Archive for the 'American' Category

10
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph’ at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand Part 2

Exhibition dates: 29th April – 14 August 2016

Curator: Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

Part 2 of a posting on this wonderful exhibition – Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph – at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

While there is no doubt as to the quality and breadth of the work on display, nor how it has been curated or installed in these beautiful contemporary spaces, I question elements of the conceptual rationale that ground the exhibition. While curator Geoffrey Batchen correctly notes that “artists are coming back to the most basic and elemental chemistry of photography, hands on, making unique images where there is a direct relationship between the thing being imaged and then image itself” as a response to the dematerialisation of the image that occurs in a digital environment and the proliferation of reproductions of digital images his assertion in a Radio New Zealand interview that the cameraless photograph has a direct relationship to the world, unmediated – through the unique touch of the object on the photographic paper – is an observation that seems a little disingenuous.

Batchen observes in the quotation below, “it’s as if nature represents itself, completely unmediated and directly. In some ways … [this] is far more realist, far more true to the original object than any camera picture could be.” Note how he qualifies his assertion and position by the statement “in some ways”. The reality of the situation is that every photograph is mediated to one degree or another, whether through the use of the camera, the choice of developer, photographic paper, size, perspective and so forth. The physicality of the actual print and the context of capture and display are also mediated, in each instance and on every occasion. Every photograph is mediated through the choices of the photographer, even more so in the production of cameraless photographs (what to choose to photograph, where to position the object, what to draw with the light) because the artist has the ultimate control on what is being pictured (unlike the reality of the world). To say that cameraless photographs have a more direct and unmediated relationship to the world than analogue and digital photographs could not be further from the truth – it is just that the taxonomic system of ordering “reality” is of a different order.

Batchen further states in the Radio new Zealand interview that “in these photographs the object is still there, that’s the strange thing about cameraless photographs. There is a sense of presentness to this kind of photograph. … Cameraless photographs seem to exist in a kind of eternal present, and in that sense they complicate our understanding both of photography but also to the world that is being represented here.”

This is a contentious observation that argues for some special state of being that exists within the cameraless photograph which I believe does not exist. I argue that EVERY photograph possesses the POSSIBILITY of a sense of presentness of the object being photographed (whether it be landscape, portrait, street, abstract, etc…). It just depends whether the photographer is attuned to what is present before their eyes, whether they are attuned to the mediation of the camera and whether the print reveals what has been captured in the negative. Minor White’s “revelation of spirit”. A “hands on” process does not guarantee a more meaningful form of photographic authenticity,  or cameraless photographs possess some inherent authentic reality (the appeal to the aura of the object, Benjamin), any more than analogue or digitally reproduced photographs do. They are all representations of a mediated reality in one form or another. Some photographs will simply not capture that “presence” no matter how hard you try, be they cameraless or not. Further, every photograph exists in an eternal present, bringing past time to present and, in the process of existence, transcending time. In this regard, to claim special status for cameraless photographs is a particularly incongruous and elliptical argument, an argument which posits an obfuscation of the theoretical history of photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

PS. I particularly love Len Lye’s work for its visual dexterity and robustness.

.
Many thankx to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images are photographed by Bryan James.

 

 

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“You assume that the image caught by the camera is “the” image, but of course a camera is ultimately a device – about from the Renaissance on – in which perspective is organised within a box using a lens, based on a principle that light travels in straight lines. So what you get when you use a camera is a mediated image, an image constructed according to certain conventions developed during the Renaissance and beyond in which the world is developed … according to the rules of perspective, and we’ve learnt to accept those rules as, as reality itself. But … when you put an object directly onto a piece of paper without any mediation [of a machine], it’s as if nature represents itself, completely unmediated and directly. In some ways … [this] is far more realist, far more true to the original object than any camera picture could be.”

.
Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Christian Marclay and at right, Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Christian Marclay’s Large Cassette Grid No. 6, 2009 (left) and Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others), 2008 (right)

 

Christian Marclay (US) 'Large Cassette Grid No. 6' 2009

 

Christian Marclay (US)
Large Cassette Grid No. 6
2009
Cyanotype photograph

 

Christian Marclay (US) 'Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay (US)
Allover (Rush, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others)
2008
Cyanotype photograph

 

Using hundreds of cassette tapes bought in thrift stores, Christian Marclay has scattered the entangled strands of the tapes across large sheets of specially prepared blueprint paper, deliberately adopting the “action painter” techniques of Jackson Pollock and similar artists. He then exposed them, sometimes multiple times, under a high-powered ultraviolet lamp. In other cases, the cassettes themselves were stacked in translucent grids to make a minimalist composition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Christian Marclay and at right, Hiroshi Sugimoto

 

Walead Beshty (Switzerland/US) 'Two Sided Picture (RY), January 11, 2007, Valencia, California, Fujicolor Crystal Archive, 2007'

 

Walead Beshty (Switzerland/US)
Two Sided Picture (RY), January 11, 2007, Valencia, California, Fujicolor Crystal Archive, 2007
Chromogenic photograph

 

In the series from which this work comes American photographic artist Walead Beshty cut and folded sheets of photographic paper into three-dimensional forms and then exposed each side to a specific colour of light, facilitating the production of multi-faceted prints with the potential to exhibit every possible colour combination. The trace of this process remains visible, with the original folds transformed into a network of contours on the surface of the print.

 

Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US) 'Lightning Fields 168' 2009

 

Installation view of
Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US)
Lightning Fields 168
2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US) 'Lightning Fields 168' 2009

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan/US)
Lightning Fields 168
2009
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of static electricity were inspired by his unsuccessful efforts to banish such discharges from the surface of his negatives during the printing process. Sugimoto decided instead to try and harness such discharges for the purposes of image making. Utilizing a Van der Graaf generator, he directed as many as 40,000 volts onto metal plates on which rested unexposed film. He soon changed tactics when he discovered that immersing the film in saline water during the discharge gave much better results.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Andreas Müller-Pohle Digital Scores (after Nicéphore Niépce) 1995, and to the right in the second and third images, Susan Purdy

 

In 1995 the German artist Andreas Müller-Pohle took the digital code generated by a scan of the supposed “first photograph,” Nicéphore Niépce’s 1827 heliograph View from the window at Le Gras, and spread it across eight panels as a messy swarm of numbers and computer notations. Each of Müller-Pohle’s separations represents an eighth of a full byte of memory, a computer’s divided remembrance of the first photograph. The Scores are therefore less about Niépce’s photograph than about their own means of production (as the title suggests, they bear the same abstracted relation to an image as sheet music has to sound). We see here, not a photograph, but the new numerical rhetoric of digital imaging.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Ian Burn (Australia/US) Xerox book # 1, 1968 from the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

In the 1960s a number of artists sought to distil artwork from the new imaging technologies becoming commonly available. Ian Burn, an Australian artist then living in New York, made a series of Xerox Books in 1968 in which he churned out 100 copies of a blank sheet of white paper on a Xerox 660 photocopying machine, copying each copy in turn until the final sheet was filled with the speckled visual noise left by the machine’s own imperfect operations.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with in foreground display case, Herbert Dobbie’s illustrated cyanotype books New Zealand Ferns (148 Varieties) 1880, 1882, 1892 and background, the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins

 

Herbert Dobbie, a railway station master and amateur botanist who emigrated to New Zealand from England in 1875, made cyanotype contact prints of specimens of all 148 known species of fern in his new country in 1880 and sold them in album form. Dobbie was responding to a fashion for collecting and displaying ferns among his local audience, a fashion driven in part by a nostalgia for a pre-modern style of life and in part by a developing nationalism. The end result is a group of images that hover somewhere between science and art, between popular aesthetic enjoyment and commercial profit.

 

Anna Atkins (UK) 'Untitled' (from the disassembled album 'Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns') c. 1854

 

Anna Atkins (UK)
Untitled (from the disassembled album Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns)
c. 1854
Cyanotype photographs

 

The English photographer Anna Atkins issued albums of cyanotype prints of seaweed and algae from 1843, and these are often regarded as the earliest photographic books.

In the 1850s, Atkins collaborated with her friend Anne Dixon to produce at least three presentation albums of cyanotype contact prints, including Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853) and Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854). These albums included examples from places like Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia – a reminder that, for an English observer, all these places were but an extension of home, a part of the British Empire. These cyanotypes look as if they were made yesterday, offering a trace from the past that nevertheless always remains contemporary.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) 'Lace' c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (UK, 1800-1877)
Floral patterned lace
c. 1845
Salted paper print
23.0 x 18.8 cm (irregular)

 

During the 1850s, William Henry Fox Talbot focused his energies on the invention of a way of producing photographic engravings on metal plates, so that permanent ink on paper imprints could be taken from them. In April 1858, having found a way to introduce an aquatint ground to the process, he filed a patent for a system which he called photoglyphic engraving.

Talbot described his invention in terms of an ability to make accurate photographic impressions without a camera: “The objects most easily and successfully engraved are those which can be placed in contact with the metallic plate, – such as the leaf of fern, the light feathery flowers of a grass, a piece of lace, etc. In such cases the engraving is precisely like the object; so that it would almost seem to any one, before the process was explained to him, as if the shadow of the object had itself corroded the metal, – so true is the engraving to the object.”

This photograph was made using the calotype process, patented in 1841 by its inventor, the English gentleman William Henry Fox Talbot. The increased exposure speeds allowed by the process made it easier to print positive photographs from a negative image, so that multiple versions of that image could be produced. In this case, a positive photograph has been made from a contact print of a piece of lace.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery featuring Len Lye’s cameraless photographic portraits

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1947

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1947
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Le Corbusier' 1947

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Le Corbusier
1947
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Lye’s subjects included notable artists such as Joan Miró, Hans Richter, and Georgia O’Keeffe (who brought some deer antlers to the shoot), the architect Le Corbusier, the jazz musician Baby Dodds, the scientist Nina Bull, and the writer W. H. Auden. But they also included a baby and a young woman who remain unnamed; Lye’s new partner, Ann Hindle; and Albert Bishop, a plumber who had come by to do some repairs. (Referencing the history of “silhouette” art)

 

Len Lye (NZ) 'Marks and Spencer in a Japanese Garden (Pond People)' 1930

 

Len Lye (NZ)
Marks and Spencer in a Japanese Garden (Pond People)
1930
Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation Collection and Archive
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre

 

Len Lye’s earliest cameraless photographs were made around 1930 as he settled into the London art scene and before he emerged as a leading figure in experimental cinema. His practice was eclectic during this period. He exhibited paintings, batiks, photographs and sculpture as part of the Seven and Five Society, Britain’s leading avant-garde group. During a visit to Mallorca with his friends Robert Graves and Laura Riding, Lye made a number of photograms with plasticine and cellophane shapes arranged over the photographic paper. Two of these, Self-Planting at Night (Night Tree) and Watershed, were exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery featuring James Cant’s Six Signed Artist’s Prints 1948

 

James Cant (Australia) 'The struggle for life' 1948

 

James Cant (Australia)
The struggle for life
1948
Cliché verre print (cyanotype blueprint from one hand-drawn glass plate)
35 x 29.6 cm sheet

 

A number of Australian artists, some working in Melbourne and some in London, issued prints in the 1940s and early 50s using architectural blueprint (or cyanotype) paper, perhaps because, during the deprivations that attended the aftermath of World War Two, it was a cheap and available material for this purpose. James Cant, an artist interested in both Surrealism and Australian Aboriginal art, brought the two together in his designs for a portfolio of Six Signed Artist’s Prints that he issued in a print run of 150 in 1948. Each image was painted on a sheet of glass and then this glass was contact printed onto the blueprint paper to create a photograph.

In August 1834, while resident in Geneva, William Henry Fox Talbot had a friend make some drawings on sheets of varnished glass exposed to smoke, using an engraver’s needle to scratch through this darkened surface. The procedure came to be known as cliché verre.

 

Kilian Breier. 'Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990' 1991 (cover)

 

Kilian Breier
Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990 (cover)
1991

 

The German artist Kilian Breier began making abstract photographs in the 1950s, some by folding his photographic paper and others by allowing rivulets of developer to flow across and stain it. A 1991 exhibition catalogue, Kilian Breier: Fotografik 1953-1990, gave the artist an opportunity to make a provocative gesture in line with his dedication to the self-generated image; he included in it a loose unfixed piece of signed photographic paper that continues to develop every time it is exposed to light. It therefore inhabits the book that protects it like a ghost, unable to be seen but nonetheless always present.

 

Max Dupain (Australia) 'Untitled rayograph [with water]' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia)
Untitled rayograph [with water]
1936
Gelatin silver photograph

 

The Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain was a great admirer of the work of Man Ray. In 1935 Dupain reviewed a book of the American’s photographs for The Home magazine in Sydney, declaring that “He is alone. A pioneer of the 20th century who has crystallised a new experience in light and chemistry.” With this book as his inspiration, Dupain himself made a number of experimental cameraless photographs in the later 1930s.

 

Běla Kolářová (Czechoslovakia) 'Pecky broskve' (z 'cyklu' Stopy) 'Peach Stones' (From 'Traces' series) 1961

 

Běla Kolářová (Czechoslovakia)
Pecky broskve (z cyklu Stopy)
Peach Stones
(From Traces series)
1961
Gelatin silver photograph from an artificial negative

 

Taking up photography in 1956 during the Cold War, the Czech artist Běla Kolářová wrote about the need to photograph things normally beneath the notice of photography, the negligible detritus of everyday life. Her initial experiments along these lines involved the making of prints from what she called “artificial negatives.” Collecting all sorts of discarded items (onion peels, peach pits), she either placed her scraps directly on celluloid or embedded them in a layer of paraffin, projecting the resulting image onto bromide paper using an enlarger. Kolářová also began to produce photographic images by placing her light-sensitive paper on a record turntable, rotating it at varying speeds, and allowing the light to produce a series of overlapping and wavy concentric circles.

 

Installation view of György Kepes

 

Installation view of
György Kepes (Hungary/Germany/US)
Black, great and white light composition, 1949
Black and white calligraphy, 1951
Fluid patterns, 1938
(Calligraphic light), 1948
Optical transformation, 1938
Hieroglyphic body, 1942
(Magnetic pattern), 1938
Gelatin silver photographs (printed c. 1977)

 

The Hungarian-born artist György Kepes moved to the United States in the late 1930s, where he published a series of interdisciplinary books concerned with the “language of vision.” Informed by his study of psychological theory, Kepes particularly favoured the cameraless photograph as offering a kind of universal language, stressing the need for images that combined “transparency and interpenetration… the order of our time is to knead together the scientific and technical knowledge required, into an integrated whole on the biological and social plane.” Even when they appear to be abstractions, Kepes’s own photograms were intended as an expression of the interdependence of natural and manmade structures and as an advocacy for the interrelationship of art, science, and technology.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the work of Herbert Matter (left), Chargesheimer (centre), and Roger Catherineau (right)

 

Herbert Matter (Switzerland/France/US) 'Untitled' c. 1939-43

 

Herbert Matter (Switzerland/France/US)
Untitled
c. 1939-43
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Born in Switzerland, Herbert Matter studied with Fernand Léger in Paris before working there and in Switzerland as a graphic designer, incorporating photographic images into his many posters. In 1935 he moved to the United States, involving himself in the design and art world he found there, with a special interest in the work of abstract painters. He produced a number of experimental photographs in this period, deliberately designed to break with what he called “the chains of documentation.” These included a calligraphic image made in 1944 by tracing brush strokes on a wet emulsion plate charged by an electrical current and a series of sinuous, painterly photographs, perhaps made by pouring chemicals on sheets of glass already marked with a resist and then printing from them.

 

 

Chargesheimer (Germany) 'Scenarium' 1961

 

Chargesheimer (Germany)
Scenarium
1961
Gelatin silver chemigram

 

In 1961, the German artist Karl-Heinz Hargesheimer, who went by the single name of Chargesheimer, published a limited-edition book titled Lichtgrafik [Light Graphic]. He described the ten unique prints gathered in it as photochemische Malereien or “photo-chemical paintings,” inducing their strange combinations of gestural calligraphic marks and organic-looking surface using only developer and fixer on gelatin silver photographic paper.

 

Roger Catherineau (France) 'Photogramme' 1957

 

Roger Catherineau (France)
Photogramme
1957
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Starting in the 1950s, French artist Roger Catherineau drew on his interest in sculpture and dance to produce sinuous, layered photograms that look more like graphics than paintings. Their ambiguous depths were made even more elusive by the addition of coloured inks to their surfaces.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Marco Breuer and at right, Lynn Cazabon

 

Installation view of Danica Chappell (Australia) 'Slippery Image #1' 2014-15 'Slippery Image #2' 2014-15 and 'Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #9)' 2014 'Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #10)' 2014 tintype

 

Installation view of
Danica Chappell (Australia)
Slippery Image #1, 2014-15
Slippery Image #2, 2014-15
Daguerreotype

Danica Chappell (Australia)
Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #9), 2014
Traversing Edges & Corners (Orange #10), 2014
Tintype

 

The work of Australian artist Danica Chappell brings together the formal experiments of early modernist avant-garde groups, such as the Russian Constructivists and the German Bauhaus, with some of photography’s earliest techniques, resulting in geometrically patterned daguerreotypes and tintypes. These patterns of light and shadow animate the surface of Chappell’s metallic photographs, while also recording her work in the darkroom, her negotiation of radiation, object, body and time.

 

Installation view of Lynn Cazabon (US) 'Diluvian' 2010-13

 

Installation view of
Lynn Cazabon (US)
Diluvian
2010-13
40 unique silver gelatin solar photographs

 

Diluvian, by American artist Lynn Cazabon, comprises a grid of unique contact prints, with their imagery and the means of its production both being directly generated by the work’s subject matter. Embedded in a simulated waste dump, covered with discarded cell phones and computer parts as well as organic material, expired sheets of gelatin silver paper were sprayed with baking soda, vinegar and water, sandwiched under a heavy sheet of glass, and left in direct sunlight for up to six hours, four prints at a time. The chemical reactions that ensued left visual traces – initially vividly coloured and then gradually fading when fixed – of our society’s flood of toxic consumer items, produced by the decomposing after-effects of those very items.

