Archive for the 'drawing' Category

24
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 28th August 2016

Curator: Tatyana Franck, Musée de l’Elysée, assisted by Lydia Dorner and Emilie Delcambre

Artists: Takashi Arai / Israel Ariño / Anna Atkins / Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand Pierre Cordier / Bernd and Hilla Becher / Martin Becka / Binh Danh /Jayne Hinds Bidaut John Dugdale / Jean-Gabriel Eynard / Joan Fontcuberta / Dennis Gabor / Loris Gréaud / JR Idris Khan / Laure Ledoux / Gustave Le Gray / Gabriel Lippmann / Vera Lutter / Christian Marclay / Mathew Brady / Vik Muniz / Oscar Muñoz / Eadweard Muybridge / France Scully Osterman and Mark Osterman Andreas / Andreas Müller-Pohle / Florio Puenter Benjamin Recordon / Dino Simonett / Jerry Spagnoli / Joni Sternbach / James Turrell Martial Verdier / Paul Vionnet / Pierre Wetzel / Victoria Will / Nancy Wilson-Pajic

 

 

Gabriel Lippmann (colour photography) and Dennis Gabor (holograms). Eadweard Muybridge (movement) and Pierre Cordier (chemigrams). Daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes. Heliogravure, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. 3D digitizations that “light up” the image from every angle.

What’s old is new again. Then and now, here and there. The memory of future past.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

This exhibition is an odyssey into the history of photography where different eras are juxtaposed and where artists and their methods dialogue with each other. Through a selection of historic photographic processes and the works of contemporary artists, the spectator is encouraged to observe the influence of the past on today’s artistic creations. The exhibition The Memory of the Future proposes a three-pronged vision: that of the past with the works of the pioneers of photographic techniques, that of the present with contemporary works that revive this know-how, and that of the future with technologies that give a new perspective on the works of the past.

Through century-old processes such as daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes and including holograms, The Memory of the Future celebrates the founding fathers of photographic techniques by establishing a dialogue between them and contemporary artists. From Gabriel Lippmann to James Turrell, including Robert Cornelius and Oscar Muñoz, this exhibition brings together for the first time some one hundred works whose common thread is their ability to withstand time. The Memory of the Future also proposes a selection of works from the Musée de l’Elysée’s collections that have never before been presented to the public.

After having launched a campaign to digitize its photography books in 2014 – 1,500 books have been digitized as of this time – the Musée de l’Elysée continues to explore techniques to dematerialize its visual heritage in order to preserve and enhance it. Consistent with its ambition to not only preserve works of value but to prospect for new ones, the Musée de l’Elysée has undertaken a 3D digitization project of its works using a prototype developed by the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). This technology of the future is presented in this exhibition in the form of a touch screen monitor.

 

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ante la Imagen' 2009

 

Oscar Muñoz
Ante la Imagen
2009
© Oscar Muñoz, courtesy of the artist and Mor charpentier gallery

 

 

Oscar Muñoz’s work combines photography, engraving, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, defying all attempts at categorization. Using non-conventional techniques, his work is a reflection on social concerns and addresses the themes of memory and forgetting, appearance and disappearance, loss and the insecurity of human life. In his work El Coleccionista, the artist uses a triple video projection to show a figure that is sorting, organizing and grouping what appears to be personal archives. Oscar Muñoz evokes here the ability of images to be part of multiple narratives, from one image to another, from one context to another. These images propose multiple narrations that overlap and intermingle between the past and present, memory and time.

For Ante la Imagen, Muñoz uses the portrait of the chemist Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), known for having reduced the exposure time of the photographic process of the daguerreotype and for producing one of the first self-portraits, to demonstrate the effectiveness of his method. Muñoz reproduces this portrait by engraving it on a reflecting metallic surface, like a daguerreotype. With each manipulation, the viewer sees the portrait of Cornelius superimposed on his own. The work is composed and decomposed and questions the interior multiplicity of one and the same image. Muñoz replaces this frozen image by a constantly-changing one, vulnerable to deterioration under the effect of air, like life itself.

 

3D Digitization of Jean-Gabriel Eynard. 'Charles et Mathilde Horngascher-Odier' 1845

 

3D Digitization of Jean-Gabriel Eynard
Charles and Mathilde Horngascher-Odier
1845
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

Gabriel Lippmann. 'Selfportrait' c. 1892

 

Gabriel Lippmann
Selfportrait
c. 1892
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a member of the French Academy of Sciences and author of many scientific works, the international renown of Gabriel Lippmann Is mainly due to his invention of color photography using the interferential method. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1908.

In 1891, he presented his invention, which would revolutionize photography, to the public. Lippmann developed the “wave theory of light”, which held that light bodies vibrate (like sound) and that light is propagated by waves of different speeds. The variations in wavelengths lead to changes in color. To prove the validity of his theory, Lippmann worked for five years to find a method that would fix these interferences. To do so, he developed a device that made it possible to place a special photographic plate (made of layers proportional to the wavelengths) in contact with a mercury mirror, a very complicated process. The sensitive layer of an average wavelength, green, for example, has 4,000 bright points per millimeter in its thickness, separated by dark intervals. The Musée de l’Elysée has the largest collection of Lippmann prisms in the world.

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer. 'Portrait of Dennis Gabor' 1975

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer
Portrait of Dennis Gabor
1975
© Jonathan Ross Hologram Collection

 

 

Engineer and physicist, Dennis Gabor is known for having invented the hologram in 1947, for which he was awarded the Holweck prize in 1970, and then the Nobel Prize in physics in 1971. Fascinated by Abbé’s theory of the microscope and Gabriel Lippmann’s method of color photography, he studied electron optics, which led him to propose the concept of holography that he referred to as “wavefront reconstruction” at the time. The initial project consisted of an electron microscope capable of visualizing atom networks and the atoms themselves, but that was not put into practice until 20 years later, whereas the hologram as a photographic process would have to wait for the invention of the laser in the 1960s, the light source necessary for the hologram. Subsequently, Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks in the United States and Yuri Denisyuk in Russia contributed to the improvement of Gabor’s invention and presented three-dimensional holograms. Since then, holograms are widely know to the general public through advertising, the production of packaging materials and jewelry items.

The life-size version of the portrait of Gabor can be seen at the offices of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation in the United States, one of the first companies to have attempted to market the holograph. The reduced-size copy presented here was made several years later by Spindler & Hoyer, a German optical company.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion, Plate 597' 1887

 

Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion, Plate 597
1887
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

Christian Marclay. 'Memento (Survival of the Fittest)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay
Memento (Survival of the Fittest)
2008
© Christian Marclay, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

 

 

A well-known filmmaker and multimedia artist, Christian Marclay made his mark on the contemporary art scene by combining the visual arts, film and musical culture. In 2007, he began a project that explores the interactions between sound and vision, as well as the manipulation and the conservation of different forms of recordings. He initiated a series together with the Graphicstudio, University of South Florida involving the use of two archaic recording systems – the cyanotype photography process and the audiotape.

He adopted and adapted the subject of the audiotape, which has become just about obsolete as a result of technological developments, and placed it at the center of his visual abstraction to capture the old soundtracks of hundreds of cassette tapes unfurled like so many streamers, using the cyanotype process. “We assume, because we’re able to capture sounds or images, that they will exist forever – when, in fact, obsolescence makes you feel the limit of those assumptions.” By combining these two mediums, the artist brilliantly explores the resonances between the past and present.

 

JR. 'UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse' 2010

 

JR
UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse
2010
© JR / Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

JR has “the largest art gallery in the world”. Thanks to the technique of photo collage, he freely exhibits his work on walls worldwide, thus attracting the attention of those who rarely or never go to museums. His work is a mixture of art and action and deals with commitment, freedom, identity and limits. After finding a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001, he travelled throughout Europe to meet other people whose mode of artistic expression involved the use of the walls and façades that give form to our cities. After observing the people he met and listening to their message, JR pasted their portraits up in streets and basements and on the roof tops of Paris.

JR thus creates “pervasive art” that he puts up on buildings in the Paris suburbs, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa and in the favelas of Brazil. These artistic actions make no distinction between the actors and the spectators. JR’s approach presented here is a mixture of the reinterpretation and recontextualization of the icons of the history of photography taken from the collections of the Musée de l’Elysée of Lausanne, which he applies to the façades of buildings in the city of Vevey. He thus crops and enlarges the photos of Robert Capa, Man Ray, Gilles Caron and Helen Levitt so that the city becomes a gigantic open-air museum.

 

Binh Danh. 'Sphinxes' (by Arthur Putnam, 1912) 2014

 

Binh Danh
Sphinxes (by Arthur Putnam, 1912)
2014
Artist and Haines Gallery courtesy, San Francisco
© Binh Danh

 

 

“Landscape is what defines me. When I am somewhere new or unfamiliar, I am constantly in dialogue with the past, present and my future self. When I am thinking about landscape, I am thinking about those who have stood on this land before me. Whoever they are, hopefully history recorded their makings on the land for me to study and contemplate.”

Born in Viet Nam, Binh Danh addresses themes of collective and personal memories, history, heritage and mortality. Known for printing his works on unconventional supports such as leaves or grass, he experiments with the photographic process of the daguerreotype in his most recent creations in order to document the history of the city of San Francisco.

Reminiscent of the work of photographic pioneers such as Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Charles Marville (1813- 1879) and Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Binh Danh explores the complexities of a constantly evolving city, from the first major expansion in recent years of Silicon Valley. He places San Francisco, cliché of the culture of technology and success, in another time space in order to incite the viewer to reflect on the rapid pace of changes in a city. By choosing the daguerreotype, the artist works on the reflecting surface of the process to incorporate the spectator into his work and to thus transform it into a shared experience.

 

Paul Vionnet. 'La cure d'Etoy' 1870

 

Paul Vionnet
La cure d’Etoy
1870
Tirage sur papier aristotype
13.4 × 17.8 cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

“With the exhibition The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future, the Musée de l’Elysée encourages contemporary artists to take a close look at photography as a medium, innovates as it reveals a 3D digitization technology developed by a spin-off from Lausanne’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), and displays its unique visual heritage. 

The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future is the first exhibition that Director Tatyana Franck has curated at the Musée de l’Elysée. It opens up a dialogue between the work of the pioneers of photographic techniques (the past), those of contemporary artists that breathe new life into these skills (the present), and avant-garde technologies that update these early processes (the future). Works from the museum’s collections, contemporary artists and new technologies come face to face and join forces to give a brand new vision of the history of photography. The Memory of the Future aims to configure the present by reconfiguring the past in order to prefigure the future.

Techniques over time

First of all, early photographic processes such as ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, ferrotypes, cyanotypes, etc. are displayed next to works by contemporary artists who breathe life into them. The technical innovations of the past are fertile ground for contemporary art and design. The exhibition includes a waxed paper negative by Gustave Le Gray in dialogue with those by Martin Becka, while cyanotypes by Anna Atkins and Paul Vionnet converse with those by Christian Marclay, Nancy Wilson-Pajic and John Dugdale. Jean-Gabriel Eynard’s daguerreotypes from the museum’s collections are exhibited next to portraits by Takashi Arai and Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand and landscapes by Binh Danh and Jerry Spagnoli. And as for contemporary ferrotypes, The Memory of the Future shows the work of Joni Sternbach and Jayne Hinds Bidaut as well as portraits taken by Victoria Will at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in 2014.

Works of two scientists who won a Nobel Prize and invented a photographic technique also have pride of place – a self portrait by Gabriel Lippmann (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1908) who invented color photography using the interferential method and a portrait of Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971), the inventor of the holographic process, a photographic technique in relief – echoing a holographic picture by James Turrell, a contemporary artist primarily concerned with light. Lastly, and as a point of convergence for all these photographic processes to fix an image on to a support, the camera obscura is presented through the works of Florio Puenter, Dino Simonett and Vera Lutter. Loris Gréaud – an artist invited to present an original installation capturing the spirit of the Musée de l’Elysée by recording its shadows and light – also explores this technique.

Homage and metamorphosis 

The exhibition also presents the “mise en abyme” of iconic pictures from the history of photography reinterpreted by contemporary artists whose works examine the very notion of time or memory.

