Archive for the 'book' Category

04
Feb
23

Exhibition: ‘Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2022 – 12th February 2023

Exhibition curators: Tatyana Franck, President of the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, former director of Photo Elysée Emilie and Delcambre Hirsch Agnès Sire, Artistic director, for the Paris version

 

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1971

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1971
Diptych
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groove

 

 

Formalism is everything

Well no. No it isn’t. Groover is not one of my favourite photographers but I acknowledge how she broadened the definition of what a photograph can be. But her photographs are too clinical for my taste. They leave me cold. I like a little serendipity and spirit in my photography…

A painter before she became a photographer.

All images are constructions.

She composed her photographs as artists compose their paintings.

She wanted to “reinvent everything”.

Still life were influenced by Edward Weston, Paul Outerbridge and Alfred Stieglitz.

The reality is in the detail.

Nothing was left to chance. Every photograph had a plan:

“Spotlight on the house sink: who would have thought that so much beauty was nestled there? Reflection of a fork, transparency of a glass, sliding of water, damaged enamel, burning of coffee: under its tight framing, effects and materials are intertwined. Nothing is left to chance, each arrangement is first sketched out in pencil, tested with Polaroid.”1

 

concept [of] space

elements [of] reality

perception [of] image

photographs [of] objects

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

1/ Emmanuelle Lequeux. “Jan Groover, l’abstraction du réel,” on the Le Monde website 18 September 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022. Translated from the French by Google Translate

.
Many thankx to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“And then one day I had the thought that I didn’t want to have to make everything up, so I quit painting. Then I found out that you have to make everything up anyway.”

.
Jan Groover, in Pure invention: The Tabletop Still Life, 1990

 

“I had some wild concept that you could change space – which you can… If the thing doesn’t look like the way I want it to look, I’ll try something else.”

.
Jan Groover, 1994

 

 

 

 

Interview with Tatyana Franck around the Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms exhibition

A singular artist, Jan Groover (1943-2012), of American origin, had a considerable impact on the recognition of colour photography. This exhibition, the first retrospective to be dedicated to her since her death in 2012, shows the evolution of her work, from her original polyptychs to the still lifes that she would produce throughout her life. Thanks to the donation of Jan Groover’s archives to Photo Elysée (Lausanne) in 2017, this exhibition, presented in 2019 in Lausanne, pays tribute to an artist who has constantly renewed herself, thus becoming part of the history of photography.

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1971

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1971
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1975

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1975
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

Exhibition

Born in the United States, singular artist Jan Groover (1943-2012) played a significant role in the appreciation of colour photography. In the first retrospective since her death in 2012, the exhibition shows the development of Groover’s work, from original polyptychs to still lifes she produced throughout her career. Thanks to a donation from the Jan Groover archives at Photo Elysée (Lausanne) in 2017, the exhibition, shown in Lausanne in 2019, pays tribute to an artist who constantly reinvented herself, thus leaving her mark on the history of photography.

Jan Groover took up photography as a sort of challenge. Noting that “photography wasn’t taken seriously” in the United States in the 1960s, she distanced herself from abstract painting, which she’d previously studied. In 1967, Groover bought her first camera in what she described as her “first adult decision.” Her fondness for abstraction and the pictorial can already be seen in her first series of polyptychs, where the subject is multiplied, divided, or hidden behind opaque forms to the point of negation.

Starting in the late 1970s, Groover turned to the still life, a traditional genre in pictorial art, experimenting with it until the end of her life through impressively diverse subjects, formats and techniques. At a time when documentary photography was at the forefront in magazines like LIFE, Groover applied her background in painting to photography, giving abstract photography due credit by creating images for the sake of form, far from signification and statement. On top of her still lifes, Groover also produced series on freeways, portraits, and Body Parts.

As an actor in rendering the photographic medium more versatile – a property then attributed to painting and drawing – Groover explored different creative techniques, as in the use of platinum and palladium prints for her urban series and portraits of close friends (John Coplans or Janet Borden, with whom she was in constant intellectual dialogue).

In Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms, colour and black-and-white vintage prints are presented, along with the artist’s work materials (polaroids, notebooks, etc.). The exhibition explores Groover’s artistic process and gives us insight into the experimental nature of her work and her influence on modern photography.

 

Biography

Born on April 24, 1943, in Plainfield, New Jersey, Jan Groover first studied abstract painting at the Pratt Institute in New York before taking up photography, with the purchase of her first camera in the early 1970s. This marked the beginning of a diverse career made of polyptychs, series of shots of the same location, portraits and still lifes (a recurring theme of her art). In 1970, she earned a Master’s in Art Education from Ohio State University, Columbus. She then moved to New York with her partner, painter and art critic Bruce Boice.

In New York, a center of contemporary art, she gradually gained recognition on the art scene and experimented with other techniques in photography, like platinum/palladium prints.

In 1974, the Light Gallery put on her first solo exhibition, and in 1978 she received a grant from the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts. As a respected teacher at Purchase College, she taught photographers Gregory Crewdson, Laurie Simmons and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, for a few.

In 1987, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a retrospective on Groover’s work.

The Groover-Boice couple turned in this way on the New York art scene until 1991, the year they settled in the Dordogne region of France. Groover continued her series of still lifes despite falling ill in 1998. The couple gained French nationality in 2005. Jan Groover passed away a few years later, on January 1st, 2012.

Thanks to Bruce Boice’s donation, Photo Elysée in Lausanne was able to expand its collection with the archive of Jan Groover, including a great majority of her work as well as unpublished archival material from her studio. The museum ensures the conservation, study and distribution of the archive.

Text from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' Nd

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
Nd
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

In 1978, another radical turning point. Jan Groover focuses all her efforts on still life. Spotlight on the house sink: who would have thought that so much beauty was nestled there? Reflection of a fork, transparency of a glass, sliding of water, damaged enamel, burnt coffee: under its tight framing, effects and materials are intertwined. Nothing is left to chance, each arrangement is first sketched out in pencil, tested with Polaroid. In fact, she has never stopped painting: she simply does it with the elements of reality. Her challenge, “that the entire surface of the photo have the same magnetism and the same importance,” summarises the painter Bruce Boice, her husband.

Resounding success: her Kitchen Still Lifes establish her as an immense visual artist. In the eyes of Susan Kismaric, curator in the photography department at MoMA in New York, she invented “nothing less than a resplendent new way of seeing”. An “anomaly of the photographic world”? Some call it that. But of those who have a sacred heritage: initiated by Jan Groover, photographers Gregory Crewdson and Philip-Lorca diCorcia bring her composition lessons to incandescence.

Emmanuelle Lequeux. “Jan Groover, l’abstraction du réel,” on the Le Monde website 18 September 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022. Translated from the French by Google Translate

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1978
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled (Ealan Wingate)' c. 1980

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled (Ealan Wingate)
c. 1980
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

A summary inventory of Groover’s archive tallied a total of 11,663 negatives, 525 slides, and 9,485 paper prints, along with unpublished drawings and all of her camera equipment. “Jan Groover was not only interested in beautiful prints, but she was very much interested in techniques, and the artisanal way of making images,” says Franck. “We were very lucky to have been able to find a complete laboratory with all of her prints, negatives, everything was kept in her house.”

Marigold Warner. “Jan Groover: Laboratory of Forms,” on the British Journal of Photography website 8th November 2019 [Online] Cited 10/01/2022.

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled (Mel Bochner)' 1980

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled (Mel Bochner)
1980
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1983
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1981

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1981
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1983

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1983
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

 

An unpublished exhibition, from the artist’s archive

This exhibition looks back over the life’s work of Jan Groover (1943- 2012), the American photographer whose personal collection was added to the Musée de l’Elysée’s collections in 2017. Based on a selection of archives from her personal collections, the exhibition evokes not only the artist’s years in New York but also her years in France – a less known part of her career. With the will to enrich research on Jan Groover, the exhibition displays the first results of the considerable work on the collection conducted by the museum – from the perspective both of conservation as well as historical documentation.

 

Formalism is everything

Taking Jan Groover’s statement as a guiding principle, the exhibition highlights the eminently plastic design pursued by the photographer throughout her career. Conducted in a spirit of endless experimentation, this research and the creative process it involves are emphasised not only by the presentation of early tests and experiments but also by the inclusion of unique documents, notes and preparatory notebooks.

In the early 1970s, abandoning her earlier vocation as a painter, Jan Groover began to attract attention with her photographic polyptychs constructed around the motifs of the road, cars and the urban environment. As the early stages of her formal and aesthetic explorations, they offer an opportunity to re-examine the reflections initiated at the time by the conceptual trend (especially with regard to notions of seriality and sequence).

By 1978, Jan Groover had radically changed subject, turning to still life. She embarked on pictures that were to form the main body of her work and thanks to which she remains to this day one of the eminent figures of the genre. Mostly created in her studio, her compositions use a variety of processes. In the 1980s, they actively contributed to the recognition of colour photography. Despite the indisputable pre-eminence of her photographs of objects, Jan Groover’s work is also studded with landscapes, bodies and portraits, often in monochrome. She developed a keen interest in the technique of platinum and palladium, which she studied in greater depth when she arrived in France, with several series in a very specific elongated format (banquet camera) concluding the exhibition.

Text from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1985

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1985
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012) 'Untitled' c. 1989

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
c. 1989
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Bruce Boice (American, b. 1941) 'Jan Groover' c. 1968

 

Bruce Boice (American, b. 1941)
Jan Groover
c. 1968
© Photo Elysée – Fonds Jan Groover

 

Tatyana Franck (author). 'Jan Groover. Laboratory of Forms' book cover 2019

 

Tatyana Franck (author)
Photo Elysée & Scheidegger and Spiess (publisher)
February, 2020 (date of publication)
ISBN 978-3858818386
192 pages
48 euros

 

This book accompanies the eponymous exhibition presented at Photo Elysée from September 18, 2019 to January 5, 2020, then at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson from November 8, 2022 to February 12, 2023.

“Formalism is everything”: Jan Groover’s statement alone sums up the plastic ambition of a work that today embodies one of the key moments in the history of photography and the genre of still life.

Conducted through constant and varied experimentation, her research focused on forms and their ability to transform the perception of the image. In the early 1970s, the photographer was noticed by the New York art scene for her polyptychs based on the motifs of the car and the urban environment. Around 1978, Jan Groover radically changed the subject to still life, which would form the main part of his later work. Produced in the studio, her compositions use a variety of techniques; in the 1970s and 1980s, they actively contributed to the institutional and artistic recognition of colour photography. She then developed a great interest in a late 19th century process, the platinum-palladium.

Defending the historical and technical importance of her work, the publication thus puts Jan Groover’s work in perspective with the analysis of the archival finds given by her husband, Bruce Boice, to Photo Elysée.

Edited by Tatyana Franck

With contributions from Bruce Boice, Emilie Delcambre Hirsch, Paul Frèches, Tatyana Franck, Sarah Hermanson Meister, and Pau Maynés Tolosa

21 x 27 cm.
Texts in English

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives
75003 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday
11am – 7pm
Closed on Mondays

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson website

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06
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 17th October 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curators: Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror is curated by Carol Jacobi, Curator of British Art 1850-1915 and James Finch, Assistant Curator of 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain, supported by Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art (Photography), Tate Modern.

 

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Woman Swimming' Nd

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Woman Swimming
Nd
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Barbara Lloyd and allocated to Tate 2009
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

I have written about the German-British photographer Bill Brandt in other postings on Art Blart: Bill Brandt at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid in 2021; and Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013. After viewing installation photographs of this exhibition at Tate Britain it seems a particularly sparse and limited representation of the great artists work.

Of interest are cabinets where we can see Brandt’s many photobooks and magazine spreads and observe the pairing of the images and their compositional rhymes, but some of these are facsimiles. We also notice the different cropping of the image Toppers (below) from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below).

For me, the most exciting experience is seeing the double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from Brandt’s book The English at Home (1936). I have never seen this before, nor many of the images the spread contains. It shows how the editors and photographer constructed the story they wanted to tell.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for the four press images. Installation images are courtesy of my friend and artist Drager Meurtant who took them at my request. Many thankx to him for his effort.

 

British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) was a leading photographer in the mid-20th century. This period of experimentation and rapid growth saw photography displayed in art galleries and seen by millions in illustrated magazines.

Brandt’s images of daily life merged documentary with art. He was inspired by many sources, from books such as Alice in Wonderland to the sculpture of Henry Moore and the film Citizen Kane.

This exhibition of works in Tate’s collection reveals how Brandt changed his practice throughout his career and crafted each photograph to capture the surreal beauty he saw in the everyday.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s Woman Swimming (modern mural enlargement, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

‘The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of the face.’

.
Bill Brandt

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photographs Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, below); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below); and Glenda Jackson (1971, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Louise Nevelson's Eye' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
1963
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt’s first job as a photographer was in the studio of Grete Kolliner, in Vienna. Greta taught Brandt to compose and light the scene and modify the image in the darkroom to create the desired effect. in the studio of Man Ray in Paris, he learned the surreal potential of manipulating and distorting these techniques.

In the 1950s and 60s Brandt represented artists by their eyes, including the sculptor Louise Nevelson. Her gaze avoids us, suggesting inner thought. The extreme close-up makes her features unfamiliar and strange; their textures and reflections take on the vastness of a landscape.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Pablo Picasso at "La Californie"' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Pablo Picasso at “La Californie”
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

After the Second World War, Brandt could travel again and he spent time on the north and south French coast. He photographed artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Picasso was 74 when Brandt photographed him in his villa on the Cote d’Azur, for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Brandt wrote a self-deprecating account of Picasso avoiding the sitting. The portrait turned out relatively conventionally, the close-up head and preoccupied gaze sharp against the soft-focus complexities of the cluttered room.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Glenda Jackson' 1971

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Glenda Jackson
1971
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing from left to right, Brandt’s photograph Louise Nevelson’s Eye (1963, above); Pablo Picasso at “La Californie” (1955, above); Georges Braque on the beach at Varengeville, Normandy (1955, above)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left in the bottom image, Brandt’s photograph Glenda Jackson (1971, above) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at right, Brandt’s photograph Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place (1955, below) next to a modern mural enlargement
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Citizen Kane

Brandt saw Orson Welles revolutionary film Citizen Kane many times after its release in 1941. Its style was openly artificial. Theatrical lighting, deep focus and wide angles distorted figures, making familiar settings appear strange and surreal.

‘I’d never seen a film in which real rooms were used and you could see everything, the ceiling, the terrific perspective. I was very much inspired by it and I thought I must make photographs like that.’

In 1944, Brandt bought a simpler camera, the Kodak Wide Angle. This type of camera was used by auctioneers or the police for recording merchandise and evidence, because it could capture a whole room. He began a series of experimental interiors that changed his photographic style.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place' 1955

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Portrait of a Young Girl, Eaton Place
1955
Tate
Gift Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt photographed people in rooms with a Kodak Wide Angle camera. The lens was fixed and kept everything beyond four feet away in focus. Her profile is enlarged in contrast to the small, distant windows that appear sharp in the background.

Judith looms like Alice in Wonderland. Her pose creates a dreamlike effect and her eyes are in shadow. The formal interior recalls the beginning of Alice’s adventure. The empty chair adds to the uncanny atmosphere. A similar button-backed, seat featured in Alice Through the Looking Glass. It was a prop in many of Brandt’s photographs.

Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013

Wall text

 

Kodak wide angle view camera / Bill Brandt. The camera is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Protar 1:18 8.5cm lens. This very rare Kodak wide angle view camera is very slim, and does not have bellows. The front accepts interchangeable panels should the user wish to fit other suitable lenses. There is a spring-back with a ground glass, two plate holders and a transport case. Bill Brandt used one of these cameras for photographs in his book “Wide Angle Nudes”. Format 6.5 x 8.5 inches (16.5 x 21.5cm) The wide angle lens has a very large depth of field, and the aperture of f45 eliminates the need to focus. The field of view is 110° or the equivalent to a rectilinear lens of 14 or 15 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Anonymous text. “Wide angle KODAK View Camera / Bill Brandt,” on the Antiq Photo website [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

What Brandt had bought was a rare Kodak Wide Angle Camera with Zeiss Protar Lens, used by police for recording crime scenes. The wide angle lens captured the whole scene while the small f45 aperture gave full depth-of-field. Essentially it was a fixed focus box camera allowing untrained coppers to get the shot on the generous full plate film. The lens was a Carl Zeiss Jena f18 Protar of 85mm focal length, giving a very wide 110 degree angle of view, equivalent to 15mm lens on 35mm format.

These cameras are extremely rare, perhaps only made for the police force, but John Rushton’s website has one and you can see all the details. It is an original design, as the pictures show, with curious features such as the small “feet” on the back which allows you to lay it on the ground to shoot vertically up.

Greg Neville. “Bill Brandt’s camera,” on the Greg Neville photography blog October 26, 2015 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

Wide-angle Kodak View camera

 

 

Today Tate Britain opens a free exhibition dedicated to celebrated British photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983). 44 original photographs from across his career are displayed alongside the magazines and photobooks in which these images were most often seen. Entitled Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror, this is Tate’s first Brandt exhibition. It reveals the secrets of his artistry and the fascinating ways he staged and refined his photographs. Drawn from Tate’s collection, the show includes many recent acquisitions which reflect Tate’s ongoing commitment to strengthening its holdings of photography.

Bill Brandt was first known as a photojournalist, renowned in the 1930s for his observations of British life and later for his landscapes, portraits and nudes. But his images were always carefully crafted to ‘enter the mirror’, as he put it, employing formal experimentation and artistic interventions to evoke the surreal beauty he saw in everyday life. This exhibition celebrates his theatrical direction of people and setting, his mastery of composition and abstraction, and his dialogues with the work of other artists.

Although Brandt’s images can appear candid and spontaneous, he did not capture people unaware. He worked closely with those he photographed, directing and lighting them to cast ‘the spell that charges the commonplace with beauty’. He sometimes waited for hours to capture effects at specific times of day – as in Woman Swimming – and some of his most mysterious scenes were taken at night. Brandt developed his own film and printed his own photographs, giving him further opportunities to rebalance light and dark, and change the composition through cropping and enlarging. He even used ink and pencil to alter prints, for example introducing plumes of smoke onto Hail, Hell & Halifax. The series of Brandt’s nudes shown in the exhibition include some of his best-known and most evocative works, which further explore his interest in altered perspectives, surreal effects and abstract compositions.

As well as being an artist in his own right, Brandt took inspiration from many other artists and art forms. The exhibition explores some of these conversations between his photographs and other imagery, from Gustave Doré’s engravings of London to Henry Moore’s air raid shelter drawings to Orson Welles’ 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Brandt’s handmade photobook ‘A Dream’ – which is being exhibited for the first time – reveals further influences, such as John Tenniel’s surreal illustrations to Alice in Wonderland and the dramatic shadows of Expressionist cinema. Brandt also became famous for his portraits of artists, such as the actor Glenda Jackson at home in the early 1970s, and an arresting close-up of sculptor Louise Nevelson’s eye.

The exhibition at Tate Britain coincides with a group of newly opened photography displays at Tate Modern. These include a room of recently acquired photographs by Martha Rosler, two photographic series by Laura Aguilar and Lyle Ashton Harris, and a selection of photobooks documenting the war in Bosnia. There is also a display of images from Liz Johnson Artur’s series Time don’t run here, depicting the Black Lives Matter protests in London over the summer of 2020, which is accompanied by a new book about Artur from Tate Publishing.

Press release from the Tate Museum

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition : Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris (1931, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris' 1931

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Race Goers, Auteuil Races, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Brandt often photographed the spectacle of horse races. These racegoers are dressed in fashionable clothing of the time – Brandt mischievously mischievously twins their ties, collars and bowler hats. The sophisticated air is further subverted by their anxious matching gestures as they watch the race.

The softly focused natural setting contrasts with the sharply suited figures. Brandt enhanced this by brightening details such as the pocket handkerchief, scratched away to expose white paper. This print has been rephotographed from an earlier print.

Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at left, Brandt’s photograph Butcher in Notting Hill Gate (1930); and at right, Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair (c. 1930-1939, below)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair' c. 1930-1939

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Regency Houses, Park Lane, Mayfair
c. 1930-1939
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

A lorry, bus and carriage pass prosperous old houses whose blank windows give nothing away. This later exhibition print is larger then the version in The English At Home, with greater contrast to stress shape and pattern. The traffic is cropped to divert less attention from the rhythm of the railings. Shadows have been added to the curved facades so they stand out adjacent the flat ones.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at centre, Brandt’s photograph Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Hatter's window, Bond Street' c. 1931-1935

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Hatter’s window, Bond Street
c. 1931-1935
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Staging

Like many photographers in Britain in the 1930s, Brandt made his name documenting contemporary society for illustrated magazines. Inspired by the success of the book Paris by Night (1933) by Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï, who was an early influence, Brandt published groundbreaking photobooks The English At Home (1936) and A Night in London (1937).