 

Installation view of works by Marco Breuer

 

Installation view of
Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1378), 2013
Untitled (C-1598), 2014
Chromogenic paper, embossed/burned/scraped

Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1526), 2014
Chromogenic paper, burned/scraped

Marco Breuer (Germany/US)
Untitled (C-1338), 2013
Chromogenic paper, burned

 

By folding, scoring, burning, scouring, abrading, and/or striking his pieces of photographic paper, German-born, US-based artist Marco Breuer coaxes a wide range of colours, markings and textures from his chosen material. Both touched and tactile, Breuer’s photographs have become surrogate bodies, demonstrating the same fragility and relationship to violence as any other organism. And like any other body, they also bear the marks of time, not of a single instant from the past, like most photographs, but rather of a duration of actions that have left accumulated scars.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at centre, the work of Anne Noble

 

Anne Noble (New Zealand) 'Bruissement: Bee Wing Photograms #10' 2015

 

Anne Noble (New Zealand)
BruissementBee Wing Photograms #10
2015
Pigment print on Canson baryta paper
320 x 110 cm
Courtesy of the artist, Wellington

 

In recent times, the New Zealand artist Anne Noble has made a number of works that address the calamitous collapse of the global honeybee population. In these two cameraless photographs, cascading vertically down the wall like Chinese scroll paintings, we get to see the imprint of thousands of detached bee wings, their determined hum stilled by disease, human interference and a toxic ecology. The haunting beauty of these delicate traceries and strange shadows is also a warning. A beekeeper herself, Noble looks at bees as a living system under stress but also as a model for our own society; as she says, “what is happening to the bees we are likely doing to ourselves.”

 

Installation view of works by Alison Rossiter

Installation view of works by Alison Rossiter

 

Installation views of
Alison Rossiter
(US)
Agfa Cykora, expired January 1942, processed 2013
Eastman Kodak Velox, expired March 1919a, processed 2014
Eastman Kodak Medalist E2, expired September 1956, processed 2010
Eastman Kodak Velox, expired March 1919b, processed 2014
Eastman Kodak PMC No.11, expired September 1937, processed 2013
Defender Argo, exact expiration date unknown, ca. 1910, processed 2013
Velox T4, expiry date October 1, 1940, processed 2008
Unique gelatin silver photographs

 

Since 2007, American photographic artist Alison Rossiter has been buying old expired packets of unexposed film at auction or on the internet, some of them dating from as early as 1900. She then develops these sheets in her darkroom with no further exposure to light, never quite sure what the resulting object-image will look like. The one inscribed Velox T4, expiry date October 1, 1940, for example, was developed in 2008, and displays a Mark Rothko-like grid of pale impressions on a dark ground. These are the chemical traces left behind by the wrapping paper that once protected it from light. We’re looking, then, at an exposure – to chemicals as well as to leaked light – of approximately seventy years.

 

Installation view works by Matt Higgins

 

Installation view of
Matt Higgins (Australia)
Untitled 134-5, 2014
Untitled 254-5, 2014
Untitled 287-5, 2014
Untitled 292-5, 2014
Unique chemigram on gelatin silver photographic paper

 

Australian artist Matt Higgins makes what are called ‘chemigrams,’ created by the interplay of various manual and chemical processes on a single sheet of photographic paper or film. Higgins also uses resists to help create his patterned surfaces, from soft organic substances such as apple syrup to industrial compounds such as epoxy enamel. He thereby returns photography to its historical roots: the desire to coax images from a chemical reaction to light.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

 

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
Queen St, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Phone: +64 6 759 6060
Email: info@govettbrewster.com

Opening hours:
Wednesday, Friday – Monday
10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre website

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31
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph’ at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand Part 1

Exhibition dates: 29th April – 14 August 2016

Curator: Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

This is how best a contemporary art exhibition can show the work to advantage. Just gorgeous!

The well curated, comprehensive content is complemented by a beautifully paced hang nestled within stunning contemporary art spaces. Labels are not just plonked on the wall, but are discretely displayed on horizontal shelves next to the work – accessible but so as not to interrupt the flow of the work. Coloured walls add to the ambience of the installation and act as an adjunct to the colours of the art. Beautiful modernist contemporary display cabinets keep the spaces fresh and vibrant.

A discussion of the content of the exhibition to follow in part 2 of the posting.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images are photographed by Bryan James.

 

 

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“Exploring the art of cameraless photography, encompassing historical, modern and contemporary works. Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph is the first comprehensive survey of cameraless photography held anywhere in the world, presenting more than 200 examples, from 1839 – when photography’s invention was announced – through to contemporary artists. We present the most complete study of cameraless photography to date, focusing on the cameraless mode from the 1830s through to today and offering a global perspective on this way of working.

The theme of the exhibition is inspired by artist Len Lye’s cameraless photographs from 1930 and 1947, and it’s the first time all 52 of Lye’s photograms have been seen together. Emanations is an opportunity to put Lye’s photographic work in a suitably global context, surrounded by his predecessors, contemporaries and successors. Emanations includes many masterpieces of photographic art and showcases the talents of some of the world’s leading contemporary photographic artists.

The exhibition has work by photographic pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins, important modernist photographers Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, and many of today’s most significant photographic artists including Walead Beshty, Marco Breuer, Liz Deschenes, Joan Fontcuberta, Christian Marclay, Thomas Ruff, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Emanations also includes work by both senior and emerging Australian and New Zealand artists, from Anne Noble and Anne Ferran to Andrew Beck and Justine Varga.

The exhibition presents artwork by more than 50 artists hailing from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, England, Canada and the United States. Almost every photographic process is included in the exhibition – photogenic drawings, calotypes, daguerreotypes, and tintypes, as well as gelatin silver, chromogenic and ink-jet photographic prints, photocopies, verifax and thermal prints.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major book by the same name and on the same theme, co-published by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and DelMonico Books/Prestel, based in New York and Munich. The book contains 184 full-page colour plates and a 25,000 word essay by Geoffrey Batchen. The Govett-Brewster is also publishing another book reproducing all the cameraless photographs by Len Lye, along with an essay by Wystan Curnow.

Emanations is curated by Geoffrey Batchen, Professor of Art History at Victoria University of Wellington, and a world-renowned historian and curator of photography.”

Text from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Andrew Beck ‘Double Screen’ 2016 part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Andrew Beck ‘Double Screen’ 2016 part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Andrew Beck ‘Double Screen’ 2016 part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of
Andrew Beck (Canada/New Zealand)
Double Screen
2016
Glass, acrylic paint, gelatin silver photographs

 

In the 1930s, László Moholy-Nagy made art that combined a cameraless photograph, plexiglass and paint. New Zealand artist Andrew Beck works in a similar way to produce sculptural installations that complicate our expectations of the relationship between light and shadow, the natural and the artificial, images and objects, art and reality. He forces us to look very closely at what we are seeing, and even to critically reflect on the act of seeing itself.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Anne Ferran and at right, Joyce Campbell

 

Installation view of Joyce Campbell ‘LA Bloom’ 2002 part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of
Joyce Campbell (New Zealand/US)
LA Bloom
2002
Cibachrome photographs
Courtesy of the artist, Auckland

 

In 2002 the New Zealand photographer Joyce Campbell decided to conduct a microbial survey of Los Angeles, a city in which she lives for part of each year. She swabbed the surfaces of plants and soil from twenty-seven locations chosen out of her Thomas Guide to the city. She then transferred each sample onto a sterilized plexiglass plate of agar and allowed it to grow as a living culture. The cibachrome positive colour contact prints she subsequently made from these plates resemble abstract paintings and yet also offer a critical mapping of the relative fertility of this particular urban landscape, revealing its dependence on the politics of water distribution.

 

Installation view of Aldo Tambellini (Italy/US) 'Videograms' 1969

 

Installation view of
Aldo Tambellini
(Italy/US)
Videogram, 1969
Videogram, 1969
Videogram, 1969
Videogram, 1969
Gelatin silver photographs

 

Although raised in Italy, Aldo Tambellini was working in New York in 1969 when he manipulated the cathode ray tube of a TV set into the shape of a spiral (for this artist, a universal sign of energy) and exposed sheets of light-sensitive paper by laying them over its screen. The calligraphic inscriptions that resulted made his paper look as if it had been scorched from the inside out. These ‘videograms,’ as Tambellini called them, highlight the chaos and chance operations that lurk just beneath the surface of technology’s apparent rationality.

 

Installation view of Shaun Waugh (New Zealand) 'ΔE2000 1.1' 2014 part of the exhibition of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Shaun Waugh (New Zealand) 'ΔE2000 1.1' 2014 part of the exhibition of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Shaun Waugh (New Zealand) 'ΔE2000 1.1' 2014 part of the exhibition of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views of
Shaun Waugh (New Zealand)
ΔE2000 1.1
2014
24 Agfa boxes with mounted solid colour inkjet photographs

 

This work by New Zealand artist Shaun Waugh began with the purchase of empty boxes that once held Agfa photographic paper. Waugh then took readings of all four sides of the inside lip of each box lid using a spectrophotometer, employing this data and Photoshop to generate a solid orange-red inkjet print. The box lid is used to frame a two-dimensional version of itself, bringing analogue and digital printing into an uncomfortably close proximity to create a memorial to a kind of photography that is now defunct. Hung salon style, like so many small paintings, Waugh’s work manages to turn the photograph inside out, and thus into something other than itself.

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Wall text from the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with, at left, Anne Ferran and, at right, Adam Fuss

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Anne Ferran and at right, Adam Fuss

 

Installation view of the work of Anne Ferran

 

Installation view of
Anne Ferran (Australia)
Untitled, 1998
Untitled, 1998
Untitled, 1998
Untitled (baby’s petticoat), 1998
Untitled (collar), 1998
Untitled (baby’s bonnet), 1998
Untitled (sailor suit), 1998
Untitled (shirts), 1998

Unique gelatin silver photographs

 

In 1998 Australian artist Anne Ferran was offered an artist-in-resident’s position at an historic homestead not far from Sydney that had been occupied by successive generations of the same family since 1813. Ferran spent six months systematically making contact prints using the dresses, bodices, skirts, petticoats, and collars still contained in the house. Hovering in a surrounding darkness, softly radiating an inner light, the ghostly traces of these translucent garments now act as residual filaments for a century of absorbed sunshine. Many of them have been patched over the years and their signs of wear and repair are made clear. This allows us to witness a history of the use of each piece of clothing, seeing inside them to those small and skilful acts of home economy – the labour of women – usually kept hidden from a public gaze.

 

Anne Ferran (Australia) 'Untitled (baby's bonnet)' 1998

 

Anne Ferran (Australia)
Untitled (baby’s bonnet)
1998
Unique gelatin silver photograph

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with, at left, Adam Fuss and, at right, Lisa Clunie

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Adam Fuss and at right, Lisa Clunie

 

installation view of Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US) ‘Caduceus’ 2010 (left) and ‘Untitled’ 1991 (right)

 

Installation view of Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US) Caduceus 2010 (left) and Untitled 1991 (right)

 

Born in England, raised in Australia, and resident in New York, Adam Fuss has produced a diverse range of large cameraless photographs since the 1980s, asking his light-sensitive paper to respond to the physical presence of such phenomena as light, water, a slithering snake, flocks of birds, and sunflowers.

 

Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US) 'Untitled' 1991

 

Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US)
Untitled
1991
Type C photograph

 

Lisa Clunie (New Zealand) ‘Fold I’ 2014

 

Lisa Clunie (New Zealand)
Fold I
2014
Silver gelatin photograph

 

The work of New Zealand artist Lisa Clunie looks back to the work of pioneer modernist László Moholy-Nagy in order to manifest the idea that our lives are shaped by a continual play of forces. Like Moholy, she wets her photographic paper and then tightly folds it, before moving the paper back and forth under her enlarger, selectively exposing these folds to the ‘force’ of light. The resulting work reminds us that a photograph has weight, surface, texture, tension and edges.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at right, the work of Robert L. Buelteman

 

Installation view of Robert L. Buelteman. ‘Cannabis sativa’ 2002 (left) and ‘Eucalyptus polyanthemos’ 2000 (right)

 

Installation view of
Robert L. Buelteman (US)
Cannabis sativa (left)
2002
Digital chromogenic development photograph

Robert L. Buelteman (US)
Eucalyptus polyanthemos (right)
2002
Digital chromogenic development photograph

 

The San-Franciscan artist Robert Buelteman takes his leaves and other botanical specimens and slices them into paper-thin sections, before charging them, in a complicated and dangerous process, with a pulse of 40,000 volts of electricity. This leaves behind a colorized trace on his photographic paper, a photogram in which these plants appear to be aflame, as if emitting an energy all their own. Hovering between life and death, this is a nature that seems to be on the cusp of its transmutation into something else entirely.

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at centre, Robert Owen and at right, Joan Fontcuberta

 

Robert Owen (Australia) ‘Endings (Rothko died today) - Kodachrome 64, No. 21, 26/02/1970’ 2009

 

Robert Owen (Australia)
Endings (Rothko died today) – Kodachrome 64, No. 21, 26/02/1970
2009
Pigment ink-jet print

 

The photographic work of Australian artist Robert Owen is part of a broader tendency on the part of contemporary artists to reflect in morbid terms on aspects of photography’s past. Owen has been collecting film stubs since 1968. Although better known as a painter and sculptor, he recently decided to print these end strips of film as a series of large colour photographs, paying homage to this residue of the Kodak era in a chronological sequence of readymade chromatic fields. This one was collected on the day that the American abstract painter Mark Rothko killed himself.

 

Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US) 'Untitled' (from the series 'My Ghost') 2001

 

Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US)
Untitled (from the series My Ghost)
2001
Unique gelatin silver photograph

 

In his series, titled My Ghost, Adam Fuss put together a body of contact photographs of such things as plumes of smoke, patterns of light, a butterfly, a swan and a baptism dress. As his title suggests, Fuss’s work aims to evoke rather than describe; for all their evident tactility, these photographs are meant as metaphors, as prayers, perhaps even as poems.

 

Adam Fuss both 'Untitled' 1989

 

Installation view of
Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US)
Untitled
1989
Cibachrome photograph

Adam Fuss (UK/Australia/US)
Untitled
1989
Cibachrome photograph

 

Installation view of Joan Fontcuberta (Spain). ‘MN 62: OPHIUCUS (NGC 6266), AR 17 h. 01,2 min. / D -30º 07’’ (left) and ‘LAMBDA CORONAE AUSTRALIS (Mags 5,1/9,7 Sepn 29,2" AP 214º), AR 18 h 43,8 min. / D -38º 19’’ (right) both 1993

Installation view of Joan Fontcuberta (Spain). ‘MN 62: OPHIUCUS (NGC 6266), AR 17 h. 01,2 min. / D -30º 07’’ (left) and ‘LAMBDA CORONAE AUSTRALIS (Mags 5,1/9,7 Sepn 29,2" AP 214º), AR 18 h 43,8 min. / D -38º 19’’ (right) both 1993

 

Installation views of
Joan Fontcuberta (Spain)
MN 62: OPHIUCUS (NGC 6266), AR 17 h. 01,2 min. / D -30º 07′ (left)
LAMBDA CORONAE AUSTRALIS (Mags 5,1/9,7 Sepn 29,2″ AP 214º), AR 18 h 43,8 min. / D -38º 19′ (right)
both 1993
From the Constellations series
Cibachrome photographs

 

Photographs from the Constellations series by Spanish artist Joan Fontcuberta come filled with fields of sparkling blackness, their speckled surfaces redolent of infinite space and twinkling stars. Their titles imply we are looking upwards towards the heavens. But this artist’s prints actually record dust, crushed insects and other debris deposited on the windscreen of his car, a trace of the evidence of his own rapid passage through terrestrial space and time. The artist applied sheets of 8-by-10-inch film directly onto the glass windscreen and shone a light through, creating photograms which were then made into glossy cibachrome prints.

 

Installation view of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Detail of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Detail of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Detail of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Detail of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Detail of Paul Hartigan (New Zealand) 'Colourwords' 1980-81 as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation views and detail of
Paul Hartigan (New Zealand)
Colourwords
1980-81
Colour photocopy

 

Consistently defined by a subversive edge and a darkly witty humour, the work of New Zealand artist Paul Hartigan is often subtly permeated by astute social and political perceptions. Shortly after they were introduced into New Zealand in 1980, Hartigan explored the creative possibilities of a colour photocopying machine, making a series of images in which words and found objects ironically refer to each other in an endless loop. With the objects arranged to spell out their own colour, each picture offers an oscillation of word and meaning, flatness and dimension, art and detritus.

 

Installation view of Gavin Hipkins (New Zealand) ‘The Coil’ 1998 (left) and Lucinda Eva-May as part of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Gavin Hipkins (left) and Lucinda Eva-May (right) as part of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of Gavin Hipkins (New Zealand) ‘The Coil’ 1998

 

Installation view of
Gavin Hipkins (New Zealand)
The Coil
1998
Silver gelatin photographs

 

Inspired by the kinetic films of Len Lye, in the 1990s Gavin Hipkins made a series of cameraless photographs that play with sequence and implied movement. The 32 images that make up The Coil were made by resting polystyrene rings on sheets of photographic paper and then exposing them to light.

