Archive for the 'English artist' Category

10
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930’ at Wrightwood 659, Chicago

Exhibition dates: 1st October – 17th December 2022

Curators: Jonathan D. Katz, Curator and Johnny Willis, Associate Curator

 

 

Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968) 'Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato' 1026

 

Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968)
Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato
Portrait of an antiquarian or Portrait of Chucho Reyes and self-portrait

1926
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 40.4 in (unframed), 41.7 x 41.6 x 1.6 in (framed)
Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico, © Arturo Piera

 

 

Short and sweet…

I believe that any artist that lives at the edge of desire, of creativity, of individuality, exploration and feeling – in seeing the world from different points of view – pushes the boundaries of what the conservative mass of humanity finds acceptable.

Defying the taboo is only possible because the taboo exists in the first place. The taboo against sensuality, eroticism and pleasure can only be broken by approaching those ecstatic and liminal spaces that lead to other states of consciousness, by being attentive to the dropping away of awareness so that we avoid the frequency of common intensities, instead illuminating spaces and languages where new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge. This is what artists and people of difference do: we approach the ‘Thing Itself’. We live on the edge of ecstasy, oblivion and revelation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added bibliographic information to the posting where possible.

.
Many thankx to Wrightwood 659 for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 takes as its starting point the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was first coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. On view will be more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including a number of national treasures which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries. This groundbreaking exhibition offers the first multi-medium survey of the very first self-consciously queer art, exploring what the “first homosexuals” understood themselves to be, how dominant culture, in turn, understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer us previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is being organised in two parts, due to COVID-related delays, with part one opening on October 1 with approximately 100 works, and on view only at Wrightwood 659. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for part two of The First Homosexuals in an exhibition which will travel internationally and be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

The exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition contains sexually explicit content. For mature audiences only.

 

 

Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952) 'Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts' 1891

 

Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952)
Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts
1891
Print, 4 x 5 in
Historic Richmond Town

 

 

Elizabeth Alice Austen (March 17, 1866 – June 9, 1952) was an American photographer working in Staten Island.

One of America’s first female photographers to work outside of the studio, Austen often transported up to 50 pounds of photographic equipment on her bicycle to capture her world.[citation needed] Her photographs represent street and private life through the lens of a lesbian woman whose life spanned from 1866 to 1952. Austen was a rebel who broke away from the constraints of her Victorian environment and forged an independent life that broke boundaries of acceptable female behaviour and social rules. …

Alice Austen’s life and relationships with other women are crucial to an understanding of her work. Until very recently many interpretations of Austen’s work overlooked her intimate relationships. What is especially significant about Austen’s photographs is that they provide rare documentation of intimate relationships between Victorian women. Her non-traditional lifestyle and that of her friends, although intended for private viewing, is the subject of some of her most critically acclaimed photographs. Austen would spend 53 years in a devoted loving relationship with Gertrude Tate, 30 years of which were spent living together in her home which is now the site of the Alice Austen House Museum and a nationally designated site of LGBTQ history.

Austen’s wealth was lost in the stock market crash of 1929 and she and Tate were evicted from their beloved home in 1945. Tate and Austen were finally separated by family rejection of their relationship and poverty. Austen was moved to the Staten Island Farm Colony where Tate would visit her weekly. In 1951 Austen’s photographs were rediscovered by historian Oliver Jensen and money was raised by the publication of her photographs to place Austen in private nursing home care. On June 9, 1952 Austen passed away. The final wishes of Austen and Tate to be buried together were denied by their families.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961) 'Edith Emerson Lecturing' c. 1935

 

Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961)
Edith Emerson Lecturing
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
35 x 45 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2012
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

 

 

Violet Oakley (June 10, 1874 – February 25, 1961) was an American artist. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a pathbreaker in mural decoration, a field that had been exclusively practiced by men. Oakley excelled at murals and stained glass designs that addressed themes from history and literature in Renaissance-revival styles.