Brandt did not seek to capture people unaware or catch a decisive moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson called it. He felt he could attempt a more meaningful kind of realism by engaging and gaining cooperation with those he photographed. The people in this room posed for him or were played by friends and family like a drawing he planned and sketched, staged and directed…

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing at rear right, Brandt’s photograph A Billingsgate Porter (c. 1934)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’ (1936, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin' and a growin'' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Flowerseller in Hampstead, All a blowin’ and a growin’
1936
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Flower sellers were well-known figures from London life and literature during the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837-1910), most famously Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion (1913). The bright noon day sun casts strong shadows on the flower seller’s face and feet. The black dress and had, perhaps strengthened in the printing, give her a solid silhouette. Her feathered hat stands out against the white sign.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s photograph Housewife, Bethnal Green (1937, below)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Housewife, Bethnal Green' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Housewife, Bethnal Green
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Gift of Eric and Louise Franck London Collection 2013
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This young woman posed from Brandt at her work, but like many people he photographed, her name was not recorded. Brandt retouched the print to enhance stains on the apron and the pavement, playing into some stereotypes about the hardship of working-class life in Bethnal Green, a lower income area. The title and location tell us that she is cleaning her own step and is not a domestic worker. Brandt has enhanced the gleam of her wedding ring, suggesting this is her married home.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing the cover and pages from Brandt’s photobook The English At Home (1936)
Photos: Drager Meurtant

 

 

The pictures of Brandt’s photobooks were carefully paired. He wrote that although he found the social contrast of the thirties ‘visually exciting… I never intended them for political propaganda.’ The 63 photographs in The English At Home were arranged to prompt visual and human comparisons, rather than political ones.

Cabinet text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

All Dressed up for the Show
All a blowin’ and a growin’
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

Brandt’s titles often draw attention to conservations between the images; the men are ‘dressed up’ in buttonholes like those the flower seller trades. There are also compositional rhymes; the street sign in All a blowing’ and a growin’ mirrors he sign in All Dressed up for the Show.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'All Dressed up for the Show' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

All Dressed up for the Show
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

As an immigrant to Britain, Brandt was interested in other incomers to the city. In this pair, the Italian porter, Ernie Delmonte faces a street vendor whose name is not recorded. Many sailors and dockworkers from countries that Britain had colonised lived in Whitechapel. This man may have been a veteran of the First World War.

The vendor is selling lottery tickets. Brandt’s title refers to the name of a Whitechapel pub, commemorating Henry de Montfort, a medieval aristocrat who lost his sight in battle and lived as a poor man in the area. It chimes with the vendor’s imperious presence, despite the shabby suit.

Cabinet text

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Whitechapel Blind Beggar' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Whitechapel Blind Beggar
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'A Billingsgate Porter' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

A Billingsgate Porter
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Middle-class Tailors
Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

This pairing explores Brandt’s fascination with the language of clothes. Both photographs set high status garments in the working world of the trade. The untidy backgrounds of shop and workshop make visual and thematic connections. The ripple of silk in the jacket rhymes with the reflection in the vitrine. The dark and light heads of the tailors provide a surreally humorous echo of the dark and light top hats.

Cabinet text

NB. Notice the different cropping of the image Toppers from the same image with a different title seen earlier, Hatter’s window, Bond Street (c. 1931-1935, above) ~ Marcus

 

Bill Brandt. 'Toppers' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Toppers
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Brighton Beach
Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Beach' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Beach
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Bill Brandt. 'Brighton Belle' From 'The English At Home' (1936)

 

Brighton Belle
From The English At Home (1936)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’
Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Double page magazine spread ‘The Perfect Parlourmaid’ from Picture Post magazine 29 July 1939 featuring photographs from The English at Home (1936)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In Brandt’s first book, The English at Home (1936), he juxtaposed the privileged and working classes, frequently using his friends and family as subjects. Pratt, the stern parlourmaid in the country house of one of the photographer’s wealthy uncles, was a particular favourite of Brandt’s, perhaps because she so thoroughly inhabited her role.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the cover of Bill Brandt’s photobook A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Homeless Girl
Footsteps Coming Closer

From A Night in London (1937)

Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Ride In A Handsom Cab
Admiralty Arch Almost Empty Of Traffic
From A Night in London (1937)
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

(at right)

Unchanging London

which is

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Tooting Broadway Tube Station
1938
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing Brandt’s nudes from the 1950s
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 – January 2023 showing a 1950s Brandt nude
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1954
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Camden Hill, London' 1956

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Camden Hill, London
1956
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

Interactive film of section 6 of Perspective of Nudes

Brandt’s book, Perspective of Nudes, published in 1961 (in the display case nearby) was divided into six sections. Throughout the book, images were paired so their compositions complemented each other. The last section can be viewed on this screen.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983) 'Nude, Taxo d'Aval, France' 1957, later print

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, Taxo d’Aval, France
1957, later print
Tate
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, St. John’s Wood, London (installation view)
1955
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of inheritance Tax and allocated to Tate 2019
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

In the 1950s, Brandt photographed in a more modern studio. The geometry of the paintings of his brother [in the background], Rolf, compliments the abstraction of the nudes. He experimented with distorting effects that were not dependent on the camera.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Brandt: Inside the Mirror' at Tate Britain, London, October 2022 - January 2023

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
Photo: Drager Meurtant

 

 

One of Brandt’s best-known nudes is unusual in its intimacy and focus on the sitter’s face. This later variation removes grey and the figure is flattened into black and white shapes. These contrast with touches of texture around the nipple and eyebrow, and three dimensionality at the curves of the eyes, lips and breast.

Wall text

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper, later print
© The Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

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12
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Burlafingen, Germany

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 20th November 2022

Curators: Clothilde Morette, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, and Clara Stratmann

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife… [his uncle] bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.” (Press release)

In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. Can you imagine being a precocious 13 year-old, running your own commercial studio, and then at the end of the day creating sets and costumes and taking on roles to reflect his interest in African and Black American style. As a young man he is finding his own identity through pose and play. “Using the camera as a mirror, he takes on and explores various roles. It’s a game of trying on identities that is familiar to teenagers in particular the world over, a game we play in an attempt to find ourselves, or rather to construct an individual identity.”1 It’s not just playing dress ups or charades: the photographs are an exciting investigation into the desire to find oneself, as an artist and as a human being. Whom am I, who can I be in this life?

Fast forward 20 years or so, and “Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.” (press release) Fosso’s goal was to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography.

This is where it takes the courage of your own convictions, an inherent sense of your creativity as an artist, and respect for yourself as a human being … to strike out and do something different from everyone else, to recognise the chance of taking a different path, to use your imagination to create something fresh and new. Fosso understood this was a crossroads in his life. He could carry on down the same path as Keïta and Sidibé or he could take a chance and strike out on his own, to create “a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation” through “self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities.”

Fosso was on his way. More insightful series followed which reflect the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics, which oscillate between personal introspection and collective narratives: reenacting historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, performing an imaginary Black Pope, embodying Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa which highlights the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries, and posing as members of the French colonial military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War.

“By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”” (press release)

By placing himself at the centre of the theatre of postcolonial identity, and at the centre of (sometimes tragic) human dramas, the artist acts (it being theatre), and performs as a prosopopoeia (Greek) which is a rhetorical device (one which conveys a meaning with the goal of persuading the viewer towards considering a topic from a perspective), in which the artist communicates to the audience by speaking as another person. The term literally derives from the Greek roots prósopon “face, person”, and poiéin “to make, to do;”. Prosopopoeiae are used mostly to give another perspective on the action being described.2

Fosso is both himself and the Black Pope; Fosso is himself and he is also the Chairman. Indeed, Fosso offers a complex conceptual framework in order / in disorder, to understand alternative histories of postcolonial identity. What if there was a Black Pope? What if the Chinese bankroll the finances of African governments and then make them subservient to the will of the Chinese government? How are the privileges of colonial occupation and disenfranchisement being played out on Black bodies and Black cultures even to this day?

Through his different personas the artist allows himself to perform what would otherwise be hidden from view, crossing the threshold between reality and fiction. Crossing such a threshold through performative photography and ritual, “makes possible the emergence of a space of play which asserts that the world does not express a determinate and final order but is infinitely open to the emergence of new… forms of self-organization”3

New forms of identity that critique colonial and world histories. In this sense, Fosso is saying that African creativity and representation matters.

“So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. Press release from the exhibition Ladies and Gentlemen: The Camera as a Mirror at the Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden, February – April 2012. Press release
  2. See Anonymous. “Prosopopoeia,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 12/11/2022
  3. Massie, Pascal. “Masks and the Space of Play,” in Research in Phenomenology Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb 2018), p. 119. Abstract. Brill publishers.

.
Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images Courtesy of The Walther Collection.

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“My initial encounter with photographic images outside of the Central African Republic was purely through pictures in magazines, brought by young American Peace Corps volunteers who came to the Central African Republic to visit Pygmies. I was especially excited by the images of the African Americans and their sense of style. I was also very much taken with the style of the popular singer and musician Prince Nico Mbarga, who was very hot around West Africa in 1976 and 1977 with his record Sweet Mother. I wanted to replicate these two stylistic approaches in the studio with me, posing as a model.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife. Acknowledging his nephew’s precocious talent, Fosso’s uncle, a cobbler with whom he was living, bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.

Besides photographing families and friends and taking people’s passport photos, he captured popular occasions, weddings, baptisms and ceremonies. In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. “If I hadn’t finished the film, I used the last two or three for my own account, and I benefited from that to make my own works,” says Fosso when we meet at the home of his long-standing agent, Jean-Marc Patras, in Paris.

There were two other reasons why Fosso became impassioned about photography. One was that he desperately wanted to send photographs of himself to his grandmother in Nigeria. “Whenever I would make my self-portraits, I would send one picture to my grandmother to reassure her that everything was going well for me and keep one for myself,” Fosso says. The other reason is linked to his early infancy. Born in 1962 in Kumba, south-western Cameroon, to Nigerian parents of Igbo ethnicity, Fosso was born partly paralysed. His mother took him to Nigeria – where his grandfather was a ‘native doctor’, or ‘priest healer’ – to be cured, so he could walk normally. He remained there with his grandparents during the Biafran War, during which time his mother died. After the war ended, his uncle collected him and the pair returned to Cameroon for one year before moving to Bangui.

Fosso had missed out on the tradition of being photographed as a three-month-old baby due to his health condition. In an interview with the late Okwui Enwezor (the influential Nigerian-born curator, for a forthcoming Steidl monographic book, Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait), Fosso recounts: “Even though my mother believed I was a normal child, despite the fact that I was paralysed, there was still no photograph commissioned, even after one year, because my father did not see the need to waste money on a paralysed child. So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

As if to compensate for what had been denied to him, Fosso began asserting his identity and marking his presence, existence and vitality for life by experimenting with self-portraiture, nurturing the freedom this offered. It is a selection of these seminal photographs, titled Autoportrait/Self-portrait from 70s Lifestyle (1975-1978), made between the ages of 13-16… They show the young, slim-framed Fosso striking poses in front of theatrical backdrops and wearing elegant outfits made by a local tailor with fabrics he had purchased. In one image, Fosso – dressed in a white shirt, dark flared trousers and patterned jacket – is bowing slightly, a smile across his face, as if imagining that he is about to meet someone. In others, he has gloved hands on his hips, sporting just a pair of underpants, or he dons tasselled trousers and high-heeled boots.

For inspiration for his looks, Fosso would peruse catalogues, magazines and album covers. “I used American magazines, especially photos of black musicians like James Brown, and showed the magazine pictures to the tailor,” he recalls. “During the colonial years, [African] ministers were obliged to wear a suit and tie, so I chose to make seven photos of me wearing suits like the French. I would also design the décor.” Providing an insight into Fosso’s studio, the photographs show a large picture of Bangui on the wall and several curtains being used for backgrounds. They also offer a social commentary about modern life in Bangui during the post-independence years. Coincidentally, Fosso was making these works at the same time as Cindy Sherman was developing her Murder Mystery series (1976) and Bus Riders (1976) in New Jersey before her iconic Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In a similar vein, Fosso was becoming his own director and character, developing his form of self-expression.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'La femme américaine libérée des années 70' (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
La femme américaine libérée des années 70 (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

“That’s how my Tati series (1997) began, because I did not want to go back to the black-and-white style as Keïta and Sidibé had done for their Tati commissions. Since there were three African photographers, I wanted my project to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography. My goal was to take a new direction in my work.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Le Rocker' (The Rocker) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Le Rocker (The Rocker)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Three years later, Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.

In each photograph in the Tati (1997) series, Fosso changes like a chameleon, masquerading as various figures, exploring issues around gender and stereotypes. His image titled The Chief (the one who sold Africa to the colonists), above, which was printed on the cover of the catalogue of the travelling exhibition, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2004-2007), questions the role of African chiefs in the slave trade. Fosso also transforms himself into a liberated woman, wearing brightly coloured trousers, high heels and a Panama hat, a bourgeois woman in a sequinned top holding a white fur, and to a sailor.

How did people react to these pictures? “People asked if I was homosexual and why I wanted to disguise myself as a woman; wearing women’s clothes was taboo,” he replies. “Now the mentality is changing a bit. Now people are asking why I wanted to do it. I thought of doing something about how black Americans were liberated in the 1960s and 70s, and the liberated woman.”

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)
1997
From the series Tati

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Golfer' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Golfer
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Conceptual Framework

The Walther Collection presents a retrospective exhibition of photographic works by Samuel Fosso (b. 1962), one of the most renowned contemporary African artists working today. Spanning his five-decade career, Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces revisits bodies of work that explore issues central to the contemporary art scene. The exhibition retraces a career that oscillates between personal introspection and collective narratives through major series and lesser-known works from his youth.

Since the mid-1970s, Samuel Fosso has dedicated his artistic practice to self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities. His early studio experiments and later series created innovative imagery that questioned ethnographic views of Africa as well as the economic imperatives of studio portraiture. Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is presented across two galleries of The Walther Collection’s White Cube, bringing together a selection of works from all the artist’s series: early studio photography from the 1970s to 1990s is exhibited in the upper gallery and later works reflecting the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics are shown in the main gallery space.

Fosso’s work reflects the shifts that occurred in the history of photography in Africa when Africans began to turn the camera onto themselves and began to visualise and embody postcolonial perspectives. In 1975, at the age of thirteen, Fosso opened his Studio Photo Nationale in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. By day he photographed paying clientele, highlighting their fashion and individual styles, depicting them in sometimes exuberant poses. At night, he focused the camera on himself. Fosso’s expressive black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s reference West African popular culture, formulating a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation.

Another significant theme that runs through Fosso’s oeuvre is fashion as a powerful tool for expression, transformation, and image-making. In his words, ‘clothes help me tell the character’s story and share their own emotions… but most of all the clothes help me understand them.’ Several of his series examine how self-styling and (manipulation of) the mass media have shaped the representation of social and political ideals and selves.

While the series Tati (1997) investigates the transformative power of fashion through satirical representation, other photo essays such as Mémoire d’un ami (2000) explore themes of memory and ritual. Reconstructing a night in 1997, when the artist’s friend and neighbour was murdered by armed militia in Bangui, Fosso reflects on global socio-political issues through his photographic performance with astonishing vulnerability.

For the series African Spirits (2008), Fosso reenacted historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, examining the power of iconography. The African and African-American figures represented in the series, like Angela Davis, Malcom X or Haile Selassie, are instantly recognisable through their iconic fashion and adopted poses, their masterful utilisation of self-styling imbuing them with undeniable power to create social and political impact.

Five years later, Fosso embodies Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa (2013), manifesting the relationship between style and image again in a powerful project of political portraits, while at the same time highlighting the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries.

The selection of two diptychs from the series ALLONZENFANS (2013) depicts Fosso’s intervention into the fraught history of France’s relationship with its former colonies. Fosso poses as members of the military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War, alternating between a stern-looking soldier at attention and a smiling soldier at ease, drafted for the French regiments. Like African Spirits and Emperor of Africa, ALLONZENFANS illustrates the artist’s ongoing engagement with specific episodes of Africa’s and Europe’s history.

With the Black Pope (2017), Fosso confronts politics of religion between Europe and Africa, addressing the fact that, despite high populations of Roman Catholics on the continent, there has never been a pope of African heritage. While African Catholics hoped that this would be corrected during the 2013 conclave without success, Fosso’s evocative body of work created four years later, teases our imagination, and invites us to consider the improbable event of an African on the papal seat.

By presenting a wide spectrum of Fosso’s work, this comprehensive retrospective offers generous insight into how the artist’s practice deviates sharply from West African studio photography traditions established by Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé during the 1950s and 1960s – from his early work examining postcolonial African society’s burgeoning desires to his later conceptual work which explores the way photographs travel the world and change meaning over time. By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”

Samuel Fosso was born in Kumba, Cameroon, in 1962 and raised in Nigeria. He fled the Biafran War as an adolescent, and in 1972 was taken in by his uncle in Bangui in the Central African Republic. After learning about photography from a neighbour, he set up his own photo studio at the age of 13.

Fosso was awarded the Afrique en Création prize in 1995 and was the recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award in 2001. His self-portraits are represented in the collections of international museums such as Tate Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou and musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. In 2017, a solo exhibition of his work was held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2020, the monograph Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Fosso’s photographs was published by Steidl and The Walther Collection. Samuel Fosso lives and works between Nigeria and France.

 

Publications

On the occasion of the retrospective Samuel Fosso at MEP in 2021, Steidl has published a French edition of Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Samuel Fosso’s oeuvre – originally co-published by The Walther Collection in 2020 – with essays and research by leading scholars and writers. Edited by Okwui Enwezor, it includes contributions by Quentin Bajac, Simon Baker, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Jean Marc Patras, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, and Artur Walther, as well as an in-depth conversation between Samuel Fosso and Okwui Enwezor.

SIXSIXSIX consists of 666 large-format Polaroid self-portraits, produced in an intensive process by Samuel Fosso with a small team in his Paris studio in 2015 and 2016. Shot against the same rich, coloured backdrop, these striking photographs depart from Fosso’s earlier self-portraits through their understated and stripped-back approach. Fosso’s challenge was to create 666 self-portraits each with a different bodily expression, reminding us of the link between his performances and photography. The publication opens with a conversation between Fosso and curator and critic Hans Ulrich Obrist.

 

About the Exhibition

Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is a touring exhibition organised by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris) in collaboration with The Walther Collection (Neu-Ulm) and Huis Marseille (Amsterdam), with the support of Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

Text from The Walther Collection website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

 

“When I work, it’s always a performance that I choose to undertake. It’s not a subject or an object; it’s one more human being. I link my body to this figure, because I want to translate its history.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

“I see slavery as connected to all these questions of freedom, liberation, colonialism, and power. To me, slavery was the source, and I wanted to deal with it in a really deep way. My goal was to restage key images and figures in this history from King during the American civil rights movement to Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire during the independence and liberation of Africa. To my mind, all these struggles had one thing in common, and that is the history of slavery. And these figures were committed to the idea of freedom for black people in order to reclaim their culture and human dignity. This was the underlying concept of African Spirits.

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

Fosso’s quest to pay homage to historical, political figures that had fought for black civil rights became more precise in his black-and-white series, African Spirits (2008), produced in Patras’ former gallery in Paris. Marking a decisive shift in direction, each photograph is based on a specific image of one of Fosso’s heroes that he faithfully reinterpreted, casting himself as a different character each time. This involved creating elaborate backdrops, hiring costumes and imitating facial expressions. In one, Fosso interprets Martin Luther King Jr’s mugshot following King’s arrest in Alabama in 1956 for his leadership role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Others see him assuming the identities of African-Americans such as Muhammad Ali and the political activist Angela Davis (above), African leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire, who co-founded the Négritude movement to restore the cultural identity of black Africans, and Keïta.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

 

“We cannot accept, because of Chinese money, the destruction of our environment. We must also preserve it for our children and for generations to come. This is what I wanted to say in Lagos, in 2013, on the occasion of my first exhibition in Nigeria, where my series Emperor of Africa was also presented for the first time. In this series, Mao is the emperor of this Africa that the Chinese have come to invade. It is the question of economic independence which arises after that of political independence.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

 

“I want to show the black man’s relationship to the power that oppresses him.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

“Samuel Fosso’s Black Pope explores the way religion and its symbols and objects that are used to create the narrative of a papal figure are so removed from the African context and culture that it almost promotes this idea of whiteness and white supremacy. In the history of the papacy, there has never been a black pope, while today the greatest number of Roman Catholics is actually in Africa.”

