographs – her subjects caught as if the lights had come up in the club at 6am (believe me this has happened many times, all of us looking like startled rabbits). Strike a pose!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Shohei Miyachi, Untitled, c. 2018; Leonard Freed, Handcuffed, New York City, from Police Work series, c. 1978; Larry Clark, Chuck, c. 1981

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach' 1976

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Angel and Woman on Boardwalk, Brighton Beach
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 27.9 x 35.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

How does your gender impact your work as an artist? The candid photographs of Arlene Gottfried have become everlasting memories of New York’s fast-evolving culture(s). For over 40 years, Gottfried photographed the intimate stories of the American domestic life, as well intrepid snapshots of the Puerto Rican community or the wild nights inside Studio 54.

She emphasised that being a female photographer back in the 70s was very different than now:

‘A lot of the male photographers [in the past] felt threatened and didn’t like it. […] It’s changed so much with women working. They’re more visible now. I don’t know the statistics on museums and how many are being collected. But on an everyday level, you see women in jobs that used to be male – bus driver, train conductor – typically male jobs that now have female employees and photography was the same. It used to be only guys, really. And actually, in my first photography class, I was the only young woman in the class and I had a lump in my throat, like I wanted to cry, only guys there. But it wound up being a very supportive environment and I learned a lot.

Unless you’re doing something that’s a very feminine kind of a topic, I don’t think gender is really all that visible.’

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Guy With Radio, East 7th Street' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Guy With Radio, East 7th Street
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park' 1977

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Pituka at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park
1977
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.5 x 46.5cm
Photo: 35.5 x 27.9cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

The legendary street photographer who captured more than neutral subjects, but also the living faces and bodies of people along with their memories. Arlene Harriet Gottfried photographs preserve cultural heritage of the urban atmosphere.

One of the most quintessential projects Gottfried produced was a black-and-white series of street photography from the 1970s and 80s in New York. Her work will form part of our exhibition Clandestine. This is a photo exhibition about the human body. One of the most dominant themes in the exhibition is the constant dialogue between culture and bodies. This is something Arlene Gottfried captures particularly well. Arlene Gottfried documented scenes of ordinary daily life. The everyday life from the past that still lives vividly in her photographs. Her work embodied stories and memories of people who although you will never get to know, you can easily feel familiarised.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Disco Sally at Studio 54' 1979

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Disco Sally at Studio 54
1979
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Pose' Early 1980s

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Pose
Early 1980s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Le Clique' Early 1980s

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Le Clique
Early 1980s
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing Arlene Gottfried’s portrait Marsha P. Johnson c. 1983

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Marsha P. Johnson' c. 1983

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Marsha P. Johnson
c. 1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American trans woman who lived in New York and is celebrated for her contribution to the LGBTQI+ movement. She was often referred to as ‘Saint Marsha’ for serving as a “drag mother” aiding and welcoming homeless people as well as young members of the LGBTQ movement.

Marsha P. Johnson was the Rosa Parks of the LGBT+ movement. She was a devoted activist, drag performer, sex worker and at some point she even modelled for Andy Warhol. She established safe spaces for transgender people and was thoroughly dedicated to defending the rights of trans people, sex workers, people with HIV/AIDS and prisoners.

‘You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights.’ ~ Marsha P. Johnson

Our exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus presents stories in black and white photographs about people who have not been recognised yet for their bravery. Today, Marsha lives in the hearts of brave activists as well as many transgender people.

 

 

The human body is the central theme of the Clandestine photo exhibition. About a hundred black-and-white photographs express an unreserved love of the body in all its manifestations: perfect, imperfect, elegant, erotic, proud or, on the contrary, very vulnerable. The works come from the extensive collection of photographer and collector Pedro Slim (Beirut, Lebanon, 1950) and are shown in the Netherlands for the first time.

Clandestine showcases photography by some 60 artists, including Diane Arbus, Horst P. Horst, Arlene Gottfried, Graciela Iturbide, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diana Blok, Helmut Newton and Man Ray. The exhibition presents original and contemporary prints (including silver on gelatine, photogravure), collages and photomontages. These photographs are placed in the context of New York in the 1970s and 1980s, where many were taken. Pedro Slim’s photo collection holds a unique place in the field of photography. In 1985, Slim started collecting photographs in which the human body plays a central role. With his collection, Slim highlights the power of images and seeks to transform and break open the paradigm that dictates what is feminine, masculine, non-binary or trans. Pedro Slim’s collection consists of more than 300 vintage prints and has rarely been exhibited.

The beauty of the photographs lies especially in the personal expression of those portrayed. The artists seek to go beyond the prevailing standards and ideals of beauty, and make a plea to appreciate the body in all its manifestations. The photographs are thus an ode to diversity and are still very relevant today.

 

Three themes

The exhibition revolves around three themes. The first part of the exhibition focuses on past and present ideals of beauty. The photographs show a diversity of body types and invite us to transcend judgements such as ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’. The photographs within the second theme show people living on the fringes of society,  many of the recorded scenes are raw, everyday situations. The visitor sees sex work, drug use and indecency. There are painful stories behind the provocative looks and poses.

The third part of the exhibition is entirely devoted to the work of Arlene Gottfried (1915-2017). Gottfried specialised in the genre known as street photography, recording life in the less well-to-do neighbourhoods of New York.  Her themes included gospel, schizophrenia, the Puerto Rican community, and the women in her family. Pedro Slim owns more than twenty original prints by Gottfried. This makes him the most important collector of her work.

 

About the collector

Photographer and collector Pedro Slim was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1950. He studied architecture and photography in Mexico and New York. Since the early 1990s, he has exhibited in various museums and galleries. His most recent exhibition was in 2017 at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. His passion for photography led him to start a collection.

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Brothers with their Vines, Coney Island, NY' 1976

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Brothers with their Vines, Coney Island, NY
1976
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Third Avenue Shopping, El Barrio' 1978

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Third Avenue Shopping, El Barrio
1978
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Men's Room at Disco' 1978

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Men’s Room at Disco
1978
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Doorway in Soho, NY' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Doorway in Soho, NY
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Savage Riders at The Puertican Day Parade' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Savage Riders at The Puertican Day Parade
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Hassid and Jewish Bodybuilder' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Hassid and Jewish Bodybuilder
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Riis, Nude Bay, Queens' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Riis, Nude Bay, Queens
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

After completing a two-year photography program at FIT, Arlene moved to Greenwich Village in 1972, when the community was still an affordable outpost for artists, musicians and bohemians. She took a job as an assistant with an advertising agency. “I did everything: printing, processing, lighting, studio work, on location, a lot of it was for comps and sometimes it was for the ad itself, for sales promotion and point of purchase,” Arlene revealed in her final book, Mommie. “I didn’t always love what it was about but I always took photographs on the weekend and used their fantastic darkroom.”

“It’s nice to be young and be able to run across the beach like wild and be able to meet people and take their picture,” she continued. “That’s what I remember about it: Having a great time, and having a job so I could pay for things, and having a darkroom where I could print everything. You couldn’t ask for anything better. It was like a little grant at a little job, you know, a moderate income but just enough.”

Arlene made “just enough” to carry her through the next 45 years of her life, transforming her home in the West Village’s famed Westbeth Artists Housing into a bohemian palace. Above her kitchen table, she hung her photographs in a plastic carousel designed to air-dry intimate apparel. She entertained visitors, serving cherries and chocolate-covered espresso beans with a bottle of seltzer at the ready. When her cancer treatments stole her brunette curls in the years before her death, Arlene donned a burgundy velvet turban for her nights out.

Although she disliked hustle culture before it was named as such, Arlene maintained resolute faith in the importance of her work and the vitality of her gifts. Where other photographers sought to be a fly on the wall, Arlene was a butterfly in the mix, always aligned with the energy so that her presence only added to the beauty of the images she made. She loved to laugh, to sing, to dance and to celebrate the extraordinary stars in her orbit. In Mommie, Arlene remembers, “The clubs were very provocative then: People putting on these shows, taking their clothes off, acting things out. There’d be a theme and they’d be doing all kinds of crazy things like giving birth to dolls, simulating sex in public. I went in with my camera, took photographs and it was great.”

After the party, Arlene described the feeling of a glorious high that comes from a night on the town, surrounded by people doing what they love. She walked out of the club into the crisp winter air as snowflakes floated down from the sky like confetti in a parade. She then began strolling down Fifth Avenue, heading home, like the final scene of a Hollywood film.

Extract from Miss Rosen. “Sex clubs, Studio 54, Central Park: A portrait of NYC in the 70s & 80s,” on the i-D website 15 October 2021 [Online] Cited 16/10/2021

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Giant Dildo, Les Mouches Party, NY' 1979

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Giant Dildo, Les Mouches Party, NY
1979
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1960-2017) 'Miguel Pinero and Friend' 1980

 

Arlene Gottfried (American, 1950-2017)
Miguel Pinero and Friend
1980
Vintage gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

As an insider, Gottfried was able to tell the story on her own terms, capturing a slice of life that has vanished forevermore. “Now the only way to know what New York was like is from fleeting glimpses in movies made years ago like Taxi Driver, Death Wish, or Midnight Cowboy,” Gilbert Gottfried observes. “I remember there were neighbourhoods you didn’t want to be in and we lived in a few of those. Arlene had already been living on her own when me, my mother, and my other sister Karen moved to Avenue A. People were saying, ‘You’re nuts.'”

Arlene Gottfried flourished amongst her own, whether palling around with poet Miguel Piñero at the Nuyorican Poets Café, kicking it at Brooklyn’s famed Empire Roller Skating Center, or trooping uptown to the streets of El Barrio. Wherever she went, there she was, ready for whatever would come her way.

“I met Miguel Piñero at the Poet’s Café. I loved to dance and you could really dance over there!” she told me in 2014, roaring with laughter at the memory of her youth. “Salsa. R&B. There was a lot of good energy there. It was rough and raw. Not trendy. And that’s an amazing thing – that the Poet’s Café has lasted so long. I loved it. I stayed there until the sun came up, literally. That doesn’t last forever, these moments in time.”

Though Gottfried and many she photographed have passed, their legacies live on in her warm and loving photographs. Gottfried followed her heart and went with the flow, documenting everything from her years singing gospel with the Eternal Light Community Singers to her long-standing relationship with Midnight, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

For Gottfried, the camera was her diary and confidant. “I don’t know exactly when Arlene started taking pictures, but I know she got into it and then it was all the time,” her brother says with a laugh. “Sometimes we were both on the bus with my mother. I would be helping my mother off and Arlene was taking pictures. I was thinking, ‘Put down the camera and help me help her out of the bus!'”

Gottfried’s archive holds vast treasures of New York at a time when everyone was a character yet no one would stare because that would suggest you were a tourist, unfit to make it here. Her photographs are a tribute to Old New York, to a city of myth, magic, and madness that many did not survive. Yet in her pictures, their lives are restored to the pantheon of grit, glamour, and glory.

It is a city the lingers like wafts of weed smoke on a warm summer day, a city that still exists if you look for it. Gilbert Gottfried remembers, “A year or two ago I was walking with my wife and we saw these two homeless men. One was fixing the other guy’s hair with his hand, and my wife said, ‘Ahh. That’s an Arlene picture.'”

Extract from Miss Rosen. “Arlene Gottfried photographed the magic and madness of Old New York,” on the Document Journal website June 28, 2019 [Online] Cited 16/10/2021

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American-Russian, 1900-1968) 'A.E. Sudan' c. 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American-Russian, 1900-1968)
A.E. Sudan
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

 

Let’s talk about representation. A Russian man takes a photo of a Sudanese man. Superficially, this might seem problematic, but why?

In our exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus, the portrait by the Russian photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, titled A.E. Sudan presents a naked Sudanese.

In a traditional setting, material items like clothes and jewellery help people express their values and beliefs. In this photo, the Sudanese man is alien from any form of expression. In addition, presented in front of a white wall strips the subject away from his situational contexts – such as time and place. This photo shows a person in a blank state, disconnected from any form of cultural or individual expression.

Despite these characteristics (or lack of characteristics), the photographer still opted to include the nationality of the subject in the title – Sudanese. We do not know if the artist understood the semantic power of the title, but by giving us some context, we know this person is not simply a naked model detached from his culture, but rather a ‘Sudanese’ man.

Here is where the questions that concerns representation starts gaining weight. Artists, including photographers, carry tremendous responsibility. Through their medium, they have the power to frame a subject as they please. In the creative process, it is possible that the view of the artist becomes the dominant perception understood by the audience.

For instance, in this case the Sudanese man has no voice concerning how the viewer perceives any of the characteristics that represent his identity, such as his skin colour, nationality, gender or age. It is virtually impossible to discuss all the concerns linked to cultural representation in a post, hence this conversations is far from over. Also, we do not intend to shame the way the artist framed the Sudanese man, but rather our whole aim, inspired by the Cobra movement, is to present new ways to think critically about art, ourselves and society.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Edmund Teske (Chicago, Illinois, 1911 - Los Angeles, California, USA, 1996) 'Male Nude, Davenport Iowa' 1942

 

Edmund Teske (Chicago, Illinois, 1911 – Los Angeles, California, USA, 1996)
Male Nude, Davenport Iowa
1942
Vintage gelatin silver print
Framework: 59.2 x 48.9cm
Photo: 33 x 23.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection
© Estate of Edmund Teske, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus' at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen showing from left to right, Nan Goldin’s Ivy wearing a fall Boston 1973 and Antonio Reynoso’s La Gorda (The Fat Woman) c. 1960

 

Antonio Reynoso (Mexican, 1919-1996) 'La Gorda' (The Fat Woman) c. 1960

 

Antonio Reynoso (Mexican, 1919-1996)
La Gorda (The Fat Woman)
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. This phrase stresses that beauty is thoroughly subjective and only limited by social constructs.