 

Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981) 'Portrait of Violet Oakley' Date unknown

 

Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981)
Portrait of Violet Oakley
Date unknown
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of Jane and Noble Hall, 1998
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

 

 

Edith Emerson (July 27, 1888 – November 21, 1981) was an American painter, muralist, illustrator, writer, and curator. She was the life partner of acclaimed muralist Violet Oakley and served as the vice-president, president, and curator of the Woodmere Art Museum in the Chestnut Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1940 to 1978. …

[Oakley’s] life partner, Edith Emerson, was a painter and, at one time, a student of Oakley’s. In 1916, Emerson moved into Oakley’s Mount Airy home, Cogslea, where Oakley had formed a communal household with three other women artists, calling themselves the Red Rose Girls. Emerson and Oakley’s relationship endured until Oakley’s death and Emerson subsequently established a foundation to memorialise Oakley’s life and legacy. The foundation dissolved in 1988 and the assets donated to the Smithsonian Museum.

Following Violet Oakley’s death in 1961, Emerson created the Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation to keep her teacher and companion’s memory and ideals alive. The foundation also sought to house and preserve the contents of Oakley’s studio, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 as the Violet Oakley Studio. Emerson served as the foundation’s president, as well as curator and general caretaker of the studio. The studio was opened to the public as a kind of museum, and Emerson organised various activities there, including concerts, exhibitions, poetry readings, and lectures on American art and illustration. Following Emerson’s death, the foundation dispersed the contents, sold the house, and disbanded.

In 1979, Emerson was instrumental in mounting an Oakley revival as an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984) 'Model Act' 1919

 

Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984)
Model Act
1919
Oil on canvas
53.1 x 19.7 in.
Private Collection

 

 

Role of Art in the Modern Construction of Same-Sex Desire Explored for First Time in Groundbreaking Two-Part Exhibition at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, begins in the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. With more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including works which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries – this large-scale international exhibition offers the first multi-media survey of some of the founding works of queer art. The First Homosexuals explores what the earliest homosexuals understood themselves to be, how dominant culture understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is organised in two parts, due to Covid-related delays, with Part I on view only at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago from October 1 through December 17, 2022. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for Part II, in a major exhibition that will travel internationally, accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

Already three years in the making, the exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars, led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

The First Homosexuals rewrites conventional art history, in part by deepening the reading of works of art by familiar artists – whether it be Henry Fuseli, Thomas Eakins, or George Bellows – and in part by lifting the cover off works that previously have not been widely understood as declarations of same-sex attachment. The exhibition also introduces American museum goers to a number of artists who are little known in the United States but revered in their own countries, including Gerda Wegener (Denmark); Eugéne Jansson (Sweden); and Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand).

The First Homosexuals explores the cohesion of a new global identity at a liminal moment, one that art can tell uniquely well. While the written archive of the period must necessarily use accepted words to describe ideas, art is notably free of such consensus, allowing for the emergence of more idiosyncratic, contested, and exploratory forms.

The First Homosexuals is an international project of an incredible scale. It perfectly fulfils our mission of presenting novel, socially engaged exhibitions,” says Chirag G. Badlani, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago, which is presenting The First Homosexuals through Alphawood Exhibitions. “We are thrilled that the community can experience an important exhibition like this at Wrightwood 659 – given the content, it otherwise might not be seen.” He added, “We are particularly proud to show a collection of early Russian queer works borrowed from the Odesa Fine Arts Museum in Ukraine, amidst the ongoing war, helping to safeguard these important pieces of queer history from potential damage or destruction.”

Dr. Katz, notes, “The First Homosexuals demonstrates that as the language used to name same-sex desire narrowed into a simple binary of homosexual / heterosexual, art went the opposite direction, giving form to a range of sexualities and genders that can best be described as queer. Art became the place where the simplistic sexual binary could be nuanced and particularised, evoking emotions and responses that language couldn’t yet express.”

Dr. Katz continues, “The reality is that current-day conceptions about homosexuality are only roughly as old as the oldest living Americans. Our goal in this exhibition is to read queer desire as it manifested itself in this not-so-long-ago past, while being alert to the very different forms it took globally.”

 

The Exhibition

Part I of The First Homosexuals is installed in nine sections, occupying the entire second floor of the Tadao Ando-designed galleries of Wrightwood 659. The first section, entitled Before Homosexuality, features 19th-century works that suggest how unself-consciously same-sex eroticism was portrayed before the coinage of the word homosexual. A highlight is a print depicting a sexual act between two men by Hokusai, the ukiyo-e master of Japan’s Edo period. Hokusai’s image would have been entirely uncontroversial in its day.