Azu Nwagbogu, 2017

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

Next came the series Allonzenfans (2013), in which Fosso reflects upon how France conscripted men from its West African colonies to fight in the First and Second World Wars, followed by Black Pope (2017), above. For the latter, Fosso was awarded the Infinity Art Award 2018 from the International Centre of Photography in New York. At the Rencontres de Bamako in 2017, one enlarged image from the series was presented alongside contact sheets comprising dozens of shots of Fosso enacting the Pope. In total, 70 unique portraits are being produced, according to Patras. In some, Fosso is reading the Bible, praying or holding the papal ferula while standing on a meteorite – an evident pun on Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture, La Nona Ora (1999), an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. The series alludes to Fosso’s hope that one day the Catholic Church will have a black pope. “I asked myself why there has never been a black pope, but now there’s been a Polish pope [John Paul II], a German pope [Benedict XVI] and now a pope from South America [Francis], so perhaps one day there’ll be a black pope,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

“It’s neither the body that smiles, nor the body that cries, but a representation of life and all the misfortunes that strike us deep within. In the end, it’s about buried emotions that we ourselves create, and about exorcising my own resentment in the face of this situation.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

Fosso’s series, SixSixSix (2015) – presented at the National Portrait Gallery in 2017 – is the subject of a second new Steidl book due later this year. Over three weeks in a Parisian studio, Fosso posed shirtless, sitting on a chair, two or three times a day in front of a crimson backdrop, staring at the camera. This culminated in 666 unique Polaroid images that capture Fosso’s varying emotional states, from glum, sad, angry to happy. The classical framing of each self-portrait depicting Fosso’s face and shoulders, his body almost merging into the background, is identical. What differs is the emanating mood and facial expression, no two images being exactly the same.

The title of the series referring to the evil connotation of the figure 666 in the Bible, the work was made partly in response to the Central African Republic’s civil war from 2012-2014. “My house, studio and photography accessories were completely destroyed,” laments Fosso, who eventually managed to escape the violence and catch a flight to France as he had a French passport. Although his archive has been preserved by Patras and the negatives of his series are with Griffin Editions in New York, Fosso lost some of his early colour photographs when his studio was set alight. “Unhappiness has often struck my path – illness and war in my childhood, then wars and wars,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

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Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

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30
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 15th July – 31st October 2022

Curators: The exhibition is curated by artist, author and curator Boaz Levin and Dr. Esther Ruelfs, Head of the Photography and New Media Collection at MK&G.

Artists: Ignacio Acosta, Lisa Barnard, F& D Cartier, Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen), Susanne Kriemann, Mary Mattingly, Daphné Nan Le Sergent, Lisa Rave, Alison Rossiter, Robert Smithson, Simon Starling, Anaïs Tondeur, James Welling, Noa Yafe, Tobias Zielony

 

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979) 'Mineral Seep' 2016

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979)
Mineral Seep
2016
C-print
© Mary Mattingly

 

 

A worthy subject I had never really thought about. Kudos to the curators for digging into (pardon the pun) and conceptualising the “five chapters following the different materials used for photographic production: Copper for the daguerreotypes, fossil fuels and their derivatives such as coal and bitumen for the printing processes, silver for the widely used silver gelatin prints of the 20th century, Paper as a carrier material, and, today, rare earths and metals for our ever-shrinking cameras and smartphones, and the energy required for the so-called “cloud”.”

Something has to change very quickly because almost everything the human race produces seems to add to the burden of this earth. Consumerism, capitalism, money, power, greed. I despair of the human race saving the earth. We might end up with ‘being’ only to be confronted by ‘nothingness’.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing at left, work from Anaïs Tondeur’s series Carbon Black

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing on the table the work of Ignacio Acosta; and at far right, a contemporary enlargement of G.H. Johnson’s Outdoor view of a large mining operation on the North Fork American River 1852 Daguerreotype enhanced with gold

 

 

The exhibition Mining Photography: The Ecological Footprint of Image Production is dedicated to the material history of key resources used for image production, addressing the social and political context of their extraction and waste and its relation to climate change. Using historical photographs and contemporary artistic positions as well as interviews with restorers, geologists, and climate researchers, the exhibition tells the story of photography as one of industrial production, showing the extent to which the medium has been deeply intertwined with human change of the environment. By focusing on the ways by which industrial image production has been materially and ideologically implicated in climate change, rather merely using it to depict its consequences, the exhibition employs a radically new perspective towards this subject.

Ever since its invention, photography has depended on the global extraction and exploitation of so-called natural resources. In the early 19th century, these were salt, fossil fuels such as bitumen and carbon, as well as copper and silver, which were all used for the first images on copper plates and for salt paper prints. By the late 20th century, the photographic industry was one of the most important consumers of silver, responsible, at its peak, for about a quarter of the metal’s global consumption. Today, with the advent of digital photography and the ubiquity of mobile devices, image production is contingent on rare earths and metals such as coltan, cobalt, and europium. Image storage and distribution also consume immense amounts of energy. One scholar recently observed that Americans produce more photographs every two minutes than were made in the entire nineteenth century. Mining Photography: The Ecological Footprint of Image Production is dedicated to the material history of key resources used for image production, addressing the social and political context of their extraction and waste and its relation to climate change. Using historical photographs and contemporary artistic positions as well as interviews with restorers, geologists, and climate researchers, the exhibition tells the story of photography as one of industrial production, showing the extent to which the medium has been deeply intertwined with human change of the environment. By focusing on the ways by which industrial image production has been materially and ideologically implicated in climate change, rather merely using it to depict its consequences, the exhibition employs a radically new perspective towards this subject.

The exhibition is divided into five chapters following the different materials used for photographic production: Copper for the daguerreotypes, fossil fuels and their derivatives such as coal and bitumen for the printing processes, silver for the widely used silver gelatin prints of the 20th century, Paper as a carrier material, and, today, rare earths and metals for our ever-shrinking cameras and smartphones, and the energy required for the so-called “cloud”.

Interviews with conservators, climate scientists, and geologists highlight various aspects of the production process in relation to its ecological footprint. The exhibition thus consists of historical materials used during different image production techniques, historical artefacts, contemporary works, as well as information conveyed by the interviews.

“Mining Photography” traces exemplary individual supply chains, and analyses how photography’s materiality – which remains invisible to naked eye – has changed over the years. For instance, it will ask where the copper and silver used for Hermann Biow’s daguerreotype of the polymath, explorer and mining officer Alexander von Humboldt came from?

The “Copper, Gold, and the Daguerreotype” section looks at the copperplates that were photography’s first image supports in the 1840s and 1850s. The plates were produced on an industrial scale, primarily in Paris, and sold around the world. Copper was refined in Wales, in the area of Swansea, powered by the burgeoning fossil fuel industry. Ores were shipped to England from all over the world and smelted there to be traded worldwide. Photography was dependent on the copper trade, and the rapid proliferation of the medium would have been inconceivable without fossil fuels, colonial expansion, and the exploitative extraction of minerals.

The photographs from the time of the gold rush give a clear indication of the impact of the extractive mining industry, providing a documentary record of both the destruction of the landscape and the self-enactment of the gold miners, who proudly present themselves to the camera as entrepreneurs. Their female counterparts, the “Pit Brow Women” from Wigan represent the invisible labor that accompanies an industrialised product like photography. Specially created for the exhibition, Ignacio Acosta’s Hygieia Watches Over Us links the copper sculpture depicting the personification of health and hygiene with the copper-producing company Aurubis in Hamburg. It is part of the artist’s “Copper Geographies” project (ongoing since 2010), which traces the international trade routes followed by copper originating from his native Chile.

In “Fossil Fuels, Coal, and Bitumen”, we focus on the use of soot or coal as a pigment that is mixed in with photographic dyes, as can be seen, for example, in works by Anaïs Tondeur, Oscar and Theodor Hofmeister, Eduard Arning, and Susanne Kriemann. The motifs that are shown present us with moor landscapes in which coal is mined. An authentic “material unconscious” is laid down here as picture content in the photographs. Another fossil fuel is light-sensitive bitumen, a naturally occurring asphalt that was used in photographic production. For the exhibition, Noa Yafe created a work that shows the Dead Sea landscapes in which this raw material naturally occurs.

“Paper and Its Coating” focuses on the materials cotton, cellulose, gelatin, and celluloid. Europe was the centre of paper production in the 19th century, with cotton or flax rags initially used to make it. In the period around 1860, cotton was planted and harvested in the southern states of the US using slave labor. It was then shipped to Europe, where it was processed into fabrics, which served, in the form of rags, as the basis for most of the paper that was produced. It was not until the 20th century that cellulose derived from wood was first used in paper production. The photographers Alison Rossiter and F&D Cartier explore the different materiality of historical photographic papers in “discovered” images with an abstract poetic quality. Animal products were a vital ingredient used for coating the papers. In the 19th century, it was eggs, followed in the 20th century by gelatin, most of which was obtained from the bones of cows. In their pictures, which centre in different ways on the materials used in photographic coating, Madame d’Ora and James Welling document and reflect upon the brutal reality of industrialised meat production. Another work, especially created for the exhibition by Tobias Zielony and based on research he conducted at the former Agfa Filmfabrik Wolfen, focuses on the aspects of labor and ecology in the photographic industry.

The precious metal silver forms the basis of the photographic image, which still relies on it today. Of all the raw materials dealt with in the exhibition, silver is absolutely key to the global photographic industry, which, at least for now, is at present its largest consumer. It is here that we get the clearest indication of the sheer quantity of material that is required. The works of Daphné Nan Le Sergent, Simon Starling, and Metabolic Studio’s Optics Division allude to the connections between silver mining’s colonial background, the extraction of the raw material, and the process of refining it. Sergent also shows how the metals’ market value has been a the influence of the market value of metals, a driving force behind photographic technical innovations, which it has made that has made them more lucrative. Rather than being brilliant individual success stories, inventions are only possible and fruitful at a particular time and under particular conditions: witness the work of Hercule Florence, whose parallel development of a photographic process in South America remained unknown.

Lastly, “The Weight of the Cloud: Rare Earths, Metals, Energy, and Waste” looks at the resources that are needed to produce, display, and store digital images. Mining rare earths requires considerable amounts of energy: together with the “conflict minerals”, they are built into our smartphones and data storage devices used in the distribution of images. The rare earths ultimately end up in the burgeoning mountains of e-waste in the Global South, which are constantly growing to keep pace with our hunger for new devices. Lisa Barnard’s research-based work The Canary and the Hammer looks at the aspect of recycling with a focus on the precious metal gold. Mary Mattingly tracks cobalt’s complex and often opaque supply chains, mapping their course and constantly updating her rendering of them in response to market events. Lisa Rave’s video essay centres on the rare-earth metal europium. The app developed by Christoph Knoth and Konrad Renner together with their students at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg (HFBK) allows visitors to look at their phones in terms of their durability and recyclability, enabling them to probe into their own energy consumption.

 

Historical Material and Loans

The exhibition shows historical works by Eduard Christian Arning, Hermann Biow and Oscar and Theodor Hofmeister, Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt and Hermann Reichling. Together with historical photographic material from the Agfa Fotohistorama Leverkusen, photographic material from the Eastman Kodak Archive, Rochester, the FOMU Antwerpen and mineral samples collected by Alexander von Humboldt from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, they represent the wealth of photographic products and processes whose raw materials the exhibition focuses on.

The exhibition is curated by artist, author and curator Boaz Levin and Dr. Esther Ruelfs, Head of the Photography and New Media Collection at MK&G.

 

Catalogue

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication (German/English) with contributions by Siobhan Angus, Nadia Bozak, Boaz Levin, Brett Neilson, Esther Ruelfs, Christoph Ribbat, Karen Soli, 174 pages, Spector Verlag, Leipzig

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Dunkelraum' 2022

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Dunkelraum (Darkroom)
2022
Slide installation
© Tobias Zielony

 

 

Ever since its invention, photography has depended on the global extraction and exploitation of so called natural resources. In the early 19th century, these were salt, fossil fuels such as bitumen and carbon, and copper and silver, which were all used for the first images on copper plates and for salt paper prints. By the late 20th century, the photographic industry was one of the most important consumers of silver, responsible, at its peak, for over half of the metal’s global consumption. Today, with the advent of digital photography and the ubiquity of mobile devices, image production is contingent on rare earths and metals such as coltan, cobalt, and europium. The storage and distribution of images also generate immense amounts of CO2.

The exhibition is dedicated to the material history of the key resources used for photography. It traces the social and political context of their extraction and disposal and how this relates to climate change. Using historical photographs and contemporary artistic positions as well as interviews with a chemist, an activist, a restorer, a mineralogist, and a biologist, the exhibition tells the story of photography as one of industrial production, showing the extent to which the medium is implicated in climate change.

 

Copper and the Daguerreotype

In 1802, Alexander von Humboldt collected mineral samples containing copper and silver on his research trip through South and Central America. A good forty years later, the use of such materials made it possible for Humboldt to be photographed. Silver-coated copper plates were the first image supports to enjoy widespread usage in photography.  The silver layer of these daguerreotypes, made light sensitive by iodine, was applied to a base of copper, which resulted in plates that were both more robust and less expensive. In 1839, when the daguerreotype was invented, such silver-coated copper sheets, produced using the so-called Sheffield Plate technique, were an inexpensive material employed for a whole range of silver household items, from trays to candlesticks. In Paris alone, the production of daguerreotypes required 100 tons of copper a year, producing in 1851 almost a million whole plates. Photography thus benefited decisively from the upswing in copper processing.

Beginning in the early 18th century in Swansea, Wales, coal was used to smelt copper ore on an industrial scale far away from the site where it was found. By the 1840s, ores from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Australia, and New Zealand were being processed in Swansea smelting works, which now produced more than a third of the copper that was traded worldwide – not without consequences for people and the environment. A look at Swansea reveals that photography’s global success would have been inconceivable without the use of fossil fuels, colonial expansion, and the world-wide extraction of metal deposits.

 

Hermann Biow and Alexander von Humboldt

Photographic pioneer Hermann Biow’s clear, unfussy visual language quickly made him a sought-after portraitist in prominent circles. In 1850, his Deutsche Zeitgenossen (German Contemporaries) portfolio was published with copperplate engravings from his photographs of artists, scientists, and politicians. In 1847, Biow had also photographed the famous naturalist Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin for the project. Humboldt, whose goal it was to depict the entire physical world in one work, was employed as a mining official for the Prussian authorities before setting out in 1799 on his first major research trip through South, Central, and North America. He brought back from there samples of the metals that would be the key elements in Biow’s daguerreotypes half a century later. The silver- and copper-bearing minerals that he collected give a sense of how these raw materials occur in nature and how, after the complex processing steps, their materiality is ultimately concealed by the finished photograph. Humboldt also recorded the way these precious metals circulated between the continents – a requirement for the industrial-scale production of daguerreotype plates – in a map in his Geographical and Physical Atlas of the Kingdom of New Spain, published in 1811. There is still some dispute, however, as to whether Humboldt was the first to warn of the dangers of anthropogenic climate change when, in 1843, he raised the question in his publication Central-Asien of the extent to which humans were influencing the climate “by felling the forests, altering the arrangement of bodies of water, and developing large masses of steam and gas at the epicenters of industry.”

Hermann Biow (b. 1804 in Breslau, d. 1850 in Dresden) was a portrait painter and lithographer and an important pioneer of photography in Germany. His documentation of the devastation of Hamburg after the fire of 1842 was the first photo reportage in history. The natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt (b. 1769 in Berlin, d. 1859 in Berlin) was an early fan of photography and saw it as “one of the most delightful and wondrous discoveries” of his time, even if he never operated a camera himself.

 

Daguerreotypes of the Californian Gold Rush

When, in 1848, it became known that gold had been discovered in the bed of the American River, people headed west to California in their hundreds of thousands to seek their fortune, together with traders, merchants, and photographers. Every gold prospector was also a potential customer wanting to send home a photo after a successful dig. The gold rush led to a boom in early photography and became the first event in US history to be comprehensively documented in photographs. Many daguerreotypists travelled straight to the mines as itinerant photographers. They portrayed gold diggers in threadbare clothing with tools and weapons, thereby presenting the Californian adventurers as the antithesis of the sophisticated denizens of the big cities. At the same time, they recorded the ongoing evolution of the techniques used in gold prospecting. The prospectors started out manually washing the precious metal from the river sediment using pans. But in the 1850s companies began extracting gold on an industrial scale. Watercourses were diverted so that gold could be retrieved from the drained riverbeds; “hydraulic” mining applied high pressure jets of water to detach gold-bearing sediments from hillsides and cliffs; and explosives and heavy equipment were used to dig veins of gold from underground. The gold rush daguerreotypes are thus the first documentation too of environmentally destructive mining practices. Here, it is easy to miss the fact that the images also record the mining of a material that was necessary for their own production: gold chloride had been in constant use as a fixative for daguerreotypes since 1841. Mercury represents another link between mining and photography. While photographers’ use of it as a developing agent jeopardised their own health primarily, its accessory role in gold washing caused the contamination of entire rivers in the area around the mines.

 

Cartes de visite of pit brow women

The photographs show the women who, from the early 17th century on, worked unseen in Britain’s coal mines, first below ground, and later, following the passage of the Mines and Collieries Act (1842), carrying out the lower-paid jobs on the surface. As mine workers, they moved lumps of coal with shovels and carts and separated them from the gangue using large sieve pans. Their work was a major economic contributor to Britain’s industrial success. Coal was a key element underpinning many production sectors, and it was crucial for the processing of copper, which was used in manufacturing daguerreotype plates. The British poet Arthur J. Munby collected photographs of working-class women, which catered to his interest in sociology. He bought photographs of women workers distributed as cartes de visite and also had studio photographs taken that depicted the women in their work clothes and pit gear. Unlike the Californian prospectors, who presented themselves in daguerreotypes as gold rush entrepreneurs and adventurers, the women seen in these images had little in common with the classical notions of the Victorian era. The view they showed of women in dirty work clothes (including trousers) turned the pictures into collectible motifs. We see the women sitting with legs apart and hands on hips – self-reliant poses with strong male connotations – photographed in a studio setting, where the furnishings were at odds with their class affinities.

 

Ignacio Acosta

Created for the exhibition, Ignacio Acosta’s multimedia installation centres on forty photographs arranged in a four-row grid structure. They combine three motifs linked together in a visually associative network, straddling copper production and water consumption. In the topmost rank, we see a smokestack belonging to the Hamburg copper producer Aurubis AG rising aloft, paralleled by the sculpture of Hygieia, which is mounted on a fountain with her back turned on Hamburg’s city hall, looking towards the Chamber of Commerce. Acosta makes a connection between the resource-intensive and, above all, water intensive industry – a major source of pollution for the Elbe River – and the politically charged sculpture commemorating the dreadful cholera epidemic of 1892, which was caused by contaminated water. In the rows below, close-up views of the fountain are interlaced with stained rubber suits worn by Aurubis AG’s workers to protect themselves from sulfuric acid. Visual and material analogies arise, linking the copper parts of the bronze sculpture, which have been oxidised to a green patina, with the tokens of “dirty” work in the copper plant – a thematic examination of the relationships between industry, politics, and society in terms of water and resource consumption. Acosta delves deeper into these themes in a video interview with Klaus Baumgardt from the Hamburg-based environmental protection initiative “Save the Elbe.” This new installation thus expands on his work Copper Geographies, an investigation into the global mobility of mined copper that he began in 2010.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

John Cooper (British) 'Woman miner' 1860s

 

John Cooper (British)
Woman miner
1860s
Carte de visite Trinity College Library, Cambridge

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing the work of Ignacio Acosta

 

Ignacio Acosta (Chilean, b. 1971) 'Computer Aid' 2015

 

Ignacio Acosta (Chilean, b. 1971)
Computer Aid
2015
© Ignacio Acosta

 

Ignacio Acosta (Chilean, b. 1971) 'Hygieia Watches Over Us' 2022 (detail)

 

Ignacio Acosta (Chilean, b. 1971)
Hygieia Watches Over Us (detail)
2022
Installation comprising 40 pigment prints and video
© Ignacio Acosta

 

 

Coal and Bitumen: Fossil Fuels and Moorland

The majority of photographic processes popular around 1900, such as pigment printing, rubber printing, and heliogravure, did not require silver. In pigment or carbon printing, charcoal powder or lampblack, which consists of nearly pure carbon, replaces the silver grains. The heliogravure technique uses plates coated with bitumen and pigments, which lend the images their colour. This section of the exhibition deals with different perceptions of the landscapes in which the raw materials were found and extracted: peat bogs and moors in northern Germany, bitumen in the area around the Dead Sea in Jordan.