 

Installation view of Lucinda Eva-May (Australia) 'Unity in light #6' 2012 (left) 'Unity in light #9' 2012 (right)

 

Installation view of
Lucinda Eva-May (Australia)
Unity in light #6, 2012 (left)
Unity in light #9, 2012 (right)
C-type prints

 

Australian artist Lucinda Kennedy has sought to capture a phenomenological representation of the feelings and sensations of sexual intercourse through the direct imprint on sheets of photographic paper of this most primal of human interactions. Turned into a single blurred organism by the extended duration of the exposure, the artist and her partner become an abstraction, thereby aptly conjuring an experience that has always been beyond the capacity of mere description.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Thomas Ruff, and at right, Justine Varga

 

Installation view of Thomas Ruff (Germany) 'r.phg.07_II' 2013

Installation view of Thomas Ruff (Germany) 'r.phg.07_II' 2013

 

Installation views of
Thomas Ruff (Germany)
r.phg.07_II
2013
Chromogenic print

 

Thomas Ruff (Germany) 'r.phg.07_II' 2013

 

Thomas Ruff (Germany)
r.phg.07_II
2013
Chromogenic print

 

German artist Thomas Ruff uses his computers to construct virtual objects with simulated surfaces and to calculate the lights and shadows they might cast in different compositions. He then prints the results, in colour and at very large scale. Combining variations of spheres, curves, zig-zags and sharp edges, all set within richly coloured surrounds, Ruff’s images are both untethered abstractions and historical ciphers. Although referred to by the artist as photograms, the final prints are perhaps better conceived as being about the photogram, studiously replaying an analogue process in digital terms so as to make a spectacle of its logic.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph' at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery with at left, Shimpei Takeda and at right, Justine Varga

 

Justine Varga (Australia/UK) 'Exit (Red State)' 2014-15

 

Justine Varga (Australia/UK)
Exit (Red State)
2014-15
Chromogenic photograph

 

Justine Varga (Australia/UK) 'Desklamp' 2011-12

 

Justine Varga (Australia/UK)
Desklamp
2011-12
Chromogenic photograph

 

Australian artist Justine Varga creates photographic works from an intimate and often prolonged exchange between a strip of film and the world that comes to be inscribed on it. Desklamp involved the year-long exposure of a large format negative placed on top of the artist’s desk lamp. Exit was derived from a similar piece of film that was scarred and weathered during a three-month exposure on her windowsill during a residency in London. Both were then turned into luscious colour photographs in the darkroom via various printing procedures.

 

 

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
Queen St, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Phone: +64 6 759 6060
Email: info@govettbrewster.com

Opening hours:
Wednesday, Friday – Monday
10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre website

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25
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 20th March – 31st July 2016

 

Robert Mapplethorpe is a formalist.

Apollonian and Dionysian ideals are two sides of the same coin.

Marcus

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

 

An extract from one of my earliest piece’s of research and writing (1996):

“In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.”

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Extract from Marcus Bunyan. “The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body,” (1996 Master of Arts exegesis) published September 2012 on Art Blart.

 

Footnotes

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p. 331
15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286
16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1
17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 208

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-portrait' c. 1970

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-portrait
c. 1970
Paint, canvas, and stickers on fiver-based gelatin silver print
6/5/16 x 9 1/4 in. (16 x 23.5 cm)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Leatherman #1' 1970

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Leatherman #1
1970
9 7/16 x 6 3/4 in. (23.97 x 17.15 cm)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Candy Darling' 1972

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Candy Darling
1972
Dye diffusion transfer print, cardboard
3/34 x 2 7/8 in. (9.6 x 7.3 cm)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Untitled (Nancy Nortia/Dugan)' c. 1974

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Untitled (Nancy Nortia/Dugan)
c. 1974
4 1/2 x 5 1/8 in. (11.4 x 13 cm)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Nick' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Nick
1977
Gelatin silver print
14 x 14 1/16 in. (35.56 x 35.72 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-portrait' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-portrait
1980
13 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. (34.93 x 34.93 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, a major retrospective examining the work and career of one of the most influential visual artists of the 20th century. Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium is co-organized by LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Museum. In a historic collaboration, the two institutions will trace the artist’s working methods and materials, presenting the improvisational, experimental aspects of his practice alongside the refined perfection of his prints. The works on display provide new context for understanding the key genres that Mapplethorpe pursued: portraiture, the nude, and still life. His personal connections to sitters, his ability to manage a successful studio, and his ambition to elevate photography to the status of contemporary art will be demonstrated through rarely seen correspondence, books, and other ephemera, including those from the artist’s archive held by the Getty Research Institute.

LACMA’s presentation (March 20 – July 31, 2016) focuses on Mapplethorpe’s working methods, sources, and creative processes – the experimental and performative aspects of his work – while the J. Paul Getty Museum (March 15 – July 31, 2016) highlights the artist’s disciplined studio practice, figure studies, and legacy. Between the two museums, more than 300 works by Mapplethorpe will be on view, making this one of the largest-ever presentations of his work. The objects on view in Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium are drawn almost entirely from the landmark joint acquisition of art and archival materials made in 2011 by the J. Paul Getty Trust and LACMA from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

“4 years ago LACMA and the Getty came together to jointly acquire the art and archives of Robert Mapplethorpe,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “It has been an exciting collaboration ever since, as our researchers, conservators, and curators have all spent time with this trove of Mapplethorpe’s art. Now, we are glad to present this large-scale joint exhibition to Los Angeles and the world.”

“Through this historic collaboration, the LACMA and J. Paul Getty Museum exhibitions offer a new perspective on this influential artist,” said Britt Salvesen, curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography department. “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium reveals the rich resources of the Mapplethorpe archive, which provides a broader context for the iconic images that brought him fame. Mapplethorpe’s refined style challenged viewers to consider his portraits, flowers, and sexually explicit images as equal expressions of a personal vision. His drive to capture the perfect moment is the core of his art.”

Following its Los Angeles debut, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium will travel internationally beginning with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada (September 10, 2016 – January 15, 2017), the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, (October 28, 2017 – February 4, 2018), and another international venue. This will be the first major traveling retrospective in North America since the landmark exhibition The Perfect Moment, organized in 1988 by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs, co-published by LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Museum. A comprehensive guide to the artist’s work and career, this publication will feature an introduction by co-curators Britt Salvesen and Paul Martineau, five scholarly essays, an illustrated chronology, and a selected exhibition history and bibliography.

Exhibition organization

The LACMA presentation is organized in five thematic sections. The first gallery establishes Mapplethorpe in the milieu of 1970s and 1980s urban gay culture, depicting himself and his models openly declaring their sexuality through clothing, body adornment, and gesture. The second gallery highlights the work Mapplethorpe created in the late 1960s and early 1970s before he took up photography in earnest. As a student of graphic design at the Pratt Institute, he demonstrated an early facility for draftsmanship and a penchant for geometric composition. He designed jewelry and temporary assemblages using items of clothing. Inspired by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, he also experimented with collages and constructions, often incorporating Catholic iconography and appropriated imagery from homosexual periodicals.

Mapplethorpe borrowed a Polaroid camera from a friend in 1970 and, over the course of the next year, honed his vision as a photographer. These early unique images, installed in the third gallery, reveal his observational acuity and his ability to be in the moment. Mapplethorpe was one of his own best subjects, as his many self-portraits attest, and he was open about being a participant in the scenarios he depicted. The fourth gallery focuses on Mapplethorpe’s engagement with the leather and bondage community, his appropriation of pornographic source material, and his exploration of the African American male nude. Additionally, this gallery features ephemera relating to Mapplethorpe’s first breakout exhibitions in New York, including a joint exhibition at The Kitchen and Holly Solomon Gallery in 1977. The fifth gallery presents work from the mid-1980s, when Mapplethorpe was running a successful studio and producing many commissioned portraits. Among his favorite subjects were the artists, musicians, and other performers he first encountered in the downtown art scene in the ’70s. He commented that photography was “the perfect medium for the 70s and 80s, when everything was fast. If I were to make something that took two weeks to do, I’d lose my enthusiasm. It would become an act of labor and the love would be gone.”

Exhibition highlights

Self-portrait (1980)

Mapplethorpe’s turn to photography in the early 1970s coincided with his embrace of New York’s leather subculture, and, throughout the decade, he explored the potential of both forms of expression simultaneously. His 1980 self-portrait as a surly, smoking leatherman captures the hyper masculine posturing that was concomitant with the choice of leather as a fashion statement and as a sexual fetish. Staring defiantly into the camera, Mapplethorpe declares his participation in the leather community. At the same time, the photograph expresses the playful and performative aspects of his studio practice. An element of dress-up and theater is evident in much of his portraiture. This self-portrait shows the artist posing in the role of an archetypal tough-guy – a greaser complete with popped collar, a lit cigarette dangling from his lip, and hair styled into a pompadour.

Patti Smith (1978)

Mapplethorpe was studying art at the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, when he met Patti Smith in spring 1967. Mapplethorpe and Smith spent the next decade in close proximity, inspiring one another’s artistic aspirations. Mapplethorpe chose photography as his medium in the early 1970s, whereas Smith gravitated toward poetry and music, and the two collaborated in a number of portrait sessions. Here, Smith poses in the act of cutting her hair, a gesture of defiance. As she explained in a 1975 interview, she didn’t “want to walk around New York looking like a folk-singer. I like rock ‘n’ roll. So I got hundreds of pictures of Keith Richards, and I hung them up and then just took scissors and chopped away until I had a real Rolling Stones haircut.” Mapplethorpe captured Smith’s androgynous style, composing the photograph to emphasize contrasts of black and white in Smith’s features and wardrobe, in the background, and even in the cat.

Lisa Lyon (1982)

Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon at a party in 1979, and he would go on to produce nearly 200 photographs of her over the next several years. The first woman to win the International Federation of Body Builders female competition, Lyon had an androgynous, muscular physique that appealed to Mapplethorpe’s interest in the sculptural body. “I’d never seen anybody that looked like that before,” he said. “Once she took her clothes off it was like seeing something from another planet.” The pinnacle of their collaboration came with the release of the book Lady (1983), a series of portraits of Lyon. In this portrait, Mapplethorpe captures Lyon in her work-out attire, a nod to her role as an early advocate for fitness and weight training, which came to be a defining feature of early and mid-1980s American culture.

Complementary exhibition

The LACMA exhibition will also be accompanied by the installation Physical: Sex and the Body in the 1980s, which will feature roughly 30 works from the museum’s permanent collection. Placing Mapplethorpe’s work in dialogue with his contemporaries, the installation examines the cultural and artistic upheavals of a pivotal decade in the history of American art and society. Featured artists include Bruce Weber, Kiki Smith, Sarah Charlesworth, Laura Aguilar, and Marina Abramovic, among others. Physical: Sex and the Body is curated by Ryan Linkof, assistant curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography department.”

Press release from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Parrot Tulips' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Parrot Tulips
1988
Dye imbibition print
20 11/16 x 26 in. (52.55 x 66.04 cm)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Joe, N.Y.C.' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Joe, N.Y.C.
1978
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 7 5/8 in.
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Patti Smith' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Patti Smith
1978
Gelatin silver print
13 7/8 x 13 3/4 in. (35.24 x 34.93 cm)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Keso Dekker' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Keso Dekker
1979
Gelatin silver print
14 x 13 13/16 in. (35.56 x 35.08 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Tim Scott' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tim Scott
1980
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 x 14 in. (35.4 x 35.56 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Phillip Prioleau' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Phillip Prioleau
1980
Gelatin silver print
13 13/16 x 13 13/16 in. (35.08 x 35.08 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 c 16 3/16 in. (38.58 x 38.58 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter
1979
Gelatin silver print
14 x 14 in. (35.56 x 25.56 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Kathy Acker' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Kathy Acker
1983
Gelatin silver print
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody
1985
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Larry and Bobby Kissing' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Larry and Bobby Kissing
1979
Gelatin silver print
17 13/16 x 13 11/16 in. (45.24 x 34.77 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Melody Danielson' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Melody Danielson
1987
Gelatin silver print
23 3/16 x 19 5/16 in. ( 58.9 x 49.05 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Poppy' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Poppy
1988
Dye imbibition print
19 13/16 x 18 11/16 in. (50.32 x 47.47 cm)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lucinda's Hand' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lucinda’s Hand
1985
Gelatin silver print
19 3/16 x 15 1/4 in. (48.74 x 38.74 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Two Men Dancing' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Two Men Dancing
1984
Gelatin silver print
19 1/8 x 15 3/16 in. (72.4 x 59.7 cm)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

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T: 323 857 6000

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21
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 31st July 2016

 

The Perfect Moment, The Perfect Medium and … Mapplethorpe, that seminal exhibition for Australia that I saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney in 1995.

The technical brilliance, ravishing platinum prints (even though he never printed them himself), formalism, beauty, sensuality and, dare I say it, morality – of his work … fair bowled me over. His was an eye with a innate sensibility – “a quick sense of the right and wrong, in all human actions. And other objects considered in every view of morality and taste.”

I have never forgotten that exhibition, yet until recently there was hardly a sentence online about Mapplethorpe at the MCA. Now, thankfully, there are a some installation photographs and a few lines of text. The exhibition and the lack of information about it was one of the driving forces behind the setting up of this website.

Museums spend inordinate amounts of money putting on these exhibitions and after they are finished and the art work packed up, the catalogue shelved in a bookcase, that’s it. I wanted this website to be a form of cultural memory, where I could record the exhibition objects, installation photos and my thoughts about them so that they could live online.

I had great fun sequencing these images from the Getty (part of a double exhibition with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) second posting to follow): self-portraits in chronological order; portraits of the body as flesh and stone spliced by sculptural grapes; Lily and Lisa Lyon’s leg; the cross-over between tulips and white curtain; the sinuousness of Poppy and fabric of Lisa Lyon’s gown; Hermes/Moody/Sherman; and the blindness of all three men – the perfect Ken Moody, the darker (in both psychological and bodily sense) Ajitto, and the roughest, Jim, Sausalito.

I doubt that Mapplethorpe would have ever have sequenced them thus, but I hope it gives insight and a different perspective into his work.

Marcus

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

 

 

“I don’t understand the way my pictures are. It’s all about the relationship I have with the subject that’s unique to me. Taking a picture and sexuality are parallels. They’re both unknowns. And that’s what excites me most.”

.
Robert Mapplethorpe

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe with trip cable in hand' 1974

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe with trip cable in hand
1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (each): 9.3 x 11.6 cm (3 11/16 x 4 9/16 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1975

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
35.4 x 35.7 cm (13 15/16 x 14 1/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1980
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 35.6 cm (14 x 14 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.7 x 38.6 cm (15 1/4 x 15 3/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1988
Platinum print
58.7 x 48.3 cm (23 1/8 x 19 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Sam Wagstaff' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Sam Wagstaff
1977
Gelatin silver print
35.2 x 35.3 cm (13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Andy Warhol' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Andy Warhol
1983
Gelatin silver print
39.1 x 38.5 cm (15 3/8 x 15 3/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Wrestler' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Wrestler
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Derrick Cross' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Derrick Cross
1983
Gelatin silver print
48.5 x 38.2 cm (19 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

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

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Grapes
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.5 x 38 cm (15 3/16 x 14 15/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lydia Cheng' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lydia Cheng
1987
Gelatin silver print
59 x 49.1 cm (23 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Melody (Shoe)' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Melody (Shoe)
1987
Gelatin silver print
48.9 x 49.2 cm (19 1/4 x 19 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

“Since his death in 1989, Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) has become recognized as one of the most significant artists of the late 20th century. He is best known for his perfectly composed photographs that explore gender, race, and sexuality, which became hallmarks of the period and exerted a powerful influence on his contemporaries. The J. Paul Getty Museum will present one half of Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, a major retrospective exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, on view March 15-July 31, 2016 at the Getty Center. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will host the other half of the exhibition March 20-July 31, 2016. The two exhibitions are drawn from the landmark joint acquisition and gift of art and archival materials made in 2011 by the J. Paul Getty Trust and LACMA from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

“The historic acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archival materials in 2011 has enabled our institutions’ curators and other scholars to study and assess Mapplethorpe’s achievement in greater depth than ever before,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The rich photographic holdings in the Getty Museum and LACMA, together with the artist’s archive housed at the Getty Research Institute, make Los Angeles an essential destination for anyone with a serious interest in the late 20th-century photography scene in New York. These exhibitions will provide the most comprehensive and intimate survey of Mapplethorpe’s work ever seen.”

The Getty’s exhibition features the full range of Mapplethorpe’s photographs from his portraits, self-portraits, and figure studies to his floral still lifes. It includes some of Mapplethorpe’s best-known images alongside work that has been seldom exhibited. Key themes include Mapplethorpe’s studio practice, the controversy provoked by the inclusion of his sexually explicit pictures in the 1988-90 retrospective exhibition The Perfect Moment, and the legacy he left behind after his death from AIDS-related complications in 1989.

The exhibition begins with a survey of some of Mapplethorpe’s most familiar portraits, including those of his long-time benefactor and lover Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., poet-musician Patti Smith, and fashion designer Carolina Herrera, among others. It also includes a number of intimate self-portraits, images of artists, and a rarely exhibited series of portraits of the eleven dealers who dominated the downtown New York City art scene during the late 1970s.

Mapplethorpe searched for well-proportioned models and underscored their powerful physical presence through obsessive attention to detail, the precision of their statuesque poses, and sophisticated lighting. This interest becomes evident in examples of the sculptural bodies he enlisted as subjects through the years. In particular, Mapplethorpe was attracted to the color of black skin (he liked to refer to it as “bronze”), and the exhibition includes a number of photographs of African-American models such as Ajitto and Thomas, whom he frequently used to evoke classical themes. Mapplethorpe’s Ken and Lydia and Tyler (1985) suggests the ancient trope of the Three Graces through three models of different racial backgrounds, while select photographs of model Lydia Cheng were further idealized through the application of a shimmering bronze powder on her skin.