The earliest photograph in history – by Nicéphore Niépce and dating back to 1826 – is thus transformed by Joan Fontcuberta (Googlegramme Niépce, 2005) using PhotoMosaïque freeware connected online to the Google search engine, and by Andreas Müller-Pohle (Digital Scores VI). The first photographic self portrait in history – by Robert Cornelius in 1839 – is reproduced on a series of mirrors by Oscar Muñoz in 2009 to examine the paradox of the aging of the photographic support, which is, however, supposed to record an image for eternity. While Pierre Cordier pays homage to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic breaking down of movement, Idris Khan (who took part in the reGeneration exhibition in 2005) pays homage to the iconic photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Innovating to preserve and showcase 

Having launched a campaign in 2014 to digitize its photography books – 1500 books have been scanned so far – the Musée de l’Elysée is continuing to explore techniques to dematerialize its visual heritage for conservation and promotion purposes. Launched in 2015 thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, an ambitious three dimensional digitization project puts the Musée de l’Elysée at the forefront of museum innovation.

A venue for exhibitions, conservation and now an experimentation, as part of the exhibition La Mémoire du futur the Musée de l’Elysée is proposing for the first time a space dedicated to the presentation of digitized virtual objects from its collections. This innovative project aims to introduce new collaborative and interactive experiences using the Museum’s collections to a wide range of audiences – whether they be photography enthusiasts, curators or researchers.

Thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, Innovation partner of the Musée de l’Elysée, the public is invited to experimentally test the first 3D digitizations carried out in partnership with the start-up Artmyn, created at EPFL’s Audiovisual Communications Laboratory (LCAV) led by Martin Vetterli. It will thus be possible to look at the works in 3D with unprecedented precision, but above all, to make the different textures of which they are composed appear on screen by lighting up the digital replicas from any angle.

This new technology comes in the form of a scanner made up of a dome on which are fixed several small lamps of precisely-adjusted intensity that switch on and off in turn depending on each picture scanned. We are returning to an ancient theory of vision that imagined the eye’s projection towards the world, allowing the spectator once again to become an actor in the photographic experience,” explains Martin Vetterli in the exhibition catalogue.

Preliminary work was carried out with the Collections Department to select the processes that would most benefit from this scanning technology – heliogravure, ambrotype, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. The first results will be presented in the exhibition. A tactile device supplemented by a video tour of the work presents a collage by René Burri from the René Burri Foundation housed at the Musée de l’Elysée. Rendered in real time and very high resolution, the images that have been cut out and superimposed by the artist can be freely explored so that the visitor can appreciate the visual richness of the work. Visitor experience appraisal is an integral part of the project to optimize presentation techniques and create a digital experimentation area in the museum.

The active participation of visitors to the Museum is an essential step for this first test phase: the interactions and different perceptions of the benefits of the prototype presented will be taken into account for the purpose of developing teaching and learning tools that will subsequently be used to refine and expand the user’s experience and to develop a digital, educational discovery space within the exhibition areas.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée

 

Paul Vionnet. 'Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction' 1904

 

Paul Vionnet
Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction
1904
Tirage au gélatino-bromure d’argent
39.5 × 23.0 cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Paul Vionnet, a local photographic pioneer, is at the origin of the Iconographic Collection of the Canton of Vaud. This collection, devoted to the history of the Vaud, is at the very foundation of the creation of the Musée de l’Elysée in 1985 as a museum dedicated to the image. During his childhood, Paul Vionnet spent his vacations at his grandparents’ home in Aubonne and was a frequent visitor of Adrien Constant Delessert (1806-1876), a neighbor and renowned Vaud photographer. During his stays there in 1845, Delessert taught him photographic techniques and the calotype.

Fascinated by the sciences, nature and his canton, Paul Vionnet took it upon himself to collect the greatest number of iconographic documents possible concerning the history, landscapes and monuments of the region for the purpose of enriching the collection of the Historical Monuments Service in Lausanne. The documents that he was not able to acquire himself were reproduced using photography. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was ordained pastor in 1856, and assigned to Granges de Sainte-Croix, near Aubonne, and then to Pampigny in 1858. He nevertheless continued to take photographs, having since adopted the wet collodion technique, documenting landscapes and monuments during his free time.

He retired in 1896 and founded the Collection historiographique vaudoise that would house his documents. In 1903, Paul Vionnet bequeathed his private collection to the canton of Vaud, forming the fifth section of the Musée Cantonal des Antiquités. He was named assistant curator, and several years later, the municipality commissioned him to take the photographs for Lausanne à travers les âges.

 

Anna Atkins. 'Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)' c. 1852

 

Anna Atkins
Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)
c. 1852
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

A British photographer considered to be the first woman to create a photograph, Anna Atkins is also known to have published the first books on botany illustrated with cyanotypes. Passionately interested in science and art, she became a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839 and realized that the photographic process could be used to obtain precise and detailed botanical images and to provide information at all levels of a society increasingly eager for knowledge.

Anna Atkins drew her inspiration from the inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), and from a close family friend, John Herschel (1792- 1871), a scientist known for the invention and the improvement of the cyanotype. She subsequently developed the process on her own that would allow her to obtain authentic and inexpensive photographic reproductions and that would make her part of the great tradition of her teachers. In 1843, she published her work, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first volume of which preceded the famous work of Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, by several months. In 1853, she applied the same process to ferns and published Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, a page of which is presented here.

 

Anonymous. 'Portrait of a young girl' 1860-1870

 

Anonymous
Portrait of a young girl
1860-1870
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

John Dugdale. 'The Clandestine Mind' 1999

 

John Dugdale
The Clandestine Mind
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

John Dugdale. 'Mourning Tulips' 1999

 

John Dugdale
Mourning Tulips
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

 

John Dugdale’s interest in photography goes back to his childhood when he received his first camera at the age of 12 and dreamed of becoming one of the major photographers of the 20th century. After a brilliant career as a fashion photographer, the year 1993 marked the turning point in the life of the artist who lost his sight following a stroke and CMV retinitis. Dugdale nevertheless refused to give up photography and began to take an interest in 19th century photographic techniques, using his family and friends as assistants. He discovered the large format and decided to use the cyanotype process, considering it to be the most direct and the easiest to use.

In his blue works, he portrays his everyday life by reversing the roles. Dugdale poses with a simplistic spirituality that could appear to be in contradiction with the 21st century. Generally posing in the nude, he considers that “life is transient. Once you leave this world, you fly into the universe without clothes. I want people to learn you cannot protect yourself by hiding behind clothes.”

Thanks to its low toxicity, the use of this process allows him to be involved in the printing of his photographs. His sensitivity to historic techniques emphasizes the poetry of his work and the transitory nature of time and place. In the hopes of sharing his experience and his healing, Dugdale creates a new body of art by “showing the beauty of life and how one should act around illness.”

 

Jerry Spagnoli. 'Glass 10/9/12' 2012

 

Jerry Spagnoli
Glass 10/9/12
2012
© Jerry Spagnoli

 

 

When the photographer Jerry Spagnoli discovered a daguerreotype at a flea market, he described it as the most perfect photograph he had ever seen, a discovery that would influence the rest of his work. After familiarizing himself with the process in his studio in San Francisco, the artist experimented with it using equipment from the 19th century and studying the effects obtained in order to understand the technical aspects as well as the visual and expressive potential.

By studying the body and the roots of photographic imagination in his series Anatomical Studies, the portrait, objects and contemporary street scenes, events and non-events in his series The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century, Spagnoli attempts to highlight the qualities of the daguerreotype – uniqueness, richness of detail – through the four series presented here, in order to allow a contemporary public to rediscover its virtues. It is also a way for him to approach the optical essence of photography. “With other processes the material substrate of the image can be intrusive, but when you look at a daguerreotype, there is a transparency to the depiction as if you were looking through the lens itself.”

 

Vik Muniz. 'The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)' 2000

 

Vik Muniz
The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)
2000
from the Pictures of Chocolate series

 

 

Non-conformist reproductions of masterpieces, trompe-l’œil, ephemeral homages… It is difficult to put a label on the work of Vik Muniz. Starting off as a sculptor, he became widely known in 1997 as a result of his series Pictures of Chocolate, an example of which is presented here, and again in 2006 through his series Pictures of Junk and by his film Waste Land that was released in 2014. For the past 20 years, the artist, fascinated by the power of the image and optics, has transformed all sorts of unusual raw materials into works of art. He then uses photography to immortalize the works that he creates with these materials.

In Steerage after Alfred Stieglitz, Muniz uses chocolate as the medium to pay tribute to one of the modern pioneers of photography, Alfred Stieglitz. He involves the spectator and forces him to take a new look at a painting or a photograph that has been seen time and time again and that has become commonplace despite its beauty. Vik Muniz encourages the public to look at and to decipher his compositions, as well as to use their other senses to transform his flat reproductions into original and three-dimensional works.

 

Pierre Cordier. 'Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I "Hommage à Muybridge 1972"' 1976

 

Pierre Cordier
Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I “Hommage à Muybridge 1972”
1976
© Pierre Cordier

 

 

Pierre Cordier is a Belgian artist known as the father of the chemigram and for its development as a means of artistic expression. In 1956, writing a dedication with nail polish on photographic paper to a young German woman, Pierre Cordier discovered what he later called the chemigram. This technique “combines the physics of painting (varnish, oil, wax) and the chemistry of photography (photosensitive emulsion, developer and fixer), without the use of a camera or enlarger, and in full light.”

He worked for 30 years as a lecturer on the history of photography at the École Nationale des Arts Visuels in Brussels. When he gave up photography in 1968 to devote himself exclusively to the chemigram, he wanted to pay tribute to the great photography pioneers – Muybridge in 1972 and Marey in 1975. The Homage to Muybridge presented here was inspired by Allan Porter, chief editor of the Swiss revue Camera, one of the most prominent revues in the history of photography. In the issue of Camera of October 1972, we can read: “Cordier used Muybridge’s famous sequence, The Horse in Motion, which he transformed in three different ways: 1. Still subject and mobile camera. 2. Mobile subject and still camera. 3. Subject and camera, both mobile. He then combined the three sequences into one and treated it according to the photochemigram process.”

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle. 'Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)' 2001

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle
Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)
2001
Inkjet print
10 7/8 in x 11 in; mat: 16 1/8 in x 20 1/8 in; paper: 12 1/8 in x 12 1/8 in

 

 

Andreas Müller-Pohle is one of the key figures involved in the ontological as well as the representational nature of photography. Since the 1990s, he has reflected on the radical changes in the essence of technical images. His first artistic project focused on questions of photographic perception and on the recycled photograph.

In the mid-1990s, Müller-Pohle began to explore the use of digital, genetic and political codes. He is one of the first artists to have broken down and translated the analog and the digital codes of images. In his series Digital Scores (after Nicéphore Niépce), he takes us back to the origin of analog photography by translating the photograph of Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras (taken from a window of his house in 1826), into alphanumeric code. The complete binary transcription of this photograph is then distributed over eight panels.

 

Martin Becka. 'Le Parc' 2002

 

Martin Becka
Le Parc
2002
© Martin Becka

 

 

After studying photography, Martin Becka worked as a print developer for the Sepia Agency before becoming an independent news photographer. As of the beginning of the 1980s, he began doing research on the history of photography and the pre-industrial photographic processes that he incorporated into his personal creative work. By using traditional processes to photograph ultramodern cities like Dubai and business districts such as La Défense in Paris, the artist proposes a sort of “archeology of the present”, making the spectator reflect on the period in which he lives, the future, and the multiplication of images at a time when their reproducibility is unlimited. He sees photography as a means to “bend time in every possible direction.”

In his installation Le Parc (the André Citroën Public Park in Paris), Becka establishes a dialogue between the past and the present by paying homage to the photographic work of Alfred-Nicolas Normand (1822-1909) and the dry waxed paper negative process developed in 1851 by Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884). By choosing this century-old technique that requires an approach to work that is radically different from those currently in vogue, he is able to obtain negatives with a density adapted to a presentation by transparency and to create and control movement and unique atmospheres. Becka thus encourages the spectator to reflect on the notion of the photographic object.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher. 'Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D' 1973

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher
Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D
1973

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher. 'Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)' 1966

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher
Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)
1966

 

 

Born during the period of industrial archeology, the Bechers’ work consists, in the words of Pierre Restany, “of an optical pilgrimage at the roots of the industrial world”. The couple proposes a way do see industrial architecture by taking an approach based on inventory methodology. Their work is a reflection on the creation of heritage and raises the question of the heritage value of industrial objects, which is inseparable from their artistic value.