The pictures produced by Reichling and Mahrt – natural scientist and farmer, respectively – document the transformation of the moors and the shift from peasant labour to turf cutting and industrialised peat extraction. At the turn of the 20th century, when the work of draining, reclaiming, and burning the moorland began on a large scale, the landscape, which had been transformed by human intervention, was also consciously aestheticised and presented as an artistic ideal.

The raw materials used to produce these images originated in the moors too. The coal dust used as a pigment is created from dead trees, enriched with solar energy, that over the course of millennia have been pressed first into peat and then into coal. The photographs by Louis Vignes, and Charles Nègre’s prints of these images, depict the landscape of the Dead Sea, an area where bitumen, a form of petroleum, occurs naturally. Nègre used this material to coat the plates for their production of Vignes’s photos. This knowledge makes evident the connection between the motif, the landscape from which the raw material is extracted, and bitumen. Although invisible at first, this material relation inscribes in the image a kind of second, unconscious history.

 

Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister

The Hofmeister brothers present the moorlands around Hamburg as an area imbued with longing. The white blooms of the cottongrass accentuate the charming, painterly qualities of the idealised landscape, which is rendered in vertical format in the style of Japanese woodblock prints. The Hofmeisters do not show the furrowed ground, marked by the incipient signs of systematic peat extraction, or the geometrical lines of the drainage ditches. Instead, our eye is drawn in by a walkway projecting into the picture at an angle. The technique of multicolour gum bichromate printing, which came into vogue in the 1890s, uses pigments to render the photographic masters as prints that are made more durable by the admixture of soot.

Theodor Hofmeister (b. 1868 in Hamburg, d. 1943 in Hamburg) and Oscar Hofmeister (b. 1871 in Hamburg, d. 1937 in Ichenhausen) were amateur photographers alongside their professional work (as businessman and legal clerk, respectively). Exponents of the Pictorialist approach, they began exhibiting their work internationally in 1895. They specialised in multicolour gum bichromate printing.

 

Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt and Hermann Reichling

Moorlands contain the organic commodity peat. Once it has been drained, dug, and dried, it can be burned as a source of energy. This usage has a long history and was of great importance until the emergence of the coal industry. As naturalists, Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt and Hermann Reichling recorded how peat cutting infringed on nature and documented the massive impact it had. While Mahrt’s hand-coloured photographs are illustrative of the arduous manual labor involved, Reichling’s work gives a palpable sense of the industrial scale of this undertaking. He often seeks out compositions that set up a contrast between the supposedly pristine moor – which represents such an important habitat – and the drastic impact of human agency. In this way, he clearly shows how the natural vegetation is inscribed with an industrial grid of furrows, which gives structure to the photographs’ pictorial space as a graphical raster. It becomes evident here how nature is turned into a commodity, how with every cut that is dug, whether with a spade or an excavator, sods of peat are removed from the earth as a monetisable product. The shots showing the edges of the peat in cross section – as documented by both photographers – also allude to the temporal dimension of the resource: in the right conditions, it takes a thousand years to produce 1 meter of peat from organic material. However, the climate is being damaged not only by the commercial exploitation of the moorlands but also by the process of draining them, which releases huge amounts of CO2.

Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt (b. 1881 in Elsdorf, d. 1940 in Rendsburg) was a farmer and Hermann Reichling (b. 1890 in Heiligenstadt, d. 1948 in Münster) a biologist. As self-taught photographers, they made a record of their cultural and natural surroundings. In the 1920s, Mahrt founded a private museum in Elsdorf in which he exhibited natural history dioramas and photographs. Reichling was director of Münster’s museum of natural history, Provinzialmuseum für Naturkunde, from 1921 to 1948.

 

Eduard Arning

If you look closely at Eduard Arning’s large-format gum bichromate print of an iron and steel works, it has a leathery look that resembles skin. The print’s surface structure contains the pigments that give it its murkily indistinct visual effect. This is produced in large part by a blue-black colour produced when larger amounts of soot were mixed into the pigments. The surface of the paper, which has been treated with pigments and a binding agent, is exposed: these areas become fixed, while less exposed parts are rinsed away and remain lighter. In this case, the result is a nocturnal view of an iron and steel works, whose chimneys spout fire and belch smoke. The leaping flames and brightly lit windows were added after the fact by Arning and convey a Romantic idea of industrial production at the turn of the 20th century. To the right of the picture, a shadowy heap of ore looms large in the foreground, while on the left a somewhat brighter swath leads the eye into the depths of the picture and the glowing entrance to the factory. Towering next to it is the monumental chimney from which soot rises – a symbol of industrial progress. This returns in material form as blue-black pigment, extending right to the frontmost plane of the picture and giving the dark pile of ore its shape.

 

Anaïs Tondeur

Anaïs Tondeur’s work Carbon Black sees her delving into soot particles, which were an essential component used in photographic methods at the turn of the 20th century. A product of industrial combustion processes, consisting almost exclusively of carbon, soot is carried by wind and air currents and does not usually fall to the ground until it is hundreds of kilometres from the site of emission. The black particles of carbon absorb the sun’s rays, warming the atmosphere and thus contributing to the melting of the ice caps. Soot enters the human body through the lungs as a fine dust measuring less than 2.5 micrometers – breathed into the alveoli, it is transported into the bloodstream and finds its way into the internal organs. Working together with two climate researchers, the artist set out on a fifteen-day expedition traversing the UK. Using airflow analyses, the team determined the trajectory of soot particles, a trail that led from Fair Isle in Scotland to the port of Folkestone in the south of England. At each stop on their journey, they took photographs of the horizon using a helmet camera, measured the concentration of particulate matter, and recovered soot particles from the air. Inserted into printer cartridges as pigment, these particles were then used to produce a landscape photograph whose colour characteristics are specific to the site where the picture was taken. The severity of the air pollution is thus given expression in the dramatic grey and black tones of the cloud constellations depicted.

Anaïs Tondeur (b. 1985 in France) studied at Central Saint Martins and at the Royal College of Arts in London. Her research-based work explores the dynamic realm connecting the natural sciences, anthropology, and mythic narratives.

 

Susanne Kriemann

The artist works with heliogravure, a manual printing technique that is now no longer used in practice: the copper plate is dusted with asphalt powder and printed using a highly pigmented paint mixed with soot. In 2017, Susanne Kriemann began accompanying scientists from the University of Jena on their research trips to investigate the renaturation of the uranium mining area formerly operated by SDAG Wismut in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge). Uranium ore, a highly radioactive substance, was mined there between 1949 and 1990. Today, its soil is severely contaminated with heavy metals. Kriemann uses photography for her artistic research on the project – her logging of contaminated plants stretches the medium to the very limits of what it can depict, as the radiation measured by the researchers cannot be seen in the photograph. Notwithstanding, Kriemann has devised a method that allows her to inscribe the radioactivity in the image: she harvests individual plants that she has previously photographed and processes them to produce different-coloured pigments, which she mixes with soot and uses to print her heliogravures. This technique allows her to include the plants directly in the work she creates. In this way, the radioactivity becomes a physical element in her images.

Susanne Kriemann (b. 1972 in Erlangen) studied at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design (ABK Stuttgart) and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her research-based work is concerned with the technical requirements and historical conditions of photographic production.

 

Robert Smithson

In his 1969 work Asphalt Rundown, Robert Smithson abandoned the gallery space completely to realise his first outdoor earthwork. In a stone quarry south of Rome, he had a truckload of hot, liquid asphalt tipped down an eroding slope. In choosing the quarry, he opted for a landscape that bore the marks of human intervention, the first link in a variety of industrial supply chains. Smithson’s Asphalt Lump from 1968 had already demonstrated his interest in industrial composites and nature as shaped by humanity: it was at this point that he was invited by the Konrad Fischer Galerie to conduct research on the slag heaps in the Ruhr, together with the photographer couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. In the work in Rome, the inky black mass covers the barren earth in next to no time, causing the ground to disappear beneath it as it pushes its way down the slope like a natural river, cooling and congealing.

Smithson conceived the sculpture as a symbol of frozen time. In his view, time does not simply pass – rather, it is deposited in an ongoing process like layers of sediment in the soil. As a language construct, Asphalt Rundown links into the idea of photographic images as frozen moments. On the material level, meanwhile, Smithson’s use of asphalt also alludes to Nicéphore Niépce’s heliographic experiments, where the hardening of asphalt on a tin plate under the action of light was used to record fleeting images and was thus a means to freeze time. The natural asphalt used by Niépce can be found as bitumen judaicum in the area around the Dead Sea, where the visual scenery bears a striking resemblance to Smithson’s artificially created volcanic landscape.

Robert Smithson (b. 1938 in Passaic, New Jersey, d. 1973 in Texas) gained a reputation as an early exponent of land art. He applied his conceptual approaches to a study of the relationships between humans and nature, drawing parallels between industrial and geological processes.

 

Honoré d’Albert de Luynes, Louis Vignes, Charles Nègre

The atlas Voyage d’exploration à la mer Morte is a documentary account of the 1864 scientific, archaeological, and artistic expedition to the Dead Sea basin and the interior of Jordan. Financed by Honoré d’Albert, duc de Luynes, an archaeologist, scientist, and art connoisseur, the expedition was accompanied by, among others, the geologist Louis Lartet and the photographer Louis Vignes. D’Albert subsequently commissioned Charles Nègre – who was one of France’s best-known photographers and had developed a photomechanical reproduction process – to translate Vignes’s photographs into an official report on the expedition using photogravure plates. The publication that came out of this process can still be termed a handmade book. Nègre was not merely an accomplished technician, he also had the eye of an art photographer and created intermediate tonalities and shadows for Vignes’s images, which turned out to have too much contrast. His prints, which are rich in detail and the play of light and shadow, were on occasion composed of several negatives, and, in some cases, the clouds were superimposed. The atlas shows, among other things, the sites where the natural deposits of bitumen were found: this was the basis, in turn, for the gravure printing process that Nègre refined.

Honoré Théodoric Paul Joseph d’Albert de Luynes (b. 1802 in Paris, d. 1867 in Rome) was a numismatist, archaeologist, collector, scholar, and art lover. Born into an aristocratic family, he was endowed with a considerable fortune and financed the research trip to Jordan, in which he also took part. Louis Vignes (b. 1831 in Bordeaux, d. 1896 in Paris) was an admiral in the French navy and an amateur photographer. Charles Nègre (b. 1820 in Grasse, d. 1880 in Grasse) was a painter and photographer as well as a technician and inventor of his own photogravure method.

 

Noa Yafe

At first glance, we see a two-dimensional image, and it is only when we get closer to what is apparently a photograph mounted in the exhibition space that we register the three-dimensional sculpture let into the wall surface, which opens up like a diorama into the space behind it. Noa Yafe’s sculptures are based on photographs: these are used as templates. It is often scientific images that capture her imagination. The artist deals with the verity of photography and the moment of illusion; at the same time, by turning photographs into objects, she also addresses materiality in an age in which images have become immaterial. The master for the work she made for the exhibition is the black-and-white photograph Vue Prise au dessus de Mar Saba (View over Mar Saba) of the Jordanian hillscape around the Dead Sea. The picture was taken by Louis Vignes and reproduced by Charles Nègre using the photogravure technique: it appeared in the atlas Voyage d’exploration à la mer Morte (Expedition to the Dead Sea, 1868-1874). The artist uses real materials for the “photograph” she constructs.

Noa Yafe (b. 1978 in Israel) studied at the HaMidrasha School of Art at Beit Berl College and at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She works in the medium of photography and sculpture.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt (German, 1882-1940) 'Making baked peat on Hartshoper Moor' c. 1930

 

Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt (German, 1882-1940)
Making baked peat on Hartshoper Moor
c. 1930
Gelatine silver paper, hand coloured
Collection Mahrt/Storm, Rendsburg/Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing the work of Robert Smithson

 

Robert Smithson (American, 1938-1973) 'Asphalt Rundown' 1969

 

Robert Smithson (American, 1938-1973)
Asphalt Rundown
1969
Documentary photograph
© Holt/Smithson Foundation VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

 

 

When the Bechers’ friend Robert Smithson poured oceans of glue down a hillside, or bulldozed dirt onto a shed until its roof cracked, he was mimicking the moves of heroic construction, not aiming to build anything.

Blake Gopnik. “Photography’s Delightful Obsessives,” on The New York Times website July 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 20/10/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing work from Anaïs Tondeur’s series Carbon Black

 

Anaïs Tondeur (French, b. 1985) 'North Sea, 27.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 13,8 µg/m' 2017-2018

 

Anaïs Tondeur (French, b. 1985)
North Sea, 27.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 13,8 µg/m
2017-2018
From the series Carbon Black
15 Carbon ink prints photographs, carbon black particles, cartography
100 x 150cm

 

 

Despite the absence of industries, the inhabitants of the isle of Fair suffer from suffocation. As Anaïs Tondeur reached the island she sent her geographic coordinates to climate modellers Rita van Dingenen and Jean-Philippe Putaud (JRC, European Commission) who retraced the itinerary of the particulate matters meeting her. By means of atmospheric backward trajectory models and the analyses of anthropogenic emission of air pollutants, they could define the site of emission of the particles. This abstract trajectory line lead the artist to an expedition of 837 miles by foot, ferry, fishing boat and car unravelling the journey of the anthropic meteors.

She crystallised each day in a photograph of the sky as well as filtering black carbon particles she encountered through breathing masks. The particles were later extracted by scientist J.P Putaud and turned into ink. In point of fact, black carbon is a collateral form of soot, used for centuries as the primary component of Indian ink. The photographs are thus printed with some ink composed from the particles captured in the sky where they were shot.

Text from the Anaïs Tondeur website [Online] Cited 16/10/2022

 

Anaïs Tondeur (French, b. 1985) 'Edinburg, 30.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 8,18 µg/m³' 2017-2018

 

Anaïs Tondeur (French, b. 1985)
Edinburg, 30.05.2017, Carbon Black Level (PM2.5): 8,18 µg/m³
2017-2018
From the series Carbon Black
15 Carbon ink prints photographs, carbon black particles, cartography
100 x 150cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing at left in the bottom photograph, heliogravures by Susanne Kriemann

 

Susanne Kriemann (German, b. 1972) 'Bitterkraut aus: Falsche Kamille, Wilde Möhre, Bitterkraut (Zyklus 2)' 2017

 

Susanne Kriemann (German, b. 1972)
Bitterkraut aus: Falsche Kamille, Wilde Möhre, Bitterkraut (Zyklus 2)
Bitterweed from: false chamomile, wild carrot, bitterweed (Cycle 2)
2017
Photogravure with ox-tongue pigment, 0.6 g soot on paper
80 x 60cm
© Susanne Kriemann

 

 

Paper and Its Coating: Cotton, Pulp, Gelatin, and Celluloid

The development of photography as a mass product, first made possible using paper as a material substrate, came at a cost. For most of the 19th century, photographic paper consisted primarily of rag made of cotton and flax. European manufacturers dominated the markets for textiles and paper throughout the century, but much of the raw material they used was sourced from the United States, which became cotton’s leading cultivator through its utilisation of slave labour and, after the Civil War, of share croppers and tenant farmers.

The cultivation of cotton was closely intertwined with the often-violent emergence of capitalism, precipitating the drainage of wetlands – whose ecosystems play a crucial role in carbon storage – and thus accelerating climate change. This cotton was then exported to Europe, where it was spun into clothes, which, when worn out, were collected by ragpickers – predominantly working-class children and women – and sold back to European paper mills, where women prepared them for pulping, removing buttons and bleaching them white using newly discovered toxic chlorine compounds.

The ever-increasing demand eventually led producers to seek an alternative to cotton. Perfected in Germany, wood pulping in entails the boiling of wood in sulfuric acid so as to separate it into individual cellulose fibres. The photo-paper industry’s use of animal-derived substances, such as albumin and gelatin, relied on industrialised farming and slaughter houses. A single photographic paper producer in Dresden used six million eggs a year for albumen coating, and as late as 1999 Kodak was still processing over thirty million kilos of cow skeletons every year.

 

Gevaert Photographic Paper

The 1964 merger of the German corporation Agfa AG and the Belgian company Gevaert Photo-Producten NV led to the creation of the Agfa- Gevaert Group. These two enterprises, each with a long tradition, combined to form one of the world’s leading producers of photographic goods, whose line extended from cameras to X-ray film. If we take, for example, black-and-white gelatin silver paper – one of Agfa-Gevaert’s core products and a staple of the photographic industry in general – it is still manufactured according to the same principles today. The paper substrate is coated with a layer of barium sulfate (also known as baryte), which covers the paper fibres and ensures that the emulsion of gelatin and light-sensitive silver halide grains applied at the end adheres to the base. The pictures from the Agfa archive offer an insight into this process. Although the layers were always built up in the same way, there was considerable variety in the photographic paper that was produced. The possible surfaces might be white or cream coloured, glossy or matte, smooth or textured and were available in up to six variants to allow the motif to be rendered with different degrees of contrast, from extra soft to ultra hard. Systematic research into photographic papers and their material properties did not start until a few years ago. One such example is the documentation of Gevaert papers by the FOMU Photo Museum in Antwerp, which should provide a better understanding of these products and facilitate their processing in both artistic and technical terms. A study of the packaging reveals that successful product lines were offered over a period of decades, even if their outer form changed with the times in line with contemporary tastes.

 

Alison Rossiter

Alison Rossiter’s photographic work is created without a camera or a lens, using expired photographic paper. Since 2007, the artist has collected approximately fifteen hundred packages of old photographic paper, starting from the late 19th century and representing every decade of the 20th. Rossiter mines what she describes as a “cross section of the history of photographic print materials” for their latent images – created by the effect on the paper over time of oxidation, light leaks, pollutants, or physical damage and then developed by the artist in the darkroom to reveal “found photograms.” At times, the artist marks the surface intentionally by pouring or pooling photographic developer directly onto the paper, or else limiting its contact with it, deftly combining chance and skill. The results are abstract images, fields of texture, spilled marks, and monochromes, in a subtle array of blacks, greys, and whites reminiscent of mid-century modernist painting. Each work’s title contains three facts: the manufacturer and type of paper, its expiration date as stated on its package, and the date that Rossiter processed the material. As indicated by its title, a work consisting of six prints included in the exhibition was produced using Gevaert Gevaluxe Velours paper, but their exact expiration date is unknown. First produced by Gevaert in 1933, Gevaluxe Velours was advertised by the company as the “most beautiful paper ever made” and is considered to this day to have been one the best commercially available papers due to its matte surface and intensely deep black shadows. A second work comprises of two images printed using an unnamed photographic paper produced by The Haloid Company, Rochester, for the US military. The abstract geometrical compositions’ material provenance reveals their connection to what could be called the military-photo-industrial-complex, but also hints at the origins of digital technologies within the photographic industries: in 1961 Haloid changed its name to Xerox Corporation, and would go on to invent some of the key technologies in personal computing.

 

F & D Cartier, Wait and See – The Never Taken Images

In 1998, F & D Cartier began investigating the materiality of photographic paper in a work group entitled Wait and See. For them, the work is an exploration of the rudiments of the medium and a way of engaging with the flood of photographic images produced in the digital age. In their installations, the artists use expired photographic papers dating from the years 1890 to 2000, which have lost some of their sensitivity but still respond to light. Their exposure in the exhibition space triggers an ongoing process of slow change as their appearance constantly alters. Without any recourse to a camera or photochemistry, the duo thus brings to life images that were never taken and examines their potential. At the same time, their radically simplified experiment, designed to record light and time, connects back to the early days of the medium, when developing photographic paper was still unusual and daylight exposure was the principal means of blackening the silver salts. The surprising colours produced by the undeveloped gelatin silver emulsions reveal another invisible aspect of analog photography: in this way, F & D Cartier’s experiment conveys a profound sense of the complexity of a material that was ubiquitous in the 20th century.

Françoise Cartier (b. 1952 in Tavannes) studied sculpture at École des Arts Appliqués in Bern; Daniel Cartier (b. 1950 in Biel/Bienne) studied photography at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). Their experiments with photographic materials, which they embarked on together in 1995, have been devoted to themes relating to remembering, forgetting, and the passing of time.

 

James Welling

Throughout his career, James Welling has reflected on photography’s history and nature by examining the medium’s materiality through the lens of its most common components. Used as a binding layer for gelatin silver prints, gelatin’s prevalence in photographic images normally remains invisible to the naked eye. In this series, produced in 1984, Welling chose to portray the substance in a style reminiscent of product photography. Infused with black ink and then cooled, the sculpted chunks of gelatin were placed against a seamless white background, creating semi-abstract compositions with the appearance of shining coal or black glass. Welling’s work highlights photography’s artifice: reflecting on the way it is consciously and explicitly staged, its choice of subject, and its referential indeterminacy. This is accentuated by the fact that it is difficult at first to tell what exactly it is we are looking at. In his work, Welling often creates a delay between the moment an image is seen and the time viewers understand what it depicts. Here, what the image is of is exactly what it is made of: as if by sleight of hand, Welling reveals image and substrate to be one and the same, reflecting on all that is normally left out of the frame or taken for granted – or all that is hidden by it – when we normally think of what photography is, and what it does to the world.