One would argue that beauty is different from sciences like physics or chemistry since it is not quantifiable or measurable. Nonetheless, through non-scientific agreement people still know how to distinguish what is pretty from what is not. For instance, a swampy pond is less pretty than a turquoise ocean. This is the shared opinion, of at least the majority, but is this a view shared by everyone? Even more importantly, is this our view or was it simply bestowed upon us without our prior consent?

Being critical when looking at a work of art, or more frankly when looking at anything, is an exercise to strengthen our own individuality and potential to envision a new beauty. This does not mean one should automatically discredit beauty from something or someone that is socially considered beautiful but to question it. This is a call to acknowledge that the notion of beauty can be challenged, abstracted or even reconstructed.

This is a portrait by Mexican photographer Antonio Reynoso La Gorda (The Fat Woman). It invites us to reconsider the meanings of several attributes including, beauty, sensuality and femininity.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Ivy wearing a fall' Boston 1973

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Ivy wearing a fall
Boston 1973
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Allen Frame (American, b. 1951) 'Young Man, New York' 1974

 

Allen Frame (American, b. 1951)
Young Man, New York
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framework: 40.5 x 50.5cm
Photo: 27.9 x 35.5cm
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006) 'Handcuffed, New York City' c. 1978

 

Leonard Freed (American, 1929-2006)
Handcuffed, New York City
c. 1978
From Police Work series
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992) 'Arthur Rimbaud in New York' 1978-1979

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Arthur Rimbaud in New York
1978-1979
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Arthur Rimbaud in New York, one of David Wojnarowicz’s few incursions into photography, is the articulation of a testimony to urban, social and political change in New York.

Wojnarowicz, using the figure of the accursed poet as the only way for an artist to intervene in reality, chronicles his own life and his emotional relationship with New York City in the late 1970s. The artista portrays a number of friends with a life-size mask of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, thereby taking on his identity and highlighting the parallels in their lives: the violence suffered in their youths, the feeling of being denied freedom, the desire to live far away from the bourgeois environment and the fact of their homosexuality. Wojnarowicz is juxtaposing the historical time of the symbolist poet with the artist’s present.

The series, taken in places that the artist used to frequent with photographer Peter Hujar, represents the emergence of identity politics and queer visibility in contemporary art, and the debates surrounding the public sphere as a space for individual non-conformity that were to shape the 1980s. The series also represents a contemplation of the end of the experimental artists’ collectives on the Lower East Side, as gentrification and urban speculation transformed the neighbourhood, and AIDS had begun to decimate the gay community, also causing the early death of the artist in 1992.

Salvador Nadales. “Arthur Rimbaud in New York,” on the Museo Reina Sofía website Nd [Online] Cited 23/02/2022

 

George Dureau (American, 1930-2014) 'B.J. Robinson' c. 1980

 

George Dureau (American, 1930-2014)
B.J. Robinson
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

What happens when people become labelled as objects of inspiration?

Popular culture often exotifies or objectifies a group of people who are slightly different from the majority. Sayings such as ‘you cannot fail if you have not tried’ accompanied by a photo of a person with a disability, portrays the subject as a source of exceptional inspiration for the viewer. This may objectify the subject in the photo.

This is something that happens in the art world too. For instance, the monumental achievements of artists with a disability, such as Frida Kahlo or Vincent van Gogh, are sometimes phrased as a direct outcome of their condition. By doing so the condition of the artist becomes bigger than the persona. This undermines the different elements that constitute the artist as a whole.

For the photographer George Dureau, whose work is displayed in our exhibition Clandestine, photography is a medium with the potential to empower people with disabilities by simply representing them, without objectifying them. By photographing people with disabilities the same way traditional photographers captured images of models, Dureau reconceptualised the standards of beauty.

The conversation revolving around objectification is far from over. Dureau’s views present an interesting way to think about the topic, but we still need more critical and engaged dialogue and we want to hear your opinion. Where is the boundary between admiration and objectification?

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Larry Clark (American, b. 1943) 'Chuck' c. 1981

 

Larry Clark (American, b. 1943)
Chuck
c. 1981
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Armando Cristeto (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Apolo Urbano' (Urban Apollo) Mexico City, 1981

 

Armando Cristeto (Mexican, b. 1957)
Apolo Urbano (Urban Apollo)
Mexico City, 1981
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection
© Armando Cristeto

 

 

Born in 1957 in Mexico City, photographer and historian Armando Cristeto began to study photography in 1977 at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. He was a member of the photography collective known as the Grupo de Fotografos Independientes, one of the numerous cooperatives of artists known as ‘Los Grupos’ proliferating during the late 1970s in Mexico.

Founded by Amando Cristeto’s brother Adolfo Patino, the Fotografos Independientes sought to reach new audiences by taking their exhibitions out onto the street, where their works could interact with the urban context and be appreciated by new classes of people. Their exhibitions were installed along the sidewalks of Mexico City, employing clothesline to hang their photographic prints, or were even paraded through the streets on wheeled carts.

Anonymous text. “Armando Cristeto,” on the ultrawolvesunderthefullmoon website June 9, 2020 [Online] Cited 23/03/2022

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Most Beautiful Part of a Woman's Body' c. 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Most Beautiful Part of a Woman’s Body
c. 1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Most Beautiful Part of a Man's Body' c. 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Most Beautiful Part of a Man’s Body
c. 1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Magnolia with Mirror, Juchitán, México' 1986

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Magnolia, Juchitán, México
1986
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Is symmetry more beautiful than asymmetry?

The notion of symmetry is occasionally interchanged with the one of beauty as if these would be synonyms. Artists and philosophers from different cultures and times have championed equilibrium and positioned symmetry on an untouchable pedestal, but culturally speaking, asymmetry might be more valuable.

The mathematical notion of symmetry suggests that if an object is changed – say a cube or a sphere is rotated – it stays the same as before it was moved. Aiming for symmetrical forms seems reasonable from the functional standpoint of an architect or a mathematician, but why do our cultures dismiss or shame asymmetry?

Asymmetry presupposes that something, or someone, changes after its circumstances changed. Transforming when situations demand it, is necessary to evolve. One symmetric thought or body would entail that it does not change when it is moved. That said, maybe it is time to reevaluate the way we perceive notions of beauty and reformulate our societal desires. Asymmetric bodies might be much more sexy and beautiful after all.

The exhibition, Clandestine – The Human Body in Focus, presents black and white photographs of the human body. The photographs render asymmetric human bodies.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood' c. 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrestling Torsos, Hollywood
c. 1987
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955) 'Dirty Windows #16' 1994

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955)
Dirty Windows #16
1994
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955) 'Untitled' from the series 'Dirty Windows' 1994

 

Merry Alpern (American, b. 1955)
Untitled from the series Dirty Windows
1994
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

How to take dramatic photos of strangers? Wait, should you ask for their consent before photographing them?

In most countries, it is legal to take photos of people, including children in public. The question of whether it is morally right or wrong to take photos of strangers remains problematic. Some would say that it depends on the purpose of the photo. Judging a body of work that is intended to be used for profit, such as to promote a product, is different from photojournalism or a photo exhibition.

When seeing the photos exhibited in our exhibition Clandestine- The Human Body in Focus, one wonders if every single body was aware it would end up framed in the museum, or in the Instagram account of the museum itself.

To give this situation a context, consider Merry Alpern’s Dirty Windows series from 1994. Rather than posing her subjects, Alpern captured women (and men) crowded into the tiny bathroom of a sex club in the Wall Street district of Manhattan. Her photos were taken at night, in dim light, from a friend’s apartment, one story higher and about five meters away from the bathroom window. Her obsessive, voyeuristic, and even paranoic project as well as her overtly sexual scenes, caused a national controversy at the time.

With these images, Alpern encapsulated and reduced the identity of her subjects as ‘sex workers’. By taking a single shot of a person and framing it as the complete one, the photo runs the risk of stripping the full identity away from the subject. The women in the Dirty Windows series could be mothers, daughters, great sports players, activists and so on, but not everyone gets to see that part of the story.

Let this be a reminder that when taking a photo of a person, you should make sure the person is aware of the photo’s purpose as well as what part of the story- of their identity – is framed.

Anonymous text from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art Instagram page

 

Shohei Miyachi (Japanese, b. 1989) 'Untitled' c. 2018

 

Shohei Miyachi (Japanese, b. 1989)
Untitled
c. 2018
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan) 'Untitled' (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) 2018

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan)
Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist)
2018
From the series Revealing Selves – Transgender Portraits from Argentina
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

When it comes to transgender rights, Argentina is a country rife with contradictions. After being subject to widespread medicalization and incarceration throughout the 20th century, Argentina’s transgender community began to see a number of windfall legal and political wins in the early 21st century that would secure them progress once only dreamed of. These included the Gender Identity Law of 2012, landmark legislation which guarantees transgender Argentinians the right to change their sex in the public record, access free gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy that doesn’t require medical or psychological diagnoses, and enshrines transgender discrimination protections in law.

But the gulf between legislative gains and reality can be wide in many countries, and Argentina is no exception. Despite these rights, 88 percent of Argentinian trans women have never had a formal job; their average life expectancy is 35, whereas the national average is 77; and only 40 percent graduate from high school. Transgender Argentinians still face massive cultural and social stigma, which can lead to family rejection and poverty.

In Revealing Selves: Transgender Portraits from Argentina … documentary photographer Kike Arnal provides a window into the homes and lives of Argentina’s transgender community, one that captures these contradictions.

Anonymous text. “Revealing Portraits from Argentina’s Transgender Community,” on the Them website April 10, 2018 [Online] Cited 23/02/2022

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan) 'Untitled' (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist) 2018

 

Kike Arnal (Venezuelan)
Untitled (Emmanuel, trans man and tattoo artist)
2018
From the series Revealing Selves – Transgender Portraits from Argentina
Gelatin silver print
Pedro Slim Collection

 

 

Cobra Museum of Modern Art
Sandbergplein 1, 1181 ZX Amstelveen

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday

Cobra Museum of Modern Art website

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20
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Man Ray: The Paris Years’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

Curator: Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait with Camera
1930
Solarised gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

I remember many many years ago (2004) the National Gallery of Victoria held a major exhibition of the work of Man Ray, the first large-scale exhibition of Man Ray’s photography to have been presented in Australia. The exhibition was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales where it set an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors, before travelling to Brisbane and Melbourne – which exhibitions did in those days between state capitals, alas no longer.

All these years later I still remember being impressed by the technical, almost scientific element – and elemental – aspect of Man Ray’s photography, the sheer intensity of his images, and their small, jewel-like size. I was less impressed by the lack of feeling the photographs gave me, as though the photographs were scientific experiments which emphasised “his techniques of framing, cropping, solarising and use of the photogram in order to present a new, ‘surreal’ way of seeing” and which, to my young photographic eyes, saw their lush and enigmatic beauty subsumed in an unemotional technical exercise.

Concentrating on his portrait photographs during his Paris years, this exhibition includes more than 100 portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940. “In choosing portraits for the exhibit, the curator’s objective was to present the complete picture of Man Ray’s pantheon of cultural luminaries… “Since this exhibition is all about storytelling, we wanted to highlight the femme moderne and tell the public of their fierce individuality and creativity,” [Michael] Taylor says, explaining that the women’s inclusion makes for a more dynamic and meaningful exhibition. “These are musicians, models and performers whose contributions have been marginalized due to the legacy of colonialism and racism.” … The portraits chosen for “Man Ray: the Paris Years” reflect not only the staggering range of techniques Ray employed during his Parisian years, but also the fascinating people who inhabited his world. “Innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and completely original, Ray’s portraits are unlike the work of any of his contemporaries,” Taylor says.”1

But to my mind Man Ray’s other photography during this period, such as his 1922 album Champs Délicieux which contained 12 Dada inspired Rayographs (some of his first), his surreal photographic solarisations and his portfolio, Électricité (Electricity) (1931) are more expressive and revolutionary avant-garde statements of the creative power of photography than ever his portraits are.

And while his portrait photographs may be experimental and groundbreaking – all about technique – are they good portraits? That’s the key question. To my eyes his portraits have a “lumpy” quality to them, a kind of enigmatic blankness that never reveals much of the sitters personality. The doll-like beauty of Kiki de Montparnasse (c. 1924, below) becomes a later abstract wistfulness both photographs revealing nothing; a tough, shielded Gertrude Stein (at Home) (1922, below) is not a patch on Imogen Cunningham’s engaging, challenging portrait of 1934; and the portrait of Elsie Houston (1933, below) is just plain uncomfortable in its placement of the bandaged head and hand in the pictorial frame.

Apparently, Man Ray “was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.” Allegedly.

A volcanic unconscious. Who writes this stuff? I often feel I am looking at different photographs than the ones other people are writing about. Again, “Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative.” No it doesn’t… I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer! Compared to a Weston, Sander or Lange, a Stieglitz, Arbus or Julia Margaret Cameron, Man Ray’s portraits are modestly proficient evocations at best.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate. You had made it… immortalised in the negative, promoted in the positive. There is the key. To be worthy, to be “fashion” able. After all, Man Ray was running a commercial photographic studio with Berenice Abbott as his assistant in order to make a living. After Man Ray fired her in 1926 Abbott set up her own studio and they became business rivals.

The two most enticing portrait photographs in the posting are both wistful visages of the female: the slightly out of focus, low depth of field beauty of the direct Lee Miller, an ex-lover of Man Ray, staring down the desiring male gaze, like the most glamorous and scientifically symmetrically perfect “mug shot” you have ever seen; and the soft sfumato (which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated”) background to the contemporary Mona Lisa that is the vulnerable, tender Berenice Abbott surrounded by vanished shadows and evaporated space. “Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn’t count. What counts is the knowledge,” observes Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin.2

Science, knowledge and atmosphere. Only in this portrait of Berenice Abbott does Man Ray take his love of science and knowledge and approach what Preston Duncan observes: “It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release.”