With a focus on archiving and industrial memory, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s approach consists of establishing a detailed inventory and keeping track of industrial structures by photographing sites threatened by obsolescence and often abandoned. The series Gas Tanks includes nine photographs from the period between 1965 and 1973, taken according to the extremely stringent protocol that is characteristic of their work (frontal view, centering of the subject, mid-height, absence of light, etc.). The composition of each portrait is standardized and identical, with emphasis on the frontal aspect and the monumentality of industrial constructions classified according to their functionality and form.

Taking advantage of the extremely reproducible nature of the photograph, the Bechers reveal the massive diffusion and production of images that contribute to erasing our memories of their origins and their authors. In doing so, they observe a civilization on the decline and highlight the production of an era, vestiges of the human imagination and life.

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder' One panel triptych, 2003

 

Idris Khan
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder
One panel triptych, 2003
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
20½ x 26½ inches

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder' 2004

 

Idris Khan
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder
2004
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
80 × 65 inches

 

 

“I try to capture the essence of the building – something that’s been permanently imprinted in someone’s mind, like a memory.”

Idris Khan is fascinated by the photographic medium. Fuelled by images and influential theoretical essays on the history of photography, he reappropriates the works that had an impact on him and subjects them to a series of transformations in order to see them from a different perspective. His work is a reflection on the passage of time, the accumulation of experiences and, as such, the decrease of unique moments. In his series Homage…, he presents rephotographed works, enlarged and superimposed in multiple layers. He uses digital tools to play with the opacity of the layers so as to strengthen the mystery of the original objects whose layering reveals new details. The work Homage to Bernd Becher shown here reproduces and compiles the photographs that correspond to the Bechers’ typology in order to celebrate the vestiges of these vanished industrial infrastructures.

Fascinated by the ability of the photographic medium to capture the soul as well as the body image, Idris Khan, in his series Rising Series… After Eadweard Muybridge “Human and Animal Locomotion”, pays homage to Muybridge’s early scientific experiments using the camera to sequentially record human and animal movement. Beyond the tribute paid to photography that is defined here as a compilation of knowledge, Idris Khan positions himself with respect to a medium laden with history and with a bright future ahead of it.

 

Victoria Will. 'Kristen Stewart' 2014

 

Victoria Will
Kristen Stewart
2014
© Victoria Will

 

 

Kristen Stewart poses for a tintype (wet collodion) portrait at The Collective and Gibson Lounge, during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Victoria Will began her career as a staff photographer for the New York Post. Specialized at the time in portraits and fashion, her photographs were disseminated worldwide by the magazines W, the New York Times and Vogue. When she was invited for the fourth time to the Sundance Film Festival, an American independent film festival, she decided to try something new and to replace her digital reflex camera with the century-old tintype process to make portraits of movie stars. Following her success, she renewed the experience in the following years and gradually improved this complex technique.

Overcoming the difficulties of the process, its sensitivity to time and the danger of the chemical products involved, the photographer successively made portraits in 7 to 8 minutes of actors such as Vincent Cassel, Robert Redford, Jennifer Connelly, Spike Lee and Ethan Hawke. “What I love about the process is how raw it is,” says Victoria. “We live in an age of glossy magazines and overly retouched skin. But there is no lying with tintypes. You can’t get rid of a few wrinkles like in Photoshop.”

Both the photographer and her public “appreciate the honesty of these photographs. Development leaves a lot of room for the unexpected: we discover a face that we thought was familiar while being the contrary of digital portraits. The stages in the darkroom contribute to the idea of creating something unique and refreshing.”

 

 

The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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31
Jul
16

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

Exhibition dates: 29th April – 14 August 2016

Curator: Geoffrey Batchen

 

 

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery website

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Installation view of the work of Anne Ferran

 

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

Unique gelatin silver photographs

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Lisa Clunie (New Zealand) ‘Fold I’ 2014

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Adam Fuss both 'Untitled' 1989

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre website

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06
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 12th June 2016

 

You only have five days left to catch what I consider to be one of the best exhibitions I have seen this year in Melbourne.

If ever there was a man deserving of a large retrospective, it is Jan Senbergs. This wondrous, intelligent, immersive exhibition by this iconic Australian artist is a joy. Particularly so as you witness the gestation of the artist, the journey from very first exhibition to latest work.

Witness is a particularly apt metaphor for Senbergs – he is a witness to the world who uses his imagination to create, as he says, “maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.” He belongs to the world but creates things not of the world as we know it. It is a twisted world n/visioned in multiple forms. Twisted labyrinthine structures – mechanistic, naturalistic, humanistic – swirling around in his head, put down as marks on paper, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Mark making is important to this man. He maps mechanistic and biomorphic elements, always intelligently informed by sources as diverse as “literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.” His influences are various – German Expressionism, Max Beckmann, Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s, Brutalism, Eduardo Paolozzi, Pop Art and the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme – to name but a few. And his perspective is unique, as John Olsen insightfully observes, “not often on the vanishing point, but … more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.”

Standing in front of the huge six painting wall of Senbergs’ Antarctic paintings you feel the power of that (topographical? analytical? cut-away) vision. I dare you not to.

There are downsides. When they do appear in his paintings, his literal figures and landscapes (such as people, boats and bays), are weak. But that’s not what this artist is about. His screen print work of the mid to late 1970s lead him into a formally stylistic dead end. But he was an intelligent enough artist to recognise it as such and returned to mark making: “But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” And his popularist map paintings of Sydney and Melbourne, painted in a brighter colour palette, don’t have the depth of feeling and response to the world that other works possess.

His limited colour palette – all blacks and subdued colours in the early enamel work; green and browns in the 1970s work; greys, blacks and beiges in the early 1980s; blues and greens with splashes of colour for the Antarctic and mining paintings; through to the more colourful map paintings of the 1990s and the recent oranges of the bushfire paintings – has always given weight to the object, weight to his constructed upside-down world, weight to his vision of a place where anything might happen. And frequently does.

Irrational, perhaps (but the irrational can only exist if there is the rational).
Something out of the imagination but belonging to the world, indubitably.
A world that is neither dysfunctional in vision nor balance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

This is the first comprehensive retrospective of renowned Melbourne artist Jan Senbergs. Throughout his long career, Senbergs’ work has been characterised by a fundamental humanist vision, a finely-honed sense of the absurd, and a rigorous studio practice spanning printmaking, drawing and painting. He is considered to be amongst Australia’s leading painters and his large-scale expressive drawings are highly regarded. More recently Senbergs has created labyrinthine views of cities, employing aerial perspectives to present a bird’s eye view of humankind’s endeavours. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings and prints from his first exhibition in 1960 until the present day, borrowed from public and private collections around Australia.

Jan Senbergs is one of Australia’s most distinctive artists. He is both an acute observer and a creator of fantastical imagery. Since his first exhibition in 1960, Senbergs’s work has undergone many transformations of style, technique and subject, yet there have also been recurring themes and motifs. Elements from his very first works have reappeared, reworked and reinterpreted, throughout his career.

Senbergs’s artistic imagination has been fed by many sources, including his love of literature and poetry; his interest in no-Western artistic traditions and the work of outsider artists; journeys to distant locales as well as familiar places close to home. The artist has often referred to himself as a ‘visual scavenger’ of images – photographs, scientific diagrams, maps – which he transforms and incorporates into his own work. Above all, Senbergs’s art reflects his essential humanism, humour and wide-ranging curiosity.

 

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half human, trying to put figures into them, in the end they blended together as one, the figures, the buildings and the people.”

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Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

“I was always trying to invent new forms, different forms, shapes which were recognisable – maybe something architectonic or machine-like, but not quite: and ambiguous … I was trying to create something irrational, something out of the imagination but belonging to the world.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2008

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Alan Kilner. 'Jan Senbergs, Melbourne' c. 1959

 

Alan Kilner
Jan Senbergs, Melbourne
c. 1959
Image courtesy Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The whipper' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The whipper
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
183.0 x 122.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Literature has always been an important source of imagery for Senbergs. This work, one of his earliest, is based upon an episode in The Trial (1925) by Czech writer Franz Kafka. In the painting two figures cower beneath ‘the whipper’, who metes out a brutal punishment to them. This work was included in Senbergs’s second solo exhibition at the Argus Gallery, Melbourne, in 1962.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Two heads' 1961

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Two heads
1961
Enamel paint on composition board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“I was always interested in painting buildings and things and I tried to make them half-human, trying to put the figures into them; in the end they blended together as one, the figures and the buildings and the people.” – Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Head' 1963

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Head
1963
Colour screenprint on paper, artist’s proof, edition of 10
42.4 x 35.2 cm (image and sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The night parade' 1966

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The night parade
1966
Enamel paint on composition board
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1977

 

At the time of its creation, this was Senbergs’s largest and most ambitious painting to date, and it formed the centrepiece of his 1966 exhibition at Georges Gallery in Melbourne. The triptych format recalls the work of German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann, one of Senbergs’s earliest and ongoing artistic heroes. In his review of the exhibition, critic Allan McCulloch wrote: “Instead of simply looking at abstract pictures we have the feeling of standing on the perimeter of a vast industrial landscape in which hills and slagheaps, factories and cities are relentlessly pushed and jostled by an omni-present parade of silent watchers. The huge triptych “The night parade’ … illustrates the point.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observation post 2' 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observation post 2
1968
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
246.0 x 185.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1971
© Jan Senbergs

 

On his return to Melbourne in late 1967, Senbergs’ work changed dramatically. He ceased painting with enamel on Masonite composition boards, and instead started working with oil or acrylic on canvas and began to incorporate screenprinted elements into his paintings. Of his year in Europe he later recalled, “I got a lot out of it, it completely made me revise and rethink a whole lot of things regarding my painting, my work, my attitudes and so on … I felt very refreshed and confident when I came back.”

By the mid 1960s Senbergs’ imagery was becoming increasingly sculptural, merging mechanistic and biomorphic elements, in part stimulated by his interest in the work of Scottish Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Senbergs entered what he refers to as his ‘axle-grease’ period, when his colours became darker and more sombre, which he considered would enhance form in his work.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at right, Column and still objects 1 (1968)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Column and still objects 1' (detail) 1968

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Column and still objects 1 (detail)
1968
The Edith Cowan University Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Mr Timothy James Bernadt

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Black garden' (detail) 1972

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Black garden (detail)
1972
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas plywood
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1973

 

In 1972 Senbergs exhibition sixteen new paintings at Melbourne’s Gallery A, including Black garden, in which he created ambiguous cityscapes from surrealistic combinations of screen printed fragments of images. With their absurdist sensibility and disjointed fragmentary images, these paintings emulate the writing of American postmodernist author Donald Bartheme, whose short stories Senbergs admired greatly and whom he credits with being a major influence upon him.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fort 2' 1973

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fort 2
1973
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
243.7 x 197.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974
© Jan Senbergs

 

The paintings Senbergs created in 1973 in response to his selection to represent Australia at the 12th São Paolo Biennial in Brazil were larger and more imposing than his 1972 paintings, and often incorporated an image of a ramp to suggest entry into the foms. With their realistic modelling of architectural forms set against a horizon line, these works evoke the real world, yet remain defiantly resistant to interpretation.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Structure, cloud' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Structure, cloud
1975
Colour screenprint, ed. 19/25
55.6 x 81.2 cm (image), 71.0 x 100.2 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“The printing technique was very important to me because I was a kind of scavenger of odd sorts of images. I mean a lot of those sort of shapes and forms were things that one saw perhaps in an old engraving book, a little detail of a section of some background somewhere and I’d look into it and see certain sorts of forms there … I was a collector, a scavenger. I used to go to libraries and collect these images and I’d buy a lot of books.” – Jan Senbergs

“When I was doing these prints and as I was coming to a conclusion to them, I also realised I was handling it in a more sophisticated way. The prints were becoming more refined, more in control … But it was a period when I was getting too confident. It was time to leave it alone, go back to the mark.” – Jan Senbergs 2008

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The flyer' 1975

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The flyer
1975
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
167.0 x 244.0 cm
Collection of Paul Guest, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Altered Parliament House 1' 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Altered Parliament House 1
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil silkscreen on canvas
182.5 x 243.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs Adrian Gibson as the winner of the 1976 Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize, 1977
© Jan Senbergs

 

While living in Canberra, on his walk home Senbergs would see Parliament House: “I’d see this white glowing dreadnought in the distance … that’s the way it appeared, sort of floating, just this whiteness because it was lit up … This form fascinated me. But also, and on another level, I was there in ’75 when all the political things happened and [after that] it didn’t have that sort of purity and whiteness that it appeared to have beforehand. In a way that gave me more liberty to change the imagery of the building.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Observatory of hard edges' (detail) 1976

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Observatory of hard edges (detail)
1976
Synthetic polymer paint, oil screenprint on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

This is one of Senbergs’ most architectonic images; its massing of asymmetrical forms, pronounced geometry and pale colours bring to mind the contemporaneous style of Brutalist architecture.