One of Mapplethorpe’s frequent subjects was Lisa Lyon, a bodybuilding champion who considered herself a performance artist or sculptor whose body was her medium. After meeting Lyon at a party in 1979, Mapplethorpe and his new model embarked on a six-year collaboration that resulted in 184 editioned portraits. A selection of these images in the exhibition shows her dressed, undressed, and in various guises, ranging from ingénue to dominatrix. In his art Mapplethorpe was a perfectionist who preferred to make photographs in the highly controlled environment of his New York City studio loft. His style was predominately directorial – during a shoot he used short verbal commands and gestures to communicate the poses he wanted his models to strike. Afterwards, he would spend hours reviewing his contact sheets and hired master printer Tom Baril to make finely crafted gelatin silver prints.

“Mapplethorpe was more sophisticated than most people realize,” says Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “He was an artist who understood the value of his own intuition and eye, who taught himself the history of photography, how to network, how to run a studio, and how to keep the public interested in him.”

The exhibition includes a selection of Mapplethorpe’s floral still lifes, which further demonstrate his skill in the studio. In these photographs he imbued orchids, calla lilies, poppies, and irises with an erotic charge through carefully orchestrated compositions and meticulous lighting. The Getty’s installation also features Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio, which depicts the gay s&m community of which he was not just an observer, but a participant. It comprises 13 photographs of sex acts that Mapplethorpe staged for the camera with particular attention to the harmonious arrangement of forms. The careful selection, sizing, sequencing, and packaging of these prints in a luxurious portfolio case wrapped in black silk help to blur the line between fine art and pornography.

The exhibition directly addresses Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, a retrospective exhibition that opened in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before beginning an eight-venue tour. After the exhibition caught the attention of conservative politicians, it was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., two weeks before its scheduled opening. When it was later shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, director Dennis Barrie was arrested and charged with pandering obscenity – a charge of which he was acquitted. The exhibition also traveled to the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), where it had record-breaking attendance. The Getty exhibition documents the media uproar surrounding The Perfect Moment through items that include a 1989 cover of ArtForum International featuring a protest that took place outside the Corcoran, exhibition catalogues that include images that were considered “obscene,” by some and Mapplethorpe’s photograph of an American flag.

“When planning this exhibition, I wanted the focus to be on Mapplethorpe’s work and not on the sensationalism that accompanied The Perfect Moment. I’ve included it in a small way because that exhibition not only represents a highpoint in Mapplethorpe’s career, but the controversy it engendered puts his sex pictures in a historical context,” says Paul Martineau. “I’m afraid that the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of Mapplethorpe is that controversy. There is so much more to discover about Mapplethorpe and his work than that. He continues to have an enormous impact on the photographic scene.”

The exhibition also emphasizes the care that Mapplethorpe took to craft his legacy. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, Mapplethorpe continued to work more ardently than ever. In 1988 he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to steward his own work into the future, provide support for photography at the institutional level, and help fund AIDS research. A 1988 self-portrait on view shows Mapplethorpe’s face revealing signs of illness, his hand gripping a skull-topped cane, a symbol of his impending death. The simple composition and brutal honesty combine to make this photograph one of his most visually and psychologically powerful images.

The two complementary presentations at the Getty and LACMA highlight different aspects of the artist’s complex personality. LACMA’s exhibition underscores the artist’s relationship to New York’s underground, as well as his experimentation with a variety of media. Following its Los Angeles debut, the exhibition will go on an international tour, traveling to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada (8/29/16-1/22/17), the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia (10/28/17-2/4/18), and another international venue. The Getty and LACMA will be the exhibition’s sole U.S. venues, and the exhibitions will be combined and toured as one for the international locations. The LACMA exhibition is curated by Britt Salvesen, Department Head and Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Department of Prints and Drawings at LACMA.

Two books will be published in conjunction with the Mapplethorpe exhibition: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen with an essay by Eugenia Parry and an introduction by Weston Naef, and Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive by Frances Terpak and Michelle Brunnick, with essays by Patti Smith and Jonathan Weinberg.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Orchid' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Orchid
1987
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49.2 cm (19 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Calla Lily' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1981

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1981
Gelatin silver print
45.1 x 35 cm (17 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Tulips' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulips
1988
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Phillip Prioleau' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Phillip Prioleau
1982
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 38.8 cm (15 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Tulips' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulips
1978
Gelatin silver print
35.4 x 35.4 cm (13 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Flower Arrangement' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Flower Arrangement
1986
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Flower With Knife' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Flower With Knife
1985
Platinum print
49.2 x 49.5 cm (19 3/8 x 19 1/2 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Poppy' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Poppy
1988
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49.2 cm (19 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
38.4 x 38.4 cm (15 1/8 x 15 1/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
40 x 38.5 cm (15 3/4 x 15 3/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Calla Lily' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily
1986
Gelatin silver print
48.6 x 48.6 cm (19 1/8 x 19 1/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Text

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Thomas' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Gelatin silver print
48.8 x 48.8 cm (19 3/16 x 19 3/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken and Lydia and Tyler' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken and Lydia and Tyler
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.4 x 38.2 cm (15 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken Moody and Robert Sherman' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Platinum print
49.4 x 50.2 cm (19 7/16 x 19 3/4 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Hermes' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Hermes
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken Moody' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody
1983
Gelatin silver print
38.5 x 38.7 cm (15 3/16 x 15 1/4 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ajitto' 1981

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
45.4 x 35.5 cm (17 7/8 x 14 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Jim, Sausalito' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Jim, Sausalito
1977
from The X Portfolio
Selenium toned gelatin silver print mounted on black board
19.5 x 19.5 cm (7 11/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Patrice, N.Y.C.' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Patrice, N.Y.C.
1977
from The X Portfolio
Selenium toned gelatin silver print mounted on black board
19.5 x 19.5 cm (7 11/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

 

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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17
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 7th March – 31st July 2016

 

One wrong does not a life make

A very large posting on a fascinating subject, for an exhibition that examines “the numerous ways that photography has influenced that favorite human activity, speculating about crimes and the people who commit them.” As the press release notes, “Since the earliest days of the medium, photographs have been used for criminal investigation and evidence gathering, to record crime scenes, to identify suspects and abet their capture, and to report events to the public. This exhibition explores the multifaceted intersections between photography and crime…” And all this history displayed in just two gallery spaces!

Of course, what the press release fails to note is that it is often the very people in power (the police, judiciary, and even the photographer) who name and shame those whose likenesses are captured by the camera. In other words, the people in these photographs are already labelled – deviant, lifter, wife poisoner, forger, sneak thief; cracksman, pickpocket, burglar, highwayman; murderer, counterfeiter, abortionist – before their photograph is ever taken. They have already been dressed for the part. This verdict is further reinforced when images, such as those by Weggee, appear in newspapers and, using Walker Evans phrase, the “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury” confirm what has been fed to them. As noted in the text in the posting about the photographs of Samuel G. Szabó, “Would the serious young man in the overcoat and silk top hat appear roguish without the caption “John McNauth alias Keely alias little hucks / Pick Pocket” below his portrait?” I think not (which is what the viewer does when confronted with the veracity of the photograph and the text supplied by those in a position of power)… therefore I am.

What strikes me about the “mugshot” photographs of Samuel G. Szabó and Alphonse Bertillon is the ordinariness of the people he captured – tailor, printer, accountant, photographer, seamstress – and how they have forever been labelled “anarchists”. Nothing is known of the rest of their lives and a search on the internet reveals nothing about them, except those people indelibly printed onto the fabric of history: Ravachol, murderer and anarchist who was bent on improving the conditions of the poor (no name or age under his photograph); and Félix Fénéon – head and eyes directed away from the camera whereas most others stare straight into the camera (upon direction) – all haughty superiority, as though the process of being photographed as an “anarchist” was beneath the witty critique (no name or age under his photograph as well). Only by this is it recorded that they are morally suspicious and this is done at the behest of the authorities. Whatever else they did in their life counts as if for nothing.

What also strikes me about the “en situ” photographs of the habitats of the murdered victims and the places where they were found, is again the mundanity of the interiors and places of execution. In the photographs that document the Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 we note the ephemera of human existence – the photographs standing on three-tiered wooden shelves, the open box on the table, the body on the floor – photographed from both directions, once with the camera pointing towards the windows, the other from 180 degrees, with the camera pointing into the room. And then we notice the mantlepiece photographed from another direction, with the open box on the table. And the bound and gagged man on the floor is still on the floor out of frame. And then another place of murder, that of the ending of a life, marked out in Bertillon’s photograph “Place where the corpse was found” by two pieces of wood laying on the ground and two pieces of wood propped at 45 degrees against the wall. As though this is all that is left of the existence of Mademoiselle Mercier along a street (Rue de l’Yvette) that still exists in Paris to this day … a photograph of pieces of wood and an empty space. Pace HEAD by Weggee.

It’s all about the stories, or the lack of them, that these photographs tell/sell. Weggee’s photographs of a sixteen-year old child killer, Frank Pape, are brutal in their exposure of this adolescent man. The way the horizontal negative has been cropped over and over again, to gain best effect, best value for the tabloid dollar, gives an idea of the pejorative pronunciation of guilt upon this individual before trial. What happened to Frank Pape? I’ve been digging, trying to find out… but nothing. Did he live, was he executed? What led him to that point and what happened to the rest of his life? This is the great unknown after the click of the shutter, the key in the lock, the silence of history. Here I am not advocating for the celebrity of the criminal, as in Richard Avedon’s photographs of the murderer Dick Hickock, but an acknowledgement that one wrong does not a life make.

But then again, for the victim, in shootings like that of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy – the pain of the photograph and the look in his eyes says it all. Here he is a victim, twice over (the victim of the assassin and the camera), and is to remain a victim for eternity, as long as people look at this photograph. This is such a sad and painful photograph. I remember the day it happened. I was ten years old at the time, and it’s one of those events that you will always remember the rest of you life, where you were, who you were with – like the moon landings or 9/11. I was in a car outside a small shop and the news came on the radio. Robert F. Kennedy had been shot – first aural, then visual on the black and white tv that night, then textual in the newspapers and then visual again with this photograph. The pain of the loss of those heady days of hope lessen not. Today we live in a police state where surveillance and recognition are everything, where those in power seek to control and regulate ever more the freedom of the people, and the people are lost to anonymity and time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,046

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

 

 

“Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” an exhibit currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, proposes to examine the numerous ways that photography has influenced that favorite human activity, speculating about crimes and the people who commit them. This would be an ambitious undertaking for a ten-room show; this one is limited to only two. The result is something of a hodgepodge, hemmed in by a vague set of constraints. The bulk of the photos were taken in the United States between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, none after the seventies, and all are in black and white, as if to emphasize their historical remove from our own filtered times. But the aesthetic and ethical questions the exhibit raises – about the American attraction to criminal glamour, and our queasy, not always critical fascination with looking at violence – are the right ones to ask during the current vogue for “true crime,” that funny phrase we use for stories told in public about terrible things others suffer privately.

.
Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website

 

 

“Since the earliest days of the medium, photographs have been used for criminal investigation and evidence gathering, to record crime scenes, to identify suspects and abet their capture, and to report events to the public. This exhibition explores the multifaceted intersections between photography and crime, from 19th-century “rogues’ galleries” to work by contemporary artists inspired by criminal transgression. The installation will feature some 70 works, drawn entirely from The Met collection, ranging from the 1850s to the present.

Among the highlights of the installation is Alexander Gardner’s documentation of the events following the assassination of President Lincoln, as well as rare forensic photographs by Alphonse Bertillon, the French criminologist who created the system of criminal identification that gave rise to the modern mug shot. Also on display is a vivid selection of vintage news photographs related to cases both obscure and notorious, such as a study of John Dillinger’s feet in a Chicago morgue in 1934; Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963; and Patty Hearst captured by bank surveillance cameras in 1974. In addition to exploring photography’s evidentiary uses, the exhibition will feature work by artists who have drawn inspiration from the criminal underworld, including Richard Avedon, Larry Clark, Walker Evans, John Gutmann, Andy Warhol, and Weegee.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Unknown (American) '[John Dillinger's Feet, Chicago Morgue]' 1934

 

Unknown (American)
[John Dillinger’s Feet, Chicago Morgue]
1934
Gelatin silver print
4 11/16 x 7 13/16 in. (11.9 x 19.8 cm)
Purchase, The Marks Family Foundation Gift, 2001
© Bettmann / CORBIS

 

 

This press photo of John Dillinger, the celebrity gangster from Chicago shot down at age 31, morbidly embodies the twentieth-century’s obsession with fame and hunger for physical contact with media personae. As the Depression era’s most successful bank robber, Dillinger had become a folk hero for his brash, cocky manner and disregard for authority. This unflinching view of Dillinger laid out on a slab in the Chicago morgue not only bares the facts but ironically recalls Mantegna’s The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (c. 1490).

 

 

Unknown (American) [Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department] 1936

 

Unknown (American)
[Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department]
1936
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 5 15/16 × 9 1/8 in. (15.1 × 23.1 cm) Sheet: 6 1/8 × 9 5/16 in. (15.6 × 23.6 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2014

 

Unknown (American) [Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department] 1936

 

Unknown (American)
[Jeff Briggs, Robert Sims, Otis Hall, and Peter Pamphlet; Full-Length Mugshot from the Chicago Police Department]
1936
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 5 15/16 × 9 1/8 in. (15.1 × 23.1 cm) Sheet: 6 1/8 × 9 5/16 in. (15.6 × 23.6 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2014

 

 

The Chicago Police Department likely made these discarded file photographs when arrested suspects entered the precinct for booking. Each is accompanied by a typewritten caption recording the subjects’ names, vital statistics, and, in some cases, the crimes for which they were arrested (carrying concealed weapons, assault and robbery at gunpoint). With their subjects lined up theatrically against a dark velvet curtain, the images vividly evoke an era and milieu familiar to fans of film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930s and 1940s.

A similar defiant dignity is evident in two booking photographs taken by the Chicago Police Department, part of a series made between 1936 and 1946. In the first, four black men in suits line up in front of what seems to be a theatre curtain. In the second, they strike the same pose, now in longer coats and with hats, as if auditioning for different parts in the same play. One of the men smiles affably, a flash of personality in a process meant to cloak it. The others look out evenly, returning the camera’s gaze and reminding whoever is behind the shutter that they, too, have the power to see.

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut) '[Subway Passengers, New York City]' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903 – 1975 New Haven, Connecticut)
[Subway Passengers, New York City]
1938
Gelatin silver print
12.2 x 15.0 cm (4 13/16 x 5 15/16 in.)
Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Evans called his unwitting subjects. In this example, a smirking, vaguely menacing young man is engrossed in his copy of the Daily News. PAL TELLS HOW GUNGIRL KILLS, reads the headline. An obese woman, obviously not an acquaintance, sits miserably beside him.

During the winter months between 1938 and 1941, Evans strapped a camera to his midsection, cloaked it with his overcoat, and snaked a cable release down his suit sleeve to photograph New York City subway passengers unawares. In his book of these unposed portraits, Many Are Called (1966), the artist referred to his quarry as “the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” What he was after stylistically, though, was more in keeping with the criminal mug shot: frontal and without emotional inflection. In this photograph, the tabloid headline “PAL TELLS HOW GUNGIRL KILLED” across the newspaper nods to Evans’s interest in vernacular source material.

Inspired by the incisive realism of Honoré Daumier’s Third-Class Carriage, Walker Evans sought to avoid the vanity, sentimentality, and artifice of conventional studio portraiture. The subway series, he later said, was “my idea of what a portrait ought to be: anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.”

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'A Bunch of Cops' 1940s

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
A Bunch of Cops
1940s
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Bruce A. Kirstein, in memory of Marc S. Kirstein, 1978
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 - 2004 San Antonio, Texas) 'Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas' April 1960

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 – 2004 San Antonio, Texas)
Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas
April 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 50.8 x 50.8 cm (20 x 20 in.)
Frame: 59.7 x 59.7 cm (23 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© Richard Avedon

 

 

In April 1960 Avedon traveled to Garden City, Kansas, to photograph the individuals connected with the savage murder of the four-member Clutter family in their remote farmhouse. He came at the request of his friend Truman Capote, who was there gathering material for his groundbreaking true-crime novel In Cold Blood (1966). Working with a handheld Rolleiflex camera, Avedon made this striking photograph of one of the killers, Richard “Dick” Hickcock, while he was in jail awaiting trial. The mug shot-like portrait captures Hickock’s sullen, lopsided face with mesmerizing clarity, as if searching for physiognomic clues to his criminal pathology.

.
“One of the show’s most striking pictures is a Richard Avedon portrait of Dick Hickock, one of the two murderers immortalized in Truman Capote’s true-crime touchstone “In Cold Blood.” Hickock and Perry Smith, both ex-convicts out on parole, had set out to rob the home of Herbert Clutter, a farmer in Holcomb, Kansas; when they didn’t find the safe they’d been looking for, they killed Clutter, his wife, and his two children. Looking at Hickock’s mug shot, Capote writes, the wife of the case’s investigator is reminded “of a bobcat she’d once seen caught in a trap, and of how, though she’d wanted to release it, the cat’s eyes, radiant with pain and hatred, had drained her of pity and filled her with terror.” Here, Hickock gets the soft-focus celebrity treatment, the line between notoriety and fame as blurred as ever. Hickock, according to Capote, had always been self-conscious about his long, lopsided face. His nose juts out at a Picasso angle, and while his right eye meets Avedon’s lens straight on, his smaller left one seems to look inward. The result is a double portrait, part persona, part awkward, vulnerable self, both haunted by Capote’s own verbal portrait of Hickock’s victims, the Clutter family, at their funeral: “The head of each was completely encased in cotton, a swollen cocoon twice the size of an ordinary blown-up balloon, and the cotton, because it had been sprayed with a glossy substance, twinkled like Christmas-tree snow.”

Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website April 9 2016 [Online] Cited 15/07/2016

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 - 2004 San Antonio, Texas) 'Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas' April 1960

 

Richard Avedon (American, New York 1923 – 2004 San Antonio, Texas)
Dick Hickock, Murderer, Garden City, Kansas
April 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 50.8 x 50.8 cm (20 x 20 in.)
Frame: 59.7 x 59.7 cm (23 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© Richard Avedon

 

 

“Richard Avedon is represented by his 1960 portrait of Dick Hickock, the Kansas murderer who was one of the subjects of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. In his typical style, Avedon presents a large-scale investigation of Hickock’s face: the black greased pompadour combed just so, the slightly fleshy nose, the disturbingly engaging eyes, all of it ever so slightly skewed by the impression of Hickock’s inscrutable lopsided grievance. (Hickock had suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident when he was nineteen.) As with Gardner’s 1865 portrait of Lewis Powell (who was also executed by hanging for his crime), you sense how seriously Hickock takes being photographed, his wish to give something of himself, to influence, if not control, the emanations of his image and how he is being portrayed.”

Michael Greenberg. “Caught in the Act,” on The New York Review of Books website, April 7, 2016 [Online] Cited 22/06/2016

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934) 'FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony' November 24, 1963

 

Robert H. Jackson (American, born 1934)
FATAL BULLET HITS OSWALD. Jack Ruby fires bullet point blank into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald at Dallas Police Station. Oswald grimaces in agony
November 24, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 19.5 cm (6 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.) Sheet: 20.5 x 20.1 cm (8 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2011

 

 

Before today’s fast-paced twenty-four hour news cycle, an eager American public followed the development of criminal investigations through the gray tones of press photographs. News outlets used a wire service to send images via in-house or portable transmitters, converting black-and-white tones into electrical pulses that were instantaneously received and printed using the same technology. Mundane courtroom proceedings, such as arraignments and evidence display, became newsworthy through the immediacy of reportage. Every small detail was devoured by a public impatient for news about notorious bank robbers and murderers – some of whom, like John Dillinger, were elevated to the status of folk heroes. In other instances, such as the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, newspapers and television brought the drama and intensity of firsthand observation into people’s homes.

 

Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times. 'The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy' 1968

 

Boris Yaro (American, born 1938)
LOS ANGELES. KENNEDY MOMENTS AFTER SHOOTING. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Lies Gravely Wounded on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight today, moments after he was shot during a celebration of his victory in yesterday’s California primary election
June 5, 1968
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 21.1 cm (6 3/4 x 8 5/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2010

 

 

June 5, 1968: “Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy lies on the floor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after he was shot in the head. He had just finished his victory speech upon winning the California primary. Times photographer Boris Yaro was standing 3 feet from Kennedy when the shooting began. “The gunman started firing at point-blank range. Sen. Kennedy didn’t have a chance,” Yaro recounted in a June 6, 1968, story for The Times. The Democratic senator, 42, was alive for more than 24 hours and was declared dead on the morning of June 6. The shooter was later identified as Sirhan B. Sirhan, who was found guilty of Kennedy’s assassination on April 17, 1969. His motives remain a mystery and controversy to this day.”

1964 Pulitzer Prize, Photography, Robert Jackson, Dallas Times Herald November 22, 1963

 

Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928 - 1987 New York) 'Electric Chair' 1971

 

Andy Warhol (American, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1928 – 1987 New York)
Electric Chair
1971
Printer: Silkprint Kettner, Zurich
Publisher: Bruno Bischofberger
Portfolio of ten screenprints
35 1/2 x 48 inches (90.2 x 121.9 cm)
Gift of Robert Meltzer, 1972

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Assassination of Monsieur V. Lecomte, 74 Rue des Martyrs, 1902 (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Murder of Madame Veuve Bol, Projection on a Vertical Plane (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

1st November 1902. Assassination of Mademoiselle Mercier, Rue de l’Yvette á Bouvry la Reine. Photograph of the corpse.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

Place where the corpse was found (and detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) '[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]' 1901-8

 

House of the victim (and detail)

 

Attributed to Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
[Album of Paris Crime Scenes]
1901-8
Gelatin silver prints
Overall: 24.3 x 31cm (9 9/16 x 12 3/16in.)
Page: 23 x 29 cm (9 1/16 x 11 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

 

Alphonse Bertillon, the chief of criminal identification for the Paris police department, developed the mug shot format and other photographic procedures used by police to register criminals. Although the images in this extraordinary album of forensic photographs were made by or under the direction of Bertillon, it was probably assembled by a private investigator or secretary who worked at the Paris prefecture. Photographs of the pale bodies of murder victims are assembled with views of the rooms where the murders took place, close-ups of objects that served as clues, and mug shots of criminals and suspects. Made as part of an archive rather than as art, these postmortem portraits, recorded in the deadpan style of a police report, nonetheless retain an unsettling potency.

 

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 - 61) 'Rogues, a Study of Characters' c. 1860

 

Samuel G. Szabó (Hungarian, active America c. 1854 – 61)
Rogues, a Study of Characters
c. 1860
Salted paper prints from glass negatives
From 8.8 x 6.6 cm (3 7/16 x 2 5/8 in.) to 11.5 x 8.8 cm (4 1/2 x 3 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Lifter, wife poisoner, forger, sneak thief; cracksman, pickpocket, burglar, highwayman; murderer, counterfeiter, abortionist – each found a place in this gallery of rogues. Photography was first put to service for the identification and apprehension of criminals in the late 1850s. In New York, for example, 450 photographs of known criminals could be viewed by the public in a real rogues’ gallery at police headquarters, the portraits arranged by category, such as “Leading pickpockets, who work one, two, or three together, and are mostly English.”

Little is known of Samuel G. Szabó, his methods or his intentions. He appears to have left his native Hungary in the early or mid-1850s by necessity, but the reason for his exile remains a mystery.

In the United States Szabó moved frequently. Between May 1857 and his return to Europe in July 1861 he traveled to New Orleans, Cincinnati, Chicago, Saint Louis, Philadelphia, and New York, settling for a brief period in Baltimore, where he was listed in the city directory as a daguerreotypist. His whereabouts when he made this album are unknown. One may speculate that Szabó made these portraits while working for, or with the cooperation of, the police, and some of the 218 prints in the album appear to be copy prints made from other photographic portraits.

But this is more than a collection of mug shots; it is a study of characters by a “photogr[aphic] artist,” as Szabó signed the title page of this album. Just as Mathew Brady believed that portraits of America’s great men and women held clues to the nobility of their character and could serve as moral and political exemplars to those who contemplated them, others attempted to discern in photographs such as Szabó’s physical characteristics of the criminal psyche. Yet, as in Hugh Diamond’s portraits of the insane (no. 30), the reading of individual portraits is not always self-evident. Would the serious young man in the overcoat and silk top hat appear roguish without the caption “John McNauth alias Keely alias little hucks / Pick Pocket” below his portrait?

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

 

Eyebrows, eyelids, globes, orbits, wrinkles

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l'étude du "portrait parlé" c. 1909 (detail)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques: pour servir a l’étude du “portrait parlé” (and details)
c. 1909
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 29.5 cm (15 1/2 x 11 5/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2009

 

 

Nineteenth-century police headquarters were host to disorganized “rogues’ galleries” swollen with photographic portraits of criminals, which turned even the simplest of searches into a Sisyphean labor. As a response, police clerk Alphonse Bertillon introduced a rigorous system of classification, or signalment, to help organize archives, a process that included not only quantitative anthropometric measurements of the head, body, and extremities but also qualitative descriptions of the face. Photography’s potential for exactitude made it a crucial tool for Bertillon’s system, and his portrait parlé – the basis for today’s mugshot – posited a powerful analogy between a photographic likeness and the ink fingerprint.

Akin to a cheat-sheet for police clerks, this composite photograph illustrates how the mugshot could yield a series of classifications, dividing the male criminal’s face into discrete units of information. Such points of identification include the precise differentiation between left ear and right, the angle of inclination of the chin, and the pattern of the folds on the brow. Although intended merely as a filing aide, this image of the human face in all its striations of repetition and difference renders surveillance as a terrifying manifestation of the modern sublime.

.
“Bertillon’s other major legacy in the field of forensics was his invention of the mug shot. In the mid-nineteenth century, criminal photography focussed on identifying types of offenders; the exhibit’s earliest images are from an album of “rogues,” taken around 1860 in the United States by the photographer Samuel G. Szabó, who sought to distinguish the physiognomy of a counterfeiter from that of a “sneak thief,” a burglar, and a pickpocket. (Whatever revealing differences Szabó may have discerned, his subjects all look mad as hell to be stuck in his perp pictures.) Bertillon countered this hypothetical typology with empirical method, taking “anthropometric” measurements – determining the length of a convict’s middle finger, for example – as well as making elaborate verbal descriptions of a subject’s physical aspect, covering everything from his wrinkles to his eyelids, and two standardized photographs of his face, one from the front, one in profile.”

Alexandra Schwartz. “The Long Collusion of Photography and Crime,” on The New Yorker website April 9 2016 [Online] Cited 15/07/2016

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Véret. 0ctave-Jean. 19 ans, né à Paris XXe. Photographe. Anarchiste. 2/3/94.' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Véret. 0ctave-Jean. 19 ans, né à Paris XXe. Photographe. Anarchiste. 2/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Beaulieu. Henri, Félix, Camille. 23 ans, né le 30/11/70 à Paris Ve. Comptable. Anarchiste. 23/5/94.' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Beaulieu. Henri, Félix, Camille. 23 ans, né le 30/11/70 à Paris Ve. Comptable. Anarchiste. 23/5/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Soubrier. Annette (femme Chericotti). 28 ans, nŽe ˆ Paris Ille. Coutire. Anarchiste. 25/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Soubrier. Annette (femme Chericotti). 28 ans, nŽe ˆ Paris Ille. Coutire. Anarchiste. 25/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'SchulŽ. Armand. 21 ans, nŽ le 28/2/73 ˆ Choisy-le-Roi. Comptable. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
SchulŽ. Armand. 21 ans, nŽ le 28/2/73 ˆ Choisy-le-Roi. Comptable. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Roobin. Joseph. 40 ans, nŽ ˆ Bourgneuf (Loire-InfŽrieure). Terrassier. Anarchiste. 2/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Roobin. Joseph. 40 ans, nŽ ˆ Bourgneuf (Loire-InfŽrieure). Terrassier. Anarchiste. 2/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Robillard. Guillaume, Joseph. 24 ans, nŽ le 17/11/68 ˆVaucresson. Fondeur en cuivre. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Robillard. Guillaume, Joseph. 24 ans, nŽ le 17/11/68 ˆ Vaucresson. Fondeur en cuivre. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Ravachol. Franois Claudius Kœnigstein. 33 ans, nŽ ˆ St-Chamond (Loire). CondamnŽ le 27/4/92' 1892

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Ravachol. Franois Claudius Kœnigstein. 33 ans, nŽ ˆ St-Chamond (Loire). CondamnŽ le 27/4/92
1892
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Condemned 27/04/1892

 

 

“François Claudius Koenigstein, known as Ravachol (1859-1892), was a French anarchist. He was born on 14 October 1859, at Saint-Chamond, Loire and died guillotined on 11 July 1892, at Montbrison.

François Koenigstein was born in Saint-Chamond, Loire as the eldest child of a Dutch father (Jean Adam Koenigstein) and a French mother (Marie Ravachol). As an adult, he adopted his mother’s maiden name as his surname, following years of struggle after his father abandoned the family when François was only 8 years old. From that time on he had to support his mother, sister, and brother; he also looked after his nephew. He eventually found work as a dyer’s assistant, a job which he later lost. He was very poor throughout his life. For additional income he played accordion at society balls on Sundays at Saint-Étienne.

Ravachol became politically active. He joined the anarchists as well as groups organizing to improve working conditions. Labor unrest resulted in fierce reprisals by police. On 1 May 1891, at Fourmies, a workers demonstration took place for the eight-hour day; confrontations with the police followed. The Police opened fire on the crowd, resulting in nine deaths amongst the demonstrators. The same day, at Clichy, serious incidents erupted in a procession in which anarchists were taking part. Three men were arrested and taken to the commissariat of police. There they were interrogated (and brutalised with beatings, resulting in injuries). A trial (the Clichy Affair (fr)) ensued, in which two of the three anarchists were sentenced to prison terms (despite their abuse in jail.

In addition to these events, authorities kept up repression of the communards, which had continued from the time of the insurrection of the Paris Commune of 1871. Ravachol was aroused to take action in 1892 against members of the judiciary. He placed bombs in the living quarters of the Advocate General, Léon Bulot (executive of the Public Ministry), and Edmond Benoît, the councillor who had presided over the Assises Court during the Clichy Affair.

An informant told of his actions, and Ravachol was arrested on 30 March 1892 for his bombings at the Restaurant Véry. The day before the trial, anarchists bombed the restaurant where the informant worked. Ravachol was tried at the Assises Court of Seine on 26 April. He was convicted and condemned to prison for life. On 23 June, Ravachol was condemned to death in a second trial at the Assises Court of Loire for three murders. His participation in two of them is disputed (he confessed only to the murder of the hermit of Montbrison, claiming it was due to his own poverty). On 11 July 1892, Ravachol was publicly guillotined.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Cover page of "Le Petit Journal" illustrating the arrest of French anarchist and assassin Ravachol

 

Cover page of “Le Petit Journal” illustrating the arrest of French anarchist and assassin Ravachol (1859-1892)
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Rampin. Pierre. 3/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Rampin. Pierre. 3/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆGoersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆGoersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94' 1894 (verso)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Peticolin. Henri. 23 ans, nŽ le 8/6/71 ˆ Goersdorf (Bas-Rhin). Vernisseur. Anarchiste. 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Varnisher. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Olguéni Gustave. 24 ans, né à Sala (Suède) le 24-5-69. Artiste-peintre. Anarchiste. 14-3-94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Olguéni Gustave. 24 ans, né à Sala (Suède) le 24-5-69. Artiste-peintre. Anarchiste. 14-3-94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Adnet. Clotilde. 19 ans, née en décembre 74 à Argentant (Orne). Brodeuse. Anarchiste. Fichée le 7/1/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Adnet. Clotilde. 19 ans, née en décembre 74 à Argentant (Orne). Brodeuse. Anarchiste. Fichée le 7/1/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Embroiderer. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Nic. Celestin. 20 ans, nŽ ˆ Conflans-St-Honorine (Seine & Oise). Emballeur. 26/2/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Nic. Celestin. 20 ans, nŽ ˆ Conflans-St-Honorine (Seine & Oise). Emballeur. 26/2/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Mocquet. Georges, Gustave. 17 ans, nŽ le 17/5/76 ˆ Paris IXe. Tapissier. Anarchiste. 6/1/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Mocquet. Georges, Gustave. 17 ans, nŽ le 17/5/76 ˆ Paris IXe. Tapissier. Anarchiste. 6/1/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Feneon. Felix. Clerk of the Galerie Berheim Jeune' 1894-85

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Feneon. Felix. Clerk of the Galerie Berheim Jeune
1894-85
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

 

Félix Fénéon (22 June 1861, Turin, Italy – 29 February 1944, Châtenay-Malabry) was a Parisian anarchist and art critic during the late 19th century. He coined the term “Neo-Impressionism” in 1886 to identify a group of artists led by Georges Seurat, and ardently promoted them.

Felix Fénéon was a prominent literary stylist, art critic, and anarchist born in Turin, Italy in 1861. He was later raised in Burgundy, presumably because his father was a travelling salesman. After placing first in the competitive exams for jobs, Fénéon moved to Paris to work for the War Office where he achieved the rank of chief clerk. During his time in the war office he edited many works, including those of Rimbaud and Lautréamont, as well as helped to advance the fledgling pointillist movement under Georges Seurat. He was also a regular at Mallarmé’s salons on Tuesday evenings as well as active in anarchist circles.

Fénéon, ironically, worked 13 years at the War Office while remaining heavily active in supporting anarchist circles and movements. In March 1892 French police talked about Fénéon as an ‘active Anarchist’, and they had him shadowed. In 1894 Fénéon was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy because of an anarchist bombing of the Foyot restaurant, a popular haunt of politicians. He was also suspected of connection with the assassination of the French President, Sadi Carnot, by an Italian anarchist. He and twenty-nine others were arrested under charges of conspiracy in what became known as the “Trial of Thirty”. Fénéon was acquitted with many of the original thirty. However, the trial was a high point in publicity for Fénéon, normally behind the scenes, as he championed his wit to the amusement of the jury. Of the courtroom scene, Julian Barnes writes, “When the presiding judge put it to him that he had been spotted talking to a known anarchist behind a gas lamp, he replied coolly: Can you tell me, Monsieur le Président, which side of a gas lamp is its behind?”

After the trial, Fénéon became even more elusive. In 1890, the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac asked to produce a portrait of the lauded critic. Fénéon refused several times before agreeing, on the condition that Signac produced a full face effigy. Signac naturally refused, painting instead a famous profile of Fénéon with his characteristic goatee, a picture that largely became a symbol of the movement, spawning many variations. Fénéon, though displeased, hung the picture on his wall until Signac’s death 45 years later. Aside from Novels in Three Lines that first appeared as clippings in the Parisian Le Matins in 1906 and later as a collection, only because his mistress Camille Pateel had collected them in an album, Fénéon published only a 43-page monograph in Les Impressionists (1886). When asked to produce Les Nouvelles en Trois Lignes as a collection, Fénéon famously replied with an angry “I aspire only to silence”. As Luc Sante points out, Fénéon, one might say, is invisibly famous, having affected so much without being recognizable to many.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Dupuis. Augustin. 53 ans, nŽ le 24/6/41 ˆ Dourdan (Seine &Oise). Charron, forgeron. Anarchiste. 3/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Dupuis. Augustin. 53 ans, nŽ le 24/6/41 ˆ Dourdan (Seine &Oise). Charron, forgeron. Anarchiste. 3/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Wheelwright, blacksmith. Anarchist.