A final thought emerges in my consciousness. I wondered whether there is a photograph of Man Ray by Berenice Abbott? Not that I can find…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Karen Newton. “Storytelling Portraits,” on the Style Weekly website August 31, 2021 [Online] Cited 20/02/2022
  2. Anonymous text. “…Leonardo’s masterful technique,” on the PBS Treasures of the World website [Online] Cited 20/02/2022

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

 

 

“The story of Man Ray and Paris has been told, but it’s usually been told through the lens – pardon the pun, it’s a photography show – of Man Ray’s innovations; the Rayograph, Solarization, his friendships, and his network. But what about the subjects?” says Chief Curator, Dr. Michael Taylor. “We took inspiration from the photograph on the cover of this show. It’s the first work you see in the exhibition. This is actually Man Ray taking your portrait. In other words, […] even though it’s called a self-portrait, a camera is photographing him, but he is looking at you with his camera. So we started to think about not just telling Man Ray’s story, which is fascinating, but the story of the sitters, the subjects, the models. …

While the primary focus of the exhibit is on portraiture and the radical expressiveness of his subjects – from the vanguards of femme moderne culture to aerialists in drag – there are some detours into avant-garde Rayography and cinema. This diversity of expression is resonant with Man Ray’s professional dedication to dismantling boundaries – those of gender, race, and national identity, as well as artistic traditionalism and aesthetic philosophy. …

Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative. It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release. It confronts us with the fact we are all winging this strange dance, contributing our solitary note to an overture that is entirely improvised, sharing in the simple hope that we may, for an instant, hear the enormity of the score.”

.
Preston Duncan. “The View From Paris,” on the RVA website November 3, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/02/2022

 

All the men of the age are there: Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Andre Breton, Picasso and Braque. Equally present are the era’s modern women, including Bernice Abbott, the rarely-as-well-photographed Gertrude Stein, Lee Miller and Virginia Woolf. The real stars, however, are the unknowns. Or rather, those unknown-to-us. “Man Ray used photography to challenge the artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” says Michael Taylor, the museum’s chief curator, who conceived the exhibition.

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Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1924
Gelatin silver print
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Alice Ernestine Prin (French, 1901-1953)

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and often known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s.

Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries, but by the age of fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.

Adopting a single name, “Kiki”, she became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artist’s model, posing for dozens of artists, including Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moïse Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.

Her companion for most of the 1920s was Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her. She can be considered his muse at the time and the subject of some of his best-known images, including the surrealist image Le violon d’Ingres and Noire et blanche (see below).

She appeared in nine short and frequently experimental films, including Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique without any credit.

A painter in her own right, in 1927 Prin had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her work with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism. …

A symbol of bohemian and creative Paris and of the possibility of being a woman and finding an artistic place, at the age of twenty-eight she was declared the Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying “all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War II, which entered the city in June 1940. …

Prin died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat in Montparnasse, at the age of fifty-one, apparently of complications of alcoholism or drug dependence. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her Paris funeral and followed the procession to her interment in the Cimetière parisien de Thiais. Her tomb identifies her as “Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actress, painter, Queen of Montparnasse.” Tsuguharu Foujita has said that, with Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnasse were buried forever.

Long after her death, Prin remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked that period of life in Montparnasse. She represents a strong artistic force in her own right as a woman. In 1989, biographers Billy Klüver and Julie Martin called her “one of the century’s first truly independent women.” In her honour, a daylily has been named Kiki de Montparnasse.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et Blanche
1926
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 8¼ in. (17.5 x 21cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Gertrude Stein (at Home)' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Gertrude Stein (at Home)
1922
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16”H × 6 1/16”W (20.16 × 15.4cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Berenice Abbott' 1921, printed later

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Berenice Abbott
1921, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1926 Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realised that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps”) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture
1936
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Photographed during the year in which her liaison with Edward VIII became public and he abdicated the throne of the British Empire.

 

 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces its upcoming exhibition, Man Ray: The Paris Years, on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021, through February 21, 2022. Organised by Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, the exhibition includes more than 100 compelling portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, featuring cultural luminaries such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray with funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, film, sculpture and painting, photography would be his primary means of artistic expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his era. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-fashioning of his subjects. Whether they had their portrait taken to promote their work, affirm their self-image, project their desires, fulfil their dreams or create a new identity, Man Ray’s sitters were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble to be shaped and coerced, but were instead highly creative cultural and thought leaders who were active participants in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective sitters and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Paris Years empowers the subjects portrayed in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realised in monographic accounts of modern artists.

“Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Paris Years will prove to be a visually provocative and especially relevant exhibition,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is an opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” said Taylor. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and aimed instead to capture the essence of his sitters as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of Les Années folles (the crazy years) of Paris between the two world wars.”

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important constituency of the avant-garde at this time, namely the femme moderne (modern woman). Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-assured modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder took full advantage of their unprecedented freedom and access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals to their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women were interested in erasing sexual differences,” said Taylor. “They often embraced the symbolic trappings and autonomy of their male counterparts including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes and sporting tightly cropped ‘bobbed’ haircuts.”

The exhibition also tells the important stories of Black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the margins of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist’s series of portraits of the dancer and singer Ruby Richards, who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and grew up in Harlem, New York, brings to light an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been acknowledged in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace the legendary African American performer Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère, and the famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce her to French audiences through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects portrayed in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the flamenco dancer Prou del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum that has free general admission and is open 365 days a year, VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. This data has informed the museum’s decision to incorporate dual-language labels throughout the Man Ray: The Paris Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognising that English is not the native language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA is offering content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Informed by extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

Press release from VMFA

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Mossé was a surrealist artist and performer in a lesbian cabaret.

 

Ray’s double portraits are among his most spellbinding. Two feature Nusch Éluard, the actress, acrobat and hypnotist’s assistant who married the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. One shows Nusch with the openly bisexual actress, singer, surrealist and model Sonia Mossé. Taken in 1937, the photograph trembles with the intimacy and uncanniness of the culminating scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” where the face of Bibi Andersson begins to merge with that of Liv Ullmann. …

To try to square Man Ray’s magical, tender double portrait with Mossé’s subsequent life, as sketched in by Taylor in the catalogue, is to feel the 20th century – stretched to breaking point by the contrary forces of personal liberation and vicious repression – suddenly snap, like the shutter of a camera taking a photograph no one can bear to look at.

Mossé, writes Taylor, was romantically involved with the French dramatist Antonin Artaud. Best known for conceptualising the Theater of Cruelty movement, Artaud had tried to break off their relationship in 1939 “via handwritten malediction” (a letter in which he wrote curses – e.g., “You will live dead” – in an envelope containing drawings and burned holes).

But Mossé would never receive it. War had broken out. And on Feb. 11, 1943, Mossé and her stepsister Esther were denounced as Jews to the Gestapo. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp in a northeastern suburb of Paris and then to the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland, where Mossé was murdered in a gas chamber.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Igor Stravinsky
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1922
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

The American Surrealist Man Ray made a number of portraits of Picasso over the years, beginning with this photograph that appeared in the July 1922 issue of Vanity Fair. It was taken on the second floor of Picasso’s apartment at 23 rue de La Boëtie in Paris, where he established a studio in November 1918 and completed many of the Cubist paintings that form the background of this portrait. Man Ray’s portrait brilliantly captures both sides of Picasso’s personality at this time, since the proud and successful artist is also shown to be emotionally distant and seemingly uncomfortable with his newfound wealth and fame.

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Constantin Brancusi' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Constantin Brancusi
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 10 1/4″ (23.5 x 26cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Feathers' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Feathers (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ruby Richards (aka The Black Pearl) was a singer and dancer born in Saint Christopher Island (Saint Kitts) in the West Indies.

In 1938 the dancer and singer moved to Paris to replace Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère. The famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce Richards to French audiences through his innovative portrait photographs.

 

 

Louis Jordan Soundie: Fuzzy Wuzzy

Featuring Louis Jordan and His Tympany Band with dancer Ruby Richards (recorded on New Year’s Eve 1942).

 

Man Ray. 'Ruby Richards' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Diamonds' c. 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Diamonds
c. 1938
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro, Miami
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin
1937
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

He called her his “little black sun.” Born in Guadeloupe, Adrienne Fidelin was the American artist’s partner in Paris before World War II tore them apart. She appears in almost 400 of the renowned artist’s photographs, and in 1937 became the first Black model to be featured in a leading U.S. fashion magazine. However, she was pushed to the sidelines of history. …

Man Ray himself only mentions Fidelin fleetingly in his autobiography. This marginalisation continues today, despite current efforts to recognise the stories of people of colour throughout history…

Adrienne Fidelin was born on March 4, 1915, in Pointe-à-Pitre. At the age of 13, she lost her mother in a hurricane that devastated Guadeloupe, and her father died a few years later. The orphaned teenager joined other members of her family living in Paris in the early 1930s. At the time, the French capital was under the thrall of the Colonial Exposition and obsessed with France’s far-flung colonies. At the Bal Blomet, a cabaret in the 15th arrondissement, the West Indian diaspora and the artistic avant-garde partied to the sounds of Creole biguine music, and Fidelin joined a Guadeloupean dance company.

This is most likely where she and Man Ray first set eyes on each other. She was 19, he was 44. In a diary entry dated December 29, 1934, the artist simply wrote “Ady.” Wendy Grossman discovered this valuable evidence of their first meeting in the Man Ray archives at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The following year, he wrote down her number (“Odéon 79-95”) and photographed her wearing a simple white tank top. The artist and the dancer were inseparable. On May 13, 1937, Man Ray combined their names in a tender Surrealist pairing, writing “Manady” and “Adyman” in his diary. …

On September 15, 1937, a full-page portrait photo of Fidelin taken by Man Ray was published in the U.S. magazine Harper’s Bazaar – a first in segregated America. However, captured “wearing a tiger-tooth necklace, an ivory arm bracelet, and a Belgian Congo headdress, and adopting a seductive pose, Fidelin was presumed to represent the sensual African ‘native’ identified in the article’s title,” writes Wendy Grossman. “The article shows how the Surrealist movement exoticised ‘the other.'”

Man Ray found a partner in Fidelin, but their relationship was asymmetrical. “She stops me from sinking into pessimism,” he wrote. “She does everything: shining my shoes, making me breakfast, and painting the backdrops on my large canvases.” Fidelin also danced in the “negro clubs” on the Champs-Elysées and worked with photographers and directors looking for “exotic girls.” …

The couple was torn apart when the Wehrmacht entered Paris in June 1940. After trying – and failing – to flee to the Côte d’Azur together, Man Ray returned to the United States alone. The lovers continued writing each other for a few months, but the war severely impacted the postal service and Man Ray soon fell in love with another dancer in Hollywood. Fidelin remained in Paris, married another man in 1957, and died in a retirement home a few miles outside Albi in Southern France [February 5, 2004].

Clément Thiery. “Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray’s Forgotten Muse,” on the Fance-Amérique website February 2, 2022 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Adrienne Fidelin with washboard' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Adrienne Fidelin with washboard
1937
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 23cm
Collection Musée Picasso
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' (portrait for "Ulysses") 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce (portrait for “Ulysses”)
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

If, in the early 1920s, you happened to walk into Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate Sylvia Beach, you would have noticed that the walls were covered with photographic portraits by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Beach. The habitues of Shakespeare and Company famously included such somebodies as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1922, Beach commissioned Ray (1890-1976) to make a publicity photograph of James Joyce, the Irish novelist whose book “Ulysses” she was about to publish (to her everlasting glory). That same year, Ray photographed Marcel Proust on his deathbed (below).

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Marcel Proust on His Deathbed' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Marcel Proust on His Deathbed
1922
Gelatin silver print
Mark Kelman, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ~ Marcel Proust

 

Ravaged by bronchitis and pneumonia, Marcel Proust spent the last night of his life dictating manuscript changes for a section of his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Man Ray did not know Proust, but he had become such an important photographer that mutual friends dispatched him to the celebrated French author’s bedside to make a final portrait two days after his death. The side view associates Man Ray’s photograph with a tradition of postmortem photography dating back to the inception of the medium.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October / November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Elsie Houston' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Elsie Houston
1933
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“Houston sang Brazilian folk songs by candlelight in Paris. She moved to New York in 1939, where she performed as a possessed woman muttering “voodoo” incantations and playing the drums. She died in her home in 1943, an empty vial of sleeping pills by her bedside. In Ray’s photograph, her smile is soft. Her head tilts in line with her elongated hand. That hand is adorned with a piece of jewellery in the shape of a spotted disc, which rhymes with her hoop earring and the arches of her eyebrows. The cool, clean contrasts of her white turban and dark clothes make the portrait one of Ray’s finest.”

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Elsie Houston (Brazilian, 1902-1943)

Elsie Houston (22 April 1902 – 20 February 1943) was a Brazilian singer.

Houston figured in the Brazilian literary/art/music scene during a critical time in its history. It was an era of tremendous creative energy. In addition to Mário de Andrade and Pagu, Houston knew others famous members of this artists movement, including the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the painters Flavio de Carvalho, Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and the leader of Brazilian modernism, Oswald de Andrade.

Houston moved to Germany and studied with Lilli Lehmann a renowned voice teacher. She then studied with another famed soprano, Ninon Vallin, first in Argentina and then in Paris. Houston’s relationship with Heitor Villa Lobos began in her teens. Houston was definitely a soloist at Villa Lobos’s 1927 Paris concerts. In 1928 she married Benjamin Péret, French surrealist poet, with whom she lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931. Their son, Geyser, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Houston had moved to New York City. She was a brilliant singer, particularly skilled in the interpretation of Brazilian songs. The New York Times during this era praised for her performances. She was also an active supporter of young Latin American composers, performing early pieces by composers such as Jayme Ovalle and Camargo Guarnieri.