 

Jan Senbergs drawings late 1970s - early 1980s

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)

Port piers and overpass (top left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port structure (bottom left)
1979
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Station Pier (top right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Port signals (bottom right)
1980
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

“Yesterday I visited Jan Senbergs at his studio in Port Melbourne … I was greatly impressed by what I saw: he has moved away from a photo image to observation, perhaps with [Max] Beckmann as his distant father. His line is slow and sullen and he creates a feeling of junk-heap menace … His perspective is not often on the vanishing point, but is more related to the spatial  orientation in Chinese or Islamic art. This kind of perspective gives weight to an object; the sensation is abrupt and very blunt, ideally related to his vision.” – John Olsen 1980

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Port Liardet' 2 1981

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Port Liardet 2
1981
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 244.0 cm
Latrobe Regional Gallery Collection.
Acquired with assistance from the Caltex Victorian Government Art Fund and the Shire of Morwell
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 at right

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sticht's view to the smelters 1' (detail) 1982

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sticht’s view to the smelters 1 (detail)
1982
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Purchase with funds presented by Renison Goldfields Consolidated, 1983

 

 

Robert Carl Sticht was an American metallurgist who in 1897 became general manager of the copper mine at Mount Lyell on the remote and rugged west coast of Tasmania. There he introduced a new technique of smelting which released large amounts of deadly sulphur into the air, one of the principal agents of destruction of the natural environment of the region.

In the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell series, Senbergs moved away from the smooth surfaces and clearly articulated forms of his Port Liardet paintings to a more gestural, painterly mode, in accord with the style of Neo-Expressionist painting of the early 1980s.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Broadening the mind in Italy' (detail) 1986, 1991

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Broadening the mind in Italy (detail)
1986, 1991
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas 167.0 x 243.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services. 'Jan Senbergs in his studio' 2015

 

Predrag Cancar/NGV Photographic Services
Jan Senbergs in his studio
2015

 

 

“From the vast expanses of Antarctica to labyrinthine Melbourne cityscapes, more than five decades of artist Jan Senbergs’ prolific oeuvre will be revealed in the major retrospective Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination.

The exhibition, Senbergs’ first-ever comprehensive survey, will feature over 120 works including large-scale paintings, drawings and prints which depict sprawling aerial views of Australian cities, dystopic industrial landscapes, raging bushfires in the Victorian Otways, the remote deserts of north-Western Australia and more. The exhibition spans Senbergs’ first exhibition in 1960 through to the present day, representing all periods of his career. Recognised for his sheer visual inventiveness and sitting outside any defined artistic trend, Senbergs draws inspiration from a remarkably diverse range of influences; literature, history, architecture and non-Western art, and finds imagery within obscure technical journals, ancient mythology and illustrated encyclopedias.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “As one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, Jan Senbergs is an extraordinary inventor of his own visual language, at once simple and bold. From lush landscapes to barren urban spaces, his body of work signifies an artist who has continually experimented with shape, form and motif, and one who to this day continues to push his art in new and unexpected directions. The NGV is pleased to present the first major retrospective of Jan Senbergs’ work and offer visitors the opportunity to experience the full spectrum and constant evolution of his career.”

Senbergs, born in 1939 in Latvia, moved to Melbourne in 1950 following the end of World War II. Among other honours, he represented Australia at the prestigious 12th São Paolo Biennial in 1973 and was appointed to the Visiting Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University in 1989, the first artist to hold this illustrious post. Observation – Imagination will include key works from Senbergs’ most important and critically acclaimed series including his 1973 São Paolo Biennial paintings, the Copperopolis – Mt Lyell mining landscape series, 1983, and his immense multi-panelled studio drawings of 1993-95.

Senbergs’ Antarctica series is considered one of the most significant artistic responses to the continent. In 1987, Senbergs spent six weeks with the Australian Antarctic Division, travelling with fellow artists Bea Maddock and John Caldwell, on an annual resupply mission. Observation – Imagination will include key works such as his epic landscapes Mawson and Davis. The exhibition will also present Senbergs’ epic, 4.6 metre long Pulaski Skyway painting, which reflects the post-industrial landscape of the five and a half kilometre freeway that crosses the wasteland of western New Jersey from Newark to Jersey City. In this, Senbergs found a metaphor for the American experience and its splendour and decay.

More recently Senbergs has produced intricate labyrinthine views of cities, combining memory and imagination, and the exhibition will include map-like images of Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Wollongong and Port KemblaThe exhibition will also feature works from Senbergs’ recent 2014 Victorian bushfire series, which burst with visual drama and chromatic brilliance. Senbergs often refers to himself as a scavenger and collector of imagery taken from a wide variety of sources, and Observation – Imagination will include an enormous showcase, created by the artist, filled with cut-outs, photographs and personal artefacts that reference the people, places and artworks which have fuelled his visual imagination.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Blue angel of Wittenoom (top left) and Otway night (bottom right)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Blue angel of Wittenoom' 1988

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Blue angel of Wittenoom
1988
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.5 x 305.0 cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1989
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Eva Fernandez

 

 

The blue angel in the painting refers to the dangers of asbestos in the mining town of Wittenoom.

Wittenoom is a ghost town 1,106 kilometres (687 mi) north-north-east of Perth in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The area around Wittenoom was mainly pastoral until the 1930s when mining began in the area. By 1939, major mining had begun in Yampire Gorge, which was subsequently closed in 1943 when mining began in Wittenoom Gorge. In 1947 a company town was built, and by the 1950s it was Pilbara’s largest town. During the 1950s and early 1960s Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos. The town was shut down in 1966 due to unprofitability and growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area.

Today, six residents still live in the town, which receives no government services. In December 2006, the Government of Western Australia announced that the town’s official status would be removed, and in June 2007, Jon Ford, the Minister for Regional Development, announced that the townsite had officially been degazetted. The town’s name was removed from official maps and road signs and the Shire of Ashburton is able to close roads that lead to contaminated areas.

The Wittenoom steering committee met in April 2013 to finalise closure of the town, limit access to the area and raise awareness of the risks. Details of how that would be achieved were to be determined but it would likely necessitate removing the town’s remaining residents, converting freehold land to crown land, demolishing houses and closing or rerouting roads. by 2015 six residents remained.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Otway night' (detail) 1994

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Otway night (detail)
1994
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Purchase with assistance from Ruth Komon, 1994

 

After purchasing a holiday house at Aireys Inlet, Senbergs became interested in the history of Victoria’s west coast and the story of escaped convict William Buckley, ‘the wild white man’ who lived with the local Wathaurung people from 1803 until 1835 before being integrated back into colonial society.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Mawson' (detail) 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Mawson (detail)
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Private collection, Melbourne

 

“As in previous settlements in history, in Antarctica we are again squatting on the edge of yet another continent and bringing our cultural baggage with us. Already there is a sense of history there: architectural, social and visual.” – Jan Senbergs, 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation views of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island (top left), Antarctic night (top middle), Mawson (bottom left), and Platcha (bottom middle)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird - Heard Island' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Bea Maddock being lifted onto the Icebird – Heard Island
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.2 x 274.1cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Purchased 1987
© Jan Senbergs

 

Senbergs was one of three artists invited by the Australian Antractic Division to take part in the resupply Voyage Six to Antarctica as observers. Leaving Hobart in early January 1987, during their six‐week journey the artists visited Heard Island, Scullin Monolith, Law Base, Davis, Mawson and the Russian base at Mirny. This painting depicts fellow artist Bea Maddock who broke her leg while disembarking at Heard Island and needed to be winched back on board. Unfortunately, she was incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Antarctic night' 1989

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Antarctic night
1989
Synthetic polymer paint and collage on canvas
202.0 x 292.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1990
© Jan Senbergs

 

“In a “cut-away” view, [Antarctic night] shows the interior of a winterer’s hut with its wall covered in a “tapestry” of pin-up images – from the earliest “pin‐up”, the Venus of Willendorf, to the Playboy centrefolds of the 1950s and 1960s … The more you saw of it, the more it seemed like an Antarctic Pop Art movement.”

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Platcha' 1987

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Platcha
1987
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
224.0 x 355.0 cm
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Trust Collection
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Jan Senbergs. Installation view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Installation view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs. Detail view of 'New Guinea sheilas triptych' (centre row) and 'New Guinea male triptych' (bottom row) both 1993

 

Detail view of New Guinea sheilas triptych (centre row) and New Guinea male triptych (bottom row) both 1993
Pastel on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'New Guinea male triptych' (detail) 1993

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
New Guinea male triptych (detail) 
1993
pastel on paper
(a-c) 160.0 x 366.0 cm (overall)
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“I enjoy the freedom of drawing, the directness of what I call my “Long Arm Drawing” with a black pastel or an oil stick, where there’s no room for corrections or embellishments – dancing in front of a sheet of paper, keeping a spontaneous line, and if you hesitate, it shows. It’s “unforgiving” drawing and if you’re out of form you lose, and sheets of paper end up in the bin. Like an athlete or a dancer, you’ve got to put in the hours to make the confident mark.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2016

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne' 1998-99

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne
1998-99
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
183.0 x 274.0 cm
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Gualtiero Vaccari Foundation in recognition of services provided by the State Library to the Italian Community, 1999
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“[The] map-like images of the city that I’ve developed – of Melbourne, Sydney, Wollongong, Barcelona – they come out of a fascination with map-making, particularly early map-making … I started to look for an imagined way of painting and drawing actual places like Melbourne or Sydney: not exactly what you see in front of you but what you know to be there … It’s like those early maps, imaginary maps where people were drawing what they knew, not what they saw or measured.”

.
Jan Senbergs, 2006

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Sydney' 1998

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Sydney
1998
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
174.0 x 344.0 (framed)
Collection of McDonald’s Australia Limited
© Jan Senbergs
Photo: Felicity Jenkins

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'The elated city' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
The elated city
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
239.0 x 196.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Figures and heads made from mechanistic and architectural elements was one of Senbergs’s earliest subjects. He returned to this motif recently in several monumental paintings, including Paolozzi’s city, 2010, and The elated city, 2009.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Coastal settlement' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Coastal settlement
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
169.0 x 216.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Melbourne capriccio 3' 2009

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Melbourne capriccio 3
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
195.2 x 184.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation, 2009
© Jan Senbergs

 

In the history of painting, a capriccio refers to an architectural fantasy where buildings and other architectural elements and places come together in imaginary settings. Senbergs’ Melbourne capriccio offers the viewer the pleasure of a bird’s-eye view of familiar landmarks, seen through a rich blend of memory and imagination.

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Paolozzi's city' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

As a young artist in the 1960s, Senbergs greatly admired Scottish Pop artist Edouardo Paolozzi’s strange fusions of machine and organic forms, and explored similar ideas in his own paintings and screenprints. In Paolozzi’s city Senbergs has created a fantastical head out of buildings and roads, and pays homage to one of his first artistic heroes.