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'CharriŽ. Cyprien. 26 ans, nŽ le 7/10/67 ˆ Paris XVIlle. Imprimeur. Anarchiste 2/7/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
CharriŽ. Cyprien. 26 ans, nŽ le 7/10/67 ˆ Paris XVIlle. Imprimeur. Anarchiste 2/7/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 - 1914) 'Bellemans. Eugène (ou Michel). 23 ans, né à Gand (Belgique). Tailleur d'habits. Anarchiste. 9/3/94' 1894

 

Alphonse Bertillon (French, 1853 – 1914)
Bellemans. Eugène (ou Michel). 23 ans, né à Gand (Belgique). Tailleur d’habits. Anarchiste. 9/3/94
1894
Albumen silver print from glass negative
10.5 x 7 x 0.5 cm (4 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 3/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005

 

 

Born into a distinguished family of scientists and statisticians, Bertillon began his career as a clerk in the Identification Bureau of the Paris Prefecture of Police in 1879. Tasked with maintaining reliable police records of offenders, he developed the first modern system of criminal identification. The system, which became known as Bertillonage, had three components: anthropometric measurement, precise verbal description of the prisoner’s physical characteristics, and standardized photographs of the face.

In the early 1890s Paris was subject to a wave of bombings and assassination attempts carried out by anarchist proponents of “propaganda of the deed.” One of Bertillon’s greatest successes came in March 1892, when his system of criminal identification led to the arrest of an anarchist bomber and career criminal who went by the name Ravachol. The publicity surrounding the case earned Bertillon the Legion of Honor and encouraged police departments around the world to adopt his anthropometric system.

 

Unknown (American) '[Broadside for the Capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold]' 1865

 

Unknown (American)
[Broadside for the Capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold]
Artist: Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Photography Studio: Silsbee, Case & Company (American, active Boston)
Photography Studio: Unknown
April 20, 1865
Ink on paper with three albumen silver prints from glass negatives
Sheet: 60.5 x 31.3 cm (23 13/16 x 12 5/16 in.) Each photograph: 8.6 x 5.4 cm (3 3/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

On the night of April 14, 1865, just five days after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. Within twenty-four hours, Secret Service director Colonel Lafayette Baker had already acquired photographs of Booth and two of his accomplices. Booth’s photograph was secured by a standard police search of the actor’s room at the National Hotel; a photograph of John Surratt, a suspect in the plot to kill Secretary of State William Seward, was obtained from his mother, Mary (soon to be indicted as a fellow conspirator), and David Herold’s photograph was found in a search of his mother’s carte-de-visite album. The three photographs were taken to Alexander Gardner’s studio for immediate reproduction. This bill was issued on April 20, the first such broadside in America illustrated with photographs tipped onto the sheet.

The descriptions of the alleged conspirators combined with their photographic portraits proved invaluable to the militia. Six days after the poster was released Booth and Herold were recognized by a division of the 16th New York Cavalry. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Edward Doherty, demanded their unconditional surrender when he cornered the two men in a barn near Port Royal, Virginia. Herold complied; Booth refused. Two Secret Service detectives accompanying the cavalry, then set fire to the barn. Booth was shot as he attempted to escape; he died three hours later. After a military trial Herold was hanged on July 7 at the Old Arsenal Prison in Washington, D.C.

Surratt escaped to England via Canada, eventually settling in Rome. Two years later a former schoolmate from Maryland recognized Surratt, then a member of the Papal Guard, and he was returned to Washington to stand trial. In September 1868 the charges against him were nol-prossed after the trial ended in a hung jury. Surratt retired to Maryland, worked as a clerk, and lived until 1916.

 

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 - 1882 Washington, D.C.) 'Lewis Powell [alias Lewis Payne]' April 27, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Lewis Powell [alias Lewis Payne]
April 27, 1865
Albumen silver print from glass negative
22.4 × 17.4 cm (8 13/16 × 6 7/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

Alexander Gardner’s 1865 portrait of Lewis Powell, a conspirator with John Wilkes Booth. At roughly the same time that John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, Lewis Paine attempted unsuccessfully to murder Secretary of State William Seward. The son of a Baptist minister from Alabama, Paine (alias Wood, alias Hall, alias Powell) was one of at least five conspirators who planned with Booth the simultaneous assassinations of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Seward. A tall, powerful man, Paine broke into the secretary’s house, struck his son Frederick with the butt of his jammed pistol, brutally stabbed the bedridden politician, and then escaped after stabbing Seward’s other son, Augustus.

Four days later, Paine was caught in a sophisticated police dragnet and arrested at the H Street boarding house of fellow conspirator Mary Surratt. Detained aboard two iron-clad monitors docked together on the Potomac, Paine and seven other presumed conspirators were photographed by Alexander Gardner on April 27. Gardner made full-length, profile, and full-face portraits of each of the men, presaging the pictorial formula later adopted by law-enforcement photographers. Of the ten known photographs of Paine, six show him against a canvas awning on the monitor’s deck, the others against the dented gun turret. In this portrait, Paine, towering more than a head above the deck officer, appears menacingly free of handcuffs. He was twenty years old.

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 - 1882 Washington, D.C.) 'Execution of the Conspirators' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821 – 1882 Washington, D.C.)
Execution of the Conspirators
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print from glass negative
16.8 x 24.2 cm (6 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

 

Alexander Gardner’s intimate involvement in the events following President Lincoln’s assassination would have challenged even the most experienced twentieth-century photojournalist. In just short of four months, Gardner documented in hundreds of portraits and views one of the most complex national news stories in American history. The U.S. Secret Service provided Gardner unlimited access to individuals and places unavailable to any other photographer. Free to retain all but one of his negatives-a portrait of Booth’s corpse-Gardner attempted to sell carte-de-visite and large-format prints of the whole picture story. America, still wounded from the four-year war, was less than interested.

The photographs of the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, David Herold, and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865, were, however, highly sought after by early collectors of Civil War ephemera beginning in the 1880s. This photograph shows the final preparations on the scaffolding in the yard of the Old Arsenal Prison. The day was extremely hot and a parasol shades Mary Surratt, seated at the far left of the stage. (She would become the first woman in America to be hanged.) Two soldiers stationed beneath the stage grasp the narrow beams that hold up the gallows trapdoors. The soldier on the left would later admit he had just vomited, from heat and tension. Only one noose is visible, slightly to the left of Surratt; the other three nooses moved during the exposure and are registered by the camera only as faint blurs. Members of the clergy crowd the stage and provide final counsel to the conspirators. A private audience of invited guests stands at the lower left. Minutes after Gardner’s exposure, the conspirators were tied and blindfolded and the order was given to knock out the support beams.

 

Unknown. 'Policeman Posing with Four "Collared" Thugs' c. 1875

 

Unknown
Policeman Posing with Four “Collared” Thugs
c. 1875
Tintype
Image: 4 5/8 × 3 9/16 in. (11.7 × 9 cm), visible Plate: 5 7/16 × 4 1/16 in. (13.8 × 10.3 cm), approx.
Gift of Stanley B. Burns, MD and The Burns Archive, in honor of Elizabeth A. Burns, 2016

 

This rare narrative tintype of a policeman posing with four criminals handcuffed to one another may be viewed as an occupational portrait of sorts. The officer’s police cap and gleaming badge indicate his profession, while his pose and central placement emphasize his authority.

 

Unknown. '[Five Members of the Wild Bunch]' c. 1892

 

Unknown
[Five Members of the Wild Bunch]
c. 1892
Tintype
Image: 8.4 x 6.2 cm (3 5/16 x 2 7/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

 

The Wild Bunch was the largest and most notorious band of outlaws in the American West. Led by two gunmen better known by their aliases, Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and Kid Curry (Harvey Logan), the Wild Bunch was an informal trust of thieves and rustlers that preyed upon stagecoaches, small banks, and especially railroads from the late 1880s to the first decade of the twentieth century.

This crudely constructed tintype portrait of five members of the gang dressed in bowler hats and city clothes shows, clockwise, from the top left, Kid Curry, Bill McCarty, Bill (Tod) Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, and Tom O’Day. Without their six shooters and cowboy hats the outlaws appear quite civilized and could easily be mistaken for the sheriffs and Pinkerton agents who pursued them in a “Wild West” already much tamed by the probable date of this photograph. Gone was the open range – instead, homesteads and farms dotted the landscape and barbed-wire fences frustrated the cattleman’s drive to market. Gone too was the anonymity associated with distance, as the camera and the telegraph conspired to identify criminals. Bank and train robbery were still lucrative, but the outlaw’s chances for escape gradually shifted in favor of the sheriff’s chances for arrest and conviction.

By 1903 the Wild Bunch had disbanded. A few members of the gang followed Butch Cassidy to South America, while the majority remained in the West, trying to avoid capture. McCarty was shot dead in 1893, in a street in Delta, Colorado, after a bank robbery; Carver died in prison; Kilpatrick was killed during a train robbery in 1912; Tom O’Day was captured by a Casper, Wyoming, sheriff in 1903; and Kid Curry died either by his own hand in Parachute, Colorado, in 1904, or, as legend has it, lived until he was killed by a wild mule in South America in 1909. The photograph comes from the collection of Camillus S. Fly, a pioneer photographer in Tombstone, Arizona, in the 1880s and sheriff of Cochise County in the 1890s.

 

Tom Howard (American, 1894 - 1961) '[Electrocution of Ruth Snyder, Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York]' 1928

 

Tom Howard (American, 1894 – 1961)
[Electrocution of Ruth Snyder, Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York]
1928
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19.3 cm (9 7/16 x 7 5/8 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008
© The New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images

 

 

In spite of the universal ban on cameras in American death chambers, news editors have long recognized the public’s hunger for eyewitness images of high-profile executions. In January 1928 Tom Howard made tabloid history when he photographed, using a miniature camera strapped to his ankle, the electrocution of the convicted murderer Ruth Snyder at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York. The sensational picture ran under banner headlines on the front page of the New York Daily News two days in a row.

.
“In 1925, Snyder, a housewife from Queens Village, Queens, New York City, began an affair with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. She then began to plan the murder of her husband, enlisting the help of her new lover, though he appeared to be very reluctant. Her distaste for her husband apparently began when he insisted on hanging a picture of his late fiancée, Jessie Guishard, on the wall of their first home, and named his boat after her. Guishard, whom Albert described to Ruth as “the finest woman I have ever met”, had been dead for 10 years.

Ruth Snyder first persuaded her husband to purchase insurance, with the assistance of an insurance agent (who was subsequently fired and sent to prison for forgery) “signed” a $48,000 life insurance policy that paid extra (“double indemnity”) if an unexpected act of violence killed the victim. According to Henry Judd Gray, Ruth had made at least seven attempts to kill her husband, all of which he survived. On March 20, 1927, the couple garrotted Albert Snyder and stuffed his nose full of chloroform-soaked rags, then staged his death as part of a burglary. Detectives at the scene noted that the burglar left little evidence of breaking into the house; moreover, that the behavior of Mrs. Snyder was inconsistent with her story of a terrorized wife witnessing her husband being killed.

Then the police found the property Ruth claimed had been stolen. It was still in the house, but hidden. A breakthrough came when a detective found a paper with the letters “J.G.” on it (it was a memento Albert Snyder had kept from former love Jessie Guishard), and asked Ruth about it. A flustered Ruth’s mind immediately turned to her lover, whose initials were also “J.G.,” and she asked the detective what Gray had to do with this. It was the first time Gray had been mentioned, and the police were instantly suspicious. Gray was found upstate, in Syracuse. He claimed he had been there all night, but eventually it turned out a friend of his had created an alibi, setting up Gray’s room at a hotel. Gray proved far more forthcoming than Ruth about his actions. He was caught and returned to Jamaica, Queens and charged along with Ruth Snyder. Dorothy Parker told Oscar Levant that Gray tried to escape the police by taking a taxi from Long Island to Manhattan, New York, which Levant noted was “quite a long trip.” According to Parker, in order “not to attract attention, he gave the driver a ten-cent tip.” …

Snyder became the first woman executed in Sing Sing since 1899. She went to the electric chair only moments before her former lover. Her execution (by “State Electrician” Robert G. Elliott) was caught on film, by a photograph of her as the electricity was running through her body, with the aid of a miniature plate camera custom-strapped to the ankle of Tom Howard, a Chicago Tribune photographer working in cooperation with the Tribune-owned New York Daily News. Howard’s camera was owned for a while by inventor Miller Reese Hutchison, then later became part of the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Unknown (French) Publisher: Le Petit Parisien (French, active 1876–1944) 'Marius Bourotte' 1929

 

Unknown (French)
Publisher: Le Petit Parisien (French, active 1876–1944)
Marius Bourotte
1929
Gelatin silver print with applied color
11.6 x 16.2 cm. (4 9/16 x 6 3/8 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1996

 

These photographs of thieves and assassins were heavily retouched with ink and gouache to facilitate their reproduction in illustrated newspapers and magazines. Although they were not conceived as typological studies, the cropping and retouching deliberately intensified their sinister aspect, producing caricatures of criminality that satisfied the sensationalism of the picture press.

 

Unknown (American) '[Automobile Murder Scene]' c. 1935

 

Unknown (American)
[Automobile Murder Scene]
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 20.1 cm (9 9/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008

 

 

This picture is a master class in the aesthetics of the crime photograph. As the writer Luc Sante has noted, photography stops time, while crime photography shows the stopped time of an individual life cut short. The anonymous cameraman (whose shadow can be seen in the image) may have worked for the police but was more likely a newspaper photographer. His editors must have considered this an absolute bull’s-eye combination of titillation, voyeurism, and fig-leaf moralizing that lets readers have their cake and eat it too. Most importantly, the stopped time of the crime photograph imparts a heightened significance to all the details within the frame, which could either be clues or random accident.

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'Human Head Cake Box Murder' c. 1940

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
Human Head Cake Box Murder
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.6 x 26.9 cm (13 1/4 x 10 9/16 in.)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

It is hard to decide which of the several mysteries contained in this macabre photograph is the most bizarre: the murder to which the title alludes, the headless bodies standing flat-footedly around a bodyless head, the “scriptboy” who enters at upper left, how the police photographer can be both rooted to the spot and levitating above it, why he wears his hat as he works, or where Weegee is standing.

 

John Gutmann (American (born Germany), Breslau 1905 - 1998 San Francisco) "X Marks the Spot Where Ralph Will Die" 1938

 

John Gutmann (American (born Germany), Breslau 1905 – 1998 San Francisco)
“X Marks the Spot Where Ralph Will Die”
1938
Gelatin silver print
23.4 x 17.8 cm (9 3/16 x 7 in.)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Trained as a painter, Gutmann fled Germany for America in 1933. In need of money, the artist began photographing across the country as a foreign correspondent for the tremendously popular picture magazines of his homeland, which had an insatiable appetite for all things American. What began as an assignment in exile – travelling from New York, Chicago, and Detroit to New Orleans and San Francisco – became a remarkable lifelong career in a new medium and country.

One of the earliest and most inventive practitioners of street photography, Gutmann was one of the great poets and chroniclers of a particularly American kind of city life – the endless supply of characters and spontaneous dramas set against a backdrop of skyscrapers, signs, and graffiti.

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) '[Outline of a Murder Victim]' 1942

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
[Outline of a Murder Victim]
1942
Gelatin silver print
33.9 x 27.4 cm. (13 3/6 x 10 13/16 in.)
Gift of Bruce A. Kirstein, in memory of Marc S. Kirstein, 1978
© Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

 

Working as a freelance press photographer in New York City during the mid-1930s and 1940s, Weegee achieved notoriety through sensational photographs of a crime-ridden metropolis. Although his nickname derived from an earlier job as a “squeegee boy” drying photographic prints in a professional darkroom, through brazen self-styling he designated himself a human Ouija board, who always seemed to know where the next big scoop would be. In fact, he lived across the street from police headquarters and used a department-issued radio. Here, Weegee distills the genre of the crime scene photograph into a minimalist trace: the camera’s flashbulb illuminates a hastily drawn chalk outline bearing the stark label “HEAD.”

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Man Escorting Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York. November 10, 1944' 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Man Escorting Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York. November 10, 1944
1944
Gelatin silver print
9 1⁄2 × 7 9/16″ (24.1 × 19.2 cm)
International Center of Photography. Bequest of Wilma Wilcox
© 2014 Weegee/ International Center of Photography/Getty Images

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION.
Taken prior to the famous image by Weggee below.

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 - 1968 New York) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide' 1944

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899 – 1968 New York)
Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide
1944
Gelatin silver print
33.6 x 26.4 cm (13 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.)
Anonymous Gift, 2005

 

 

“For Weegee… a photographic print was usually nothing more than a by-product. Weegee’s prints served as the matrices from which halftone and gravure printing plates were made (by others) for reproduction in magazines, books, and newspapers. Weegee intended these mass-produced multiples, and not the photographic prints themselves, to be the final forms of his imagery… He did not expect or intend his work to be experienced in the form of photographic prints.”

A. D. Coleman, “Weegee as Printmaker: An Anomaly in the Marketplace,” in Tarnished Silver: After the Photo Boom. New York: Midmarch, 1996, p. 28. (Emphasis added.) quoted in Jason E. Hill.

 

The subject of this photograph, a sixteen-year-old boy, confessed to tying up and strangling four-year-old William Drach in the Bronx on October 29, 1944, allegedly mimicking what he had seen in a movie. Here, Weegee adapts the traditional tropes of portraiture, in which the sitter’s hands and facial features are of the utmost importance, to present a caged criminal still armed with his weapons. Exploiting the cramped quarters of the police van, Weegee frames the boy’s placid face within the crisscross of the chain-linked fence. The boy’s hands – the presumed tools of his crime – are eerily dismembered from his body.

“On November 9, 1944, the American photographer Weegee made three exposures of Frank Pape, moments after the sixteen year old was arraigned on homicide charges for the accidental strangling death of a four-year-old neighbor and as he was escorted into a police wagon outside the Manhattan Police Headquarters, on Centre Market Place, en route to the 161st Street courthouse in the Bronx.1 Of these, the third expo- sure, which pictures the young Pape through the luminously articulated mesh of that police wagon’s grated rear window and is the basis for Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944 in the Thomas Walther Collection, now stands among the photographer’s best-known and most widely collected and reproduced works.”