She died in 1943. Her death was listed as an apparent suicide.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Ravel – Sur l’herbe – Elsie Houston (1930s)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Lee Miller' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Lee Miller
1929
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Ray learned from the history of painting as much as from other photographers. He borrowed from Rembrandt’s tenebrism (his dramatic use of engulfing shadow), the slanting light and perspectival structure in Vermeer’s interiors, and the directness of Hans Holbein (strong light on the face, minimal backgrounds). But of course, he was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.

Ray’s 1929 portrait of Lee Miller is a good example – surely one of the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken. What is the source of its uncanny power? It’s not just that Miller – herself a great photographer who for several years was Ray’s lover – is so beautiful; or that her direct gaze is simultaneously so trusting and challenging; or even that her unblemished skin and the symmetry of the whole composition suggest something impossibly pristine and inviolate. It’s because the image is slightly out of focus. The effect of the blur is to slow one’s response, as smoke rings slow the mind – and to trigger a dream state.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Emak Bakia (Leave Me Alone)
1926

 

 

But you may be less familiar with some of Ray’s other subjects, including Germaine Tailleferre, the female composer who changed her name from Taillefesse, Taylor writes, “partly to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies, but also because she disliked the connotations of the name Taillefesse, which translates as buttock in English”; Janet Scudder, an American sculptor, whose partner was the children’s author and suffragist Marion Cothren; and Barbette (below), the high-wire performer who presented as a graceful woman, but at the end of her act removed her wig and revealed herself as a man.

Personae like these – and Ray’s always inventive approach to their portraits – make this show more than just a roll call of famous names. They make it revelatory. The show is further enhanced by the inclusion of Ray’s wonderful 1926 film, “Emak-Bakia” (he called it a “cinépoème”), and a portfolio of semiabstract photographs he made for a Paris Electricity Co. marketing campaign. Both are remarkable.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Barbette' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Barbette
1926
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society

 

 

Vander Clyde Broadway (American, 1899-1973)

Vander Clyde Broadway (December 19, 1899 – August 5, 1973), stage name Barbette, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist born in Texas. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act.

Following a career-ending illness or injury (the sources disagree on the cause), which left him in constant pain, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures as well as training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses. After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. …

“Barbette,” writes Cocteau,

“transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance Cocteau likens to a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics. That blindness is so complete that at the end of his act, Barbette does not simply remove his wig but instead plays the part of a man. He rolls his shoulders, stretches his hands, swells his muscles… And after the fifteenth or so curtain call, he gives a mischievous wink, shifts from foot to foot, mimes a bit of an apology, and does a shuffling little street urchin dance – all of it to erase the fabulous, dying-swan impression left by the act.”

Cocteau calls upon his fellow artists to incorporate deliberately this effect that he believes for Barbette is instinctive.

Cocteau commissioned a series of photographs of Barbette by the Surrealist artist Man Ray, which captured not only aspects of Barbette’s performance but also his process of transformation into his female persona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ernest Hemingway' 1928

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ernest Hemingway
1928
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Aldous Huxley' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Aldous Huxley
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

This photograph was taken two years after the publication of Huxley’s novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'La Ville' (The City) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
La Ville (The City)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite (CPDE) to produce a series of pictures promoting the private consumption of electricity. The resulting portfolio, Électricité (Electricity), comprises rayographs reproduced as photogravures. Le Monde (The World), a picture of the moon above an electrical cord, suggests that even celestial bodies rely on the CPDE for their illumination; the photogravure Électricité equates the electric charge of the electron with the erotic beauty of a nude female figure; and Le Souffle (Breeze) combines spinning fan blades with the weblike stimuli of electrical current.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray. 'Électricité' 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Électricité
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Man Ray’s innovations are not excluded. A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to his light-bending portfolio Électricité (1931), a commercial project commissioned by the Paris Electric Company to promote the use of electrically powered household appliances. Comprised of ten “Rayographs” (another name for photograms), the portfolio pulses with kinetic energy. Fans spin with an otherworldly force, a fowl is perfectly cooked as by magic rays, and the Eiffel Tower swims in hi-wattage advertisements.

Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Souffle' (Breeze) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Souffle (Breeze)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Monde' (The World) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Monde (The World)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

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06
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940: The Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th September 2021 – 13th February 2022

Curated by Sarah Meister, former Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and Quentin Bajac, Director, Jeu de Paume, with Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961) 'Lotte (Eye)' 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye)
1928
Gelatin silver print
30.2 × 40cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton © 2021 Max Burchartz/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

A huge posting today that took hours to compile and all I can think of to say is – wow, I want them all in my collection!

If I had to specify one era of photography that is my favourite it would be the experimental, avant-garde photographs from the interwar period. There was such freedom, revolution and danger in the air which encouraged artists to produce radical art that defined a generation (and which ideological others found offensive and degenerate).

The tremendous diversity of “modern” photography is on show in the different sections of the exhibition – from portraiture to perspective, from science to magic realism, from interiority and surrealist dreams to new objective visions of self and the landscape – the works investigating how photographs transcend their conventional function of documentation through their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

I have added relevant biographical details and salient book covers and pages from the exhibition catalogue to enhance the viewing experience. My particular favourites in the posting are Willi Ruge’s vertiginous Seconds before Landing (1931, below); Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s unforgettable portrait of Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane (1911-1912, below); Lyonel Feininger’s almost-there, atmos/sphere Bauhaus (February 26, 1929 below); and Gertrud Arndt’s masterpiece, At the Masters’ Houses (1929-1930, below).

I hope you enjoy your Sunday looking at these stunning images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975) 'Backstroke' 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975)
Backstroke
1930
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 34.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Reprinted with permission of the Steinitz Family Art Collection
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Runner in the City (Experiment for a Fresco for a Sports-Club)
1926
Gelatin silver print
26.7 × 22.4cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988) 'Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)' 1928

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988)
Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.4cm (diam.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Test for the Film "Culte Vaudou," Exposition 1937' 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Test for the Film “Culte Vaudou,” Exposition 1937
1936
Gelatin silver print with cellophane sheet
29.3 × 23cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)' c. 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984)
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 5/8″ (23.5 × 16.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Roger M. Parry (French, 1905-1977)

Born and educated in Paris, Roger Parry was originally interested in painting and worked as a draftsman after graduation. In 1928 he met Maurice Tabard, who taught him photography and for whom Parry worked as a darkroom assistant. Parry published his photographs in Art et Métiers Graphiques, a photographic annual, and Banalités, a book of poems. These publications gained the attention of André Malraux, with whom Parry became associated around 1930.

Parry worked for Malraux and the Gallimard publishers for more than forty years. In 1934 Gallimard published Parry’s photographs of Tahiti. During World War II Parry was a photography war correspondent for the news agency L’Express. He eventually became head of photography and art director for the Gallimard publication Nouvelle Revue Française.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 25/01/2022

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Franz Lederer' c. 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Franz Lederer
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Grace M. Mayer Fund
© Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Francis Lederer (November 6, 1899 Prague – May 25, 2000) was a Czech-born American film and stage actor with a successful career, first in Europe, then in the United States. His original name was Franz (Czech František) Lederer.

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H. 'Untitled (Cover illustration from 'Here Comes the New Photographer')' c. 1928-1929

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H.
Untitled (Cover illustration from Here Comes the New Photographer)
c. 1928-1929
Gelatin silver print
21.9 × 16.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Masterworks of MoMA

Introduction

In 2001 and 2017, The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 350 photographs from the collector Thomas Walther. This collection, which is now one of the pillars of MoMA’s modern collection, is presented for the first time in France in an exhibition of some 230 images.

Comprising iconic works from the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition provides a history of the European and American photographic avant-gardes. Through the works of a hundred or so photographers, from Berenice Abbott to Karl Blossfeldt, from Claude Cahun to El Lissitzky, from Edward Weston to André Kertész, this fusion of masterpieces and lesser-known images traces the history of modernity in photography. Mixing genres and approaches – architecture and urban landscapes, portraits and nudes, reportage, photomontage, experimentation, etc. – the exhibition delves deep into the artistic networks of the inter-war period, from the Bauhaus to Surrealist Paris, via Moscow and New York.

In their visually radical inventiveness, these images capture perfectly the utopian spirit of those who wanted to change images in order to change the world; now we fully understand the words of the photographer and theoretician Lázló Moholy-Nagy who, a century ago, stated that “the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the camera and the pen alike.”

 

The Exhibition

Life as an artist

While it is true that throughout the 20th century photographers took great pleasure in portraiture, the Thomas Walther Collection also illustrates the spirit of freedom that characterised the lives of these artists and the circles they moved in.

Marcel Duchamp once described the Paris of the 1920s as home to the first truly international community of artists. The body of photographs by André Kertész assembled by Thomas Walther offers a fine summary of the photographer’s affinities, empathies and networking during his Parisian years, while also reflecting his interest in abstract and post-Cubist art and the play of light on highly geometric volumes.

The period between the two World Wars saw the affirmation of a collective artistic adventure most strikingly evidenced by the Bauhaus – one of the main axes of the Thomas Walther collection. From Florence Henri to Lotte Beese and Umbo, many of the artists represented in the collection spent time there; and all of them practiced photography without necessarily being photographers. Thus the works relating to the Bauhaus here are essentially snapshots of documentary interest. Lázsló Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy were both very active photographers, but while Lázsló’s work attracted considerable critical attention, this is less true of his wife, who, although not an official member of the school, took numerous photographs of architecture and portraits.

Similarly, Lyonel Feininger, a trained painter and head of the engraving workshop, and Gertrud Arndt and Lotte Beese, students in the weaving workshop, acquired skills through an intense photographic activity that went far beyond the official teaching.

Experiments with night photography, high- and low-angle shots, multiple exposures, distorting reflections: a large part of the vocabulary of the avant-gardes can be found at the Bauhaus.

The third body of work in this section documents these artistic networks and communities in a different way. The self-portrait plays a predominant role here, revealing the shaping of a new identity for the photographer via an emphasis on the camera that underscored photography’s mechanical character – an aspect often skirted by the art photographers of the previous generation.

Now, whether on a tripod or in the hand, the camera was omnipresent, to the point where it merged completely with the user as an artificial extension of the eye.

El Lissitzky redefined photography as a mental activity and the photographer as a “constructor”, a producer of images who must unify the work of eye and hand, in a context of photography become inseparable from graphics.

 

Here comes the new photographer!

Photography was the ideal medium for catching the feel of modern life in the aftermath of the First World War: looking both up and down – from planes, bridges and skyscrapers – photographers discovered unparalleled views and a new, dynamic visual language, free of convention.

A new thirst for photographic images took hold of the illustrated press between the wars, a period that saw the advent of reports and magazines built entirely around the photographic image. Another feature of this period was its passion for sport and speed. Advances in the sensitivity of photographic film and paper and the development of more manageable cameras allowed artists to capture movement as never before.

Totally unexpected points of view were thus created. One of the most famous is doubtless the aerial view, where the aviator embodies this new sporting modernity, as does the racing driver.

A sense of weightlessness and lightness is found in the images of Kate Steinitz and John Gutmann, both influenced by Dada and European Surrealism. Alexander Rodchenko’s images of divers emphasise the space that the body travels through as well as the athlete himself.

Their out-of-kilter framing, pushing the bodies into the corners of the image, attempts to summarise a rapid, complex movement in a single still image. While using an overtly avant-garde photographic grammar – high-angle, low angle – the themes of these photographs seem to be fully in line with the political context of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Lissitzky too was fascinated by the figure of the athlete: his photomontage Rekord (Record), a model of a project for the photographic decoration of a sports club in Moscow, offers a modernist yet dreamlike vision in which the entire illuminated metropolis mutates into a sports arena.

Finally, this exaltation of a new humanity underlies in a much more literal way Leni Riefenstahl’s images of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Armed with impressive technical and financial resources, photographer / filmmaker Riefenstahl directed Olympia, commissioned by the Hitler regime to hymn the new Aryan type. In images markedly avant-garde in style, one finds many features of the aesthetics of the Third Reich, from the references to antiquity to the celebration of the athlete-hero and the geometrisation and perfect synchronisation of figures in movement.

 

Discovering photography

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented a hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic potential had only just been discovered when he and other members of avant-garde circles adopted the medium. With their brief history and no connection to traditional fine arts disciplines, photography and film became true modernist instruments.

Moving away from the efforts of the art photographers of the previous generation, out to obscure the mechanical nature of the photographic print through various subterfuges – timeless subjects, use of blur, etc. – the photographic avant-gardes of the early 20th century drew on images from non-art spheres: X-rays, astronomy, medicine and science provided them with representations of the invisible; photojournalism revealed forms in motion, improbably frozen by the snapshot; amateur photography offered a repertoire of strange viewpoints and aberrations of perspective. See differently, that was the maxim.

They experimented every which way, playfully and undeterred by reversion to archaic forms and processes. The photogram is probably the best illustration of this new language. This camera-less technique, which simply prints images of objects directly onto sensitised paper that has been exposed to light, is the origin of photography. It was practiced by all of photography’s pioneers before falling into disuse except as a mere laboratory exercise. It was only after the First World War that it was rediscovered by a few enthusiasts and became a major avant-garde gambit.

Appreciated for its simplicity, playfulness, and undeniable visual impact, it also became a much appreciated tool in the field of applied photography. Moreover, in addition to the photogram as such, advertising, Industry, and publishing were becoming broadly receptive to the new avant-garde photographic language, just as photography was gradually beginning to oust graphic techniques in their respective fields.

At the same time the laboratory began to function as a venue for exploration of both the negative and the print. The stretching of exposure times, with the resultant blurring of movement, allows the representation of time to be modified by embedding duration and movement in the still image. In some cases – think Albert Renger-Patzsch and Jean Painlevé – the precision of a simple close-up framing a particular being or thing as closely as possible, sufficed to imbue the subject with fresh presence and reality.