Among the works installed in Couples, the second section, is a leisurely boating scene by the French painter Louise Abbéma, showing herself in masculinate garb with her lover, the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt. Two other paintings represent reverse homages, wherein the American artist Edith Emerson paints her lover Violet Oakley and Oakley returns the favour by producing an oil study of Emerson. Also on view in this section is an illustration by Oakley that ran in the December 1903 issue of the popular The Century Magazine, depicting heaven as populated entirely by lithe young women in flowing gold and white robes.

Especially notable in Between Genders is a seductive reclining nude, a painting of one of the first modern transgender women: Gerda Wegener’s Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1929. Nearby, the Russian artist Konstantin Somov’s delicate Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, appears to portray an 18th-century aristocratic beauty; however, the face is the artist’s own.

Between Genders abounds with photographs documenting the social experiments of the time, including a postcard of the French chanteuse Josephine Baker in male evening attire; the Norwegian Marie Høeg dressed as a man in a variety of carte de visite poses, the calling cards of their day; the French surrealist Claude Cahun in a meditative position with a shaved head looking neither male nor female; and, from across the Atlantic, c. 1890s sepia-toned photographs of an African American man, perhaps once enslaved, performing female drag on the vaudeville stage. A film segment featuring Loïe Fuller performing her legendary Serpentine Dance, 1905, contrasts with another film clip by the Frères Lumière of a male dancer performing the same dance and dressed like Fuller in flowing, billowing robes.

In the section Pose is a famous portrait by the Mexican artist Roberto Montenegro of his friend, the antique and antiquities dealer Chucho Reyes. The limp wrist, the tilted chin, and the amused smile are legible tropes of queer codes even today. As well as picturing Reyes ensconced proudly among his treasures, including an oval miniature of a woman, Montenegro included in the foreground a silver ball reflecting his own visage, thus bringing himself into the picture.

A contrasting note is hit nearby where a recording of “Ma” Rainey’s blues song, “Prove It On Me,” will be played and a vintage advertisement for the vinyl record displayed. Rainey had been arrested for participating in a lesbian sex orgy, a notorious event that she shrewdly parlayed into the #1 best-selling record within the African American community in 1928.

Dr. Katz anchors the exhibition section called Archetypes around an acknowledged masterpiece of American painting, Thomas Eakins’s Salutat,1898. The painting is shown in The First Homosexuals as an example of a scene engineered to focus attention on an erotic part of the young male body. Dr. Katz observes that the crowd appears to be not so much cheering a boxing victory as absorbing a perfect specimen of male beauty.

Throughout this section, the viewer can track the ideal of male beauty evolving beyond the 19th-century ephebic (youthful male beauty idealised in ancient times) to a more masculinised ideal of perfection. A defining work here is a study by Swedish artist Eugène Jansson for his most famous painting, The Naval Bath House, 1907. The custom of young men swimming nude in all-male settings was universal in the West – as seen elsewhere in The First Homosexuals. In this drawing, Jansson carefully employs Cezanne-like strokes to work out seven different poses for as many young men.

The section entitled Desire brings together works of art that are stylistically varied, according to the visual language of the artist’s national culture and training, but alike in depicting same-gender sex or magnifying parts of the body for erotic effect. These include erotica from China, Japan, Iran, and India and a pair of seemingly sedate figure drawings by the French artist Jane Poupelet focusing on the rear view of female models, so as to eroticise women in a way that works to exclude the heterosexual male gaze.

In the section entitled Colonizing, the art on view reflects a number of dynamics, including the Euro-centric definition of early homosexuality, which often clashed with more indigenous forms, and the Western presumption that the East was decadent. European interlopers employed the latter to excuse otherwise forbidden sexual alliances as well as to justify political domination. Here are works as disparate as the Sri Lankan painter David Paynter’s modernist oil, L’après midi, 1935; F. Holland Day’s haunting double exposure photograph, The Vision, (Orpheus Scene), 1907; and a propaganda piece dropped by Japanese nationals into Russian territory to demoralise Russian troops during the Russo-Japanese War.