James Welling (b. 1951, Connecticut, US) studied at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and later at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Throughout his career, Welling has experimented with different photographic media, exploring the tensions within and between representation and abstraction and challenging the medium’s conventions.

 

Madame d’Ora

Between 1949 and 1953, Madame d’Ora produced an unsparing photographic study of two Parisian slaughterhouses, which she would go on to describe as her “great final work.” Built during the 19th century under Napoleonic decree and in keeping with Baron Haussmann’s vision, slaughterhouses such as the Abattoir Ivry Les Halles and Abattoir de Vaugirard signalled the emergence in France of industrialised meat production governed by capitalist imperatives. It was in such abattoirs that the repetitive, procedural, and rationalised mode of the factory was first introduced into the realm of animal slaughter, a practice that was later perfected in the US with the introduction of the assembly line. Enabled by such developments, the exponential growth of the cattle industry during the 19th century contributed to the dramatic acceleration in carbon emissions that began in those years. To this day, cattle are considered the number one agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide (responsible for about 14 percent of total human-induced emissions). Madame d’Ora’s images seem to dissect her subjects, portraying them with a sense of tactility and precision and, at times, of the absurd. In some images, skin is stretched across the picture plane, resulting in near abstraction, while, in others, pools of blood and rows of clipped and flayed corpses fill the frame to capacity, creating a mood of excess and serialised death. Evoking a mixture of detachment and brutality, distance and cruelty, reminiscent of the horrors of the 20th century, the series has often been read as an implicit response to the Holocaust, during which many of d’Ora’s family members, including her sister Anna, were killed. By documenting the unpleasant reality behind industrial meat production, an essential component in many everyday commodities – including the gelatin-silver paper used for these prints – d’Ora sheds light on a dark and often ignored aspect of modernity.

Madame d’Ora (née Dora Philippine Kallmus, b. 1881 in Vienna, d. 1963 in Frohnleiten, Austria) was an Austrian Jewish photographer and one of the most acclaimed portraitists of fin-de-siècle Vienna. After the war, d’Ora was commissioned to produce a series representing refugees and displaced persons by the United Nations. It was at that time too that she started working on her slaughterhouse series.

 

Tobias Zielony

For Blackbox Wolfen, Tobias Zielony has created a fictional archive of the AGFA-ORWO film factory in Wolfen, combining still images and interviews with former employees who worked in the factory’s darkrooms. Predominantly women, the workers had to perform their tasks in near pitch darkness, in extreme cold or heat, exposed to various toxic chemicals. For the GDR, filmstock represented a valuable commodity that could be traded with the Soviet Union in exchange for silver, oil, and gas. ORWO also supplied cinematographic material to other socialist countries, as well as non-socialist economies such as Egypt and Brazil. One of the biggest export markets for ORWO film was India, which needed stock for its burgeoning movie industry and provided sun-bleached cow bones, used for high-quality film gelatin, in exchange. Today, only a single small company exists in Wolfen, primarily producing a highly specialised black-and-white archival film. Used by the German Federal Archive, the film is said to survive for up to a thousand years once exposed if it is stored in dark and cold environments, such as Germany’s National archive, which is located deep underground in the decommissioned silver mine of

Tobias Zielony (b. 1973 in Wuppertal, Germany) studied photography at the University of Wales, Newport, and later at the Academy of Fine Arts (HGB) Leipzig. He is known for his photographic and filmic depictions of youth and subcultures, which employ a critical approach to documentary photography.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Madame d'Ora (Dora Kallmus) (Austrian, 1881-1963) 'Severed cows legs in a Parisian abattoir' c. 1953-1954

 

Madame d’Ora (Dora Kallmus) (Austrian, 1881-1963)
Severed cows legs in a Parisian abattoir
c. 1953-1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Madame d'Ora (Dora Kallmus) (Austrian, 1881-1963) 'Severed calf's head in a Parisian slaughterhouse' c. 1953-1954

 

Madame d’Ora (Dora Kallmus) (Austrian, 1881-1963)
Severed calf’s head in a Parisian slaughterhouse
c. 1953-1954
Gelatin silver print
31.7 × 24.5cm
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown photographer. 'Raw paper storage, Agfa AG, Leverkusen' 1956

 

Unknown photographer
Raw paper storage, Agfa AG, Leverkusen
1956
C-print, mounted on cardboard
Agfa Collection, Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© Museum Ludwig

 

James Welling (American, b. 1951) 'Gelatin Photograph 45' 1984

 

James Welling (American, b. 1951)
Gelatin Photograph 45
1984
Inkjet print
50.8 × 40.6cm

 

F&D Cartier. 'Wait and See' 1998 - today

 

F&D Cartier
Wait and See
1998 – today
Exposure tests, untreated gelatin silver photographic papers from Leonar, Illingworth & Co., Hans Mahn & Co., Wephota
©F&D Cartier

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973) 'Dunkelraum' 2022

 

Tobias Zielony (German, b. 1973)
Dunkelraum (Darkroom)
2022
Slide installation
© Tobias Zielony

 

 

Silver

Since the advent of the medium, silver has been the basis of the photographic image and the most important raw material used in the photochemical industry. In the popular gelatin silver process, it is embedded in the gelatin layer of the photographic paper, and the light-sensitive material then registers the image. The final image consists of small particles of metallic silver that turn black when exposed to light, while the unexposed silver halide crystals are washed away.

It was only the automation of production and commercial film development services that enabled photography to become a veritable mass medium. The growing number of amateur photographers caused the industry’s  silver consumption to explode. Photography remained the largest consumer of silver worldwide, even after 1979, when a massive rise in the price of silver led to the development of smaller photographic formats such as 110 film as well as research into digital photography. Photography is interwoven with global trade, the extraction of raw materials, and colonialism. The exploitation of Cerro Rico (“Rich Mountain”) in the Potosí region of Bolivia started back in the 15th century, and until the mid-20th century most silver was sourced in North and South America.

The production of film and photographic paper and its development has always been accompanied by significant environmental pollution, through both its high levels of water consumption and the contamination of waste water with alkalis, acids, and traces of silver. The impact of such pollution is to this day clearly visible in the areas around Eastman Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester (USA) and the ORW Ofactories in Bitterfeld-Wolfen.

The recovery of silver from photographic waste was first developed for economic reasons during the 19th century but was only established as standard practice in photographic production in the 1960s. Today such recycling processes are important – and not just with regard to a single finite raw material.

 

Simon Starling

In his sculptural work, Starling zooms in on the materiality of the photograph, using an electron microscope to single out two silver particles in the emulsion of a historical photo and then rendering them, with the help of a computer program, at a magnification of 1:1,000,000. This rendering is converted into a stainless-steel three-dimensional sculpture that is larger than a person, its seemingly fluid polished surface creating a virtual effect. Starling has described the photograph as a “deposit of matter”, an image produced by an agglomeration of silver particles. His rendering has its origins in the materiality and documentary function of a stereo-photograph showing Chinese migrant workers who had been brought to Massachusetts in 1870 to break a strike in a shoe factory. Made in China because of lower production costs, the sculptures reverse the trajectory in this story of labour migration. The Nanjing Particles can also be regarded, therefore, as a work about the development of systems of global production. Starling treats photographs as material objects that need to be produced and preserved. In the process, photographs activate memory and knowledge, at times revealing stories that have been suppressed.

Simon Starling (b. 1967 in Epsom) studied art and photography at various institutions, including the Glasgow School of Art. He works in the area of conceptual art. Starling’s work draws on models of sustainability and wasteful extravagance to focus on the historical trajectories of exploitation.

 

Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke, and Richard Nielsen)

The dry expanse of Owens Lake in the California desert is not only the subject of the work by the artists’ collective, it also supplies the material for it. Liminal Prints Buried in Owens Lake shows two large format photographs buried in the mud of the lake, where they are being “developed.” These images are on show in the exhibition along with the utensils used for the purpose. The silver nugget on display is the silver from two years of photographic work – including the exposures from the AgH2O series – that has been recovered from the fixer by a process of electrolysis.

The group of works originated with the artists’ attempt to produce their own photographic materials. The members of Metabolic Studio collected silver from the disused Cerro Gordo mine, harvested halide salts from the bottom of the lake, and processed gelatin from cattle from the region. The darkroom was replaced by the nighttime darkness, and the chemicals by brine from the lakebed, which contains large quantities of sodium thiosulfate, a fixing agent employed since the invention of photography. This rarely occurring element is produced by the microorganisms present there – archaea – which metabolise sulfur. The lakebed develops the images and fixes them at the same time.

To create the photographs in the AgH2O series, the collective used its “Liminal Camera,” a shipping container that has been converted into a large-format camera. The container symbolises the global trade in silver and water and the overexploitation of these resources: the silver from the Owens Valley was mostly used by Eastman Kodak to produce film (the company also supplied Hollywood), while, from 1913 on, the water slaked the increasing thirst of Los Angeles’s expanding metropolis. By 1924, the lake was all but dry. The landscape in the photographs is itself a quotation: we are familiar with the steppe valley from Hollywood westerns and Ansel Adams’s landscape images.

Lauren Bon (b. 1962 in New Haven), Tristan Duke (b. 1981 in Campaign), and Richard Nielsen (b. 1966 in Vancouver) started Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio in 2010: the artists’ collective examines the relationship between Los Angeles and Owens Valley as part of an ongoing process.

 

Daphné Nan Le Sergent

The film L’image extractive (The Extractive Image) intercuts macro photography of a silver surface with black-and-white landscape shots showing silver and gold mining in the Americas. This takes us on a journey to Mexico’s mining regions. The video essay weaves together fact and fiction. It tells the story of how photography was invented: the artist does not begin her account in 1839 but rather starts with the discovery and mining of silver in South America. The film tells of the legendary El Dorado and recounts an alternative story of the medium’s invention set in Brazil, where photographic pioneer Hercule Florence secretly discovered a gold-based process at the same time as French inventors Daguerre and Arago made their own discoveries. This is followed by images of die stamping, of silver’s stock price, and of miners. On the soundtrack, the artist speaks of the photographic industry’s late 19th-century boom, which she associates with the introduction of the gold standard around 1870 and the devaluation of silver. She recalls how the vertiginous rise in the price of silver led to the invention of digital photography in 1985. She also suggests a link between the P. G. Morgan company’s interests in silver speculation and its promotional work in the field of art photography. Her narrative arc ranges from the gold rush to data mining. She uses haunting music to underscore the repetitive loop of images showing gold and silver prospecting and the landscape being scoured in search of gold nuggets. The textual layer of the film uses a staccato verse sequence to tell a hypothetical and speculative story, drawing on a plethora of historical facts from Le Sergent’s artistic research.

Daphné Le Sergent (b. 1975 in Seoul) grew up in Paris. Her work deals with geopolitical issues and the way they inscribe themselves in the bodies of individuals.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown photographer. 'Silver bars in the Kodak vault' 1945

 

Unknown photographer
Silver bars in the Kodak vault
1945
Gelatine silver paper
Kodak Historical Collection #003, Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, University of Rochester
Used with permission from Eastman Kodak Company

 

Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen) 'Lake Bed Developing Process' 2013

 

Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen)
Lake Bed Developing Process
2013
© Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio

 

 

On moonless nights on the Owens Valley dry lakebed, to the soundtrack of KPPG Live on the radio, Lauren Bon and Optics Division’s Rich Nielsen and Tristan Duke use the valley as their photographic darkroom. They take light-sensitive photographic paper and bury it for the night in the concentrated salt brine. The lakebed’s bio- and geo-chemistry works on the paper with unconventional developing and fixing properties, yielding unique renderings of and by the lakebed. These unique photographs are developed and fixed by the chemicals in the lakebed, creating warm, earthy, and metallic tones.

 

Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen) 'Owens Lake Panorama 1' Nd

 

Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen)
Owens Lake Panorama 1
Nd
Silver gelatin print processed in Owens Dry Lakebed
© Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio

 

Daphné Nan Le Sergent (South Korean, b. 1975) 'L'image extractive' (The extractive image) 2021 (film still)

 

Daphné Nan Le Sergent (South Korean, b. 1975)
L’image extractive (The extractive image) (film still)
2021
Video, b/w and colour, sound, 20′
© Daphné Nan Le Sergent

 

Simon Starling (English, b. 1967) 'The Nanjing Particles' 2008

 

Simon Starling (English, b. 1967)
The Nanjing Particles
2008
Forged stainless steel
200 x 420 x 150cm and 200 x 450 x 170cm
Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York

 

 

The Weight of the Cloud: Rare Earths, Metals, Energy, and Waste

Digital photography’s materiality is even less visible than its analog predecessor. In 2021, it was estimated that over ninety percent of all images were taken using phones, with more than a trillion images produced that year alone. Most digital images are archived digitally or shared using “social media” platforms, which have developed in parallel with the rise of smart phones and their cameras and are fuelled by their visual content. User data, stored on the so-called cloud, is “mined” by tech companies for targeted advertising. Yet it’s not only data that is mined. The cloud – though advertised as ephemeral and virtual – is heavy with metals and waste. Digital photography relies on a vast material network: from the mining of metals and rare earths used for electronic circuitry to elaborate supply chains operating on a global scale, data storage facilities with ever-growing carbon emissions, and, ultimately, vast amounts of electronic waste. Fifty-four million tons of e-waste were generated in 2019 alone, with Northern Europe being responsible for the highest per capita waste globally. Most of it is exported to lower-income countries, causing environmental damage and increasing health risks. A single smart phone can require up to 75 elements for its production (out of the 118 elements in the periodic table), many of which – such as gold, tin, cobalt, coltan, and tungsten – are considered “conflict minerals,” whose trade involves forced labour and finances armed militias. Even small quantities of metal necessitate large amounts of mining: it has been estimated that 34 kilograms of ore would have to be mined to produce the metals that make up a single 129-gram iPhone.

 

Lisa Rave

Structured like a nautilus shell, with layers of narrative gradually unfolding and echoing each other in the process, Lisa Rave’s Europium makes visible connections between Papua New Guinea’s colonial past and the planned excavation of the rare earth element Europium from the Bismarck Sea. Using a combination of historical found footage, interviews, and performative sequences, the essay film revolves around the rare earth Europium, whose fluorescent qualities are used to validate European banknotes and to ensure the brilliance of colours on flat-screen surfaces. Pointing to the human and ecological violence inherent in the extraction of so-called resources and their transformation into monetary value, Rave directs her anthropological gaze back toward our own society, exposing the ghosts of the past as they appear in the technologies and screens that surround us.

Lisa Rave (b. 1979, London) is a Berlin-based artist and filmmaker. Rave studied experimental film at the University of Arts Berlin and photography at Bard College, New York. In her work, Rave connects the histories of colonial domination with current forms of extraction and ecological violence.

 

Mary Mattingly

Combining chalk-drawn maps of global supply chains, satellite imagery, staged photographs of sculptural assemblages, and documentary images, Mary Mattingly’s series Cobalt – a selection of which is shown in the exhibition – is an attempt to comprehend a system of immense scale, scope, and complexity that remains hidden in plain sight. Over 60 percent of the world cobalt extraction, the “blood diamond of batteries,” takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo in dangerously precarious conditions. The extracted metal, mined predominantly as a by-product of copper or nickel, is purchased by Chinese manufacturers, who process and then retail it to clients in the consumer market. Cobalt is then used in our phone’s sensor components and lithium-ion batteries of all kinds (from laptops to vacuum cleaners to electric cars). Capable of withstanding extreme heat, the mineral is also used in weapons and alloyed steel and has been classified as a “strategic mineral” by the US, in an attempt to encourage its local mining and production. In Mattingly’s work, we can see different stages in cobalt’s life cycle: mineral seepage visible in an exposed cliff face; a recently opened mine in Michigan, whose manmade structures protrude from the natural landscape; an ore transportation station. Weaving them all together is an elaborate map, tracing its supply chain across its different stages. Mattingly’s work seeks to address the ways in which we are inevitably entangled in the violent and extractive logic of neoliberalism and its ecological toll. Through her attentive mapping, we see how even forms of critical representation are dialectically bound to a mode of production wrought by ecological devastation and radical inequality. It is only by recognising these conditions, Mattingly suggests, that we can begin to work toward changing them.

Mary Mattingly (b. 1979, Connecticut) studied at Parsons School of Design, New York, and the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Mattingly creates photographs, sculptures, and large-scale public art projects that address climate change, thereby tracing connections between the social and economic forces behind the current political ecology impacting our environment.

 

Lisa Barnard

In the “The Fox and the Rooster” section of her extensive project The Canary and the Hammer, Lisa Barnard uses documentary photography to examine the economy of waste surrounding the precious metal gold. One of the most expensive materials on earth, gold is used in making our smartphones, cameras, and televisions, turning worn-out devices into a precious commodity. However, e-waste contains not only precious substances but also some that are extremely poisonous – metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, which are highly toxic for both humans and the environment. China, which is responsible for 10 million tons of toxic substances every year, is one of the world’s largest sources of e-waste as well as its biggest importer. In her research, the artist looks at China’s trade in illegal e-waste, in which gold is extracted from old devices using aqua regia, a highly explosive mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid, whose name is derived from its ability to dissolve the precious metals gold and platinum. An illustration of this reaction can be found in alchemist Basilius Valentinus’s treatise “The Twelve Keys,” which was published in 1599. The work contains a woodcut showing a rooster (symbolising gold) eating a fox, which in turn is eating a rooster. The gold is dissolved not by the acid itself but rather by the products it creates when it reacts with the precious metal. Barnard’s choice of title thus makes reference to the potential dangers involved in recovering gold as well as to the mysterious aura that still surrounds it, even in the recycling loop that is a feature of the modern tech economy.

Lisa Barnard (b. 1967) studied photography at the University of Brighton and critical theory at the University of South Wales. Her documentary practice is concerned with current debates about materiality and global capitalism.

 

Mari Lebanidze, Cleo Miao, Leon Schweer, Marco Wesche with the mentoring of Prof. Christoph Knoth and Prof. Konrad Renner of the University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Hamburg – Digital Graphics class

Using the same sort of facial recognition technologies employed by tech companies to mine behavioural data for speculative value, Terraformed Self tracks exhibition visitors’ behaviour. Having identified people using their smartphone, the interactive installation informs visitors about their own contribution to the ecological footprint of digital image production using a playful game-like animation. How many selfies have been taken in front of this screen? How much carbon dioxide are they responsible for? What is the equivalent of a minute of scrolling on Instagram? While the work seems to invite visitors to take the obligatory exhibition selfie in front of the large, mirrored structure, it offers a sobering reflection on how our daily smartphone habits are implicated in a planetary system of resource extraction. The work is accompanied by an Instagram face filter – using the platform to reflect on its own footprint.

Digital Graphics class. Against the backdrop of omnipresent digital forms that mingle with artefacts from the past, the class, led by Prof. Christoph Knoth and Prof. Konrad Renner of the University of Fine Arts (HFBK) Hamburg, explores the integrity of modern technologies and conceives visual models in the context of culture and digital possibilities.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation view of the exhibition Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg showing the work of Mary Mattingly

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979) 'Eagle Mine' 2016

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979)
Eagle Mine
2016
© Mary Mattingly

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979) 'Ore Transport Station' 2016

 

Mary Mattingly (American, b. 1979)
Ore Transport Station
2016
© Mary Mattingly

 

Lisa Barnard (British, b. 1967) 'Broken mobile phone screen, Shenzhen, China' 2018

 

Lisa Barnard (British, b. 1967)
Broken mobile phone screen, Shenzhen, China
2018
© Lisa Barnard

 

 

Events in the history of capitalism, ecology, and photography

With excerpts from the time line compiled by Lukas Egger and Nils Güttler for the exhibition “Nach uns die Sintflut (After Us, the flood)” at Kunst Haus Wien

1492 Columbus arrives in the Americas, setting in motion a process described as the “Columbian exchange”: the movement of diseases, ideas, food, crops, and populations between the New World and the Old World brought about by European colonisation.

1556 Dere Metallica (On the Nature of Metals) by Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer), is published. Illustrated with over 270 woodcuts, the treatise quickly became the authoritative text of its day on mining and helped popularise technical knowledge in the field.

1717 The German polymath Johann Heinrich Schulze (1687-1744) is the first to demonstrate the photosensitivity of silver salts.