Last but not least, the avant-gardes revelled in the construction of composite images, notably through collage and photomontage, using all the resources made available to them by the illustrated press and publishing of the time. To these image games we should add the multiple exposure, long considered as no more than a photographer’s failure. In this sense, this generation was the first to practice borrowing and reusing images and forms on such a scale, attesting to the – already – rapid circulation of images within the European avant-garde.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European art movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach, seeking instead to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to bring together dreams and unusual states of consciousness. Echoes of these preoccupations, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Thomas Walther collection.

The images in this section hijack two traditional photographic genres, the portrait and the nude, with the aid of various processes: close-ups, inversion of negative-positive values through solarisation, photograms, overprints. Many of the techniques employed by photographers close to Surrealism aimed to transform reality by pushing technique to the point of destroying the human form. The diffuse influence of Surrealism is of course particularly evident among Parisian photographers, as can be seen in the numerous, often virtuoso laboratory games of commercial, advertising or fashion photographers like Maurice Tabard or Aurel Bauh, and even André Kertész in the early 1930s. The “distortions” Kertész produced, using the countless optical possibilities offered by deforming mirrors, are part of a photographic tradition that goes back to the 19th century, but also remind us of the representation and deformation of the human body undertaken by Picasso and Dalí in the same years.

The press of the 1920s was fond of optical visual games, transforming the human body in line with a certain objectification: loss of scale and reference points, oddness induced by a detail or the texture of skin. Of all the parts of the body, it was undoubtedly the eye, the organ of sight, that attracted the attention of distinction between the real and the fantastic – and created interplay between the animate and the inanimate by approaching the human body through substitutes such as dolls, mannequins, or masks.

 

Symphony of a Great City

Like the cinema, photography in the first half of the 20th century achieved a fragmentation and recomposition of an increasingly insistent urban reality. In an era of rapidly advancing urbanisation, the big city was the stamping ground par excellence for photographers and filmmakers.

The period saw the emergence of a large number of films that treated the city as a living organism: Paul Strand’s Manhattan, Charles Sheeler on New York and Berlin, Walther Ruttmann’s Symphony of a Great City. Often consisting of short, rapidly edited shots, these films have obvious links with the photography of the time: the German photographer Umbo was involved in the making of Ruttmann’s film. The four images on display here play on some of the optical games dear to the avant-garde: the derealisation effected by the bird’s-eye view and cast shadows, the simultaneous transparency and reflection of store windows, and the repetitive geometry of certain urban spaces.

The advent of an architecture of mobility was exactly contemporary with that of the first Kodak-type cameras, which allowed the operator a hitherto unknown freedom and mobility. Photographers would take full advantage of all the new possibilities open to them by favouring symbols and places emblematic of the contemporary: factory chimneys and industry at work; the iron architecture of buildings like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York; subjects and objects in movement, such as cyclists caught in urban traffic; newly pullulating public spaces; and, of course, the omnipresent street. The city was indeed this dynamic organism, the locus of human encounters, of incongruous objects and visual signs, captured at random in its streets. Constantly on the lookout, the pedestrian-photographer of the inter-war period appears as a modern version of the Baudelairean flâneur of the preceding century. With its unprecedented vertical extension, the modern city offers a multitude of new points of view, high-angle or low-angle, magnifying the impression of vertigo or crushing weight.

The city allowed for all kinds of new visual and optical experiments. Iron architecture, by erasing the boundaries between interior and exterior, offered countless possibilities for framing, as in the work of Germaine Krull, a photographer particularly attentive to these exercises in “framing within the frame”. Night shots, which gave pride of place to lighting effects, renewed the experience of nocturnal vision to a point of near-abstraction, simple luminous inscriptions of objects in movement.

But the fragmenting dear to Walter Benjamin is probably nowhere more perceptible than in photomontage, with its fantasised, idealised or monstrous version of the urban and industrial universe. The visual chaos of Paul Citroën’s Metropolis, composed of some two hundred images pasted together, is a perfect example. Citroën evokes a city not in ruins but in pieces, a cacophonous space, all the elements piled up in an incoherent spirit close to Dada.

 

High fidelity

At a time when, in Europe, experimentation was being put forward as a core concept by the photographic avant-gardes, the Americans seem to have put more emphasis on a search for a truth of the world through exact representation. “High fidelity”, a term borrowed from the world of acoustics, was used to designate this approach and its taste for a clear and faithful image.

Pure photography is a discipline in search of perfection and technical mastery at all stages of the production of the image. It is in this near-contradictory tension between the “highly detailed” and the “abstract”, between the use of a large format camera combining an almost hyper-realistic rendering with simplified shooting strategies, that lies one of the main characteristics of a certain American modernist approach. It seems logical, then, that this aesthetic of attention to object, texture and form, quickly pervaded various spheres of American commercial photography of the time.

At Film und Foto, the flagship exhibition of the international photographic avant-garde, some people remarked on the extent to which the American section, with its “refined technique that can rightly be described as cultivated”, contrasted with the more raw work of the Europeans.

However, while straight photography remained a very American movement, it also had ramifications in Europe. In Germany, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, voices began to be raised in photographic circles against the expressive experiments of the previous decade, urging respect for reality and greater objectivity. Karl Blossfeldt’s direct and unmanipulated approach to plants, produced for documentary purposes as part of his teaching at the Berlin School of Applied Arts, was praised. At the same time, it was the sweeping aerial views of Germany taken by balloonist Robert Petschow that aroused the enthusiasm of avant-garde circles, which exhibited them and celebrated both their quasi-abstract singularity and their informative content, blended in the manner of a topographical survey.

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980) 'View of Berlin's Department Store Karstadt' 1929

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
View of Berlin’s Department Store Karstadt
1929
Gelatin silver print
23.7 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Umbo/ Gallery Kicken Berlin/ Phyllis Umbehr/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)' 1929-1930

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 × 7 5/8″ (26 × 19.4 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Henri Cartier-Bresson, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan' March 20, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
38.6 × 49.5 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Mr. Robert C. Weinberg, by exchange
© 2021 Estate of Berenice Abbott
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Pitmen's houses in Essen, Stoppenberg' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Pitmen’s houses in Essen, Stoppenberg
1929
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 14 13/16″ (27.3 × 37.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of James Thrall Soby, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Summer Swimming' 1925-1930

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming
1925-1930
Gelatin silver print
17.8 × 20cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964) 'Untitled' 1929-1932

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964)
Untitled
1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.4 × 23.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear's Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)' 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear’s Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 23.8 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Ficus elastica' 1926

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Ficus elastica
1926
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 × 11 1/8″ (37.5 × 28.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

John Gutmann (American born Germany, 1905-1998)
Classe (Marjorie Gestring, championne olympique 1936 de plongeon de haut vol)
Class (Marjorie Gestring, 1936 Olympic champion in high diving)

1935
Gelatin silver print
22.3 x 19.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1932-1933

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Girl with a Leica
1932-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.3 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection Thomas Walther
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris 2021
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984) 'Exercise' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Exercise
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (29.2 × 21.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Studio Wulz Archive, Florence

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson' 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 11/16″ (24.6 × 19.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 3 1/2″ (13.9 × 8.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Demonstration' 1932

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Demonstration
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 × 9″ (29.6 × 22.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″ (56.2 × 42.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© George Eastman House

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) 'Lightbulb' 1928-1933

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Lightbulb
1928-1933
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 9 7/16″ (18.2 × 23.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willys P. Wagner and Mrs. Gerald F. Warburg, by exchange
© Estate Franz Roh, Munich

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972) 'Incandescent Lamp' 1928

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972)
Incandescent Lamp
1928
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 9 3/4″ (36.9 × 24.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Stiftung Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum des Landes. Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990) 'Untitled' 1923-1925

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1923-1925
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 × 8 9/16″ (22.1 × 21.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2022 Sylva Vitove-Rösslerova

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris' 'Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris (Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris)
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894–1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 × 3 1/16″ (10.8 × 7.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and gift of the artist, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 1/4″ (22.6 × 15.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'Untitled' 1927-1928

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
Untitled
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print
9 × 6 1/4″ (22.9 × 15.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016, text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983) 'Metropolis' 1923

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983)
Metropolis (City of My Birth) (Weltstadt (Meine Geburtsstadt))
1923
Gelatin silver print
8 × 6″ (20.3 × 15.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Paul Citroen/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright, Amsterdam

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992) 'Hamburg, Germany's Gateway to the World' 1930

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992)
Hamburg, Germany’s Gateway to the World
1930
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
15 7/8 × 16 1/2″ (40.3 × 41.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 César Domela/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940 book

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book cover

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

 

The creative possibilities explored through photography were never richer or more varied than in the years between the two world wars, when photographers tested the medium with unmatched imaginative fervor. This moment of inventive approaches to documentary, abstract, and architectural subjects is dramatically captured in the more than three hundred and fifty photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art. The Museum acquired these photographs from Thomas Walther’s private collection, which includes exceptionally striking prints by towering figures in the field alongside lesser known treasures by more than one hundred other practitioners. This exhibition also highlights the artists whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions and the printed page, these photographs provide unique insight into the radical objectives of their creators. The transatlantic circulation of ideas, images, objects, and people stimulated vibrant dialogues concerning the transformation of vision, and the varied uses and capacities of photography. Organised to explore thematic connections between the works, the exhibition testifies to the dynamic experience of modernity through genres such as portraiture, expressions of the urban experience, and techniques of estrangement and experimentation, including unfamiliar points of view and distortions.

 

Purisms

Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from those of the growing ranks of professionals and the new hordes of Kodak-wielding amateurs, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints to encourage an awareness of the preciousness of their photographs as objects, often emulating strategies from contemporary fine-art prints and drawings and choosing subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, some avant-garde photographers came to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues, and by the early twentieth century, photographers on both sides of the Atlantic were transitioning from Pictorialism to Modernism – and occasionally blurring the distinction. Modernist photographers made exhibition prints using precious platinum or palladium, or, particularly after World War I, matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. These techniques are in evidence in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in the Walther Collection suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from large-format negatives.

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)

In 1922, en route from his home in Los Angeles to New York City, where he planned to meet Alfred Stieglitz, Weston stopped to visit his sister in Ohio. There he made a series of pictures of the Armco Steel factory that signalled a break from the ethereal portrait practice that characterised his early professional work and an embrace of pure, industrial form. The following year Weston relocated to Mexico City, where he expanded his modernist vocabulary in the company of his apprentice, lover, and muse, the photographer Tina Modotti. In 1926, Weston returned to the United States, where he received increasingly international recognition for the formal rigour of his distilled subjects and the expressive luminosity of his prints.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Shells' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Shells
1927
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2″ (24.1 × 19cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Purchase
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Books and Magazines

The extraordinary fecundity of the photographic medium between the First and Second World Wars can be persuasively attributed to the dynamic circulation of people, ideas and images that was a hallmark of that era in Europe and the United States. Migration, a profusion of publications distributed and read on both sides of the Atlantic, and landmark exhibitions that brought artistic achievements into dialogue with one another all contributed to a period of innovation that was a creative peak both in the history of photography and in the field of arts and letters. Overall, only a small number of European photobooks made their way to the United States, but their significance was evidently appreciated by those Americans who encountered them. These publications signalled a recognition of the artistic potential of photography while also cementing its centrality in the popular imagination, as well as providing the opportunity to discover photographic works no matter the artist’s place of origin. Photographs also circulated in Europe and America through various types of publications such as avant-garde magazines and more widely circulated periodicals. The vast majority of magazines and reviews founded in the 1910s and 1920s did not survive the economic crisis of the end of the decade. This is not to say that the era of photographs in magazines was over – far from it. Life was founded in 1936, and its extraordinary success was followed, if not matched, by dozens of other magazines in the United States and Europe. These, however, did not embrace the experimental artistic and literary practices that had flourished on the pages of magazines and journals in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

 

László Moholy-Nagy, 'Painting, Photography, Film' 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy
Painting, Photography, Film (Malerei, Fotografie, Film)
Munich: Albert Langen Verlag, 1925

 

 

Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film) marked the beginning of an explosively creative and influential decade of photography books. The book features the work of Walther Collection artists Paul Citroen, Georg Muche, and István Kerny in addition to Moholy-Nagy, and was the eighth in the Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) publications series, which was edited by Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius, the German art school’s founding director. Although photography was central to the thinking of Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers, and each incorporated it into the school’s preliminary course, the medium was not formally made a part of the curriculum until 1929, when the Bauhaus hired photographer Walter Peterhans. Peterhans balanced a rigorous attention to technical detail with the reputational benefits of having his work circulate in publications and exhibitions, and he was responsible for teaching a significant number of Walther Collection photographers – from the Argentine Horacio Coppola to the German Umbo.

 

In 1922, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy published the short article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl, identifying the potential for the relatively new mediums of photography and film to transcend their conventional function of documentation. He advocated for their creative application – through multiple exposures, typographic interventions, montage, and oblique perspectives – to produce “new, as yet unfamiliar relationships” in the visual field. In the first half of the twentieth century, publications featuring photography were one of the primary outlets for expressing these new ways of seeing. Viewing these books and journals today provides a richer understanding of modernist photography and its impact on other mediums.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Werner Gräff. 'Es kommt der neue Fotograf!' (Here comes the new photographer!) 1929

 

Cover of Werner Gräff
Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!)
Berlin: H. Reckendorf, 1929

 

 

Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!) features eleven artists (and four artworks) of the Walther Collection, and was likewise designed as a primer for those interested in but unfamiliar with the experimental front lines of its medium. “The purpose of this book is to break down barriers, not create them,” wrote the author of the book Werner Gräff. He declared his bias in favour of “unconventional photographs,” including photomontage, which is featured in a dedicated section.