Following, in the section Public and Private, comes Charles Demuth’s ‘morning after’ scene of three young men in pyjamas and underwear in a stylish domestic interior; lesbian genre scenes set in Eastern Europe; and Marsden Hartley’s Berlin Ante War, 1914, a painting charting life, death, faith, sunrise, and sunset in symbolic forms and colours.

The centrepiece of the final thematic section, Past and Future, is a little-known masterpiece by the Finnish artist, Magnus Enckell, an impressionist-styled painting that reverses the classical myth of Leda and the swan, illustrating a nude man strangling the rapacious figure of Zeus in the form of a swan. Other works here evidence what is likely the earliest use of the rainbow as a symbol of same-sex love; photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden that combine classical ruins and Sicilian youth; and the desire to acknowledge same-sex precedents in ancient history, as in the colour lithograph, Hadrian and Antinous, 1906, by Paul Avril (Édouard-Henri Avril).

The First Homosexuals documents The Elisarion, a temple to the arts built by the same-sex cultist and visionary Elisar von Kupffer in 1926 in Minusio, a tiny principality in Switzerland. Paintings of scenes illustrating same-sex desire once covered the walls of von Kupffer’s Sanctuarium. A cache of these were discovered recently in a municipal warehouse in Minusio by Dr. Katz and his team. This fall, the paintings will be seen for the first time in documentary photographs. In 2025, the actual large-scale paintings will be exhibited for the first time outside Switzerland in Part II of The First Homosexuals: Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930.

Press release from Wrightwood 659

 

Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]' c. 1895-1903

 

Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]
c. 1895-1903
Print, 2.4 x 3.1 in
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway

 

Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Marie Høeg dressed as a man' 1895-1903

 

Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Marie Høeg dressed as a man
1895-1903
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway

 

Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915) 'Bath house study' Nd

 

Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915)
Bath house study
Nd
Black chalk on paper
33 1/2 x 39 inches

 

 

Eugène Fredrik Jansson (18 March 1862, Stockholm – 15 June 1915, Skara) was a Swedish painter known for his night-time land- and cityscapes dominated by shades of blue. Towards the end of his life, from about 1904, he mainly painted male nudes. The earlier of these phases has caused him to sometimes be referred to as blåmålaren, “the blue-painter”. …

After 1904, when he had already achieved success with his Stockholm views, Jansson confessed to a friend that he felt absolutely exhausted and had no more wish to continue with what he had done until then. He stopped participating in exhibitions for several years and went over to figure painting. To combat the health issues he had suffered from since childhood, he became a diligent swimmer and winter bather, often visiting the navy bathhouse, where he found the new subjects for his paintings. He painted groups of sunbathing sailors, and young muscular nude men lifting weights or doing other physical exercises.

Art historians and critics have long avoided the issue of any possible homoerotic tendencies in this later phase of his art, but later studies (see Brummer 1999) have established that Jansson was in all probability homosexual and appears to have had a relationship with at least one of his models. His brother, Adrian Jansson, who was himself homosexual and survived Eugène by many years, burnt all his letters and many other papers, possibly to avoid scandal (homosexuality was illegal in Sweden until 1944).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Guest, Venice' 1913

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Guest, Venice
1913
Oil on canvas
28.9 x 15 in
Woodstock Art Gallery, Woodstock, Ontario, gift of Lenora McCartney
Photo Credit: John Tamblyn

 

 

Florence Carlyle

Florence Carlyle (1864-1923) was a Canadian painter born in Ontario. Carlyle studied painting in Paris beginning in 1890, where she exhibited work at Paris Salons while gaining recognition in Canada and the United States – achievements unusual for women of her time. After Carlyle returned to Canada in 1896, she continued to exhibit widely and contributed artworks to major exhibitions and museum collections. Influenced by the French Barbizon School, Impressionism, and the work of fellow female painters, Carlyle was known for intimate, domestic scenes of middle-class women’s lives.