 

senbergs-paolozzi-detail

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Paolozzi’s city (detail)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
200.5 x 193.2 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection
Acquired 2011
© Jan Senbergs

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)' 2010

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne)
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
197.0 x 255.0 cm
Deakin University Art Collection
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

“One of the rarest qualities in contemporary painting is wit … Jan Senberg’s ‘Geelong capriccio’ is in every way a painting of wit, its single and absurd proposition as to what the world would look like if Geelong had become the capital and the site of Melbourne remained open paddocks … It seems to be a very Antipodean painting: the upside-down world, which Europe imagined Australia to be, a place where anything might happen.”

.
Patrick McCaughey, 2010

 

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Extended Melbourne labyrinth' 2013

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Extended Melbourne labyrinth
2013
Oil stick, synthetic polymer paint wash
(a-d) 162.5 x 497.4 cm (framed) (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Jan Senbergs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation - Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

 

Installation view of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at top, Extended Melbourne labyrinth and, at left, Geelong capriccio (if Geelong were settled instead of Melbourne); at right Melbourne capriccio 3

 

installation-r

installation-s

 

Installation views of the opening room of the exhibition Jan Senbergs: Observation – Imagination at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with, at left, The elated city followed by Paolozzi’s city

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950) 'Fire and smoke' 1 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Fire and smoke 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
48.0 x 70.0 cm (sheet)
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs
Image courtesy Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

In contrast to the enclosed, almost claustrophobic spaces of the studio interiors, by the end of the 1990s Senbergs had embarked upon a new series of map-like paintings, sprawling bird’s-eye view of cities, which continue to occupy him to the present day. Initially inspired by seeing Melbourne from a high-rise building, these works reflect the artist’s long fascination with early and non-Western map-making traditions. Like these maps, Senbergs’ views are not scientifically measured recordings; rather they are imaginative constructions of place based on observation and memory.

At the same time Senbergs began his most extensive group of landscapes, painting the rugged terrain of the Victorian west coast, an area that he knew well. While some of these works depict untouched wilderness, others include roads and townships and employ multiple perspectives to convey the experience of travelling through the landscape. Senbergs’ recent Heat – Fire – Smoke series is a response to the 2014 bushfires in Victoria, a new subject for the artist, in which he reflects on the cycle of destruction and regeneration. (Wall text from the exhibition)

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)' Code Red day 1' 2014

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)
Code Red day 1
2014
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
119.0 x 145.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Jan Senbergs

 

 

“In January 2014 in Melbourne we had four days of forty-plus degrees of intense heat – with bushfires raging in the countryside casting a pall of acrid smoke over the extended city and all around ominous skies that seemed to portend an inferno that would be all engulfing. That oppressive atmosphere and that sense of threat at the edges of the extended city seemed as if an overwhelming and merciless force was at the gates and ready to break down the barricades.”

Jan Senbergs, 2015

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
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Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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27
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition. I wish I could see it.

While Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions, with the exhibition being organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works, we must always remember that these “themes” are not exclusory to each other. Photographs do cross nominally defined boundaries and themes (as defined by history and curators) so that they can become truly subversive works of art.

Photographs can form spaces called heterotopia, “a form of concept in human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault, to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror… Foucault uses the term “heterotopia” (French: hétérotopie) to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye.”1

In photographs, there is always more than meets the eye. There is the association of the photograph to multiple places and spaces (the histories of that place and space); the imagination of the viewer and the memories they bring to any encounter with a photograph, which may change from time to time, from look to look, from viewing to viewing; and the transcendence of the photograph as it brings past time to present time as an intimation of future time. Past, present and future spacetime are conflated in the act of just looking, just being. Positioning this “‘annihilation of time and space’ as a particular moment in a dynamic cycle of rupture and recuperation enables a deliberate focus on the process of transition.”2 And that transition, Doreen Massey argues, ignores often-invisible contingencies that define spaces those relations that have an effect upon a space but are not visible within it.3

Photographs, then, form what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages4, where the assemblage is “the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process invovles a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”5 In other words, when looking at a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot or Timothy H. O’Sullivan today, the meaning and interpretation of the photograph could be completely different to the reading of this photograph in the era it was taken. The photograph is a site of both de-territorialization and re-territorialization – it both gains and looses meaning at one and the same time, depending on who is looking at it, from what time and from what point of view.

Photographs propose that there are many heterotopias in the world, many transitions and intersections, many meanings lost and found, not only as spaces with several places of/for the affirmation of difference, but also as a means of escape from authoritarianism and repression. We must remember these ideas as we looking at the photographs in this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Heterotopia (space) on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 27/05/2016.
  2. McQuire, Scott. The Media City. London: Sage Publications, 2008, p. 14.
  3. Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 5 in Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, pp. 163-164.
  4. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolisand London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987.
  5. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p.166

 

 

'Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World' exhibition sections

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

“As its name declares, photography is a means of writing with light. Photographs both show and tell, and they speak an extraordinary range of dialects.

Beginning February 19 the Morgan Library & Museum explores the history of the medium as a lucid, literate – but not always literal – tool of persuasion in a new exhibition, Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World. A collaboration with the George Eastman Museum of Film and Photography, the show features more than eighty works from the 1840s to the present and reveals the many ways the camera can transmit not only the outward appearance of its subject but also narratives, arguments, and ideas. The show is on view through May 30.

Over the past 175 years, photography has been adopted by, and adapted to, countless fields of endeavor, from art to zoology and from fashion to warfare. Sight Reading features a broad range of material – pioneering x-rays and aerial views, artifacts of early photojournalism, and recent examples of conceptual art – organized into groupings that accentuate the variety and suppleness of photography as a procedure. In 1936, artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) defined “the  illiterate of the future” as someone “ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” The JPEG and the “Send” button were decades away, but Moholy-Nagy was not the first observer to argue that photography belonged to the arts of commentary and persuasion. As the modes and motives of camera imagery have multiplied, viewers have continually learned new ways to read the information, and assess the argument, embodied in a photograph.

“Traditional narratives can be found throughout the Morgan’s collections, especially in its literary holdings,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “Sight Reading encourages us to use a critical eye to read and discover the stories that unfold through the camera lens and photography, a distinctly modern, visual language. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Eastman Museum, and together unravel a rich narrative, which exemplifies photography’s deep involvement in the stories of modern art, science, and the printed page.”

 

The exhibition

Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions. Featuring work by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), John Heartfield (1891-1968), Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Harold Edgerton (1903-1990), John Baldessari (b. 1931), Sophie Calle (b. 1953), and Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015), among many others, the exhibition is organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works.

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

Photography’s practical functions include recording inventory, capturing data imperceptible to the human eye, and documenting historical events. In the first photographically illustrated publication, The Pencil of Nature (1845), William Henry Fox Talbot used his image Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the photographed collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot speculated, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

A century later, Harold Edgerton, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting for the naked eye. Gun Toss, an undated image of a spinning pistol, is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Articles of China' c. 1843, printed c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Articles of China
c. 1843, printed c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

In The Pencil of Nature (1845), the first photographically illustrated publication, Talbot used Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot added, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock' 1873

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock
1873
From the album Geographical Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In 1873 O’Sullivan joined Lieutenant George Wheeler’s Geographic Survey in New Mexico and Arizona. At El Morro, a sandstone promontory covered with ancient petroglyphs and historic-era inscriptions, the photographer singled out this handsomely lettered sentence to record and measure. It states: By this place passed Ensign Don Joseph de Payba Basconzelos, in the year in which he held the Council of the Kingdom at his expense, on the 18th of February, in the year 1726. Nearby, the rock record now bears another inscription that reads T. H. O’Sullivan.

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Gun Toss' 1936-50

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Gun Toss
1936-50
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Edgerton, an electrical engineer, used the rapidly pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting to be perceived by the naked eye. This image of a spinning pistol is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939) 'Wave Theory I–V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978' 1978

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939)
Wave Theory I-V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978
1978
From the series Altered Landscapes
Chromogenic development (Ektacolor) process prints, 1993
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In this sequence, Pfahl twisted the conventions of photographic narrative into a perceptual puzzle. The numbered views appear to chronicle a single event: a wave breaking on the shore. Close inspection, however, reveals that the numeric caption in each scene is made of string laid on the rock in the foreground. The exposures, then, must have been made over a span of at least several minutes, not seconds – and in what order, one cannot say.

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

The camera is widely understood to be “truthful,” but what photographs “say” is a product of many procedures that follow the moment of exposure, including page layout, captioning, and cropping of the image. During World War I, military personnel learned to interpret the strange, abstract looking images of enemy territory made from airplanes. Their specialized training fundamentally altered the nature of wartime reconnaissance, even as the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language. An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted (1916), on view in the exhibition, shows that the tools of ground strategy soon included artificial bunkers and trenches, designed purely to fool eyes in the sky.

In László Moholy-Nagy’s photocollages of the late 1920s, figures cut out of the plates in massmarket magazines appear in new configurations to convey messages of the artist’s devising. Images such as Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis) (1927) propose a new kind of visual literacy for the machine age. To contemporary eyes, Moholy’s collages seem to foreshadow cut-andpaste strategies that would later characterize the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Massenpsychose' (Mass Psychosis) 1927

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946)
Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis)
1927
Collage, pencil, and ink
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company

 

To make his photocollages of the late 1920s, Moholy-Nagy cut figures out of photographs and photomechanical reproductions and arranged them into new configurations that convey messages of his own devising. By extracting the images from their original context and placing them into relationships defined by drawn shapes and volumes, he suggested a new visual literacy for the modern world. In this world – one in which images course through mass culture at a psychotic pace – a two-dimensional anatomical drawing acquires sufficient volume to cast a man’s shadow and a circle of bathing beauties cues up for a pool sharp. To contemporary eyes, the language of Moholy-Nagy’s photo collages seems to foreshadow strategies common to the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

Unidentified maker. 'An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted' c. 1916

 

Unidentified maker
An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted
c. 1916
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

During World War I, aerial photography progressed from a promising technological experiment to a crucial strategic operation. As advances in optics and engineering improved the capabilities of cameras and aircraft, military personnel learned to identify topographic features and man-made structures in the images recorded from above. Such training fundamentally altered the significance and practice of wartime reconnaissance. At the same time, the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language.

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74 'PhotoMetric Tailoring' c. 1942-48

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74
PhotoMetric Tailoring
c. 1942-48
Gelatin silver prints
George Eastman Museum

 

In an effort to streamline the field of custom tailoring, textile entrepreneur Henry Booth devised a method for obtaining measurements by photographing customers with a special camera and angled mirrors. The system was said to be foolproof, making it possible for any sales clerk to operate it. The resulting slides were sent to the manufacturer along with the customer’s order. A tailor translated the images into physical measurements using a geometric calculator, and the company mailed the finished garment to the customer.

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

Photography’s debut in the late 1830s happened to coincide with the birth of the modern comic strip. Ultimately the narrative photo sequence would lead to the innovations that gave rise to cinema, another form of storytelling altogether. Exact contemporaries of one another, Eadweard J. Muybridge in the United States and Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) in France both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey pursued motion studies with a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known, he exposed one photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image.

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904) 'Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting' c. 1890

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904)
Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting
c. 1890
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Exchange with Narodni Technical Museum

 

Exact contemporaries, Muybridge and Marey (the former in the United States, the latter in France) both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned and timed to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey took a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known – such as the image of the man pole-vaulting – he exposed a single photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image. In Marey’s chronophotograph of a man on a horse, the action reads from bottom to top. The convention of arranging sequential photographic images from left to right and top to bottom, on the model of written elements on a page, was not yet firmly established.

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946) 'Notebook pages with photographs of lightning' c. 1887

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946)
Notebook pages with photographs of lightning
c. 1887
Gelatin silver prints mounted onto bound notepad paper
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

With his first successful photograph of a lightning bolt on 2 September 1882, Jennings dispelled the then widely held belief – especially among those in the graphic arts – that lightning traveled toward the earth in a regular zigzag pattern. Instead, his images revealed that lightning not only assumed an astonishing variety of forms but that it never took the shape that had come to define it in art.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Industriebauten
1968
Gelatin silver prints in presentation box
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

The photographs in this portfolio were made only a few years into what would become the Bechers’ decades-long project of systematically documenting industrial architecture in Europe and the United States. The straightforward and rigidly consistent style of their work facilitates side-by-side comparison, revealing the singularity of structures that are typically understood to be generic.