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold. 'Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit' (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time) Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold
Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time)
Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

From the exhibition Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949 at The Museum of Modern Art. December 8, 2014

 

 

Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) features on its cover El Lissitzky’s work Self-Portrait (The Constructor), a complex photomontage that collapses pictorial and graphic space, merging image with text, geometry with human form, and the act of seeing with, as the title suggests, constructing. In 1931, just two years after it appeared, Foto-Auge was recognised as a vital publication by the American photographer Walker Evans. Evans wrote, “Photo-Eye is a nervous and important book. Its editors call the world not only beautiful but exciting, cruel, and weird. In intention social and didactic, this is an anthology of the ‘new’ photography; yet its editors knew where to look for their material, and print examples of the news photo, aerial photography, microphotography, astronomical photography, photomontage and the photogram, multiple-exposure and the negative print.”

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin. 'Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts' (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans) Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin
Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans)
Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

 

By the mid-1920s, August Sander had fixed on a wildly ambitious (if not intentionally impossible) goal of publishing a synthetic portrait – Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) – comprising hundreds of individual portraits of his fellow Germans. Although this project of capturing “an absolutely faithful historical picture of our time” would remain unrealised in his lifetime, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), published in Munich in 1929, distilled his vision into a suite of sixty photographs accompanied by an essay by novelist Alfred Doblin.

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

Karl Blossfeldt
Urformen der Kunst
1929

Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Die Welt ist schön (The World Is Beautiful) and Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) both appeared in 1928, published in Munich and Berlin, respectively. Renger-Patzsch and Blossfeldt represented two threads of the New Vision: the former was committed to unadulterated photographic depiction as the essence of a modern way of seeing, while the latter explored the intersection of mechanical processes and natural form. Neither chose the path of experimentation that Moholy-Nagy had defined earlier in the decade with Malerei Photographie Film, but in their embrace of the camera’s mechanical capacity, their work resonated with avant-garde practices.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch was one of the most important promoters of modern photography in Weimar Germany. Die Welt ist Schön (The World is Beautiful) is his most well-known book, and the one that has come to define his career. It contains 100 closeup photographs of natural and man-made objects which are sequenced in progression from plants, animals, people, and the natural landscape, to turbines, girders, and other elements of industry before ending with a pair of hands clasped in prayer. The book was hugely popular at the time but received some criticism, particularly over the title which has contributed to a possible misreading of the work. In A Short History of Photography, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists.’ Renger-Patzsch himself maintains that he would have preferred to have used the title Die Dinge (Things), which is more in keeping with his straight documentary approach. He maintained that his aesthetic arose from an interest in the precise nature of scientific photography and an interest in the composition of visual structures of the outside world, rather than from a desire to create a harmonic universal design. In a 1930 letter to Franz Roh he expressed his concern that Die Welt ist Schön was being interpreted philosophically, holding it up instead as his declared belief in optimism. To the end of his life Renger-Patzsch rejected any attempts to push photography toward total abstraction. He maintained his belief that photography was not an art but a means of documenting and recording, and that any attempt to compete with the graphic arts would cause photography to lose it own inherent characteristics of nuance and detail.

Text from the Oliver Wood Books website [Online] Cited 26/01/2022

 

Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capture the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in portraiture throughout the twentieth century. In the Thomas Walther Collection, portraits and self-portraits of artists – as varied as the individuals portrayed – are complemented by works that convey a free-spirited sense of artists’ lives and communities, generously represented here through photographs made by André Kertész in Paris, and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to the French capital in 1925, large sheets of photographic paper were a luxury he couldn’t afford. Choosing less expensive postcard stock instead, he made intimate prints that function as miniature windows into the lives of his bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, includes playful and spontaneous snapshot-like pictures, as well as more considered compositions in which students explore their relationship to the architecture of the school and other aspects of their coursework.

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989) 'Florence Henri' 1927

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989)
Florence Henri
1927
Gelatin silver print
37.2 × 27.9cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2021 Lucia Moholy Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Between 1924 and 1930, Moholy photographed dozens of Bauhaus students, masters, and their families, creating often startlingly close views with her large-format camera. Within very narrow parameters, Moholy conveys her sensitivity to her sitters. Having printed many enlargements for her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, she was well aware of the visual impact afforded by large prints, and she had the experience and talent required to produce them.

The glass plate negative from which this image was made is the largest Moholy used, exposed in a large wooden camera on a tripod. The advantage to working with these fragile and cumbersome glass plates is their exceptionally high resolution, as well as the possibility that one could retouch directly on the negative. Indeed, this print reveals extensive retouching, both in the negative and on the print.

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956) 'Bauhaus' February 26, 1929

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956)
Bauhaus
February 26, 1929; print 1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
7 × 8 1/2″ (17.8 × 21.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

At the Bauhaus in Dessau, all members of the Feininger family (Lyonel, his wife, Julia, and their sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux) were active photographers. In 1927, Andreas built a darkroom in the Feininger basement. The year after, his father also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school, carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed on the verso with the time and place it was taken. Feininger chose a matte paper that invites the eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within this nocturne.

 

In 1926, Lyonel Feininger, accompanied by his wife, Julia, and their adolescent sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux, moved into one of the double Masters’ Houses at the Dessau Bauhaus. In the other half of the house – designed by Walter Gropius, the director of the school – lived the photographer Lázsló Moholy-Nagy with his wife, Lucia Moholy, a skilled professional photographer. Moholy-Nagy enthusiastically advocated photography as the essential modern language, a message he broadcast in his influential book Malerei, Fotographie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film), which was published by the school in 1925 and reprinted in 1927. Feininger initially considered Moholy’s vigorous embrace of camera optics, new perspectives, and recombinant techniques to be outside the realm of art, but after a few years of living in the same house he changed his views: Moholy’s ideas and vitality had proved irresistible not only to the painter but to his three sons as well.

From the Feininger basement, where Andreas built a darkroom in 1927, emerged lively photographs of Bauhaus theatre productions, of the Bauhaus jazz band in which T. Lux and other students played, and of their friends involved in all manner of events. To enlarge their images, the young Feiningers fabricated a projector from a wood box, four lightbulbs, and a camera lens. They secured a glass negative to the front of the device and projected the negative’s image onto sheets of unexposed photographic paper pinned to an easel. The only signs of this procedure in the prints are the tiny white lines of shadow cast by the pins, which blocked the paper’s exposure to the light.

Prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, in 1919, Feininger had shown his paintings with the artist group Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), at the Galerie der Sturm and at the Galerie Dada. Because of these and other accomplishments, Gropius deferred to the somewhat older master and let him give up teaching and devote himself entirely to painting. In 1928 Feininger also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school printed from a 4.5 by 6 centimeter (1 ¾ by 2 3/8 inch) glass-plate negative using the projection technique worked out by his sons. Feininger carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed this large print on the verso with the time and place it was taken.

In making his prints Feininger drew from his experience as a printmaker who knew the critical role of craft and materials – of inks and papers – and Lucia Moholy’s fine printing may also have made him especially attentive to print quality. Feininger chose a thin matte paper with a high rag content, which instead of reflecting light, as glossy papers do, absorbs it. This invites the viewer’s eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within these meditative nocturnes.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg on the Object: Photo MoMA website [Online] Cited 26/01/202

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Hajo Rose/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

 

Trained first as a graphic artist and introduced to photography only upon enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1930, Rose applied his talents with both disciplines to generate this superimposition made from two different negatives: the distinctive facade of the Bauhaus in Dessau circumscribed by a self-portrait. Photography was formally integrated into the Bauhaus curriculum with the appointment of Walter Peterhans to the faculty in 1929, and this image may have been Rose’s response to a Peterhans assignment. Like the school’s curriculum, the picture weaves together photography, graphic design, and architecture into a unique, instructive whole, suggesting the collective nature of the school and the inculcation of Constructivist ideals in the individuals that made up the student body.

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972) 'Untitled' 1921-1922

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972)
Untitled
1921-1922
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 5 7/8″ (23.7 × 15cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of Claude Cahun

 

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the lesbian community of Paris between the two world wars. She and her half-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their theatrical and photographic works. These mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas in minimally staged scenes in their home. This cropped image shows just Cahun’s head. In the full negative she appears full-length as a dandy in a man’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and improper cigarette in hand.

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the Parisian lesbian community between the two world wars. She and Suzanne Malherbe, her stepsister, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their collaborative theatrical and photographic works. The images they made mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas set in minimally staged scenes in their home.

This print is an enlargement from a negative that was cropped to frame Cahun’s face and torso; the full-length image reveals a dandy in a men’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and cigarette in hand. Cahun erased the visible traces of her femininity by shaving her head, wearing masculine clothes, and avoiding jewellery and makeup. Through her wide variety of self-portrayals, she undercut the notion of a fixed identity and challenged the concept of a strict gender binary. Cahun and Moore’s writings – particularly their 1930 book Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), where this photograph was reproduced – also explored a shifting, malleable concept of personhood. Cahun considered their self-imaging project to be never-ending, explaining, “Under this mask another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976) 'Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp' 1920

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976)
Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp
1920
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 × 6 3/16″ (20.7 × 15.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In 1920, collector-philanthropist Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp cofounded the Société Anonyme, an organisation intended to promote and exhibit modern European and American art in New York. Various other artists assisted in this enterprise, including Man Ray, who photographed the art and artists for publicity and postcards, and the Italian Futurist Joseph Stella, who helped to select and hang the early exhibitions.

The presence of Stella and Duchamp together on the couch in this image reflects their close association with Dreier at this moment. Stella contrasts in joviality and girth with the monkish intensity of Duchamp; combined with the photograph of the woman smoking on the wall (an image also taken by Man Ray) this incidental pairing was just the sort of delicious, lightly barbed nonsense that delighted Man Ray. He referred to portrait photography, with which he would earn his living in Paris, as “taking heads”; that he considered the picture of the woman an essential part of this image is indicated by his title, Three Heads.

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'High School Student' 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
High School Student
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
© 2022 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

 

 

Around 1910 Sander began producing his monumental project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century): a photographic catalogue of the German people that traces the country’s transformation from agrarian society into modern industrialised nation, organised in seven categories: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, urbanites, and the “last people,” or those individuals on the fringe of society. In 1929, he published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), a group of sixty of these photographs that outlined his ideas about the existing social order, but the project’s incompatibility with Nazi ideology eventually caught the attention of Third Reich censors, who destroyed the printing plates in 1936. This portrait appeared in Antlitz der Zeit, and was classified in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts as a representative image of a modern high school student.

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975) 'Woman Smoking' 1928

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975)
Woman Smoking
1928
Gelatin silver print
23 1/16 × 16 5/16″ (58.6 × 41.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Committee on Photography Fund

 

 

Atelier Stone was a photography studio founded in Berlin by Sasha and Cami Stone, a married couple who collaborated professionally. Their pictures were disseminated in German magazines throughout the 1920s, and in 1929 their photographs were included in the exhibition Film und Foto. This large-scale print was almost certainly made for display, rather than reproduction. Oozing cool confidence, the figure portrayed here is emblematic of the Weimar-era “neue Frau,” or “new woman,” a social type whose independence, feminist outlook, and daring style challenged traditional gender expectations.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity shifted away from a realist approach, instead seeking to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to mingle dreams and conscious states. Echoes of these concerns, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Walther Collection. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details, playing with scale, or rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” in 1919 as an effect resulting from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, engaging the human body through surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques while capturing the image or developing prints in the darkroom.

 

Maurice Tabard (France, 1897-1984)

Although he started out as a more conventional portrait photographer in the United States, Tabard made his name internationally as a magician of solarisation – a method that creates a hybrid image (part negative, part positive) by interrupting the development process to expose the image to an additional flash of light—and other darkroom manipulations. From 1928 to 1931 he was director of the photography lab at the Parisian type foundry Deberny & Peignot, which was at the forefront of the printing, advertising, and magazine trades, bringing him into contact with leading writers and artists of the day.

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985) 'Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985)
Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)
1932
Gelatin silver print
38.9 × 29.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In the case of the Germans Herbert Bayer and John Guttman, it is the photographer’s own body that is the object of this doubling. In his Humanly Impossible – part of a series of photomontages titled Man and Dream – Bayer calls up the themes of the double and the ancient. Mingling disbelief and horror, the photographer watches himself performing his own amputation. The reflection in the mirror shows him his own body turned into a statue, his own flesh transformed into marble, and the present reverting to antiquity.

 

From 1925 to 1928 Bayer led the workshop in printing and advertising at the Bauhaus. In 1928, he relocated to Berlin, where he became the art director of the German edition of Vogue magazine and of Dorland Studio, an international advertising agency. It is at that time that he started creating dramatic montages, including this one, in which Bayer observes his reflected double in a mirror. A slice of his arm is severed from his torso. Although the picture is playful, reflecting both Dada humour and Surrealist dream states, the horror on Bayer’s face could reflect something darker, perhaps the physical and psychological traumas of World War I and the growing fears that such a cataclysmic nightmare might recur.

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Untitled' February 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Untitled
February 1931; print 1931-1933
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 × 4 7/16″ (13.7 × 11.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2015 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Pari

 

 

A key Berlin-based Dadaist, Hausmann exhibited assemblage sculptures, collages, and photomontages made with magazines and newspaper clippings between 1918 and 1922. By the late 1920s he had taken up photography in earnest, making straight camera-based images of landscapes and plants before turning to more experimental works on light and optics. Hausmann made this untitled image during these years of intense focus on photography. The model is his second wife, Hedwig Mankiewitz-Hausmann. The reflection in the shaving mirror magnifies the organ of vision, the eye, a strategy popular in avant-garde photography of that period. The round mirror becomes a metaphor for the camera’s mechanical lens, which enables the operator to see the world literally larger than life.