For more on the creation and dissemination of this print, see Jason E. Hill, “In the Police Wagon, in the Press, and in The Museum of Modern Art (A Note on Weegee’s Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944)”.

The original negative was horizontal and was cropped in various proportions, photographs taken from the above article by Jason E. Hill:

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York' 1944

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York
1944
Photographic negative (digitally scanned and inverted)
4 x 5″ (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
International Center of Photography
© 2014 Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) 'Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York' 1944 indicating cropping variants

 

This print, made by Sid Kaplan in 1983, shows the entire view of Weegee’s original negative for the third exposure he took of Frank Pape in November 1944. Colored frames indicate the cropping of prints, now in various collections, derived from the negative: Sid Kaplan’s portfolio of Weegee’s prints, International Center of Photography, New York (red); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (blue); Sixteen-Year-Old Boy Who Strangled a Four-Year-Old Child to Death, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (dark green); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (brown); Frank Pape, Arrested for Homicide, November 10, 1944, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (orange); Frank Pape, Arrested for Strangling Boy to Death, New York, International Center of Photography (yellow); the image as it was first published in PM (white); the image as it appeared in Weegee’s 1945 book, Naked City (light green).

 

William Klein. 'Gun 1, New York' 1955

 

William Klein (American, born New York, 1928)
Gun 1, New York
1954, printed 1986
Gelatin silver print
45.4 x 33.3 cm (17 7/8 x 13 1/8 in.)
Gift of the artist, in honor of his mother, Mrs. Helen Klein, 1987

 

 

Upon his return home in the late 1940s after eight years abroad in the army, Klein found his native New York City familiar but strange. Commissioned by Vogue to create a photographic book about the city, Klein recorded its vibrancy and grittiness, producing an uncompromising portrait that the magazine ultimately rejected. He subsequently took his photographs to Paris and published them under the title Life is Good & Good for You in New York. For this photograph, Klein asked two boys on Upper Broadway to pose. One pointed a gun at the camera, his face erupting with rage, mimicking the stereotypical poses of criminals in our image-saturated society.

 

United Press International (American) Person in Photograph: Patricia Hearst (American, born 1954) 'SAN FRANCISCO. Fugitive newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and three other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were reported captured in the Mission District here 9/18, bringing to an end one of the most bizarre criminal cases in U.S. History. In this photo released by the FBI 4/15/74, a girl resembling Miss Hearst is shown with a weapon in hand during a robbery of the Hibernia Bank' 1974

 

United Press International (American)
Person in Photograph: Patricia Hearst (American, born 1954)
SAN FRANCISCO. Fugitive newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and three other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were reported captured in the Mission District here 9/18, bringing to an end one of the most bizarre criminal cases in U.S. History. In this photo released by the FBI 4/15/74, a girl resembling Miss Hearst is shown with a weapon in hand during a robbery of the Hibernia Bank
1974
Gelatin silver print
22.4 x 17.5 cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
Gift of Alan L. Paris, 2011

 

 

The newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in a 1974 shot from a bank surveillance camera.

The kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) was one of the most sensational news stories of the twentieth century. As part of its mission to dismantle the U.S. government and its capitalist values, the SLA abducted Hearst, an act that catapulted the terrorist group onto an international stage. A few months later, the SLA released tapes of Hearst declaring that she had joined their crusade, and within weeks she was photographed participating in a San Francisco bank robbery. The bank’s surveillance camera captured the photographs, vividly demonstrating the power of the medium to render a dramatic image of an event, even without a person behind the lens.

 

Larry Clark (American, born 1943) 'Armed Robbers, Oklahoma City' 1975, printed 1981

 

Larry Clark (American, born 1943)
Armed Robbers, Oklahoma City
1975, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 20.2 cm. (12 x 7 15/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1994
© Larry Clark

 

 

A child of Eisenhower’s straitlaced and conformist 1950s America, Clark saw the camera as a way to “turn back the years” and photograph a younger crowd doing the kinds of things he either did or wanted to have done when he himself was a teenager – shooting drugs, shacking up with prostitutes, and committing all manner of crimes. Because of the nature of who and what he was photographing, almost all of Clark’s work from this period would become memorial in nature. This double portrait makes manifest the dangerous allure that is often attached to portrayals of criminality.

 

United Press International (American) '[Bank Robber Aiming at Security Camera, Cleveland, Ohio]' March 8, 1975

 

United Press International (American)
[Bank Robber Aiming at Security Camera, Cleveland, Ohio]
March 8, 1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 7/8 × 4 13/16 in. (17.4 × 12.2 cm) Sheet: 7 1/2 × 5 7/8 in. (19.1 × 15 cm)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015

 

This startling photograph captures a robber firing his pistol at a bank camera to prevent it from recording his identity. Although he and his accomplices absconded with $11,600 in the heist, the gunman was too slow for the ever-watchful eye of the security camera, which caught his face right before the shot rang out, enabling authorities to identify their suspect.

 

 

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03
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 19th March – 3rd July 2016

 

Last day for this exhibition from one of the masters of photography. Apologies to the gallery and the readers that I did not get the posting up earlier but I have just been so busy at work. At least we have a record of the exhibition online.

Some of the media images were in a really shocking state. I can’t believe that an artist of Paul Strand’s standing would ever have wanted his photographs distributed in such a state – for example, enlarge the unrestored Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist, Hebrides (1954, detail) below, and then look at the restored version above that I have digitally cleaned.

What can you say about Strand that has not already been said before? He is a seminal figure in the history of photography. His Wall Street, New York (1915, below) is still one of my favourite images of all time – for its light, foreboding, and insicisve comment on capitalism and the worker. Follow this by one of the first truly “modernist” images, and one that changed the course of photography (and what a difference a year, and an image makes), White Fence, Port Kent, New York (1916, below) and you set the scene for a stellar career. To have that natural perspicaciousness: a penetrating discernment – a clarity of vision or intellect which provides a deep understanding and insight – is an element of wisdom that cannot be taught. As an artist, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.

As is observed in the Wikipedia entry on perspicacity, “In 17th century Europe René Descartes devised systematic rules for clear thinking in his work Regulæ ad directionem ingenii (Rules for the direction of natural intelligence). In Descartes’ scheme, intelligence consisted of two faculties: perspicacity, which provided an understanding or intuition of distinct detail; and sagacity, which enabled reasoning about the details in order to make deductions. Rule 9 was De Perspicacitate Intuitionis (On the Perspicacity of Intuition). He summarised the rule as

Oportet ingenii aciem ad res minimas et maxime faciles totam convertere, atque in illis diutius immorari, donec assuescamus veritatem distincte et perspicue intueri.

We should totally focus the vision of the natural intelligence on the smallest and easiest things, and we should dwell on them for a long time, so long, until we have become accustomed to intuiting the truth distinctly and perspicuously.”

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Intuiting the truth distinctly and perspicuously… quick to pick out, from among the thousands of things he sees, those that are significant, and to synthesize observations. This is what Strand does so well. His photographs are honest, direct, without ego. They just are. They live and breathe the subject. How do you get that look, that presence such as in Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France (1951, below). That presence is repeated again and again – in rocks, tendrils, people, buildings, landscapes – and finally, in the last years of his life, in intimate, sensitive and complex images of his garden at Orgeval. God bless that we have great artists like Paul Strand.

Marcus

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

 

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century' at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

 

“For the first time in the UK in 40 years a major retrospective on the American photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976) opens at the V&A. The exhibition is the first of its kind since Strand’s death in 1976 and shows how the pioneering photographer defined the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today.

Part of a tour organised by Philadelphia Museum of Art, in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE and made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the V&A exhibition reveals Strand’s trailblazing experiments with abstract photography, screens what is widely thought of as the first avant-garde film and shows the full extent of his photographs made on his global travels beginning in New York in 1910 and ending in France in 1976. Newly acquired photographs from Strand’s only UK project – a 1954 study of the island of South Uist in the Scottish Hebrides – are also on show, alongside other works from the V&A’s own collection.

Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century encompasses over 200 objects from exquisite vintage photographic prints to films, books, notebooks, sketches and Strand’s own cameras to trace his career over sixty years. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition broadens understanding of Strand as an international photographer and filmmaker with work spanning myriad geographic regions and social and political issues.

Martin Barnes, curator of the exhibition said: “The V&A was one of a handful of UK institutions to collect Paul Strand’s work during his lifetime and the Museum now houses the most extensive collection of his prints in the UK. Through important additional loans, the exhibition explores the life and career of Strand, but also challenges the popular perception of Strand as primarily a photographer of American places and people of the early 20th century.”

The exhibition begins in Strand’s native New York in the 1910s, exploring his early works of its financial district, railyards, wharves and factories. During this time he broke with the soft-focus and Impressionist-inspired ‘Pictorialist’ style of photography to produce among the first abstract pictures made with a camera. The influence of photographic contemporaries Alfred Stieglitz and Alvin Langdon Coburn as well European modern artists such as Braque and Picasso can be seen in Strand’s experiments in this period. On display are early masterpieces such as Wall Street which depicts the anonymity of individuals on their way to work set against the towering architectural geometry and implied economic forces of the modern city. Strand’s early experiments in abstraction, Abstraction, Porch Shadows and White Fence are also shown, alongside candid and anonymous street portraits, such as Blind Woman, made secretly using a camera with a decoy lens.

The exhibition explores Strand’s experiments with the moving image with the film Manhatta (1920 – 21). A collaboration with the painter and photographer Charles Sheeler, Manhatta was hailed as the first avant-garde film, and traces a day in the life of New York from sunrise to sunset punctuated by lines of Walt Whitman’s poetry. Strand’s embrace of the machine and human form is a key focus of the exhibition. In 1922, he bought an Akeley movie camera. The close-up studies he made of both his first wife Rebecca Salsbury and the Akeley during this time are shown alongside the camera itself. Extracts of Strand’s later, more politicised films, such as Redes (The Wave), made in cooperation with the Mexican government are featured, as well as the scarcely-shown documentary Native Land, a controversial film exposing the violations of America’s workforce.

Strand travelled extensively and the exhibition emphasises his international output from the 1930s to the late 1960s, during which time he collaborated with leading writers to publish a series of photobooks. As Strand’s career progressed, his work became increasingly politicised and focused on a type of social documentary alongside the desire to depict a shared humanity. The exhibition features Strand’s first photobook Time in New England (1950), alongside others including a homage to his adopted home France and his photographic hero Eugène Atget, La France de profil, which he made in collaboration with the French poet, Claude Roy. One of Strand’s most celebrated images, The Family, Luzzara, (The Lusetti’s) was taken in a modest agricultural village in Italy’s Po River valley for the photobook Un Paese, for which he collaborated with the Neo-Realist screen writer, Cesare Zavattini. On display, this hauntingly direct photograph depicts a strong matriarch flanked by her brood of five sons, all living with the aftermath of the Second World War.

From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, Strand photographed in Egypt, Morocco and Ghana, all of which had gone through transformative political change. The exhibition shows Strand’s most compelling pictures from this period, including his tender portraits, complemented by street pictures showing public meetings and outdoor markets. The exhibition concludes with Strand’s final photographic series exploring his home and garden in Orgeval, France, where he lived with his third wife Hazel until his death in 1976. The images are an intimate counterpoint to Strand’s previous projects and offer a rare glimpse into his own domestic happiness.”

Press release from the V&A

 

 

Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

 

 

Fred Zinnemann and Emilio Gómez Muriel (directors)
Paul Strand (photography)
Silvestre Revueltas (music)
Redes / The Wave
1936
Filmada en Alvarado, Veracruz (México)

 

 

Paul Strand and Leo Hurwitz (directors)
Paul Strand (photography)
Native Land
1942
VOSE (Tierra Natal)

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Wall Street, New York
1915
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'White Fence, Port Kent, New York' 1916 (negative); 1945 (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
White Fence, Port Kent, New York
1916 (negative); 1945 (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

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

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Blind Woman, New York
1916
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Rebecca, New York' 1921

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Rebecca, New York
1921
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'New Mexico' 1930

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
New Mexico
1930
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

 

“Ahead of the first UK retrospective on Paul Strand in over 40 years, the V&A has acquired nine rare photographs from the pioneering 20th century photographer’s only UK-based series. Taken in 1954 in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, the photographs document the threat to traditional Gaelic life during the Cold War. The photographs will be unveiled for the first time together as part of the exhibition, Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century, opening 19 March.

Paul Strand defined the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today through his revolutionary experiments with the medium. The major acquisition, purchased for the V&A with the assistance of its Photographs Acquisition Group, comprise an intimate set of nine exquisite black and white vintage prints originally made for Strand’s photobook Tir A’Mhurain (‘Land of Bent Grass’).

A committed Marxist, Strand fled McCarthyism in the U.S. in 1950, pursued by the FBI. He settled in France, and carried out work there and in Italy before arriving on the Hebridean island of South Uist in 1954. Inspired by a BBC radio programme on Gaelic song, and news that the island would become home to a testing range for America’s new nuclear missile, Strand raced to capture the sights, sounds and textures of the place steeped in the threatened traditions of Gaelic language, fishing and agricultural life of pre-Industrial times. The photographs reveal Strand’s meticulous and methodical approach to photography, much like a studio photographer in the open air. They capture not only a pivotal moment in time, but also the end of a particular way of life for the islanders.

The acquisition encompasses four portraits of islanders staring directly at the camera, exuding strength and dignity. Each was photographed in their own environment, usually in or around their home, and is framed by weathered walls, doors or window frames – devices used often by Strand and borrowed from his 19th century photographic heroes David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. The V&A has also acquired five of Strand’s evocative landscapes, revealing the island’s reliance on the land and sea.

John MacLellan was eight years’ old when he was photographed by Strand with his two sisters for the picture Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist (below). Of the experience, he said: “I was very young when I met Strand, but I knew he must have been a serious photographer because of the quality of his camera. Me and my sisters were lined up and knew to look at the camera. Looking at the picture, my mother had combed our hair and dressed us in our smartest clothes. I’ve since read that Strand was motivated to take these photographs by the idea that things would change. I know so many people in the photographs, it’s wonderful to be able to look at them now and remember the place I used to call home.”

Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A said: “The photographs made by Strand in the Hebrides are for me a high point in his long and distinguished career. Strand worked slowly yet deliberately and with great poise in his pictures. By this time, his vision for his work had fully matured. His approach to sequencing and editing images in books such as ‘Tir A’Mhurain’ was informed by his collaborative experience making films for over twenty years. The Scottish book contains establishing panoramas of landscapes and the sea, a cast of characters with memorable faces, details of homes and workplaces and close-ups of the rocks, sands and grasses of the natural environment. The accompanying text by Basil Davidson is eloquent and informative about life on the islands, both in the past and at a pivotal time in the 1950s.The whole is a subtle sequence of meditative, revealing pictures and texts that avoid sentimentality and are yet full of empathy. These pictures make a surprising British link with this major American Modernist photographer and will have a satisfying legacy as part of the permanent collection at the V&A.”

Strand is an important figure in the history of photography not only because his career spanned much of the 20th century, but because he relentlessly trialled and pioneered myriad photographic approaches, subjects and technologies. Ironically it was his variety and failure to coin a signature style, and his belief in the integrity of the photographic print as an original artwork, that have seen him increasingly overlooked in the 40 years since his death. The V&A’s exhibition seeks to redress the balance, covering all aspects of Strand’s long career, from his trailblazing experiments in abstraction and dynamic views of New York in the 1910s to his final intimate pictures of his home and garden in France made during the 1970s.”

Text from the V&A

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis)' 1953 (negative); mid- to late 1960s (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis)
1953 (negative); mid- to late 1960s (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France' 1951 (negative); mid- to late 1960s (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France
1951 (negative); mid- to late 1960s (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954 (detail)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Milly, John and Jean MacLellan, South Uist, Hebrides (detail)
1954
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Angus Peter MacIntyre, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Angus Peter MacIntyre, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Angus Peter MacIntyre, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954 (detail)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Angus Peter MacIntyre, South Uist, Hebrides (detail)
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Katie Margaret Mackenzie, Benbecula, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Katie Margaret Mackenzie, Benbecula, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Katie Margaret Mackenzie, Benbecula, Hebrides' 1954 (detail)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Katie Margaret Mackenzie, Benbecula, Hebrides (detail)
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Rock, Loch Eynort, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Rock, Loch Eynort, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, Londonn
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Tendrils and Sand, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Tendrils and Sand, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Sea Rocks and Sea, The Atlantic, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Sea Rocks and Sea, The Atlantic, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'The Road, South Lochboisdale, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
The Road, South Lochboisdale, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Trawler, South Uist, Hebrides' 1954

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Trawler, South Uist, Hebrides
1954
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Driveway, Orgeval' 1957

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Driveway, Orgeval
1957
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'Couple, Rucăr, Romania' 1967

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 – 1976)
Couple, Rucăr, Romania
1967
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

Martine Franck. 'Paul Strand Photographing the Orgeval Garden' 1974

 

Martine Franck
Paul Strand Photographing the Orgeval Garden
1974
© Martine Franck / Magnum Photos

 

From my mentor:

“Great camera – very great photographer.

He is making an image – his lower hand is about to go to the shutter button – the lens doesn’t have to be a camera lens, it could be an enlarger lens = note how the lens is tilted slightly forward to extend the depth of field… He has dressed up to take photos!!”

After I questioned holding a camera like this to take a photograph without using a tripod:

“Strand may not be making a picture – he may be just pretending. But he might be shooting @ f4. He might be showing off!!”