1776 James Watt’s steam engine, originally invented and perfected to be used in mines, is introduced. Signalling the advent of the first industrial revolution, steam power allows for previously labour-intensive forms of production to become mechanised, especially in the textile industry. Coal is now an increasingly important energy source.

1800 While traveling in Venezuela, Alexander von Humboldt is one of the first scientists to describe the harmful effects of Human-induced climate change and its relation to colonialism, observing the adverse effects of the deforestation brought about by Europeans on the local soil quality and the moisture levels in the atmosphere.

1807 Claude and Nicéphore Niépce obtain a patent for the Pyréolophore (from Greek: pyr = fire, aeolos = the keeper of wind, and phore = carrier) one of the earliest internal combustion engines, fuelled by coal mixed with resin.

1827 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce produces the first Heliograph (Greek for “writing with sun”), by dissolving light-sensitive “bitumen of Judea,” a semi-solid form of petroleum, in oil of lavender, and applying a thin coating over a polished pewter plate.

1838 The first steam-powered crossing of the Atlantic ocean.

1839 Louis Daguerre presents the Daguerreotype before the French Académie des Sciences.

1840 William Henry Fox Talbot submits his first patent for an internal combustion engine titled “Obtaining Motive Power”. By 1852, he had registered four additional engine patents.

1844-1846 Wiliam Henry Fox Talbot publishes “The Pencil of Nature”, widely considered to be the first commercially published photo-illustrated book.

1846 Nitrocellulose (also known as “gun cotton”) is patented. It is used as an explosive in mines, as well as for the production of early – infamously flammable – cellulose film. It led to the invention of thermoplastic.

1851 A staggering 893,000 daguerreotype plates are produced in Paris alone in only one year. Converted to the standard portrait size of a quarter or eighth plates, 3-8 million portrait images could betaken.

1859 British glaciologist John Tyndall begins a series of laboratory experiments to demonstrate the significance of atmosphere gasses – including CO2 – for global warming.

1862 Writing for the US magazine Atlantic Monthly, Oliver Wendell Holmes estimates the annual consumption of precious metals for photography at ten tons of silver and half a ton of gold.

1870 Start of the Second Industrial Revolution, the electrification of production processes and of spheres of private life begins. Crude oil becomes increasingly important as a fuel for powering combustion engines.

1872 The correspondent of the English journal The Year-Book of Photography describes various methods of silver recovery from the developer fluids of photochemistry – for example, by reducing silver nitrate with the help of charcoal or by burning the papers and dissolving the ash with nitric acid and water.

1877 Founding of the Moorversuchsstation (Moor Experiment Station) in Bremen, the first NGO to campaign against moor burning. The first provisions pertaining to air pollution control are issued in a number of countries.

1888 The Eastman Kodak Company introduces the Kodak No.1 camera model, marking the beginning of the industrial processing of photographs in the laboratory. Advertised with the slogan “You press the button – we do the rest!,” the new camera and the company’s service relieved photographers of the chemical processing of their photos, introducing photography to a popular audience.

1901 The discovery of the Spindletop oilfield in Texas marks the dawn of the age of crude oil in the United States, which soon takes on a global dimension with the discovery of large oilfields in the Middle East and Venezuela.

1913 Henry Ford introduces a continual assembly line for the first time in automobile production, boosting productivity eightfold.

1945 The United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, heralding the beginning of the “nuclear age.” In the 1950s, the first commercially used nuclear power plants are introduced.

1947 Physicist Edwin Land introduces the firs tPolaroid camera in the USA.

1948 In their books Road to Survival and Our Plundered Planet, ornithologist William Vogt and palaeontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn warn of the devastating ecological consequences of global industrial capitalism.

1958 At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, atmospheric scientist Charles David Keeling begins to take regular measurements of the CO2 concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere. The data provides the basis for the Keeling Curve, which is now regarded as the measurement-based evidence of anthropogenic contribution to global warming.

1970 In the United States, some 20 million people take part in the first-ever “Earth Day”, an international day of environmental campaigning. The following year, the Greenpeace environmental organisation is founded in Vancouver.

1975 The first digital still camera is developed by Eastman Kodak’s engineer Steven Sasson.

1980 In what came to be known as “Silver Thursday,” silver prices reach an all-time high and immediately crash. Following a decade-long surge, which leads manufacturers to search for ways to reduce their dependency on the precious metal, a speculative frenzy sends the price up 713% within a year.

1992 The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development is held in Rio de Janeiro. Along with the 1972 Stockholm Conference, it is considered a milestone in the political implementation of global environmental and development efforts.

1993 The US office of industries lists photography as the principal application for silver in its yearly report, accounting for over 50 percent of U.S. silver fabrication demand that year.

1999 Toshiba launched the Camesse, the first cell phone with an integrated camera, which paved the way for much faster and broader communication based on pictures.

2000 Nobel laureate chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene F. Stoermer describe the effects of humans on the global environment as constituting a new human-dominated geological epoch: the Anthropocene. According to Crutzen and Stoermer, the Anthropocene started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, which marks the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. As they write, this date also happens to coincide with the commercial introduction of James Watt’s steam engine in 1786.

2010 Instagram is launched.

2011 Economist David Ruccio first publishes the term Capitalocene, describing capitalism as the driving force behind climate change.

2013 For the first time, a majority of the digital images produced are taken on phones.

2017 According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 12.6 million people die each year worldwide as a result of industrial pollution. The worst affected regions are South-East Asia, the Western Pacific, and Africa.

2018 In Sweden, schoolgirl and environmental activist Greta Thunberg initiates the “Skolstrejk för klimatet”, which soon resonates world wide and leads to the global “Fridays for Future” movement.

2020 It is estimated that 1.4 trillion digital images have been taken during 2020 alone, over 90% of which are taken on phones.

2030 In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C – a target meant to stave off severe climate disruptions that could exacerbate hunger, conflict, and drought worldwide – global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025, at the latest, and be reduced by 43 percent by 2030.

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
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Thursday 10am – 9pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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13
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Chosen Family – Less Alone Together’ at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich, Switzerland

Exhibition dates: 11th June – 16th October 2022

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970) 'Untitled' 1990

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970)
Untitled
1990
From the series Ray’s a laugh, 1989-1996
© Richard Billingham

 

 

Blood is thicker than water (or so they say…)

Families – of whatever flavour, construction, empathy, vitriol, love, kindness, dis/affection – are depicted in photographs that shine light on photography’s treatment of the (elective) family and its representation of it as a social and cultural construct.

Today, there are so many alternatives to the “nuclear” family (what an irony that term is, although “nuclear” has links to the word “nucleus” ie, essential, long before the advent of nuclear energy) – that is a couple and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit – that it is a joy to celebrate the diversity of “family”, much to the annoyance and distaste of conservative, religious fundamentalists. Family can be anything that we would like to make it!

Personally, I envy those that had a blissful family childhood without the violence and abuse. I really can’t imagine what that would have been like, to have a mother and father that openly expressed love and kindness to their children. I am thankful I had a brother that I was close with, but even that was split asunder, not to be rekindled for many a year. But that upbringing has shaped who I am today. And now I surround myself with my straight and gay family.

As I say, families smamlies!

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Family means (chosen) kinship, blood ties and sometimes lifelong bonds – and the perpetual renegotiation of boundaries, regardless of how much fondness and affection are involved. Kinship has at once nothing and everything to do with points of similarity and common ground in day-to-day life and with the ideas we have about everyday realities. We are part of a family – sometimes only on paper and sometimes as a community that is made up of friends who are devoted to one another over the course of their lives. Communities play a key role in today’s world: they are crucial to our decision-making and help to mould us and shape the way we think, feel and act.

The (chosen) family is depicted in different ways in photography and art: photographers document everyday family life and use the camera to capture moments of heightened emotion. Family members can also become partners in the photographic process, contributing to the act of image-making. This finds its way into the exhibition as well as genealogical projects in which artists set out to explore their own personal histories on the basis of the lives their ancestors lived.

Just like the photographic testimony we have of them, family stories speak of diversity, individuality and collectivity, intimacy and distance. Family and chosen family imply chaos and happiness, quirky habits and the sharing of everyday banalities and powerful feelings. At best, family and community represent a familiar slice of home.

Text from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970)
Untitled
1995
From the series Ray’s a laugh, 1989-1996
© Richard Billingham

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Richard Billingham (English, b. 1970)
Untitled
1995
From the series Ray’s a laugh, 1989-1996
© Richard Billingham

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) From the series 'MOM', 2009- (installation view)

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
From the series MOM, 2009- (installation view)
© Charlie Engman
Photo: © Fotomuseum Winterthur / Conradin Frei

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) 'Baseball Mom' 2017

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
Baseball Mom
2017
From the series MOM, 2009-
© Charlie Engman

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) 'Blue Mom' 2017

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
Blue Mom
2017
From the series MOM, 2009-
© Charlie Engman

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) 'Mom calling' 2019

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
Mom calling
2019
From the series MOM, 2009-
© Charlie Engman

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) 'Mom in the Fields' 2014

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
Mom in the Fields
2014
From the series MOM, 2009-
© Charlie Engman

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987) 'Mom with Kage' 2013

 

Charlie Engman (American, b. 1987)
Mom with Kage
2013
From the series MOM, 2009-
© Charlie Engman

 

Seiichi Furuya (Japanese, b. 1950) 'Wien' 1983

 

Seiichi Furuya (Japanese, b. 1950)
Wien
1983
From the series Portrait of Christine Furuya, Graz/Wien, 1978-1984
© Seiichi Furuya and Galerie Thomas Fischer

 

Seiichi Furuya (Japanese, b. 1950) 'Graz' 1979

 

Seiichi Furuya (Japanese, b. 1950)
Graz
1979
From the series Portrait of Christine Furuya, Graz/Wien, 1978-1984
© Seiichi Furuya and Galerie Thomas Fischer

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979) 'Some Words Are Just Between Us' 2013

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979)
Some Words Are Just Between Us
2013
From the series Experimental Relationship, 2007-
© Pixy Liao

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979) 'Things We Talked About' 2013

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979)
Things We Talked About
2013
From the series Experimental Relationship, 2007-
© Pixy Liao

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979) 'It's Never Been Easy to Carry You' 2013

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979)
It’s Never Been Easy to Carry You
2013
From the series Experimental Relationship, 2007-
© Pixy Liao

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Chosen Family – Less Alone Together' at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

 

Installation view of the exhibition Chosen Family – Less Alone Together at the Fotomuseum Winterthur showing at left, Pixy Liao’s work from the series Experimental Relationship (2007-, above); and at right, Dayanita Singh’s work from the series The Third Sex Portfolio (1989-1999, below)
Photo: © Winterthur / Conradin Frei

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979) 'Carry The Weight Of You' 2017

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979)
Carry The Weight Of you
2017
From the series Experimental Relationship, 2007-
© Pixy Liao

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979) 'Find A Woman You Can Rely On' 2018

 

Pixy Liao (Chinese, b. 1979)
Find A Woman You Can Rely On
2018
From the series Experimental Relationship, 2007-
© Pixy Liao

 

 

The exhibition Chosen Family – Less Alone Together draws on international positions and works from the collection of Fotomuseum Winterthur to shed light on photography’s treatment of the (elective) family and its representation of it as a social and cultural construct. The artistic approaches on display are as varied as the different family stories they depict. In addition to the works of professional photographers and artists, the museum also presents personal photo albums, showing the family stories of people from Winterthur and from all over Switzerland.

The exhibition Chosen Family – Less Alone Together presents works by contemporary photographers who delve into their own family history, examining and exploring their past. Alba Zari‘s work involves a reappraisal of her own family history mediated by pictures from her family archive and contemporary photographic documents. The artist – who was born into a fundamentalist Christian sect – uses scraps of text and image fragments to investigate the history of her family and explore her own identity in the process. The photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa also uses pictures to reconstruct events from the past. When he was just seven, his sister, who was six years older than him, disappeared without a trace and did not return until ten years later. With the help of a documentary photo book, Sobekwa attempts to create a picture – quite literally – of this formative point in his life, a time he knows very little about and which no one has spoken about for ages. Richard Billingham, meanwhile, grapples with his own history and biography by making a loving yet unsparing record of his parents’ life and day-to-day reality, in the process showing a domestic world shaped by poverty and addiction. Diana Markosian processes her family history in a short film featuring actors she cast in their roles and clever set photography. Her narrative video sequences re-enact her own childhood memories, which she stages as cinematic imagery. The film’s perspective is shaped by the experience of migration undergone by her mother, who left her husband after the break-up of the Soviet Union and moved with her children to the US to marry an American.

Other artists present themselves and members of their family in sometimes elaborately staged settings. By breaking open and re-enacting the family structures, their work reflects on the roles played by the individual family members and the photographers’ own position within this constellation. This way of exploring family dynamics turns members of the family into collaborative partners in the image-making process. Charlie Engman, for example, presents his ‘mom’ in settings that have little in common with our conception of a mother’s everyday reality: we may see her posing in a hydrogen-blonde wig, with blue eyeshadow and a fierce, challenging look, or climbing up a rope ladder fixed to a tree, wearing white knickers. Engman’s work playfully calls into question the one-dimensional image of the caring mother. Pixie Liao also takes a playful approach as she bucks classic role models: her portraits of herself together with her partner subtly subvert stereotypical ideas of men and women. The photographs show her partner resting his head on her shoulder or being held in her arms. Photographer Leonard Suryajaya, meanwhile, stages his parents and extended family using symbolically charged props in elaborately arranged environments fitted out with rugs and fabrics. The at times quirky interactions between individual members of the family are at odds with our idea of a conventional family portrait.

Other artistic explorations focus on the fact that family can be defined by much more than just (blood) kinship and is experienced via community constellations with deep bonds. These works show how photography can be a means of creating new ‘images of family’ that offer an alternative to middle-class notions of it. Their depictions of communities that exist outside traditional constellations challenge our concept of how a conventional family looks. Dayanita Singh, for example, took pictures of Mona Ahmed and her adopted daughter Ayesha during the 1990s. Ahmed identifies as a hijra, as part, that is, of a community that rejects a binary view of gender and the norms it imposes. Members of the community, which has existed for thousands of years, were criminalised under British colonial rule and they are still exposed to discrimination and violence today. As viewers of Singh’s work, we are confronted with images that challenge our idea of traditional families and communities. Photographer Mark Morrisroe also depicts a sense of cohesiveness apart from kinship in portraits of his friends and lovers – his gang – who were the hub of his daily activities and a pivotal element in his life. The pictures reveal the deep emotional connection between the protagonists, expressing complicity and a sense of belonging, an embodiment of the idea of elective family.

In addition to the works of international artists, Fotomuseum Winterthur is also exhibiting photo albums and presenting the stories of families from Winterthur and Switzerland in association with the pictures. As part of an open call, the museum is offering people the opportunity to share their personal family stories with visitors and to display their family photos in one of the exhibition spaces.

An exhibition of international loans and items from the collection of Fotomuseum Winterthur, curated by Nadine Wietlisbach with the support of Katrin Bauer. With works by Aarati Akkapeddi, Richard Billingham, Larry Clark, Charlie Engman, Seiichi Furuya, Nan Goldin, Pixy Liao, Diana Markosian, Anne Morgenstern, Mark Morrisroe, Dayanita Singh, Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Annelies Štrba, Leonard Suryajaya and Alba Zari. Christoph Merian Verlag will publish the book ChosenFamily – Less alone together as an adjunct to the exhibition.

 

Selection of Artists

Alba Zari (b. 1987) embarks on a forensic photographic search in her ongoing work Occult, which sets out to explore her family history. The Italian artist was born into the fundamentalist Christian sect The Children of God (now known as The Family International) after her grandmother and mother fell into its clutches at the ages of 33 and 13 respectively. The cult was discredited because it encouraged sex with minors and forced women into prostitution as a way to ‘recruit’ new members. Using her family archive as well as texts and visuals of the sect, archive images of other members and found material from the internet, Zari explores her own family history, while also reflecting on the propaganda tools and mechanisms deployed by the Children of God. The photographs in Zari’s work function both as source materials and as a medium in themselves. Her compilation of these different images not only indicates how photographs are used to spread untruths but also helps to reveal and expose them to critical view. The artist’s multimedia research thus renders an overall sense of the categories and symbols we use to define and represent family, yielding a picture that is at once self-reflexive and charged with social criticism.

Seiichi Furuya (b. 1950) took portrait pictures of his wife Christine Gössler over a period of several years. Furuya was fascinated by his partner from the moment they met and was deeply attached to her. For him, photography was a way to capture the numerous facets of the woman who was both his wife and the mother of his child. What was key here was not so much the finished picture but rather the brief, rapt moment of being face to face with one another. His photographs were not just an observation of his subject but also an act of self-discovery. The relationship between the couple came to a tragic end when Christine took her own life in 1985. Furuya’s hundreds of photographs of her are still an important element in his work today and, over the decades, he has repeatedly made new compilations of them. His preoccupation with them entails grief work. As he puts it, it is a way for him to pursue the ‘truth’, even if, in the end, he only ever finds himself back with his own version of the story.

What does a modern romantic relationship look like? How is its shape determined by the expectations of the individuals involved and by social preconceptions? Pixy Liao (b. 1979) focuses on these questions in her long-term photographic project Experimental Relationship, in which the artist presents herself with her partner in a range of staged situations. The couple switch between different modes at different times and may be serious or humorous, vulnerable or self-assured. When Liao met her partner in 2005, she quickly realised that he did not fit in with the conservative ideas that had informed her socialisation, and her received sense of gender roles began to unravel. Liao used this as an opportunity to examine their relationship – along with the cultural and social dynamics inscribed in it. In her photographs, it is Liao, then, who supports her partner as he lies across her shoulders or shows him stripped down to his underpants as she – herself fully clothed, it should be noted – tweaks his nipple. It is Liao who lays the man’s naked body across a table, using it as a serving dish from which to eat a papaya. Not only are gender stereotypes and clichés inverted in Liao’s work but their power dynamics are questioned and probed in a shared performative act in front of the camera.

Lindokuhle Sobekwa‘s (b. 1995) handmade photo book I Carry Her Photo with Me, is an attempt on the part of the South African documentary photographer to reconstruct the life of his sister Ziyanda, who disappeared in 2002 at the age of 13. She did not return to her family until ten years later, by which time she was seriously ill and died shortly afterwards. Sobekwa’s documentary research of places where his sister stayed allows him to make artistic assumptions about her life. It is not uncommon for people in South African townships to disappear. Sobekwa’s work thus not only deals with his very personal family history but also focuses on questions affecting society as a whole. The title of the book documents Sobekwa’s desire to preserve the memory of his sister, while also standing for the effort to enshrine in the collective memory the fates of other people who have disappeared.

For all the colourful patterned wallpaper and kitschy interior decorations they show, the photographs by British artist Richard Billingham (b. 1970) are not images of a stable family in a sheltered environment. Growing up in a precarious household, affected by alcoholism, violence and his parents’ lack of prospects, Billingham began working in 1989 – at the age of 19 – on a complex photographic portrait of a dysfunctional family constellation, a project that he would continue over a period of seven years. In a bid to productively confront his day-to-day sense of powerlessness, the young artist makes his own parents’ lack of agency the tragicomic subject of his photographs. The domestic poverty in the images, which is at once tragic and sensitively portrayed, was seen by art critics as a sociopolitical comment on the upheavals of the Thatcher era. However, Billingham’s Family Album should not simply be viewed as a metaphor representing a sociopolitical crisis – it is first and foremost autobiographical in form and a means of coping with the present.

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989) 'Christmas Morning' 2019

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989)
Christmas Morning
2019
From the series Santa Barbara, 2019-2020
© Diana Markosian and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire

 

 

Diana Markosian (born 1989) is an American artist of Armenian descent, working as a documentary photographer, writer, and filmmaker.

Markosian is known for her photo essays, including Inventing My Father, (2013-2014) about her relationship with her father, and 1915, (2015) about the lives of those who survived the Armenian genocide and the land from which they were expelled. Her most recent project, Santa Barbara, published by Aperture, reconstructs her mother’s journey from post-Soviet Russia to America, inspired by a 1980s American soap opera. Through a series of staged photographs and a narrative video, the artist reconsiders her family history from her mother’s perspective, relating to her for the first time as a woman rather than a parent, and coming to terms with the profound sacrifices her mother made to become an American.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989) 'The Wedding' 2019

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989)
The Wedding
2019
From the series Santa Barbara, 2019-2020
© Diana Markosian and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989) 'The Arrival' 2019

 

Diana Markosian (American-Armenian, b. 1989)
The Arrival
2019
From the series Santa Barbara, 2019-2020
© Diana Markosian and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire

 

My family arrived to America in 1996. My mother described it as the arrival to nowhere, with the hope of going somewhere.