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942) 'Untitled' 1934-1935

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942)
Untitled
1934-1935
From Na jehlách těchto dní. On the Needles of These Days
Gelatin silver print
3 9/16 × 3 3/8″ (9 × 8.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

 

Štyrský – an avant-garde poet, photographer, editor, painter, and collagist – was among the many avant-garde artists between the two world wars who were interested in the mannequin motif. Like the Surrealists in France, he was drawn to the bizarre, erotic, and morbid, and to the symbolic forms in which they appeared in popular culture. Štyrský trawled the streets of Paris and Prague, looking for such subjects. In 1941, in occupied Czechoslovakia, he published a clandestine edition of On the Needles of These Days, a book of photographs accompanied by Jindřich Heisler’s poems. This print of a mannequin in the window of a Prague shop comes from a maquette for the book.

 

“Na Jehlach Techto Dni (On the Needles of These Days)” published by Fr. Borovy v Praze, Prague in 1945 was preceded by the extremely scarce clandestine self-published edition of 1941 with original tipped-in silver gelatin prints. In “The Photobook: A History”, Parr and Badger write, “This remains a haunting photobook, 50 years after the war. It is a prime example of one of the photobook’s great truths – it’s not necessarily the individual pictures that count, but what you do with them”. Commenting in the book, “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century”, Vince Aletti states, “On the Needles of These Days” is a Surrealist meditation on war and resistance the book’s aura of alienation, repression, and anxiety not only captured the war’s home front theatre of the absurd, it anticipated the depth of postwar pessimism.” Cited in all three reference books on photobooks: “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century” by Andrew Roth and “The Photobook: A History”, by Parr and Badger, and “The Open Book” by Andrew Roth.

Text from the Abebooks website

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985) 'The Secret Gathering' 1938

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985)
The Secret Gathering
1938
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 11 11/16″ (39.7 × 29.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

At the time of his association with Surrealism in the 1930s, Ubac distinguished himself with deft darkroom manipulations, creating complex photographs through multiple experimental techniques. This image is from a series that has come to be associated with the legend of Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons. To construct this picture, Ubac carefully lit and posed his wife, Agui, and a friend in the studio. The resulting images were collaged into a new composition, which he rephotographed and solarised (exposed to an additional flash of light) to partially annihilate their forms. Recalling the transformative rituals of secret societies, the tangled mass of naked flesh and hair evokes unconscious sexual and aggressive drives, while the title suggests secret societies and subterfuge.

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-1912

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-1912
Gelatin silver print
6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

 

Writer, painter, and philosopher, Witkiewicz made extraordinary close-up portraits of himself, his parents, and his friends, including this elusive portrait of his lover, Anna Oderfeld. This photograph is an intimate record of a young man’s romantic obsession, yet the blurred image and extremely tight cropping look nothing like a traditional portrait of a sweetheart. As evidenced by the dark oval left by a negative clip in the top right corner, this is a contact print, and the light source – a paned window – is reflected in the dark of the subject’s eyes. Witkiewicz’s embrace of these technical “flaws” was not merely a signal of creative license; he was keenly attuned to their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Articulated Mannequin' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Articulated Mannequin
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 13/16″ (23 × 17.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Makoto Yamawaki

 

 

Trained in architecture at the Tokyo School of Arts but disenchanted with architectural practice in his native country, Yamawaki applied to study architecture and interior design at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Once in Germany, however, he turned to photography, creating images of architecture, people, furniture, and objects. This image is a prime example of the exquisite sculptural quality Yamawaki could achieve in his photographs. Involved in designing and producing theatre and dance at the school, Yamawaki employed theatrical lighting to emphasise the voluminous forms of a commonly available artist’s mannequin.

 

Experiments in Form

In 1925 László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented one hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic possibilities were only then being discovered, as he and others in his avant-garde circles adopted the medium. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines, photography and cinema were truly modern instruments with the greatest potential for transforming visual habits – a key goal of the New Vision, the movement of young photographers synthesised through Moholy’s writing. These ideas were distilled in widely circulated publications by Moholy-Nagy, Franz Roh, and others who deployed innovative combinations of text and image. From the photogram to solarisation, from negative prints to double exposures, New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering older techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, their emerging photographic vocabulary was adopted by the advertising industry, which was quick to exploit the visual efficiency of its bold graphic simplicity.

 

Franz Roh (Germany, 1890-1965)

Roh was an art historian and a pioneering critic of the twentieth-century avant-garde, with a special interest in photography. In 1927, encouraged by his friend László Moholy-Nagy, whom he had visited at the Bauhaus in Dessau the year before, he started making his own experimental photos. Some of Roh’s favourite techniques were photomontage, which he often used to combine shots of nudes and of architecture in nonsensical compositions; negative printing; and sequenced contact prints that suggest a film-like narrative. He coauthored the seminal photography book Foto-Auge with the Dutch graphic designer Jan Tschichold in 1929 and launched Fotothek (Photo Library), a short-lived series of small books about new photographers, in 1930.

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982) 'Composition No.19' 1928-1930

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982)
Composition No.19
1928-1930
10 5/16 × 14 3/8″ (26.2 × 36.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Florence Henri, Galleria Martini e Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

 

Henri arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927 as a painter and left a few short months later as a photographer. Back in Paris in 1928 and influenced by Lucia Moholy’s ideas about photography, Henri started a series of still lifes with mirrors, playing with photography’s usual perspective. Every adjustment of mirrors and objects yielded fascinating new perceptions in this elastic environment. These images circulated in avant-garde magazines and major photography exhibitions of the day, including the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto.

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting,” the artist Florence Henri has said about her artistic approach. “The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.” …

Henri turned to photography after spending a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in 1927. Even though photography wasn’t introduced into the curriculum until 1929, it had already been used on campus for documentary, publicity, and experimental purposes for years. Henri’s professor, László Maholy-Nagy said, “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

Though photography is a medium that uses light to capture the surfaces of physical objects, she manipulated light and manipulated objects to create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. Henri frequently experimented with mirror, angling them to create surreal still lives and self-portraits marked by spatial ambiguity. She also manipulated her images via photomontage, multiple exposures, and negative printing. This experimental work exemplified the New Vision movement (a term coined by Moholy-Nagy), and it earned its place on the walls of the prominent international photography exhibitions of the time, including Fotografie der Gegenwart (1929), Film und Foto (1929), and Das Lichtbild (1930).

In 1929, Henri established her own successful studio in Paris, and she taught photography to artists such as Gisèle Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation, photographic supplies became difficult to acquire, and Henri’s experimental style was in danger of being deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Henri returned to painting, but it was her photographs, taken mainly between 1927 and 1940, that left lasting impressions on her contemporaries and later generations alike.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography. “Florence Henri,” on the MoMA website Nd [Online’ Cited 292/01/2022

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring the unique experience of capturing the world through a camera’s lens. Photography was ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I: looking both up and down (from airplanes, bridges, and skyscrapers), photographers found unfamiliar points of view and a new dynamic visual language, freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts to tell a story. It wasn’t just photojournalists like Willi Ruge whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers; the illustrated press was a primary means of distribution and circulation for most photographers of this era.

 

Leni Riefenstahl Archive
Underwater after the Start…
1936

 

Having enjoyed success as a dancer and actress, Riefenstahl pivoted to directing films in the 1930s. Although never a formal member of the Nazi Party, she infamously made propaganda films for the Nazi Party and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Hitler. With the assistance of various cameramen Riefenstahl extensively documented the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in both still photography and film, using her technical virtuosity to craft an image of German triumph for an international audience. The resultant 1938 film Olympia broke ground with its innovative cinematography, and many photographs of the games taken by her and her team, including this one, were compiled in the 1936 multilingual publication Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf (Beauty in the Olympic Games). During post-war denazification proceedings, Riefenstahl was classified as a Nazi sympathiser.

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1892-1961)
Seconds before Landing
1931
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump
Gelatin silver print
20.4 × 14.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In 1931, the photojournalist Willi Ruge took a series of photographs during a parachute jump over Berlin, using a camera attached to his waist. The reportage was backed up by a number of more conventional shots from another plane and from the ground. The story was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, at the time Germany’s leading magazine using photography. Such was the success of the story that it was subsequently picked up by other magazines ranging from England to the United States.

 

Oscillating between documentation and entertainment stunt, this series depicts a parachute jump made by press photographer Ruge in 1931 from the Staaken airfield, near Berlin. In addition to the photographs Ruge made during his descent using a camera strapped to his belt, published accounts included pictures made from a second plane, and by at least one other photographer on the ground before and after the jump. The images Ruge produced while jumping echo many of the concerns and qualities put forward by New Vision photographers, including taking a more personal and almost amateur approach; unusual, dynamic vantage points; unexpected cropping; fractured, collage-like images; and the exaltation of modern sporting heroism. Distributed by the Berlin-based press agency Fotoaktuell, the pictures were published in a variety of magazines, first in Germany and then in Great Britain.

 

 

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30
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Exhibition dates: 18th November, 2021 – 6th February, 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

 

 

I’m not going to say a lot about the work of the Imogen Cunningham because the quality and breadth of the work speaks for itself. If you are attuned you can feel the strength of her images and imbibe of her sensitivity to subject matter, a sense of actual presence in light and form. For example, the portrait of Gertrude Stein, Writer (1934, below) is a masterpiece of light and form and of … perspicacity and intensity.

“An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with pictorialism and modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography… Under appreciated during her life, Cunningham was an inventive, inspired and prolific photographer who tirelessly explored her chosen medium until her death at the age of 93.”1

“Observing that her “taste lay somewhere between reality and dreamland,” Cunningham knew herself and her style well. The reality is the clarity of the images, and the dreamland could be seen in her abstract perspective.”2

.
I will tell an story though.

“[Ansel] Adams collaborated with Hills Brothers Coffee to have one of his images on the front of the can, which came out in 1968 [see below]. The idea was that the can would be a ‘keepsake’, for it had an original image by Ansel Adams of Yosemite during the winter [Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley, California c. 1940]. Cunningham summed up her disapproval when she sent the can to Ansel potted with a marijuana plant! Although hurtfully honest, Imogen was a tender, emotional woman. When Dorothea Lange’s marriage to Maynard Dixon had come to its end, Imogen burst into tears upon hearing the news.”3

.
Strength and tenderness. An independent spirit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 11 November 2020 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Imogen Cunningham,” on the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum website Nd [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  3. Ibid.,

.
Many thankx to the Seattle Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ansel Adams / Hills Brothers coffee can 1969

 

Hills Brothers coffee can, with a wraparound image of Adams’ Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley; this can with the rare original red and yellow “belly band” specifying the grind and date, and advertising a Kodak Instamatic II camera on special offer for only $4.75. Tin, 7 inches high and 6 1/4 in diameter (17.8 and 15.9 cm.), with the printed Hills Brothers and Adams credit and the date; with the original plastic top which reads “Head for the HILLS!” 1969

Anonymous text and image from the Swann Auction Galleries website February 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022

 

 

“These days, high modernism can sometimes look as distant as a faraway star, a place of heedless optimism and tranquil contemplation. For that very reason, though, the images can be tonic, lowering one’s blood pressure as they induce concentration of sight. Imogen Cunningham took up a camera at the dawn of the 20th century, when few women were working in the field, and made pictures for nearly seven decades. She took every sort of photo; portraits, street scenes and landscapes all figure brilliantly in her body of work. What she did best, though, was to convey the sensual impact of harmonious forms, finding these especially in nudes, both male and female, and in the vegetable kingdom. Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, by Paul Martineau, displays her ecstatic studies of flowers – lilies, tuberoses, magnolias – seen in extreme close-up as if they were worlds in themselves, and juxtaposes them with languorous sprawled bodies that become dunes and arroyos. She can turn her eye with similar entrancement to ceramics, textiles, the organically flowing wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa, and even industrial structures. She has never been granted anywhere near the attention accorded her counterpart and contemporary Edward Weston, but revision is clearly in order.”

.
Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review 12/1/2020

 

“‘Cunningham’s decision to become a photographer in the first decade of the 20th century was a daring career choice for a woman,’ says Timothy Potts, director of the J Paul Getty Museum. ‘The field was dominated by men, many of whom saw the complexity and physical demands of the photographic process as beyond the abilities of most women. Armed with intelligence and determination, Cunningham completed her college degree in three years, won a scholarship to study photographic chemistry in Dresden and opened her own portrait studio in Seattle in 1910′”

.
Text from “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on the Guardian website Wed 11 Nov 2020 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

“Cunningham had a peripatetic eye, and this combined with her innate curiosity and forward-thinking attitudes about gender, race and sexuality resulted in an unusually diverse body of work.”

.
Curator Paul Martineau in the book’s foreword

 

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective | Nov 18 – Feb 6 | Seattle Art Museum

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective showcases the endless innovation and profound influence of this remarkable photographer who pushed the boundaries for both women and photography within fine art. Nearly 200 of Cunningham’s insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes present a singular vision developed over seven decades of work. The first major retrospective in the United States of Imogen Cunningham’s work in 35 years, the exhibition examines the artist’s Seattle upbringing and includes works by female artists such as Ruth Asawa and Martha Graham who Cunningham championed, as well as works by Group f/64 which she helped found with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others. Cunningham’s spark of creative possibility asserted photography as a distinct and valuable art form in the 20th century.