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

Some photographs speak for themselves; others function as the amplifier for objects that can literally be read through the image. In her series Sorted Books, American artist Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968) composes statements by combining the titles of books drawn from the shelves of libraries and collections. Indian History for Young Folks, 2012, shows three books from the turn of the twentieth century that she found in the Delaware Art Museum’s M.G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings. The viewer’s eye silently provides punctuation: “Indian history for young folks: Our village; your national parks.” Though at first glance it appears merely to arrange words into legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique statement – half verbal, half visual – would be incomplete if divorced from the physical apparatus of the books themselves.

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848) 'The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)' c. 1845

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870)
Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn

 

Hill, his two nieces, and an unidentified man pose for the camera at the tomb of Robert Denistoun, a seventeenth-century Scottish ambassador. Contemplative poses helped the sitters hold still during the long exposure, even while turning them into sculptural extensions of the monument. Hill puts pen to paper, perhaps playing the part of a graveyard poet pondering mortality. Above him, the monument’s Latin inscription begins: “Behold, the world possesses nothing permanent!”

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943) 'Submarine cross-section; feature film, "Gray Lady Down" - Stage #12, March 14, 1977' 1977

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943)
Submarine cross-section; feature film, “Gray Lady Down” – Stage #12, March 14, 1977
1977
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Nash Editions

 

In the Studio Still Lifes he photographed on the backlots of Universal Studios, Cumming sought to portray the mechanisms behind cinema vision “in their real as opposed to their screen contexts.” Admiring yet subversive, his documents use strategies native to the still camera – distance, point of view, and clear-eyed testimony – to translate Hollywood’s familiar illusions into worksites where “marble is plywood, stone is rubber, . . . rooms seldom have ceilings, and when the sun shines indoors, it casts a dozen shadows.”

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968) 'Indian History for Young Folks' 2012

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968)
Indian History for Young Folks
2012
From Once Upon a Time in Delaware / In Quest of the Perfect Book
Chromogenic print
The Morgan Library Museum, Purchase, Photography Collectors Committee

 

In her ongoing series Sorted Books, Katchadourian composes statements by combining the titles of books from a given library – in this case, the M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings at the Delaware Art Museum. Though her compositions are driven by the need to arrange words in a legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique jokes, poems, and koans would be incomplete if divorced from the cultural information conveyed by the physical books themselves.

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

As early as 1840, one year after photography’s invention was announced, scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of X-ray technology in 1895 allowed scientists to see and understand living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture. In other ways, too, nature has been transformed in human understanding through the interpretive filter of the lens, as seen in Sight Reading in the telescopic moon views of astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) and in the spellbinding aerial abstractions of William Garnett (1916-2006).

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Animal Tracks on Dry Lake' 1955

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Animal Tracks on Dry Lake
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

After making films for the U.S. Signal Corps during World War II, Garnett used GI-Bill funding to earn a pilot’s license. By the early 1950s, he had the field of artistic aerial landscape virtually to himself. This print, showing the ephemeral traces of wildlife movement on a dry lake bed, appeared in Diogenes with a Camera IV (1956), one in a series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art that highlighted the great variety of ways in which artists used photography to invent new forms of visual truth.

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) '"Tea Pot" Rock' 1870

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
“Tea Pot” Rock
1870
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Jackson made this photograph as a member of the survey team formed by Ferdinand V. Hayden to explore and document the territory now known as Yellowstone National Park. Hayden’s primary goal was to gather information about the area’s geological history, and Jackson’s photographs record with precision and clarity the accumulated layers of sediment that allow this natural landmark to be fit into a geological chronology. The human figure standing at the left of the composition provides information about the size of the rock, demonstrating that photographers have long recognized the difficulty of making accurate inferences about scale based on photographic images.

 

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937) 'Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)' 1896

 

Dr Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944)
Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937)
Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)
1896
From the book Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen’schen Strahlen
Photogravure
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; Ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

 

As early as 1840 – a year after photography’s invention was announced – scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of x-ray technology in 1895 allowed doctors to study living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture.

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858) 'Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River' 1861

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858)
Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River
1861
Book illustrated with 22 salted paper prints and 37 lithographs
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

These photographs, which depict traces of fossils discovered in a sandstone quarry, illustrate a book written by Massachusetts surgeon James Deane, who was the author of texts on medicine as well as natural history. Published posthumously using his notes and photographs as a guide, the volume is an early demonstration of photography’s potential as a tool of scientific investigation.

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

The photograph not only changed but to a great extent invented the modern notion of celebrity. Modern-age celebrities live apart from the general public, but their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Jean-Pierre Ducatez (b. 1970) portrayed the Beatles through closeups of their mouths alone. The graphic shorthand employed by Jonathan Lewis in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, but he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces the iconic art of a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels). Like celebrities themselves, perhaps, the images look more familiar to the eye at a distance than close-up.

 

Unidentified maker. 'U. S. Grant' c. 1862

 

Unidentified maker
U. S. Grant
c. 1862
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers' 1864

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers
1864
From the series Photographic Incidents of the War
Albumen silver print stereograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Albert Morton Turner

 

Modern celebrities live apart from the general public, yet their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. First as a Union hero in the American Civil War and later as president, Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) lived in the public imagination through news images, popular stereographs, campaign buttons, and ultimately the (photo-based) face on the $50 bill. Grant was even a subject for Francois Willème’s patented process for generating a sculpted likeness out of photographs made in the round – an early forerunner to the technology of 3-D printing.

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Abbey Road' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Abbey Road
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Please Please Me' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Please Please Me
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Rubber Soul' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Rubber Soul
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Synecdoche is a poetic device in which a part stands in for the whole. (In the phrase “three sails set forth,” sails mean ships.) In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Ducatez portrayed the Beatles solely through close-ups of their mouths. The graphic shorthand Lewis employs in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, though he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels).

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

Photographs are not just windows onto the world but pieces of paper, which can themselves be inscribed or otherwise altered in ways that enrich or amend their meaning. The group portrait Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis (1920) is contact printed, meaning that the negative was the same size as the print. After the portrait sitting, the photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled for their convention. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920) 'Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis' 1920

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920)
Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased as the gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Panoramic group portraits such as this are made using a banquet camera, which admits light through a narrow vertical slit while rotating on its tripod. This image was contact printed, meaning the negative was the same size as the print. The photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938) 'Book 151' 1989

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938)
Book 151
1989
Bound book of gelatin silver prints, thread, and leather
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

This unique object unites the arts of photography, quilting, and bookmaking. The composite image on each right-hand page appears to be made of prints cut apart and sewn together. In fact, Smith began by printing patchwork-inspired photomontages in the darkroom. He then stitched along many of the borders where abutting images meet, creating the illusion of a photographic crazy quilt.

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

News of the world took on a newly visual character in the 1880s, when the technology of the halftone screen made it practical, at last, to render photographs in ink on the printed page.

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Paul Nadar’s (1820-1910) “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s dynamic body language during the conversation.

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941) 'Shanty Town' April 1880

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941)
Shanty Town
April 1880
Photomechanical printing plate A Scene in Shantytown, New York, c. 1928
Lithograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939) 'Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger' 1889

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939)
Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger
1889
Le Figaro, 23 November 1889
Photomechanical reproduction
George Eastman Museum, gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection Gabriel Cromer

 

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Nadar’s “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician who had fallen out of public favor by the time this was published. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s body language during the conversation.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874–1940) 'Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island
1905
Ellis Island Group, 1905
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee

 

In an effort to counter American xenophobia in the early years of the twentieth century, Hine photographed immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, composing his images to stir sympathy and understanding among viewers. He understood the importance of disseminating his photographs and actively sought to publish them in newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets. The white outline in the photograph on the right instructs the designer and printer where to crop the image for a photomontage featuring figures from multiple portraits.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'La Poupée' (Puppet) 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
La Poupée (Puppet)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968) 'Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!' (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!) 1935

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968)
Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!)
1935
Rotogravure
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

This is one of 237 photomontages that Heartfield created between 1930 and 1938 for the antifascist magazine Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Worker’s Pictorial Newspaper). It is a parody of the “Guns Before Butter” speech in which Hermann G.ring exhorted German citizens to sacrifice necessities in order to aid the nation’s rearmament. The text reads: “Iron ore has always made an empire strong; butter and lard have at most made a people fat.” Heartfield combined details from several photographs to conjure the image of a German family feasting on tools, machine parts, and a bicycle in a swastika-laden dining room, complete with a portrait of Hitler, a framed phrase from a popular Franco-Prussian war-era song, and a throw pillow bearing the likeness of recently deceased president Paul von Hindenburg.

 

Unidentified maker. 'Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce' c. 1874

 

Unidentified maker
Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce
c. 1874
Tintypes in prepared paper mount
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Graphic cousins to one other, these wedding certificates are equipped with precut windows for photographs of the bride, groom, and officiant. The portraits, in partnership with the printed and inscribed text on the forms, contribute both to the documentary specificity of the certificates and to their value as sentimental souvenirs.

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is anectodal, as in John Thompson’s (1837-1921) Street Advertising from Street Life in London (1877), or haunting, as in Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) Impasse des Bourdonnais (ca. 1908) – is embedded in each image.

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Street Advertising
1877
From Street Life in London, 1877
Woodburytype
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Impasse des Bourdonnais
c. 1908
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is ironic, as in Margaret Bourke-White’s image of a line of flood victims before a billboard advertising middle-class prosperity, or bemused, as in Ferenc Berko’s photograph of columns of oversized artificial teeth on the street – is embedded in each image.

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000) 'Rawalpindi, India' 1946

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000)
Rawalpindi, India
1946
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman House, Gift of Katharine Kuh

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'New York 6' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
New York 6
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952) 'India' 1981

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952)
India
1981
Chromogenic development print
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds from Charina Foundation

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016-3405
Tel: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

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08
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Gerda Wegener’ at ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst, Ishøj, Denmark

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2015 – 8th January 2017

GERDA WEGENER: The unusual story of a love between painter and muse that transcends gender boundaries.

 

 

Just a small comment on this posting as I am still recovering from a root canal operation at the dentist.

A fascinating, historically significant, love affair. Beautiful, stylish art painted with panache and flare. The two intertwined as, “The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre.”

Much admiration and love to both.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to ARKEN for allowing me to publish the art work and texts in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Read an extract from the catalogue on ISSU.

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) is an outstanding figure in Danish art. As a woman artist she uniquely depicts the beauty of women with equal proportions of empathy and desire. Flirting girls, glamorous divas and sensual women are among Gerda Wegener’s favourite subjects. And to these we can add the pictures of her transgender spouse, Lili Elbe, who developed her female identity as a model in Gerda Wegener’s art. Gerda Wegener’s ambivalent sexuality and the story of her spouse were too difficult for people to relate to in her time. On the whole, she broke down the boundaries of gender and sexual identity.

Today the themes of her works are highly topical. Transgender people have loomed large in the mass media, and trans icons like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner give the transgendered a voice in popular culture. Hollywood has seized on the story of Lili and Gerda, and the film The Danish Girl will have its Danish premiere in February 2016. In the biggest exhibition so far of the work of this pioneering artist we meet an experimental zest for life from the colourful, abandoned 1920s which hits a nerve in our own time.

 

 

 

“Woman must unleash her womanly instincts and qualities, play on her feminine charm, and win the competition with man by virtue of her womanliness – never by trying to imitate him.”

.
Gerda Wegener, 1934

 

“Einar Wegener felt like a person who was forced to go around in a costume that stifled him and in which he felt ridiculous.”

.
Lili Elbe, 1931

 

“Once one has found Paris, one cannot imagine living anywhere else. Although I love Italy, when I return and smell Paris, then I am happy.”

.
Gerda Wegener, 1924

 

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lady in a large hat' 1909

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lady in a large hat
1909

 

 

Painter and muse

In 1904 Gerda Wegener, born Gottlieb, married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931), who is known today as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Lili was Gerda Wegener’s favourite model, and together they created a place of freedom in art where Lili could live out her female identity. In 1930 Gerda Wegener supported her spouse when Lili became one of the first in history to undergo a series of gender-modifying operations in order to become a woman both physically and legally. She died the next year as a result of complications after a last operation.