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976) From the series 'Whatever the Fuck You Want' 2018-2020

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976)
From the series Whatever the Fuck You Want
2018-2020
© Anne Morgenstern

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976) From the series 'Whatever the Fuck You Want' 2018-2020

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976)
From the series Whatever the Fuck You Want
2018-2020
© Anne Morgenstern

 

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976)
From the series Whatever the Fuck You Want
2018-2020
© Anne Morgenstern

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976) From the series 'Whatever the Fuck You Want' 2018-2020 (installation view)

 

Anne Morgenstern (German, b. 1976)
From the series Whatever the Fuck You Want 2018-2020 (installation view)
© Anne Morgenstern
Photo: © Fotomuseum Winterthur / Conradin Frei

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Chosen Family – Less Alone Together' at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

 

Installation view of the exhibition Chosen Family – Less Alone Together at the Fotomuseum Winterthur showing at left the work of Mark Morrisroe (below), and at right, the work of Alba Zari (below)
Photo: © Winterthur / Conradin Frei

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989) 'Untitled (Lynelle)' c. 1985

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Untitled (Lynelle)
c. 1985

 

 

Mark Morrisroe (January 10, 1959 – July 24, 1989) was an American performance artist and photographer. He is known for his performances and photographs, which were germane in the development of the punk scene in Boston in the 1970s and the art world boom of the mid- to late 1980s in New York City. By the time of his death he had created some 2,000 pieces of work…

His career as a photographer began when he was given a Polaroid Model 195 Land Camera. He experimented with unusual development techniques, receiving generous support of supplies, film, and chemicals from the Polaroid Corporation. Within his close circle of friends he soon laid claim to the “invention” of what are called “sandwich” prints – enlargements of double negatives of the same subject mounted on top of one another – which yielded an elaborate pictorial quality, producing a very iconic painterly impression in the final result, which over time he learned to use in an increasingly controlled way.

Early on, the artist recognised the intrinsic value of prints – irrespective of the medium used to produce them – as pictorial objects that he could manipulate, colour, paint and write on at will. Thus, Morrisroe scrawled comments, biographical notes and dedications on the side of his pictures, which made them very personal pieces of art. His photographs were mostly portraits, and his subjects included lovers, friends, hustlers, and people who visited his apartment. He also often incorporated stills from Super 8 films. There are a few photographs which incorporate landscapes and external shots.

Morrisroe died on July 24, 1989, aged 30, in Jersey City, New Jersey from complications of AIDS. His ashes are scattered in McMinnville, Oregon on the farm of his last boyfriend, Ramsey McPhillips. He is considered a member of the Boston School of Photography and his work is found in many important collections including that of the Whitney and MOCA of Los Angeles. The estate of Mark Morrisroe (Collection Ringier) is currently located at the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989) 'Ramsey (Lake Oswego)' 1986

 

Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959-1989)
Ramsey (Lake Oswego)
1986
Chromogenic print

 

 

What’s most amazing about this work is that much of it was executed in impromptu darkrooms the artist rigged up in his hospital bathrooms. Morrisroe’s courageous, unrelenting drive to keep making art is inspiring. The catalogue essayists clarify a body of work done in considerable isolation; there were no longer cute friends around to get naked with (except, perhaps, the artist’s last partner, Ramsey McPhillips). Very often Morrisroe was by himself. The black-and-white Polaroids of the artist nude, lying in the sunlight, his body wasted to a bony apparition of his former saturnine self, are among the most moving in the show.

Morrisroe died, but his spirit lives on – not only in the additional prints that will no doubt now come on the market in increasing numbers, but as the avatar of young video and performance artists, like Kalup Linzy and Ryan Trecartin, who wreak havoc with gender and identity. There’s also a renewed fervor over ’80s homoerotic work and its role in the American culture wars. The recent censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly (1986), removed from the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. (then screened at a dozen museums and acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art), provoked memories of the first fracas over Wojnarowicz’s work and NEA funding. Back then, in 1989, the controversial show was “Against Our Vanishing,” curated by Nan Goldin for Artists Space, and it included, posthumously, photographs by Morrisroe.

Brooks Adams. “Beautiful, Dangerous People,” on the Art in American website February 28, 2011 [Online] Cited 10/10/2022

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961) 'On his arrival each eunuch was greeted by me with garland of jasmine flowers. Ayesha's first birthday' 1990

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961)
On his arrival each eunuch was greeted by me with garland of jasmine flowers. Ayesha’s first birthday
1990
From the series The Third Sex Portfolio, 1989-1999
© Dayanita Singh

 

 

Dayanita Singh (born 18 March 1961) is an Indian photographer whose primary format is the book. She has published fourteen books.

Singh’s art reflects and expands on the ways in which people relate to photographic images. Her later works, drawn from her extensive photographic oeuvre, are a series of mobile museums allowing her images to be endlessly edited, sequenced, archived and displayed. Stemming from her interest in the archive, the museums present her photographs as interconnected bodies of work that are full of both poetic and narrative possibilities.

Publishing is also a significant part of Singh’s practice. She has created multiple “book-objects” – works that are concurrently books, art objects, exhibitions, and catalogues – often with the publisher Steidl. Museum Bhavan has been shown at the Hayward Gallery, London (2013), the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014), the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2014) and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2016).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961) 'I get this strong urge to dance from within. Ayesha's second birthday' 1991

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961)
I get this strong urge to dance from within. Ayesha’s second birthday
1991
From the series The Third Sex Portfolio, 1989-1999
© Dayanita Singh

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961) 'Shalu dances on Ayesha's second birthday' 1991

 

Dayanita Singh (Indian, b. 1961)
Shalu dances on Ayesha’s second birthday
1991
From the series The Third Sex Portfolio, 1989-1999
© Dayanita Singh

 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South African, b. 1995) From the artist book 'I Carry Her Photo with Me' 2017

 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South African, b. 1995)
From the artist book I Carry Her Photo with Me
2017
Baryta paper
Artist book scan p. 3-4. 2014/2018
40cm x 60cm
Magnum Photo, Magnum Foundation, Gerhard Steidl, Subotzky Studios, David Krut Studios, Josh Ginsburg, Mark Sealy
© Lindokuhle Sobekwa and Magnum Photos

 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South African, b. 1995) From the artist book 'I Carry Her Photo with Me' 2017

 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South African, b. 1995)
From the artist book I Carry Her Photo with Me
2017
Baryta paper
Artist book scan p. 9-10. 2014/2018
40cm x 60cm
Magnum Photo, Magnum Foundation, Gerhard Steidl, Subotzky Studios, David Krut Studios, Josh Ginsburg, Mark Sealy
© Lindokuhle Sobekwa and Magnum Photos

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947) 'Ån 22' From the series 'Filmstills aus Dawa-Video', 2001

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947)
Ån 22
From the series Filmstills aus Dawa-Video, 2001
C-Print
40 x 50cm
© Annelies Štrba

 

 

Annelies Štrba is a Swiss multimedia artist, who lives in the Zurich metropolitan area. She works with video, photography, and digital media to approach her subjects, which range from domestically themed images, portraiture, and both urban and natural landscapes.

Štrba combines photography, digital media, and film to chronicle her physical and emotional life. A mother of three, she has been documenting her family environment through her work for over four decades. Her best-known bodies of work, Shades of Time, AYA, NYIMA, and her most recent publication, Noonday, depict her immediate family including her three children, and five grandchildren. Although she is working with subject matter that is very personal and quite literally close to home, Štrba constructs a quality of fantastical narrative in her pictures, utilising combinations of the different mediums in her repertoire. While creating images that evoke fantastical emotion using technological processes, she simultaneously embraces a sense from 19th-century romanticism while addressing themes of domesticity and nature.

Štrba uses a digital camera to capture moments and figures in film and still, which she then colours with the aid of computer programs. This digital manipulation provides Štrba’s images with a sense of painterliness and allows her to abandon naturalism and realist details in favour of complex visual textures. She often photographs around the family homes just outside of Zurich or in the Swiss mountains, where they spend many weekends and holidays. The product is a personal and poetically abstract documentation of the life around her, capturing her subjects at the dining room table, grooming, in the chaos of untidy rooms, or surrounded by nature. Overall, a personal story is told of the intertwined lives and relationships, speaking to memories, reactions, and nostalgic realisation.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947) 'Ån 36' From the series 'Filmstills aus Dawa-Video', 2001

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947)
Ån 36
From the series Filmstills aus Dawa-Video, 2001
C-Print
40 x 50cm
© Annelies Štrba

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947) 'Ån 34' From the series 'Filmstills aus Dawa-Video', 2001

 

Annelies Štrba (Swiss, b. 1947)
Ån 34
From the series Filmstills aus Dawa-Video, 2001
© Annelies Štrba

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Dad Duck' 2020

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Dad Duck
2020
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Good Neighbors' 2018

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Good Neighbors
2018
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Hoda' 2018

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Hoda
2018
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Virtual Reality' 2017

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Virtual Reality
2017
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Little Sissy' 2017

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Little Sissy
2017
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) 'Two Bodies' 2017

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
Two Bodies
2017
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020
© Leonard Suryajaya

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988) From the series 'False Idol' 2016-2020 (installation view)

 

Leonard Suryajaya (Chinese-Indonesian, b. 1988)
From the series False Idol, 2016-2020 (installation view)
© Leonard Suryajaya
Photo: © Fotomuseum Winterthur / Conradin Frei

 

Alba Zari (Thailand, b. 1987) 'Family Archive' From the series 'Occult', 2019-

 

Alba Zari (Thailand, b. 1987)
Family Archive
From the series Occult, 2019-
© Alba Zari

 

Alba Zari (Thailand, b. 1987) 'Family Archive' From the series 'Occult', 2019-

 

Alba Zari (Thailand, b. 1987)
Family Archive
From the series Occult, 2019-
© Alba Zari

 

Poster for the exhibition 'Chosen Family – Less Alone Together' at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

 

Poster for the exhibition Chosen Family – Less Alone Together at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 6pm
Wednesday 11am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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06
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann’ at Kicken Berlin

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 7th October 2022

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Schöneweide, Berlin' 1972, printed c. 1972

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Schöneweide, Berlin
1972, printed c. 1972
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

This exhibition finishes tomorrow, Friday 7th October 2022.

I adore the small intimacies and dark German noir of the early 1970s – 1980s photographs of East Berlin and New York – papier-mâché models dancing, shop windows, desolate buildings, bound statues, ballroom encounters and alienated human beings. The photographs have a very pared back aesthetic, a very cool hands off, socialist feel to them.

Masks upon masks upon masks and hostile glances. People lonely, unhappy and isolated, rushing for work with nary a thought for each other. And then the ecstasy and fear of Mauerpark, Berlin (1996, below).

Taking the position of a slightly aloof observer, Bergemann’s urban landscapes and street scenes bare melancholy and beauty. The poetics of the everyday.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Kicken Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in this post. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled (Mitte)' 1968, printed c. 1968

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled (Mitte)
1968, printed c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.5 x 17.8 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Katharina Thalbach, Berlin' 1973, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Katharina Thalbach, Berlin
1973, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.6 x 26cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Katharina Thalbach (German, actually Katharina Joachim genannt Thalbach, born 19 January 1954) is a German actress and stage director. She played theatre at the Berliner Ensemble and at the Volksbühne Berlin, and was actress in the film The Tin Drum. She worked as a theatre and opera director.

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin' 1975, printed c. 1975

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin
1975, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 20cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Kirsten, Hoppenrade (1975, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Kirsten, Hoppenrade' 1975, posthumous print 2016

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Kirsten, Hoppenrade
1975, posthumous print 2016
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 43.3cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Sibylle Bergemann’s Clärchens Ballhaus (1976, some photographs below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17 x 23.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.4 x 25.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
26.1 x 17.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.9 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.4 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
25.6 x 17.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.5 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Buchholz, Berlin' 1977, printed c. 1977-1979

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Buchholz, Berlin
1977, printed c. 1977-1979
Gelatin silver print
22.6 x 33.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Clärchens Ballroom

History

Fritz Bühler (1862-1929) and his wife Clara Bühler (1886-1971) opened Bühler’s Ballhaus on September 13, 1913, in the rear building at Auguststrasse 24/25. The house was built around 1895 with two halls: the dance hall on the ground floor and the hall of mirrors on the upper floor. After Fritz Bühler’s death, Clara initially continued to run the dance hall, popularly known as Clärchens Ballhaus after its owner, on her own. In 1932 she married Arthur Habermann (1885-1967), who supported her in her work. The front building was in World War IIdestroyed, but operations resumed after the end of the war. Clärchens Ballhaus always remained a private company during the GDR era. In 1965, after much pressure, the ruins of the former front building were removed, the area is still undeveloped today. From 1967 to 1989 the management of the ballroom went to Clärchen’s stepdaughter Elfriede Wolff (daughter of Arthur Habermann). Then their son Stefan took over the business. After German reunification, Clara Habermann’s biological daughter was granted the property, whose son in turn sold the building in 2003 as the next heir. The new owner, Hans-Joachim Sander, left the family business, which then ceased operations after 91 years.

After the previous operators left the Ballhaus on New Year’s Eve 2004, Christian Schulz and David Regehr took over the location and left it largely unchanged. Since then, the space in front of the Ballhaus has also been managed, where the front building stood before the Second World War. The hall of mirrors on the upper floor, which was only used as a storage room for years, has since been used as an event room.

In the summer of 2018 the house was bought by Yoram Roth. He chose the Berlin catering company Berlin Cuisine Jensen GmbH as a partner for the construction of a new restaurant and as the operator of the location, with which Clärchens Ballhaus reopened in July 2020.

Importance

Clärchen’s ball house is one of the last remaining ball houses from around 1900 in Berlin. During the GDR era, it was known to both East and West Germans as a meeting place. In the media it was repeatedly represented in reports, for example in the film by Wilma Pradetto about the cloakroom operator Günter Schmidtke, in the documentary Edith bei Clärchen ( Andreas Kleinert 1985) or on ZDF . It also served as a filming location for movies Stauffenberg (2004), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and We Do It For Money (2014). In 2019 Max Raabe’s MTV Unplugged concert was recorded in the Ballhaus .

In addition to evening events, dance courses also take place in the Ballhaus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin' 1978, printed c. 1989

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
1978, printed c. 1989
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 (1980, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980' / 'The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980' 1980, printed later

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 / The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980
1980, printed later
Gelatin silver print
36.2 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin (Frieda)' 1982, printed c. 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin (Frieda)
1982, printed c. 1982
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984 From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print, early print
29.2 x 44cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 45.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print from the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Union Square' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Union Square
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 36.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 36.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 29cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.1 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 26.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.3 x 34.7cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 18.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing a photograph from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29 x 19.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

As the fourth part of the exhibition series ‘Sheroes of Photography’ started last year and on the occasion of the artist’s comprehensive exhibition this summer at the Berlinische Galerie, Kicken Berlin will be showing a selection of rarely seen series from Sibylle Bergemann’s extensive oeuvre in a cooperation with her estate.

Sibylle Bergemann is considered one of the most important German photographers since the 1970s. Together with her husband, Arno Fischer, she assumed a key position in the GDR’s photo scene and published her works in renowned art and culture journals such as Sibylle, Sonntag and Das Magazin and in book publications. After reunification, she extended her radius to include West German and international commissions. A cofounder of Agentur Ostkreuz in 1990, she helped shape a responsible form of visual journalism. Her photographic essays reflected societal reality without whitewashing it and often moved symbolically beyond. Fashion and portrait photography were on equal footing among her central themes alongside urban landscapes and situative street scenes, just as was the poetics of the everyday. Sibylle Bergemann’s works are held by international museums and collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; and the Berlinische Galerie.

People and places significantly influenced and inspired Bergemann’s work. In Berlin, her home base, the photographer sought out the quiet places on the city’s edge, rather than the representative center, for both private and commissioned works. Travels to “non-socialist places abroad” were strictly regimented and nearly impossible. “I always had Fernweh,” or a longing for the faraway, Bergemann said reminiscing during a conversation with the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation. Already in 1984, however, long before the fall of the Wall, she was able to travel to New York and Los Angeles as a member of the Verband Bildender Künstler (Association of Fine Artists).

From the early 1970s, Sibylle Bergemann assumed a position of observer in Berlin, participating in the situation, yet reserved. She had an eye for particular places and people, for unexpected encounters, for the particularities of foreign quotidian scenes, for melancholy and beauty. The transformations and transitory moments of the everyday never failed to draw the photographer’s attention, be it in the GDR, during the transition of reunification, or thereafter. She exposed a poetic and even visionary potential, such as in the series Das Denkmal (The Monument) about the Marx-Engels monument by sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt.

Her sense of nuance within a milieu, a social microcosm, is made visible in the series Clärchens Ballhaus from the 1970s. Another series about women in the working world in the early 1990s will be shown with several select examples for the first time publicly in Kicken Berlin’s exhibition. Women in a large variety of fields – offices, businesses, workshops, in both urban and rural settings, in primary and secondary sectors – stand before the camera to state their position, quite literally. They retain their own space and their own dignity, even when possibly in a state of upheaval.

Observing her foreign and uncertain but also intriguing and new surroundings, Bergemann moved first through the US and later Western Europe and Africa. In Manhattan she adopted a flaneur’s perspective, drifting through the concrete canyons, falling in step with the flow of people. Her images show her affinity to American masters of street photography like Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand and yet retain their own identity. The photographer turns her marvelling, roaming gaze to this Verwunderte Wirklichkeit (Astonished Reality, the title of a book by Bergemann from 1992).

With the faraway travels in the 1990s and new commissions, colour entered Bergemann’s work as a foundational element. In West Africa and on the edges of Western Europe, in Portugal, the photographer explored the feel and shape of local colours, eventually making them into a constitutive feature of her fashion photography. Strong contrasts were as crucial as finely graduated colour scales, both of which sensitively conveyed the genius loci of each place.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Biography

Sibylle Bergmann (German, 1941-2010) received a clerical training in East Berlin between 1958 and 1960. She subsequently held a white-collar job. From 1965 to 1967 she worked on the editorial staff of the monthly Das Magazin (The Magazine), where she developed an interest in photography. At this job she first met photographer Arno Fischer in 1966, with whom she lived until her death. He influenced her eventual decision to be an independent photographer, commencing her photographic training with Fischer in 1966. The apartment they shared in Berlin became an intellectual center for the alternative photography community in the GDR. From 1967 on, she worked as a freelance photographer for various magazines, such as for legendary fashion magazine Sibylle, and she became a member of the DIREKT group. In 1990 she became a founding member of Ostkreuz – Agentur der Fotografen (Agency of Photographers) in Berlin, and in 1994 a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. In the 1990s she traveled extensively around the globe to take photos for internationally renowned magazines. Bergemann’s photographs focus on quiet, atmospheric moments, not on strong symbols or grand gestures. She sidestepped the prohibited ideas by opting for fashion photography and everyday shots of her immediate surroundings.

Press release from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen' 1981

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen
1981
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
33.7 x 22.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin' 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin
1982
Gelatin silver print
42.3 x 28.3 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) (1986, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986)' / 'The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)' 1986, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) / The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)
1986, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.1 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below); and at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, above)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 25cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg' 1994, printed c. 1994

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg
1994, printed c. 1994
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
38 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Telekom, Dortmund' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Telekom, Dortmund
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 24.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Oderberger Straße, Berlin' 1990, printed c. 1990

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Oderberger Straße, Berlin
1990, printed c. 1990
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 16.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kick

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Frieda, New York (1991, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Frieda, New York' 1991, printed c. 1991

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Frieda, New York
1991, printed c. 1991
Gelatin silver print
24.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Lily, Berlin (1996, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Lily, Berlin' 1996, printed c. 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Lily, Berlin
1996, printed c. 1996
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 41.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mauerpark, Berlin' 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mauerpark, Berlin
1996
Gelatin silver print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Dakar (2001, below); at centre, Bergemann’s Raky, Dakar (2001, below); and at right, Bergemann’s Shibam, Jemen (1999, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Shibam, Jemen' 1999, printed c. 1999

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Shibam, Jemen
1999, printed c. 1999
C-print
44 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Seynabou, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Seynabou, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
32,1 x 43.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Cheick, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Cheick, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.8 x 31.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mad, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mad, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Kicken Berlin
Kaiserdamm 118
14057 Berlin

Tuesday – Friday 2 – 6pm & by appointment

Kicken Berlin website

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03
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow’ at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 7th May – 9th October 2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Fortune Teller" Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Fortune Teller” Sign. US 79 & 80, Greenwood, Louisiana
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 19 9/16 inches (39.7 × 49.68cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

These photographs build on the lexicon of existing photographs of this type (Americurbana) from photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Minor White and Harry Callahan. As such they add to the pantheon of known images on a subject. Dow studied with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White, and these are early images in the development of the artist, when he was starting to find his artistic signature.