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
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25
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Brett Weston: Significant Details’ at Pasadena Museum of California Art

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 11th September 2016

Curator: Erin Aitali, PMCA Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

 

If your subject is essentially unrecognizable – a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs – devoid of sentimentality, featuring an explosion of geometry as a form of Western expressionism, able to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm through an absence of human presence and apparent narrative – then your previsualisation must be spot on otherwise you loose clear focus as to just what it is you are trying to communicate. It’s all very well being obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow, visual poetry in photography, but if that obsession has no ‘feeling’ outcome then you are doomed to failure.

Imagine (if you can) that master of documentary realism Eugène Atget placing his camera in just the wrong position for one of his photographs. The tripod just a little too low, the position a metre to the left of where it should have been. The resulting image would not feel like an Atget, the angles would not feel right, the mixture of objective and subjective would not be present, the magic of his photographs – recognisably his photographs – would be missing. What Atget does so convincingly is to combine the aesthetic with the documentary or representational. As G.H. Saxon Mills observes in his essay ‘Modern photography’ ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Atget proves that both were possible within the same frame.

This is not the case with the photographs by Brett Weston in this posting. Although I have commented elsewhere on this website that, “Brett Weston’s pictures are ageing well – the decorative aesthetic seems to have more currency today than previously when the values of his father were predominant,” and admired the reductive minimalism of his photographs … this is not the case with these ‘significant details’. In this instance they are just representation, poor relations to the photographs of Minor White and Aaron Siskind. I think that the best of his work is very fine – a sort of celebration of all that had gone before with a layer of super-fineness added. However he made many images that were a bit like a preacher rather than an artist. In some of his portfolios the choice of images is just plain weird, catering to the market rather than takng the chance to make a powerful statement. And photography aficionados remain unconvinced by his work, shying away from collecting it. Perhaps they know, or feel a lack of something, some spirit or other, or a seeming unevenness in the quality of his artistic production.

Perhaps it is his printing, which is a bit “Kodak meets EW” in the darkroom (even as his father entrusted him with printing some of his negatives). Weston achieved his good results because he was a careful craftsman, not an experimenter. Someone, I forget who, said that you never looked at his work when desperate for sustenance – and I think a lot of “connoisseurs” think that – and in a Brett Weston you can too often argue yourself out of the celebration. There is a certain dourness that is hard to overcome. I challenge you, now, to say one meaningful good thing about any of the images presented here. They take you nowhere. They are either too tightly cropped (that lack of true previsualisation / placing the camera in the wrong position / lack of context) or rely on pattern and representation, and only that, to do the heavy lifting.

My feeling about his work is that he saw and felt many great things that he used in his work – but at the final hurdle, his implementation was always handled a little directly, or not a well as might have been… or is sometimes absent. Perhaps it’s just his viewpoint which seems to be too limited in a psychological sense. If Atget had photographed the city without those magnificent tripod positions and understanding of space, then they would have been dead. That’s how BW’s work sometimes feels. Instead of the space feeling larger than the camera can contain, on occasions his photographs feel enclosed and stilted.

Weston said, “There are a million choices for shot. At its simplest, photography is very complex. So I try to keep it simple and focus on things I can master.”

Sometimes, keeping things simple does not result in preternatural outcomes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

“My father was driven and so am I. You’re ruthless. You brush off your friends and women. He was much kinder than me. I don’t verbalize well and I don’t socialize much. Too time consuming. And I’m not a good salesman of my work. I love people, but they can be a drain. Some are stimulating; some are leeches. So I seek people on my own terms. Most artists are loners. I guess they have to be.”

.
Brett Weston

 

“Weston isn’t really a nature photographer… He was obsessed with capturing the intricacies and rhythms of form, light and shadow. Weston is as fascinated by close-ups of the exfoliating bark of a bristlecone pine or the spikes of a Joshua Tree as he is with the visual poetry of peeling paint on the side-panel of a rusted out truck.”

.
Jeffrey St. Clair

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Brett Weston: Significant Details' at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Brett Weston: Significant Details at the Pasadena Museum of California Art
Photos: © 2016 Don Milici

 

 

“Although Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic photographs, the majority of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to close-up abstractions. These concentrated images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramas while emphasizing his affinity for “significant details” and the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that he explored throughout his nearly-seventy-year career.

Weston took up photography at the age of fourteen. Although he received basic technical instruction from his father, renowned photographer Edward Weston, Brett’s early efforts owed much to his intuition and innate eye. His elemental talent coupled with an unflagging commitment to his photographic vision – often at the expense of personal relationships and fiscal well-being – carried him from early critical acclaim, through difficult periods, to eventual financial success within his own lifetime.

By the age of twenty-five, Weston’s photographs were included in significant exhibitions both nationally and internationally, but despite early recognitition he served as a WPA photographer during the Great Depression and as a Signal Corps photographer during World War II. By neccessity, he also worked intermittently in the first half of his career as an industrial and portrait photographer. However, when he achieved prosperity beginning in the 1970s, he devoted himself exclusively to the photography and intercontinental expeditions that fulfilled him. His initial interest in abstracted details continually revealed itself, especially once he began using a new, smaller camera after health problems in the late 1960s forced him to abandon the bulky equipment he had used for over thirty years.

Early and continuing critical success notwithstanding, following Brett’s death, the comparison to his famed father left the younger Weston on the wrong side of a narrowing modern canon of photography. Reaffirming Weston’s legacy and his exceptional contributions to modernist photography, these uncharted, close-up images – more than half of which are on view for the first time – demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.”

Introduction text from the exhibition

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Worm Wood, California)' c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Worm Wood, California
c. 1937 (printed c. 1970)
Silver gelatin print
10 1/2 x 13 3/4 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Although Weston’s wife Cicely provided the couple with a steady income, she became pregnant with the pair’s first (and only) child in 1937, providing Weston impetus to generate additional means of support. Hoping to replicate the financial success of Ansel Adams’s portfolio of limited edition original photographs, Weston produced one of his own. His first portfolio San Francisco (1937) consisted of twelve 8 x 10 original prints. Unlike the photograph Staircase, San Francisco (1928) included in this exhibition, the portfolio photos were panoramic vistas. However, without the robust support of a collector like Albert Bender, who both promoted and purchased enough of Adams’s portfolios to assure commercial success, Weston didn’t profit from his portfolio. He lacked not only the promotional skills and collector base but also refused gallery sales owing to his deep distrust and outrage at their commissions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Wood' 1972

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wood
1972
Silver gelatin print
7 1/2 x 8 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

“One of the most celebrated and prolific photographers of the twentieth century, Brett Weston (1911-1993) is best known for his striking scenic images, yet the bulk of his work ranges from middle-distance scenes to closeup abstractions. The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is proud to present Brett Weston: Significant Details, the first museum exhibition to focus on Weston’s close-up photography. The works – over half of which are on view for the first time – share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s panoramic photographs while emphasizing the “significant details,” the tendency toward abstraction and extremes in tonality that Weston explored through his nearly 60-year career. The exhibition further contextualizes Weston within the pivotal Group f/64 and highlights how intuition and a dedication to photography in its purest form guided his practice.

Although the teaching of his father, famed modernist photographer Edward Weston, was invaluable and his influence undeniable, Weston’s practice was largely shaped by instinct and informal training. He took up photography at the age of 14 when, on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, he started photographing the crew of the SS Oaxaca with the elder Weston’s Graflex camera. This trip also coincided with the end of his formal education; he was enrolled at an English-speaking school, but dropped out within two weeks. While in Mexico, Weston became part of the modernist mileu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.

Weston’s professional entry into the world of photography occurred during a shift from the East Coast Pictorialists and their accentuation of romantic effects to the West Coast photographic movement, which coalesced with Group f/64 and their sharp images that captured daily life. Like the members of Group f/64, which included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, Brett Weston focused primarily on two types of images: close-ups and the scenic view. However, Weston’s approach was distinct, tending toward highly graphic images, with intense areas of dark and highlights, rather than midgray tones used by many, including his father.

By the age of 25, Weston’s work had been included in the landmark international photography exhibition Film und Foto and in a solo exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. Though he received critical acclaim and  his reputation grew, Weston remained dedicated to art for art’s sake and to creating pure, elemental photographs. He was a simple man and used the same equipment for most of his career. However, when health problems forced him to switch to a smaller camera – the Rollei – in 1968, he further experimented with close-up photographs, and his work became even more intent on exploring specific details and abstract qualities. In Torn Leaf, Hawaii (1978, below), for example, the brittle, curling leaf appears monumental on a black ground. It exists as a singular object, not fully contained within the composition, and the size is indeterminable without context.

The uncharted, close-up images that are the focus of Significant Details demonstrate the major themes present in Weston’s work: a play on scale, the absence of the human presence, and a refrain from imposed order. This exhibition features approximately 40 works taken over a period of 55 years, ranging from 1929 to 1984, and brings to the forefront the unprecedented attention to form, texture, shadow, and light that was the distinctive characteristic of Weston’s oeuvre.”

Press release from the Pasadena Museum of California Art

 

Brett Weston. 'Wall, Europe' 1971

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Wall, Europe
1971
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

In 1971 Brett returned to Europe for the third time. While there, he captured both abstract images, like this one, and panoramas. Notably, this trip resulted in the photograph of Holland Canal, which Weston grew to hate, despite its commercial success or perhaps because of it, “I’m so sick of the thing but people love it. I could retire on sales of this print alone. I’d hate to tell you how many of these I’ve printed.” Although this scenic print wasn’t the legacy Weston desired for himself, it led to an overall increased attention from collectors interested in his work, including his abstractions.

 

Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California)' 1960

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Mud, High Sierra, California
1960
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Direct evidence of human presence was rare in Weston’s photos. But here, two playful sets of handprints on the mud provide scale, which would otherwise be indeterminable in the image.

 

Brett Weston. 'Electrical Towers, Metal' c. 1975

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Electrical Towers, Metal
c. 1975
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Brett Weston: Significant Details

Brett Weston, born in 1911 in Tropico, CA (now Glendale), took up photography at the age of fourteen while on an extended trip to Mexico with his father, famed photographer Edward Weston. In Mexico for just over a year, his time there was pivotal in many ways, not only marking the start of his photography career, but also the end of his formal education. His father allowed him to drop out of the international school after two short weeks and provided the younger Weston with basic instructions in photography. Still, Brett relied heavily on his innate sensibilities toward form and tonality, evident in Tin Roof, Mexico, an early photograph from 1926 featuring a cropped view of a jagged roofline with dramatic dark shadows splitting the image. Weston also benefited from a social education of sorts. Through connections of his father’s mistress, photographer Tina Modotti, Weston became a part of the Mexican modernist milieu, socializing with and viewing the work of some of the greatest artists of the time, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

During his nearly-seventy-year career, Weston’s talent and unique vision developed into two related types of works, panoramic landscapes and abstracted close-ups. The image most associated with Weston was and probably still is Holland Canal from 1971. The photograph of a tree-lined canal with still water reflecting a flawless image of the surrounding landscape is sensual and magnificently balanced. However, the photographer bemoaned his connection to this particular work and its extreme popularity saying, “I’m so sick of the thing, but people love it.” Although this print and other panoramic images, such as Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (1973), came to typify his work in the public’s mind, the bulk of Weston’s photographs range from middle-distance scenes to close-ups, which became increasingly abstract beginning in the 1950s. Brett Weston: Significant Details focuses on the close-up works that epitomize his unique and unwavering vision. These images share the high-contrast and graphic qualities of Weston’s well-known scenic photographs while emphasizing what the photography historian Beaumont Newhall characterized as his affinity for “significant details.” Weston applied this penchant for details to natural and urban environments alike. Another early image, Stairway, Grandview Park, San Francisco from 1928, offers a fragmented view of a San Francisco stairwell. Without context, the unpopulated image’s narrative possibilities are limited; instead, the emphasis is on the orderly, graphic form of the staircase.

From the beginning of his career, Weston’s work was celebrated by institutions and peers. The year following Stairway, Weston’s work was included in the landmark 1929 German photography exhibition Film und Foto, and the early 1930s saw his association with Group f/64, a distinctly West Coast movement of “straight” photographers (as opposed to the East Coast Pictorialist tradition, which was waning at this time) that comprised Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others. Brett’s work appeared in their 1932 inaugural exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The following year, both San Francisco Stairway and Tin Roofs (presumably the same works discussed in this essay) were included with forty-three other photographs in a solo exhibition at the de Young.

Although Weston saw early success with his work included in major exhibitions, this did not translate into a steady income. Like most artists during the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project – a branch of the Works Progress Administration – employed Weston, first as a sculptor and then later as a photographer. He quit the FAP in December of 1936 after about two and half years because he had no passion for the documentary nature of the work and it impinged upon time for his personal projects, something that he could not bear for long. Throughout the thirties and forties, he worked intermittently – and discontentedly – as a portrait and industrial photographer to stave off poverty and support his daughter who was born in 1938. In complete contrast to the realistic, documentary style of his FAP and commissioned works, an untitled photograph from 1937 is an extreme close-up of paint that is almost organic in appearance, with leaf-like veins in the upper portion of the image. The subject is essentially unrecognizable, which is a defining characteristic of many of Weston’s photographs.

The slim Depression years segued into the tumultuousness of World War II, during which Weston served in the US Army before a much-requested transfer to the US Signal Corps stationed him to work as a photographer in New York. At the end of the war, when Brett returned to Carmel, CA, where the Weston family had made their long-time home, he found his father beginning to show marked symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which would increasingly debilitate the elder Weston in the last decade of his life. Before Edward’s death in 1958, he enlisted his sons Brett and Cole and a small group of trusted assistants to secure his lasting legacy by making thousands of prints under his supervision. In addition to printing work for his father, during this time, Brett also worked on his Guggenheim fellowship project and his second and third portfolios, White Sands (1949) and New York (1954).

Besides photographing the beaches of Carmel, one of which was dubbed “Weston Beach,” Brett also traveled up and down the California coast countless times over the decades. He repeatedly returned to capture the dunes of Oceano, and these images range from sweeping vistas to striking abstractions. An image from 1952, Dune, Oceano, although not technically a detail, falls into the latter category. The dunes appear wave-like and swirling, and a dark, somewhat-menacing shadow at the centre – similar to the roofline image taken in Mexico – provides graphic force. Jellyfish, California, another beach image, taken in 1967, is a close-up of one of the bulbous marine animals washed ashore. In contrast to the ethereal and weightless appearance jellyfish take underwater, it looks monumental and grotesquely beautiful. The curving form expands beyond the picture’s boundaries and in place of luminescence is a gradation of pure white reflections to jet-black striated patterns on the bell.

Although the tendency to work close-up had always been present in Weston’s work, it became much more pronounced and obvious after health issues necessitated a change in camera equipment. For over thirty years, Weston worked with a large format 8 x 10 camera and preferred contact prints (versus enlarging from smaller negatives). However, a heart attack  in 1967 and an ongoing battle with angina forced Weston to switch to a smaller camera because he could no longer manage the bulky equipment. In 1968, he began using the Rollei SL-66 almost exclusively. The camera used roll film that produced small, square negatives and allowed the artist to work close-up with ease. As a result, his work became even more intent on exploring specific elements and abstract qualities. Sand and Kelp from around 1970 is a lyrical example of this. Individual grains of sand are visible and marked by traces of implied movement, both in the dancing shadows of the kelp and the trailing patterns lightly indented into the surface.

While Weston had traveled steadily and as often as he could afford to in his younger years – expeditions that included Europe, Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Baja California, and Mexico – his later years were spent primarily in Hawaii. The tropical climate was beneficial for his health, and the varied terrain provided limitless visual appeal. In 1979, the photographer purchased land there on the slopes of a volcanic mountain. He became especially engrossed with the lava formations and the verdant and spectacular plant life, which he photographed until his death in 1993.

Weston achieved, within his lifetime, the recognition and financial comforts of a highly esteemed photographer. Even so, following his death, Brett’s reputation was eclipsed in favor of his father, due in part to the notion that there wasn’t room for two Westons in the canon of modernist photography. The 2008 exhibition Out of the Shadow (Oklahoma City Museum of Art and The Phillips Collection) and his biography A Restless Eye (2011) have begun to remedy this situation. Significant Details furthers that work by centering on the uncharted, closeup images that characterize Weston’s innate and distinctive eye. These photographs reveal the major themes present in his oeuvre: a focus on natural and urban landscapes and the objects therein, the absence of human presence and apparent narrative, and an extraordinary ability to extract the microcosm from the macrocosm.

Erin Aitali, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar

 

Brett Weston. 'Broken Glass, California' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Broken Glass, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Torn Leaf, Hawaii' 1978

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Torn Leaf, Hawaii
1978
Silver gelatin print
10 3/4 x 12 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Jellyfish, California' 1967

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Jellyfish, California
1967
Silver gelatin print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

Brett Weston. 'Cracked Paint' 1937 (printed later)

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Cracked Paint
1937 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print
12 1/2 x 10 1/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Like Broken Glass, California (1954, above), this image of cracked paint is an extreme close-up to the point that the subject is indistinguishable. Instead pure form becomes the focus. This intense focus also characterizes Weston’s approach to life; he prioritized his photography above all else, often at the expense of both financial stability and personal relationships (he was married four times and had countless lovers).

In 1937 Weston was living with his first wife, Cicely, in San Francisco who was employed as a violinist in the WPA symphony. Weston had recently quit the WPA because, as he explained in a letter to his father in December 1936, “It has been a good thing in many ways but after 2 1/2 years I feel that I have had enough experience of this kind. I feared it was beginning to tell on me as well as my work. I would rather divorce, starve, anything, than have this happen. The actual work I’ve been doing for the work program has been child’s play but the sacrifice of one’s priceless days… has become too much.”

 

Brett Weston. 'Snow' 1954

 

Brett Weston (1911 – 1993)
Snow
1954
Silver gelatin print
9 1/2 x 7 5/8 inches
The Brett Weston Archive
Courtesy Christian Keesee Collection, 2016

 

 

Pasadena Museum of California Art
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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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