In her art Gerda Wegener is profoundly fascinated by people’s games with identity through dressing-up, masks and theatre. In the depictions of Lili, Lili poses as a woman in make-up, a succession of wigs, dresses, shoes and exotic fans. We come close to the couple’s friendship and love as each other’s painter and muse across the normal gender boundaries.

 

A controversial work rediscovered

One of the biggest disputes in the history of Danish art followed from the rejection of Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl (below) by both the Charlottenborg Exhibition and Den Frie Udstilling in 1907. It led to a storm of contributions to the newspaper Politiken for and against the spiritualized, refined Symbolism that the picture was taken to represent. The opponents were given the name “the Peasant Painters”. Wegener herself remained outside the “Peasant Painter Feud” but organized her own exhibition of the picture at an art dealer’s. Afterwards the work has never been shown, but now it has been rediscovered and hangs at ARKEN so everyone can see it for themselves and think about how the portrait could divide opinion so much on the Danish art scene in 1907.

 

“After many years in the wilderness a harbinger of spring has once more appeared in Danish art.”
The artist Gudmund Hentze on Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl in Politiken in 1907.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Portrait of Ellen von Kohl' 1906

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Portrait of Ellen von Kohl
1906

 

 

“Ever since. the work has been known from an old black-and-white photograph, but in 2015 it has been found for ARKEN’s exhibition and photographed in colour, and it is now being exhibited again for the first time since 1907. This provides a suitable occasion to note that there is nothing wrong with the technical execution. Ellen von Kohl sits like a Renaissance woman in a 16th-century portrait, viewed obliquely from the side with her face turned towards us. The dress, the background and the hair are in the darker colour, while the face, the skin in the neck opening of the dress and the beautiful hands are in lighter shades. The long, slender fingers are typical of Gerda Wegener’s visual idiom, elegant and mannered. To these we can add the strangest thing in the picture, the only thing that our eyes tell us may have seemed objectionable – the eyes and the woman’s gaze. The is are not clearly open. Ellen von Kohl both sees and does not see. She appears to be half in a trance, present not only in this world, but also in the one she sees with her mind’s eye. The model is not a worn-out old women “with mittens and a back bent by work”, but a well-dressed, highly cultivated and sensitive being, so sensitive that for better or worse she seems sensual and erotic to the viewers of the time…

The portrait has several resemblances to a number of other portraits by Gerda Wegener in these early years in Copenhagen, which typically show women who were themselves active in various arts such as literature, dance, or theatre. Many have a similar gaze, and they are all shown with the greatest possible beauty.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 17

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan
1920
Photo: Morten Pors

 

Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d'Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus,1924. Photo The Royal Library, Denmark

 

Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d’Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus, 1924
Photo: The Royal Library, Denmark

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Sur la route d'Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)' 1922

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Sur la route d’Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)
1922

 

 

“Gerda Wegener also drew and painted several pictures of Gerda and Lili together. In 1922 she painted one of the finest examples on one of the couple’s many journeys to Italy, including several to Capri – the double portrait On the Way to Anacapri (above). Gera and Lili are seen standing in profile in front of a magnificent view of a sea bay in moonlight surrounded by mountains and with the town below. Lili turns her head and looks directly at the viewer, holding her arm fondly and protectively around Gerda. Gerda looks forward dreamily with an apple in her hand. Both women wear make-up as well as jewellery and dresses in red shades. Lili is tallest and brownest; their rings are identical. The picture is painted in delicate colours and has an almost ethereal, dreamlike lightness as if the moment is timeless. Again there is a certain Renaissance atmosphere, especially in the strict profile of the self-portrait…

It is as if this particular borrowing of the formal language of of a bygone time elevates the scenario beyond time and space and gives it the character of the eternal. The works take on a special meaning, showing both Gerda’s and the couple’s love of Italy, art, beauty and each other.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 21

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Two Cocottes with Hats' c. 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Two Cocottes with Hats
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

 

“In Gerda Wegener’s Two Cocottes with Hats, 1920s, it is presumably Lili in the light-coloured wig with flowers and feathers in her hair, who looks at us with seductive bedroom eyes. In her hands she holds the symbol of the female sex, a rose whose scent permeats the atmosphere of the picture and probably helps to attract the other woman’s attention. The two stand close to each other and are further united by the compositions close cropping of the subject.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 26

 

Gerda Wegener. 'On the banks of the Loire' (the artists' colony at Beaugency), Paris, 1926

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
On the banks of the Loire (the artists’ colony at Beaugency)
Paris, 1926

 

 

The female gender role in transition

“In Gerda Wegener’s On the banks of the Loire, 1926, we see innumerable Bohemians from the artists’ colony on a summer’s day in swimsuits far from the city of Paris…

For female artists just a generation before Gerda Wegener’s it was not possible at all for a woman to move around freely in the spaces of the city without being accosted and misunderstood. The definition of the Impressionists as ‘the painters of modern life’, for example, is therefor problematic in the case of an artist like Berthe Morisot. Gerda Wegener on the other hand romped freely through city life, whether this was well received or not. At any rate it became normal – not least during the First World War, when the french men were at the front, and the women had to take over many of the men’s former tasks. The women grew stronger… After World War One, Europe was traumatised, and the survivors lived wilder lives than before – quite simply so they could feel alive. The 1920 were thus typified by festivities and amusements and by gender roles in transition. Everything was permitted, much more so than before.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28

 

Gerda Wegener. 'A Summer Day' (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book) 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
A Summer Day (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book)
1927
Photo: © Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers

 

 

“The painter and illustrator Gerda Wegener aroused a furore in Denmark, but was fêted in Paris because of her sophisticated line and her elegant portraits of women. In November ARKEN presents the biggest exhibition so far of works by the pioneering artist whose life and works strike a chord in our own time.

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) was a woman ahead of her time. It was not in the cards that this minister’s daughter from eastern Jutland would become Denmark’s foremost exponent of Art Deco and one of the most colourful personalities of her time. In 1904, she married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931) who today is better known as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Paris was to be the city where they unfolded their artistic careers. There the couple lived a fashionable life, enabled to a great extent by Gerda’s success as a portrait painter and an illustrator for the leading fashion magazines. Decadent, frivolous Paris also made it possible for them to live out their controversial love affair in which playing with gender and identity became the central focus.

 

A tale of metamorphosis

La Vie Parisienne, La Baïonnette and Le Rire – Gerda Wegener’s technically superb and sometimes daring drawings could be found in the leading French periodicals of the time, and often it was her spouse who posed for her. The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre. Gerda Wegener idealized Lili’s tall, elegant figure, the gloved hands and the wistful face crowned by a succession of wigs. But outside the canvas too Einar dreamed of merging with his wife’s depictions of Lili. He was unhappy in his male body and Gerda supported her husband in having the operations done that were to effect the physical transformation from man to woman, but ended in Lili’s early death.

 

Renewed topicality

ARKEN’s exhibition is a tribute to a strong artist whose works and extraordinary life strike a chord in our own time. With 178 works the exhibition will be the biggest ever of her work – and one of the first at any art museum. While in Paris Gerda Wegener won great recognition and fame – among other things three of her works were incorporated in the Louvre’s collection and are today at the Centre Pompidou – she never achieved the same status here in Denmark, because she was a woman, because she also expressed herself in commercial mass culture, and because her ambivalent sexuality and the story of her marriage were too difficult to relate to.”

Press release from ARKEN

 

Gerda Wegener, advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920

 

Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros
1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros
1925

 

Front page illustration by Gerda Wegener for the Danish magazine 'Vore Damer', 19 October, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Front page illustration for the Danish magazine Vore Damer, 19 October, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener. ' Girl and pug in an Automobile' (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927) c. 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Girl and pug in an Automobile (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927)
c. 1927

 

Gerda Wegener. 'The Carnival' c. 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
The Carnival
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

 

A Danish Parisienne

Gerda Wegener divided opinion in Copenhagen, but enjoyed great success in Paris, where she and Lili lived for two decades from 1912. They participated enthusiastically in the Parisian entertainment world, as is evident from Gerda Wegener’s many depictions of festivities and carnivals. Gerda quickly became a popular portrait painter and exhibited at the most important annual art exhibitions in Paris, and even in the French Pavilion at the World Exposition in 1925, where she won two gold medals. She provided illustrations, especially of erotic literature, and designed glass mosaics for Parisian shops and prosperous homes.

None of the major Danish art museums bought any of Gerda Wegener’s works, but the French State bought three. Today these are in the Centre Pompidou’s collection – and two of them can be seen at ARKEN’s major exhibition.

 

Artist, illustrator and cartoonist

Throughout her artistic life Gerda Wegener worked with both art in the traditional sense and popular mass culture. She alternated between participating in important art exhibitions, primarily in Paris, and supplying huge numbers of advertisements, newspaper and magazine drawings and book illustrations in the fields of fashion, satire, humour and the erotic.

Gerda Wegener had her breakthrough as an illustrator in 1908 when she won a drawing competition in Politiken with the set task of portraying ‘Copenhagen Woman’ and again in 1909 with ‘Figures of the Street’. After this she had a regular association with Politiken as an artist. At the same time Gerda Wegener supplied drawings to several other magazines such as Klods Hans, Tik-Tak and Vore Damer, and in France her drawings for leading French magazines were her primary source of income until the middle of the 1920s.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lili Elbe' c. 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928
Watercolour

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Queen of Hearts (Lili)' 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Queen of Hearts (Lili)
1928
Photo: Morten Pors

 

“Gerda Wegener was a curious observer in this whole period as she participated in life in the metropolis of Paris. In her innumerable pictures of women she accordingly revealed very different female types, just as the pictures of Lili send out a wide variety of signals. Lili who is often sweet and innocent looks rather like a provocative sinner in Queen of Hearts from 1928. Here she is playing cards, which in the history of art has always been symbolic of a life of sin, and in the sixteenth century was regarded as ungodly. An ashtray, a bottle and a glass are on the table, and Lili has a cigarette in her mouth. She has her feet up on two different chairs and is wearing snakeskin shoes and a red dress that has slipped slightly down along her legs, revealing the petticoat. The room in which Lili sits is more well-defined than in most other Lili portraits and is full of realistic details. The picture is no longer detached from time and place or ethereal. The hands are not long and graceful. It is the real Lili of flesh and blood that we see here, an emancipated and erotically self-assured woman. And so it is naturally the Queen of Hearts that she holds in her hand.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28

 

Gerda Wegener. 'The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana' Paris, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre

 

 

“In Poulsen, Gerda Wegener cultivated the perfect classical ideal of beauty fro a woman. Ulla Poulsen was well known for her pure, oval face and could have posed from the most beautiful Madonnas of the Italian Renaissance. She met the Wegeners during a tour of Paris in 1927 and ever afterwards appeared in many of Wegener’s works, both when she has posed and when Gerda depicted her from memory.