In some of the first images such as Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama (1968, below) we can see Dow’s indebtedness to his teacher, Walker Evans’ vision; in other later photographs (1972 onwards) we see Dow’s concentration on detail, so that the sign fills the frame. In these contextless, groundless photographs the signs become floating signs, floating signifiers, where interpretation is left wholly up to the viewer.

In this sense, Dow is developing a different artistic and visual language to describe the American vernacular… graphic, isolated, strong and more than slightly surreal images that creep into the imagination as if in a bad dream. The robotic head covered in neon; the bowling ball struck through with an arrow; the diver like a swooping fighter plane; the skeletal horse and rider; and the look of fear on the child’s face as he gets inoculated. Weird tales and gothic fiction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Vivid, clear-sighted images of American vernacular signage and architecture encountered along old US highways showcase the early black-and-white work of the acclaimed photographer Jim Dow.

The American photographer Jim Dow (b. 1942) is renowned for photographs that depict the built environment – he first gained attention for his panoramic triptychs of baseball stadiums – and for his skill at conveying the “human ingenuity and spirit” that suffuse the spaces. This book is the first to focus on Dow’s early black-and-white pictures, featuring more than 60 photographs made between 1967 and 1977, a majority of which have never before been published. Indebted to the work of Walker Evans, a key mentor of Dow’s, these photographs depict time-worn signage taken from billboards, diners, gas stations, drive-ins, and other small businesses. While still recognisable as icons of commercial Americana, without their context Dow’s signs impart ambiguous messages, often situated between documentation and abstraction. Including a new essay by Dow that reveals his own perspective on the development of the work, Signs suggests how these formative years honed the artist’s sensibility and conceptual approach.

 

 

“Late in the fall of 1965, I met Walker Evans. I had no idea who he was or anything about his work. But his book ‘American Photographs’ completely changed the way I thought about photography. The pictures were descriptive, literate and distinct. They could be read slowly; information was packed into every square inch. They were intense but not dramatic. Rigorous in their making, they demanded attentive scrutiny. It was clear that I had a template for my education through a classic method: at first emulate, then lease the space and ultimately own the process, until taking pictures was no longer a re-enactment. …

I never travelled around the US to find myself. I went to find people, places and things I didn’t know about. Leaving familiar confines is an outward-facing process best done by car on older two- or three-lane roads, stopping, looking and listening every step of the way.”

.
Jim Dow in the book Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow

 

 

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, with essays by Jim Dow and April M. Watson
Distributed for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lott's Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama' 1968

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lott’s Grocery Store. US 11, Bessemer, Alabama
1968
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 4 3/4 inches (9.53 × 12.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas' 1970

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Abandoned Truck Stop. US 61/AR 150, near Number Nine, Arkansas
1970
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut' 1971

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Bowling Pin with Arrow. US 1, Branford, Connecticut
1971
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of Jim and Jacquie Dow

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Horse Painting on Sign, Ranch Entrance. US 87, Billings, Montana
1972
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 20 1/16 inches (40.31 × 50.95cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington' 1972

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Curlicue Arrow Sign. US 2, near Wenatchee, Washington
1972
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 5/8 inches (20.14 × 24.46cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Rear of Screen, Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre. Old US 101, Van Nuys, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
15 9/16 x 19 ½ inches (39.52 × 49.53cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Diving Lady Sign. Near US 19, Blairsville, Georgia
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 x 9 11/16 inches (20.14 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

For American photographer Jim Dow, a road trip was not just an excuse to travel from one place to another; it provided an opportunity to find inspiration in the unique structures lining old U. S. highways. Between 1967 and 1977, a decade marking the first ten years of his career, Dow traveled over 150,000 miles on multiple cross-country road trips, photographing vernacular architecture, signage, and commercial billboards that conveyed a unique sense of human spirit and industry. A new, free exhibition at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow, draws visitors into Dow’s fascination with the everyday structures that constitute the landscapes we inhabit.

“Although most of Dow’s subjects have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values, and aspiration remains,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “There will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity, and Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that may be, it remains vital for understanding ourselves and our community.”

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow opens May 7 and features 62 black-and-white photographs from the early part of Dow’s career, as well as a small selection of recent colour photographs that extend the themes forged during his formative years.

“Dow travelled on back roads rather than the interstate system,” said April M. Watson, Senior Curator of Photography. “He always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the corporate chains that had begun to dominate the social landscape, often isolating specific details so they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings.”

Born in 1942, Dow grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. As an undergraduate, he majored in graphic design, and in his senior year, had the good fortune to take his introductory photography classes with renowned photographer Harry Callahan. Thanks to Callahan’s influence, Dow was able to continue graduate studies at RISD, completing his MFA in photography in 1968.

A meeting with Walker Evans while Dow was in graduate school made a profound impact on him. Dow found Evans’s sophisticated embrace of vernacular American subject matter and straightforward, descriptive application of the medium to be revelatory. Between 1969 and 1971, he worked closely with Evans when printing Evans’s work for a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1960s, Dow began searching for his own subject matter, taking numerous road trips. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations, and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster of subjects, as he refined his own artistic vision. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1973, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974 allowed Dow to continue his project.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Dow and Watson, distributed by Yale University Press. Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow runs through Oct. 9, 2022.

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Trailer Park Sign. US 27, Red Bank, Tennessee
1973
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 9 11/16 inches (19.99 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Neon Cowboy Sign. US 66, Duarte, California
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Lady Reclining on La-Z-Boy Sign. PA 61, Shamokin, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.32 × 25.22cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Coffee At It's Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania' 1973

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Coffee At It’s Best Sign. US 11, Pittston, Pennsylvania
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 x 9 15/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) '"Heated Pool" Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
“Heated Pool” Sign at Motel. US 99, Bakersfield, California
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 11/16 inches (19.53 × 24.61cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, Coy Getting on Inoculation Sign. US 20, Idaho Falls, Idaho
1975
Gelatin silver print
15 7/8 × 19 7/8 inches (40.31 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Jim was extremely fortunate to study with not just Harry Callahan, but also Walker Evans and Minor White; three of the most outstanding figures in photographic history, and all masters of black and white. His formal approach to his work obviously stems from their teaching, and in some ways, his love of “collecting culture” with his 8 x 10 view camera does as well. Like Evans and to some degree, Minor White, Jim is attracted to aspects of material culture which often speak to a fading history – that of small town America. He doesn’t seek out majestic or sublime subject matter, rather, he simply elevates the everyday. This characteristic of his work aligns him with other photographers working in colour in the 1970s and 80s, such as Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Joel Sternfeld who were all similarly enchanted with revealing the true textures of the world immediately around us and feeding our popular imaginations. And like his peers, Jim is indelibly part of the tried and true American tradition of hitting the road and traveling extensively to make his work. His wanderlust has led him throughout the country and he has amassed an impressive archive of the American vernacular in the process.”

Hannah Sloan, The Rose Gallery quoted in Aline Smithson. “Interview with Jim Dow: The Griffin Museum’s Focus Award recipient for Lifetime Achievement,” on the Lenscratch website October 24, 2014 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia' 1975

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Detail, School Crossing Sign. Albany, Georgia
1975
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

When Dow took to the road, he always sought unusual or unique subjects that stood apart from the ever-increasing presence of corporate chains. Rather than focusing on the entirety of his subjects, he often isolated specific details of image and text so that they appear unmoored from their immediate surroundings. Roadside diners, drive-in movie theatres, ice cream stands, burger joints, billboards, gas stations and small-town, storefront murals all became part of Dow’s regular roster, as he refined his own artistic vision and organically developed categories of subject matter. …

More often than not, Dow’s subjects bear the marks of time’s passage, evident in the weather-worn surfaces, outdated clichés, and stereotyped imagery that prevailed in mid-20th-century American consumer culture but had begun to deteriorate in the shifting socioeconomic and political landscape of the early 1970s. It is this sense of things passing out of one time period and into another that permeates Dow’s photographs, which are less of a particular time than about the passage of time itself. Though most of the subjects Dow photographed have long since disappeared, the impetus to make one’s mark on the land through an assertion of livelihood, values and aspiration remains. In a nation where economic prosperity relies on a perpetual renewal of tastes, trends and styles, there will always be a desire to express individual agency and creativity. Dow’s photographs remind us that as difficult as that endeavour may be in an era of monopolised, corporate consumption, it remains vital for understanding our sense of self and community.

April M. Watson, Senior Curator, Photography. “Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow,” on the K C Studio website March 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Papier-mâché Elephant. US 202, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania
1977
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16 × 9 7/8 inches (20.14 × 25.07cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942) 'Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee' 1977

 

Jim Dow (American, b. 1942)
Hardware Store Painting on Wall. Nashville, Tennessee
1977
Gelatin silver print
15 15/16 × 19 7/8 inches (40.46 × 50.47cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Jim Dow Trailer

 

'Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow' book cover

 

Signs: Photographs by Jim Dow book cover

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Thursday – Monday 10am – 5pm
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

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07
May
22

Exhibition: ‘Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection’ at the V&A Photography Centre, London

Exhibition dates: 6th November 2021 – 6th November 2022

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985) 'Georges Bataille's Grave, Vèzelay' 2013

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985)
Georges Bataille’s Grave, Vèzelay
2013
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23 x 29cm
Purchase funded by the Photographs Acquisition Group
© Tereza Zelenková

 

 

This is a fascinating and intelligent selection of photographs in the display Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection at the V&A Photography Centre, London which highlights photography’s power to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each series shows honesty and integrity of conceptualisation and purpose, evidenced through strong photographs that engage the viewer in the visual narrative.

The catch all ‘Known and Strange’ somehow seems inadequate to describe the myriad threads of intertextuality (the way that similar or related texts influence, reflect, or differ from each other) and intersectionality (the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage) created by the nexus of this photographic display.

Of course, photographs can never been “known” in the truest sense: “A photograph, however much it may pretend to authenticity, must always in the final instance admit that it is not real, in the sense that what is in the picture is not here, but elsewhere.”1 Elsewhere, and always in the past. But if they cannot be known, this strangeness, their strangeness can open up a new language of visual literacy which offers the viewer new ways of approaching the world – by transcending past time into present future, time. By allowing the viewer the possibility of many different interpretations and points of view when looking at photographs. As Judy Weiser observes,

“Consider the situation of many people viewing the same photograph of a person very different from all of them. Each will be likely to perceive the photo’s subject a bit differently, depending on their own smaller differences from each other. Each person’s perceptions about that photo’s subject is indeed true and correct for that particular perceiver, even though possibly radically different from those of its other perceivers. If they can consciously recognise that all of them hold different truths about the photograph that are equally valid, they may begin to see that they need not feel threatened the next time they encounter a real-life person whose opinion or appearance is very different from theirs.”2

Following the last posting on Carnival attractions and circus photos where I showed photographs of burlesque and “girl revue” show fronts, the final and most essential selection in this posting – Susan Meiselas’ 1972-1975 Carnival Strippers series – goes behind the “front” to document the lives of women who performed striptease for small-town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. “Meiselas’ frank description of these women brought a hidden world to public attention, and explored the complex role the carnival played in their lives: mobility, money and liberation, but also undeniable objectification and exploitation. Produced during the early years of the women’s movement, Carnival Strippers reflects the struggle for identity and self-esteem that characterised a complex era of change.” (Booktopia)

Intense, intimate and revealing, the series proves that we can think we know something (the phenomenal) and yet photography reveals how strange and different each world is – whether that be in trying to understand the mind of the artist and what they intended in a constructed photograph or, in this case, having an impression of someone else’s life, a life we can perceive (through the “presence” of the photograph) but never truly know (the noumenal).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

  1. Annette Kuhn, The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985, pp. 30-31.
  2. Judy Weiser, PhotoTherapy Techniques, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1993, p. 18.

 

This display highlights photography’s power to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the ordinary into the extraordinary. Showcasing new acquisitions, it presents some of the most compelling achievements in contemporary art photography.

 

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985) 'The Unseen' 2015

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985)
The Unseen
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 100 x 125cm
Purchase funded by the Photographs Acquisition Group
© Tereza Zelenková

 

 

Tereza Zelenkova is a Czech-born artist known for her imaginative exploration of mysticism. She is inspired by literature and philosophy, but also values intuition and coincidence as essential guides in her creative process. Zelenkova’s work peels back the layers of myth that build up over time, interrogating the historical past of places and people, probing at folklore and imparting a modern sense of Surrealism onto familiar things, such as the grave of Georges Bataille, the Moravian cave of Byci Skala, or a statue by Michelangelo in the V&A’s cast courts.

Text from the V&A website

 

The first photograph I’d like to talk about is The Unseen. I get asked quite often how this sits within the series and what has been the inspiration for the image. Although I rarely stage my photographs, I had a quite clear vision of this particular photograph. It is an amalgamation of two themes that somehow merged in my mind and crystalized into this heavily distilled vision that I then went on to stage and photograph. Ever since I remember, I’ve been interested in photography’s peculiar relationship with death. It may sound like a cliché now but it can’t be denied that photography, similarly as a reflection in a mirror, offers the viewer aside of the image of his or her likeness also a glimpse of his or her mortality. Moreover, as Václav Vanek writes* when he talks about the loneliness and “deathly anxiety that we feel when, while trying to find a companion, we keep finding only a mirror image of ourselves and ultimately our death, which is always present in such mirroring”. Photography offers us both a promise of immortality alongside the reminder of our discontinuity. At the same time, due to its peculiar relationship with time, its strange stillness and minute detail it promises to reveal a bit more, something beyond the ordinary image of ourselves, or the everyday reality. It lures us to believe that it can see what’s unseen to the naked eye, that it can trespass the ordinary notion of time, and even blur the thresholds between the worlds of living and those long gone. Most of the people will be probably familiar with spirit photography, in which the 19th century society believed to find a way of communicating with their deceased loved ones. What’s interesting to note in this case is that the automatism of photographic medium was one of the key elements in this wide spread belief of photography’s ability to capture the world of spirits. Automatism of photography suggested the medium’s detachment from the cognitive processes of the human brain and its ability to tap into the unconscious, be it individual or collective. Automatism played a vital role not only in communicating with spirits, but also in early modernist art, especially in Surrealism. We have remarkable examples of automatic drawings, paintings or writings. In the Czech Republic, there’s a very special collection of such automatic drawings from the early 20th century, that however don’t come from avant-garde artists but from ordinary people found in one small region right at the foot of the tallest Czech mountain range, Krkonoše (Giant Mountains in English). From the end of the 19th century up until 1945, there seemed to be a golden age of Spiritism, that was however very unique to the region due to people’s relative isolation, living in the secluded farmhouses scattered at the foot of the mountains and meeting at each other’s houses for regular Spiritistic séances mainly held to bring back relatives who died during the war. The local people often used automatic drawing to receive hallucinatory visions from the other side and the collections of these remarkable drawings can be found in a museum in Nova Paka, but their notoriety goes well beyond the Czech borders as some of the finest examples of the so called Art Brut. So this is the first ingredient of my photograph. The second one is much more visual and comes as a snippet from a Czech fairytale Goldielocks, written by one of the most famous Czech 19th century writers, Karel Jaromír Erben. The scene that I used as a base for my photograph comes from the 1970’s version of the tale and it is a moment when the main hero needs to recognise Goldielocks, the princess with golden hair, amongst her twelve sisters, even though their hair is covered with a veil. I’ve always found the scene rather surreal and it immediately connected for me with the popular image of ghosts. There’s also something ritualistic and esoteric about the whole thing.

* In an introduction to a J.J. Kolár’s short story At The Red Dragon’s in a compilation of Czech Romantic prose.

Tereza Zelenková. “The Unseen,” on the Der Greif website July 02, 2016 [Online] Cited 22/02/2022

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985) 'Giuliano de Medici by Michelangelo' 2013

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985)
Giuliano de Medici by Michelangelo
2013
Gelatin silver print
40 x 30cm
Purchase funded by the Photographs Acquisition Group
© Tereza Zelenková

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985) 'Tripod, Meridian Hall' 2016

 

Tereza Zelenková (Czech, b. 1985)
Tripod, Meridian Hall
2016
Gelatin silver print
29 x 23cm
Purchase funded by the Photographs Acquisition Group
© Tereza Zelenková

 

 

Opening November 2021, Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection will highlight photography’s power to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Since its invention, photography has changed the way we see the world by inviting us to interpret reality in our own way. Known and Strange will focus on photography’s creative capacity to blur fact with fiction. The display will showcase over 50 recent contemporary acquisitions for the V&A permanent collection – created by established and emerging photographers across the globe – including Paul Graham, Susan Meiselas, Andy Sewell, Tereza Zelenková, Dafna Talmor, Zanele Muholi, Rinko Kawauchi, and Mitch Epstein. Each has expanded the ever-changing field of photography, both in terms  of stylistic experimentation and intellectual inquiry, and their work represents some of today’s most compelling achievements in contemporary photography.

The display title Known and Strange, originally from a line from the poem ‘Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney, is borrowed from a series of photographs by Andy Sewell and captures the sentiment of the works that will be presented in the display. Sewell’s series was taken on both sides of the Atlantic, taking as its visual and conceptual departure point places where internet cables are routed from the land to cross the seabed. The series – which will be presented in the display – explores the idea that the internet and the ocean, human communication and its related technologies, are both vast and unknowably strange.

Known and Strange will also feature diverse and innovative works within this broader theme, from Rinko Kawauchi’s focus on simple moments of illumination in everyday life and Mitch Epstein’s search for trees in New York City, to Zanele Muholi’s powerful series that exposes the persistent violence and discrimination faced by the South African Black LGBTQIA+ community. Tereza Zelenková – known for her imaginative explorations of mysticism – peels back the layers of myth that build up over time, whilst Dafna Talmor transforms her own photographs of landscapes by cutting them up and recombining them to create new hybrid compositions. In addition, the display will include over 20 photobooks by contemporary photographers, drawn from the collection of the National Art Library, further highlighting the innovation present in photography today.

The display will highlight the diversity of a medium that, through its malleability, allows for many different perspectives to be captured. As viewers, we can challenge everyday assumptions, be reminded of the world’s wonder, and perhaps poignantly, become aware that we might not be able to witness everything we want to during our own comparatively fleeting lives.

Press release from the V&A

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978) 'Untitled' 2020

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978)
Untitled
2020
From the series Known and Strange Things Pass
Pigment print
Purchase funded by Cecil Beaton Fund
© Andy Sewell

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978) 'Untitled' 2020

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978)
Untitled
2020
From the series Known and Strange Things Pass
Pigment print
Purchase funded by Cecil Beaton Fund
© Andy Sewell

 

 

“Known and Strange Things Pass is about the deep and complex entanglement of technology with contemporary life. It’s about the immediacy of touch and the commonplace miracle of action at a distance; the porosity of the boundaries that hold things apart, and the fragility of the bonds that lock them together.”

~ Eugenie Shinkle, 1000 Words Magazine

 

The photographs in this work are taken on either side of the Atlantic in places where the Internet is concentrated. Where the fibres come together, and almost everything we do online passes down a few impossibly narrow tubes, stretching along the seabed, connecting one continent to another.

Looking at these vast unknowable entities – the ocean and the Internet – we sense their strangeness. We can understand each conceptually but can only ever see or bump into small bits of them. They challenge our everyday assumptions and show us that the boundaries we put between things are more permeable than we might like to think. That the objects surrounding us daily, appearing so reliable and mundane, are actually parts of much larger, more complex, bodies extended across space and time.

The work is structured through the push and pull of intermeshing sequences. Things, in different times and places, intertwine and coexist. As we look closer, worlds we think of as separate dissolve into each other – the near and the distant, the ocean and the internet, the physical and the virtual, what we think of as natural with the cultural and technological.

Text from the Andy Sewell website [Online] Cited 22/04/2022

 

Installation view of 'Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection' display at V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection display at V&A showing at middle left the work of Andy Sewell from the Known and Strange Things Pass series
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of 'Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection' display at V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Installation view of Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection display at V&A showing the work of Andy Sewell from the Known and Strange Things Pass series, installation of 20 framed prints (sizes 144 x 108cm to 28 x 21cm)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978) 'Untitled' 2020

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978)
Untitled
2020
From the series Known and Strange Things Pass
Pigment print
Purchase funded by Cecil Beaton Fund
© Andy Sewell

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978) 'Untitled' 2020

 

Andy Sewell (British, b. 1978)
Untitled
2020
From the series Known and Strange Things Pass
Pigment print
Purchase funded by Cecil Beaton Fund
© Andy Sewell