This exhibition is organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing at left, Magnolia Bud (1929); at second left, Amaryllis (1933); at third left, Agave Design 2 (1920s); and at right, Aloe (1925)
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing No. 7: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore (c. 1940); 8: Under the Queensboro Bridge, 1934; 9: Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco (c. 1950s); 10: Self-portrait in Copenhagen, 1961; 11: Leni in Chartres, 1960; 14: Reeds, 1952; 15: Me Too, 1955
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London
1910
Platinum print
6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with Pictorialism and Modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait
1910
Platinum print
Image: 4 13/16 × 3 1/8 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)' about 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)
about 1910
Platinum print
8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

“Her first paying photo gig was making lantern slides of microscopic plant details for the university’s botany department. Cunningham also made some of her first creative work while at UW, including a nude self-portrait in the grass on the UW campus that was way ahead of its time (an early hint of the boundary-pushing career that would follow). After interning with and later working for Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis, in 1910 she established her own studio in a small bungalow on what is now First Hill.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World I' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World I
1910
Platinum print
Image: 9 7/16 × 6 13/16 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)
1910
Platinum print
Image: 7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.
Frame: 21 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Evening on the Duwamish River' About 1911

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Evening on the Duwamish River
About 1911
Platinum print
Image: 5 13/16 × 9 1/2 in.
Mount: 9 5/16 × 12 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Cunningham took this photo of an “Evening on the Duwamish River,” around 1911, after she established her photo studio on Seattle’s First Hill. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream c. 1910

In this soft-focused black and white photograph, a woman is visible from the waist-up. She sits in three-quarter profile and wears a loose, white robe which emphasises her pale skin. This woman, who glows in contrast to the dark, hazy background which surrounds her, is miniaturist painter Clare Shepard.

Imogen Cunningham photographed her friend, Shepard, at the peak of the Pictorialist movement. This movement saw photographers approach cameras as a tool – similar to a paintbrush – that made an artistic statement. Rather than capturing the real, Pictorialism emphasised the beauty of a subject and an image’s composition.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, considers the Pictorialist approach Cunningham took in creating The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi) and the romantic feelings it relays.

 

Transcript

Chris Johnson: It’s a kind of a classic, romantic, Pictorialist image of a young beautiful woman.

Narrator: Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts.

Chris Johnson: You can see that Imogen is very sensitive to the falling of light and shadow over this young woman.

Narrator: The atmosphere around her, seems to glow. Diffused light falls on her headscarf and the folds of her painter’s smock. Her eyes are half closed, as if in a trance. The close framing of the portrait keeps the background abstract. The subject is Clare Shepard, a friend and miniaturist painter.

Chris Johnson: Imogen, in her heart of hearts, was really a romantic and a romantic takes her feelings very seriously so her feelings as she was projecting them on to this young woman are pretty clear.

Narrator: The otherworldly portrait hints at Shepard’s rumoured abilities as a clairvoyant. The image exemplifies Pictorialism, an approach that prioritised beauty and expressiveness, composition and atmospheric effects. The movement rejected the realistic, documentary nature of photography and instead looked to painters as artistic influences.

Chris Johnson: One of the ideas behind the Pictorialists was that you would use the soft-focus technique as a trope to indicate dreamy, romantic, ethereal, spiritual qualities. She’s catching this moment when Claire is lost within thought and it intends to try to draw us into the mood space that she’s occupying using pictorialist soft-focus as a formal strategy.

Narrator: When Cunningham took this portrait around 1910, Pictorialism was at its peak. Cunningham had recently opened her own studio in Seattle after studying photographic chemistry in Germany. The photograph marked a specific, early period in her career.

Chris Johnson: All of her photography subsequent to this phase is in marked contrast to the visual effects of this image.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Dream,” on the SAMBlog website December 21, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainier' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainier
1915
Platinum print
7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

With a series of photos of her husband naked “On Mount Rainier,” Imogen Cunningham caused quite the stir in 1915. It was unusual for a woman to be photographing male nudes. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On the Mountain' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On the Mountain
1915
Platinum print
Image: 9 × 7 1/4 in.
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design 1' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design 1
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 1/2 × 10 1/2 in.
Mat: 20 × 18 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' Negative 1925; print 1930

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
Negative 1925; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom 1925

For nearly a decade of her 70-year career, Imogen Cunningham focused on capturing the beauty of botanicals. Having studied chemistry and worked in the botany department at the University of Washington, she wrote her thesis in 1907 on the chemical process of photography while employing a variety of plants as her subjects.

Magnolia Blossom is perhaps Cunningham’s most well-known botanical image. The close-cropped photograph of the flower reveals the cone of stamens and pistils hiding between the petals. Taken as a whole, the image represents a transfixing study of light and shadows within the history of black and white photography.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, discusses the significance of this photograph within Cunningham’s larger body of work and provides insight on the photographer’s fascination with botanicals.

 

Transcript

Narrator: This close-cropped image of a magnolia flower fills the entire frame. The petals have completely opened revealing the cone of stamens and curlicue carpels.

Meg Partridge: It’s really a beautifully sharp, focused, large-format image that is a simple subject, but it’s very powerful.

Narrator: For roughly a decade, Cunningham focused her attention on botanical studies. This is perhaps her most well-known example. She had an extensive knowledge of plants – as a chemistry major in college, she worked in the botany department, making slides for lectures and research.

Meg Partridge: She knew the botanical names of all of the plants that she had photographed and all the plants that she gardened with. She spent a good bit of time in the garden. So I think it was more about the relationship she had with her subject – be it a person or a plant – that we really see and respond to.

Narrator: There was a practical aspect to these botanical works as well. Cunningham once explained: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small. I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

Meg Partridge: And she would do it in moments where she had children underfoot, but also a moment to focus. She always used natural light and she often took photographs either inside with a simple backdrop or she even took simple backdrops, a white board or a black cloth, out into the garden to photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham’s full-frame botanicals such as this one were groundbreaking in early modernist photography.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom,” on the SAMBlog website December 7, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Bud' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Bud
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/4 × 7 1/16 in.
Mount: 19 7/8 × 14 15/16 in.
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

“The photos from this period, often tightly framed to the point of almost cropped, cast off much of Cunningham’s earlier romantic tendencies in favor of a modernist sharpness and chiaroscuro that, while still moody, nears abstraction. The leaves of rubber plants and flax plants become spears, and in close-up, paper-skinned magnolia blossoms almost look like thighs.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Rubber Plant' before 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Rubber Plant
before 1929
Gelatin silver print
13 3/8 x 10 1/4 in. (34 x 26cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 1/2 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© The 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Cunningham started photographing plants upon moving to the Bay Area from Seattle. “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small,” Cunningham later said. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.
Sheet: 14 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Billbergia' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Billbergia
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12 1/8 × 8 1/16 in.
Sheet: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tuberose' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tuberose
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 × 9 3/8 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective (November 18, 2021 – February 6, 2022), the photographer’s first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years. Organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the exhibition is a visual celebration of Cunningham’s immense contribution to the history of 20th-century photography. It features nearly 200 works from her seventy-year career, including portraits of artists, musicians and Hollywood stars; elegant flower and plant studies; poignant street pictures; and groundbreaking nudes.

“We are thrilled to open this important retrospective here in Seattle, Cunningham’s first home as an artist,” says Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She once said that she ‘photographs anything the light touches’ – this is an extraordinary opportunity for our visitors to bask in the glow of her dynamic and expansive body of work and be inspired.”

“Imogen Cunningham was under appreciated for most of her career, only finding recognition in her last years – an unfortunately common tale for many women artists,” says Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Her photographs reveal an endlessly curious, innovative, and determined mind that places her as one of the most important photographers of the last century.”

 

Beginnings in Seattle

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. The precocious child of a free-thinking father, Cunningham decided to become a photographer around 1901, while still in high school. Her father famously asked, “Why do you want to become a dirty photographer?” Yet he built her a darkroom in a woodshed, including the necessary and messy chemical supplies. Her first works were in the soft-focus, Pictorialist style.

Cunningham completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907. During these years, she also participated in the artistic scene, becoming the youngest charter member – and only photographer – of the Seattle Fine Arts Society in 1908. She also apprenticed and then worked from 1907-1909 at the Seattle studio of well-known photographer Edward S. Curtis. After a year-long fellowship in Dresden, Germany, Cunningham returned to Seattle in 1910 and opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle. She lived and worked in this ivy-covered building located at 1117 Terry Avenue, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham married a Seattle artist, Roi Partridge, in 1915, and eventually had three sons with him, including twin boys. With her husband on the road, Cunningham struggled to run her studio and household, and eventually set out to join Partridge in San Francisco in 1917.

 

A Modernist Pioneer

The next decade of Cunningham’s life saw her balancing her roles as an artist, mother, and mentor to the students of Mills College in Oakland, where her husband taught. Amid the very real constraints of her life in California, Cunningham created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits.

Bound to the home while caring for her infant boys, Cunningham planted a garden in 1921 to create subjects for her camera. In these works, including perhaps her more celebrated botanical, Magnolia Blossom (1925), she isolates the plant forms, precisely revealing their essential elements in close-up compositions. Their sensuality is heightened by Cunningham’s choice of warm-toned matte-surface papers for printing. These works were included in a momentous avant-garde exhibition in 1925 in Stuttgart, Germany, which brought her international attention.

Her portrait subjects in these years featured people from her artistic community such as dancers Jose Limon and Hanya Holm, musicians from the Cornish College of the Arts, fencer Helene Mayer, and artists Frida Kahlo and Morris Graves. She also made portraits of Hollywood luminaries for Vanity Fair, including Cary Grant, Joan Blondell, and Spencer Tracy.

 

Artist and collaborator

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. In a section of artist portraits is one of Graham, taken during a 1931 session that resulted in dramatic close-ups of the dancer’s face and body; also in this section is a video of the dancer in her iconic solo Lamentation (1930). Cunningham was introduced to Asawa in 1950, and the two, though 43 years apart in age, established a lasting friendship. Cunningham regularly photographed Asawa and her looped wire sculptures and wrote on her behalf for a Guggenheim Foundation grant. The exhibition features seven Asawa sculptures alongside Cunningham’s five portraits of the artist and her work.

Another section of the exhibition features examples from Group f/64, a Bay Area association of photographers begun in 1932 that championed a direct and objective approach. In addition to Cunningham, the group included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Sonya Noskowiak, and more. Also on view are photographs by Gertrude Kasebier, Dorothea Lange, Listette Model, and more; they were all sources of inspiration for or collaborators with Cunningham.

 

The Light Within

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. It was only in the final twelve years of her life that she finally began to receive attention, with major solo shows in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco; a 1964 Aperture monograph spearheaded by her champion and fellow photographer, Minor White; and a 1970 Guggenheim Foundation grant that enabled her to print a cache of her early glass plate negatives.

During these years, she continued to innovate, gravitating toward street photography and creating cleverly composed examples of the genre. She also taught and mentored young artists, and she became involved in civic issues in San Francisco, as well as the civil rights and the anti-war movements. At the age of 92, she embarked on a final series focusing on ageing, traveling with an assistant to document subjects. In 1976, just months before her death, she appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, charming the host and the audience. On view in this final gallery is Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Press release from SAM

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 1

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 2

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Shredded Wheat Tower' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Shredded Wheat Tower
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 7/8 × 6 9/16 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Radiating outward, the beams of this water tower unfold as if in bloom. Imogen Cunningham is best known for her floral studies, which monumentalise the intricate architecture of petals and leaves. Here, she turns her signature subject on its head, finding organic elegance in an industrial view. Cunningham exhibited this photograph at the landmark 1929 Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart, and its inverted viewpoint reflects the influence of the show’s avant-garde organisers. Pioneering a new West Coast modernism, Cunningham adapted European approaches to the California skyline, here depicting a Shredded Wheat factory near her home in Oakland.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

Graham danced and taught for over seventy years. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In her lifetime she received honours ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed: “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” Founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham’s professional dance company), the Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States. First located in a small studio within Carnegie Hall the school currently has two different studios in New York City.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
4 × 3 5/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Under the Queensboro Bridge' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Under the Queensboro Bridge
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 1/8 × 7 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 3/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Leslie and Judith Schreyer and Gabri Schreyer-Hoffman in honour of Virginia Heckert

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

About the exhibition

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. She completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907 and in 1910 opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham then moved to California, where she created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits. She began to earn international attention, and created portraits of people from her artistic community as well as celebrities including artist Frida Kahlo and actor Cary Grant.

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. Another section of the exhibition features examples from the famous Group f/64, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. She created clever examples of street photography, taught and mentored young artists, and embarked on a final important series on ageing. Visitors can also watch Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Text from SAM

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 3/8 × 7 1/4 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety, 1936

Around 1901, Imogen Cunningham purchased her first camera. Aware of his daughter’s interest in photography, Cunningham’s father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, built her a darkroom in a woodshed on their property in Seattle. With her photography career in full bloom, Cunningham returned to the site of the original darkroom more than 30 years later to photograph her first and biggest supporter, her father.

Seated on a log in front of split wood, Cunningham intimately captures her ageing father. In this recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, reflects on Cunningham’s loving relationship with her father and reveals the supportive role he played throughout her career.

 

Transcript

Meg Partridge: In all the photographs Imogen took of her father, you can just see that relationship between the two. You experienced that relationship a bit when you look into the eyes of Isaac Burns in this photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham had a host of ways for getting her subjects to relax and reveal a bit of themselves. She’d chat them up, catch them off guard, or mesmerise them with her own fluid, busy movement, all in order to, as she once said, “gain an understanding at short notice and at close range.” But with this sitter, those techniques weren’t necessary. Her father’s guard was never up.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was very close to her father. I think there was a real similar interest in their curiosity and their intellect and their pursuit of information.

Narrator: Isaac Burns Cunningham was a freethinker. His formal education was interrupted by the Civil War, yet he was a voracious reader and a student of all religions. He supported his large family with a wood and coal supply business. In his daughter, named for the Shakespearian character he found most noble, he nurtured a love of nature and art, buying her first set of watercolours and arranging painting lessons on weekends and summers.

Meg Partridge: This is from a very low-income, frugal family that didn’t have a lot of extra money to spare. Isaac Burns also made her a darkroom in his woodshed. So that’s how Imogen got started actually processing her own work as a teenager in Seattle.

Narrator: Like her father, Imogen Cunningham lived into her nineties. When asked in an interview two months before her death at age ninety-three which one of her photographs was her favourite, she replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety,” on the SAMBlog website December 28, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1940

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver' 1946

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver
1946
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/16 × 9 3/8 in.
Mount: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
Frame: 22 /8 x 18 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

“Whenever I