In the best known and most monumental portrait of Ulla Poulsen the ballerina takes her bow after a performance of the ballet Chopiniana. A typical Wegener bouquet lies on the edge of the stage, and in Toulouse-Lautrec fashion a little piece of a bass or cello projects from the orchestral pit. Again the light beams shine down over the main figure in a fan pattern, and the ballet skirt spreads around her in a circle. The ballerina is set up as the most beautiful imaginable object for the viewer’s gaze, as is the point of ballet and theatre, for the delectation of everyone. The awareness that someone is looking is so to speak a condition of all theatre, and for that matter of the existence of the phenomenon of fashion – another of Gerda Wegener’s favourite fields.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 32

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) 'Eva Heramb' 1934

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Eva Heramb
1934
Photo: Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre

 

Eva Betty Koefoed Heramb (24th November 1899 in Aarhus – 9th January 1957 in Copenhagen ) was a Danish actress. She made her debut in 1921 at Odense Theatre, at which theater she was employed the following six years. From 1927 – 1935 she was engaged to the People’s Theatre, where she received a variety of roles, including appearances in this period with several other Copenhagen theaters. She also recorded a few films.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Young Man, Bare Chested' 1938 and 'Adrienne Sipska' Paris 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Young Man, Bare Chested
1938

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Adrienne Sipska
Paris 1925

 

 

“The mixture of sources of inspiration and materials is yet another characteristic of Art Deco – and in the portrait of the short-haired, long-necked Adrienne Sipska from 1925 Gerda Wegener has painted the hard with gold. The young man she paints with a bare chest in 1938, on the other hand, has soft locks on his brow and marked, almost feminine facial features. Men and women cross over imperceptibly in many of Gerda Wegener’s pictures as the boundaries between the normal gender roles are gradually erased more and more.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 30

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Carnival, Lily' Paris, 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Carnival, Lily
Paris, 1928

 

Gerda Wegener. 'At the mirror' 1931-1936

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
At the mirror
1931-1936

 

 

“In Gerda Wegener’s At the mirror, 1931-1936 (above), the directions of the gazes are more complicated. A woman sits in front of the mirror and forms a beautiful S-shape with the low-cut back and neck of her dress and the turning of her head. She looks herself deep in the eyes. We see he both from the back in front of the mirror and her face from the front in the mirror. In the mirror we also see an elegantly dressed man, presumably standing more or less where we are conceived as standing, looking at the woman’s beautiful neck with a slightly worried expression. For she is not looking at him, although she is well aware that he is there. Nor is it certain that it is only for him that she is putting on make-up. He is like a perplexed voyeur who has been discovered. He seems a little superfluous as a moment of profound solidarity arises between the woman and her ‘sister’ in the mirror.

Gerda Wegener does not only depict empty decorative dolls, but also strong personalities who stage themselves as beautiful women and exercise much of the power at play in their relations with other people. ‘Girl Power’, quite simply.

As mentioned, a viewer is always latently present in Wegener’s works, as the figures are so aware of the signals they are sending out. The women display themselves with a clear exhibitionistic tendency which is taken to extremes in the pictures of theatre, masquerade and disguise. At the same time the very act of looking at themselves in the mirror is associated with narcissism. This beautiful woman in front of the mirror and in the mirror exhibits and enjoys herself at one and the same time. As always the work is charged with an intense eroticism. This woman is attracted by herself and is also ready to attract others. And these others could be of either sex depending on who is looking at the picture.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, pp. 32-34

 

 

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst
Skovvej 100, 2635 Ishøj, Denmark

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00  – 17.00
Wednesday: 10.00  – 21.00
Monday: Closed

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst website

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26
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind’ at SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 7th May 2016

 

Taken as a whole, the artist Roger Ballen’s body of work is exceptionally strong. From his early documentary series Dorps (1986) and Platteland (1996) which featured alienated and poverty poverty stricken whites in South Africa struggling with their place in the world after Apartheid; through my favourite series Outland (2001), Shadow Chamber (2005) and Boarding House (2009) which portrayed down and out whites on the fringe of South African society in a surrealist, performative art; to the more recent Animal Abstraction (2011), I Fink U Freeky (2013) and Asylum of the Birds (2014) … through each of these series you can trace the development of this preternatural artist, whose work seems to exist almost beyond nature itself.

The move from documentary photographer to director/collaborator/actor/observer was critical to the development of Ballen’s art. As the text on the Outland web page on Roger Ballen’s website states, “Where previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography, these pictures move into the realms of fiction. Ballen’s characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation.” From the videos included in this posting, it is obvious that the latter statement is the correct interpretation. Through this thematic development, the viewer may come to understand the nature of the artist’s collaboration with the people, places and things that he photographs. The empathy that these photographs and videos evidence, the interchangeable director/actor roles, and the connection that he has with his subject matter gives insight into the compassion of this man. He never judges anyone. He accepts them for who they are and works with them to create these challenging art works.

Apparently these photographs, “have a singular ability to cause disquiet to the viewer.” Personally, they have never caused me disquiet for I find them quite fascinating. They follow on from a long line of photographers who have observed the marginalised in society, from the circus freak show photographs, through Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress (who also has a book called Theater of the Mind) to Joel Peter-Witkin and Roger Ballen. Much like the earlier Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans, which featured an outsider photographing a world from a different point of view, Ballen moved to South Africa from America in 1982 and has never fully lost that outsider status. As John McDonald observes, “He has been there long enough to be an insider, but retains the probing eye of an outsider, able to see a side of life that native-born can’t see, or don’t wish to see.” And that is the point: all of these artists, with their probing eyes, can perceive difference and accept it on its own terms. They portray the world through a horizontal consciousness (an equal “living field” if you like), not a heirarchical system of privilege, power and control, where some are better, more worthy than others.

But what nature is he investigating? Is it human nature and its ability to survive under the most dire circumstances? Is it the nature of the relationship of the body to its environment, or the human to animals, or the relationship between our souls and our subconscious? It’s all of these and more. Ballen probes these nexus, the strands that connect and link our lives together: our dreams, nightmares and desires. His photographs act as a form of binding together, bringing the periphery of society into the centre (of attention). He creates an extant reality in which we are asked to question: how do we feel towards these people and how do we feel about our own lives?

He achieves this creation through the use of what I call “heightened awareness” – both situationally and subconsciously. Ballen is fully aware and receptive towards the conditions of his environment and his dreams. Instead of a desire to possess the object of his longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) Ballen has learnt, as Krishnamurti did, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. Ballen understands that he must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – because only then might you become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more. He accepts what he can create and what is given to him by being fully aware. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action.1 His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”2

His photographs become an enveloping phenomenon in which the viewer is draped in their affect… this ‘wearing of images’ is both magical and all encompassing.

We are the people in his pictures. We are their dreams.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

  1. Concepts from KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp. 130-131.
  2. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p. xxxv.

 

 

“Archetypal levels of the deeper subconscious pervade my photographs… When I create my photographs I often travel deep into my own interior, a place where dreams and many of my images originate. I see my photographs as mirrors, reflectors, connectors into the mind… The light comes from the dark.”

 

“These pictures are a very complex way of seeing, a very complex way of viewing the world and you know perhaps this went back to the time I was in my mother’s stomach… I can’t really say what exactly is the primary cause of what I do.”

 

“So the thing is is my pictures, my better pictures or a lot of my pictures, embed themselves deeply in the subconscious, because the mind isn’t ready for those photographs, they don’t have any corresponding experience in some way or another, so the pictures tend to have more of an impact on the person’s deeper mind than something we would normally think of as disturbing because the pictures get into the mind. People aren’t used to having things get in there and stay in there and threaten their image of themselves in some way or another and so that’s why they call them disturbing, they’re not actually disturbing a better way of saying it is that if somebody has some kind of consciousness they’re actually enlightening.”

.
Roger Ballen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“His raw, black & white images are alluring, fascinating and disturbing. He is one of the most important and exciting photographers of the 21st century. The intriguing work of Roger Ballen is coming to Australia, to Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), this March in the artist’s first major Sydney exhibition. Staged to coincide with the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is a provocative exhibition of 75 contemporary works created by the artist over the last two decades.

Professor Colin Rhodes, Dean of the University of Sydney’s contemporary art school and curator of the exhibition, said: “For a long time Roger Ballen’s photography has trodden a path where others are too timid to tread, toying with our innermost dreams, nightmares and desires. The raw, atmospheric exhibition spaces at Sydney College of the Arts [the site of the former Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital] are the ideal setting to articulate this core aspect of Ballen’s work.”

Born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived in Johannesburg since the 1970s. His work as a geologist took him across the countryside and led him to explore, through the camera lens, the smaller South African towns. His early photographs of the hidden lives of people living on the fringes of society made considerable impact, receiving acclaim from American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag among others.

Through the medium of black and white photography, Ballen has achieved a unique integration of drawing, painting and installation that have been compared to the masters of art brut. His peculiar and somewhat shocking imagery confronts the viewer and drags them into the work. Viewers are participants in the work – not merely observers – taking them on a journey into the recesses of their minds, as Ballen explores his own.

Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind consists of five sections that see people, birds, animal and inanimate subjects become the ‘cast’ in an exhibition that is hard-hitting, psychological theatre. The Sydney exhibition includes a new installation work created onsite at SCA by Ballen in response to the site’s mental health history, in the labyrinth of underground cells of the former Rozelle hospital.

The show includes Ballen’s award-winning music video ‘I Fink U Freeky’ (2012) by South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, which has received over 76 million hits on YouTube and earned a cult following. In addition, the public will be able to access his equally remarkable video works Outland and Asylum of the Birds.

The worldwide impact of Ballen’s work was celebrated in major retrospective exhibition at Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of African Art from 2013 to 2014. It was this exhibition that drove Rhodes’ interest to bring Ballen’s work to Australia.

“When I first saw Ballen’s work en masse, I was struck by the role of drawing in his photos and what seemed to me a relationship with Art Brut or Outsider Art. The artist’s interest in and knowledge of Outsider Art is a key part of understanding the growth of Ballen’s identity as an international artist,” said Professor Rhodes.

Roger Ballen will present a public talk in Sydney at SCA on 9 March, ahead of the official opening of his Sydney exhibition on Tuesday 15 March. Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is showing at SCA Galleries from 16 March to 7 May 2016. A 96-page book will accompany the exhibition featuring Ballen’s photography and an essay by Professor Rhodes.”

Press release from SCA Galleries

 

Roger Ballen. 'Caged' 2011

 

Roger Ballen
Caged
2011
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Bewitched' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Bewitched
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Untitled' 2015

 

Roger Ballen
Untitled
2015
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Twirling Wires' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Twirling Wires
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Mirrored' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Mirrored
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

 

“Ballen has no qualms about creating dramatic scenarios in his search for “archetypal” symbols that speak to the viewer’s subconscious. He began as a documentary photographer but over the years his pictures have become filled with drawings, paintings and sculptural brac-a-brac, created by the artist himself, or by his subjects. In works such as Collision (2005) or Deathbed (2010), there are no figures, but the human presence is implied by a face drawn on a pillow or the broken head of a doll. The walls in both photos are covered in crude drawings and dirty marks – signs of previous occupation…

[Ballen] argues that these images are primarily psychological, not sociological. He wants to address that deep, dark part of the mind that Freud called “the Id”. As a concept it’s more poetic than biological – a shared repositary of instinctive drives that remains buried under the trappings of civilisation…

Despite the extreme nature of her work, Diane Arbus remained within the documentary tradition, whereas a figure such as Joel-Peter Witkin constructs his own theatrical tableaux in the studio. Ballen’s work is somewhere between these two poles. The subjects of his photographs are society’s misfits, but his approach is shamelessly theatrical. His figures are not posing passively, they are collaborating with someone who has won their trust, creating a form of ad hoc performance art in bare, filthy rooms…

It’s more interesting to ask what Ballen feels when he enters such environments. To take these photos he has immersed himself in a world of violence and madness. If he has built up a rapport with his subjects it is by treating them not as freaks, but as people with their own sense of dignity. He refuses to buy into conventional distinctions about what is normal and abnormal, presumably as a legacy of his early exposure to the counterculture and the anti-psychiatry movement.”

John McDonald. “Roger Ballen,” on the John McDonald website April 7, 2016 [Online] Cited 25/04/2016

 

Roger Ballen. 'Lunchtime' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Lunchtime
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Take off' 2012

 

Roger Ballen
Take off
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Cat and Mouse' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Cat and Mouse
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'School Room' 2003

 

Roger Ballen
School Room
2003
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Portrait of sleeping girl' 2000

 

Roger Ballen
Portrait of sleeping girl
2000

 

Roger Ballen. 'Deathbed' 2010

 

Roger Ballen
Deathbed
2010

 

Roger Ballen. 'Three hands' 2006

 

Roger Ballen
Three hands
2006

 

Roger Ballen. 'Head inside shirt' 2001

 

Roger Ballen
Head inside shirt
2001

 

 

SCA Galleries
Sydney College of the Arts (University of Sydney)
Kirkbride Way, off Balmain Road, Lilyfield (enter opposite Cecily Street)
Tel: +61 2 9351 1008

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday, 11am – 4pm (during exhibitions)

SCA Galleries website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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