In 1911, Carlyle traveled to Italy and England, where she met Judith Hastings, who would become her lifelong companion and model. In 1913, Carlyle and Hastings settled in Yew Tree Cottage in East Sussex. The Guest, Venice shows Hastings and Carlyle in conversation at sunset in a scene dominated by warm reds and yellows. The women’s poses and gestures seem to reflect each other – Hastings, seated, invitingly pulls on a long necklace while Carlyle leans comfortably on a windowsill, their complimentary poses suggesting an intimate relationship. The Threshold depicts Hastings as a bride. In place of a groom, Hastings stands across from an empty chair and a vase of flowers, this absence perhaps a subtle allusion to her relationship with Carlyle.

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 is the first exhibition to display Carlyle’s artwork in the context of same-sex desire and relationships.

On view: Self Portrait, c. 1901, Oil on canvas; The Threshold, 1913, Oil on canvas; The Guest, Venice, 1913, Oil on canvas.

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Threshold' 1913

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Threshold
1913
Oil on canvas
117 x 96.5cm

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]' 1920

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]
1920
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a French photographer and writer known for works created in collaboration with their artistic and life partner Marcel Moore (1892-1972), an illustrator for magazines and avant-garde dance and theatre productions. Both artists adopted androgynous names in the 1910s and lived together in Paris by the early 1920s. In Paris, Cahun made theatrical and surrealist self-portraits, often dressing in masculine clothing with a shaved head or short-cropped hair and in elaborate costume, makeup, or masks.

Although Cahun considered themself a surrealist, and their images and writings presaged the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, they were not aways readily accepted by Surrealist circles who celebrated images of women but rejected female artists. Despite this, many surrealists held Cahun in high regard, including Andre Breton, who recognised Cahun as, “one of the most curious spirits of our time.” Cahun’s 1930 surrealist autobiographical text Aveux non avenus combines non-linear stories and ideas with photomontages and self-portraits. In this text, Cahun also draws connections between their gender-fluid self-portraiture and identity, declaring that “neuter is the only gender that invariably suits me.”

On view: Illustration for Vues et Visions, 1919, Exhibition print; Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged], 1920, Exhibition print.

 

Anonymous photographer (France). 'Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]' c. 1903

 

Anonymous photographer (France)
Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]
c. 1903
Print, 5.5 x 3.5 in
Wellcome Collection

 

 

Charles Gregory and Jack Brown

Charles Gregory and Jack Brown were American performing artists credited with introducing the wildly popular Cake-Walk dance to Paris in 1902. The Cake-Walk, which often featured gaudy and ostentatious costumes worn by both men and women, began as a parody of the European “Grand March” performed by Black enslaved people on antebellum Southern plantations. Although the dance was originally performed by and for Black communities, the Cake-Walk became popular with white slaveholders as well, who incorporated the dance into minstrel shows where it would be performed in blackface.

In the late 19th century, the Cake Walk took off as a dance craze, in the United States and Europe. Around the same time, the dance was also adopted by the underground Black queer community. William Dorsey Swann, the first self-proclaimed “queen of drag”, held the first drag balls in Washington, D.C., which featured Cake-Walk dances performed by men in women’s clothing. Drag balls went on to become a mainstay of Black queer and trans expression, becoming popular during the Harlem Renaissance and later in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and San Francisco. This film of Jack Brown and Charles Gregory is the first extant drag film, produced by those famed early innovators in cinema, the Lumière Brothers.

On view: Unknown artist, Le cake-walk. Dansé au Nouveau Cirque. Les nègres [Two black actors, Charles Gregory and Jack Brown, one in drag, dancing the Cake-Walk in Paris], 1903, Exhibition print; Untitled [Two black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage], c. 1903, Exhibition print; Auguste and Louis Lumière, Nègres, [I], c. 1902-1903, Digital reproduction of film.

 

 

Nègres, [I] (1903) Lumière [incomplete]

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Venus and Amor' Nd

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Venus and Amor
Nd
Oil on canvas
81 by 116cm (31 3/4 by 45 3/4in.)

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)' 1929

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)
1929
Watercolour on paper
20.8 x 26.9 in
The Shin Collection, New York
Image Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York

 

 

Gerda Wegener and Lili Elbe

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) and Lili Elbe (1882-1931) were Danish artists active in the early 20th century. The two met while students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where Elbe was known by her birth name Einar Wegener. The couple married in 1904 and both worked as artists. Wegener was known for her illustrations, including female same-sex erotica; Elbe produced landscape paintings.

Lili Elbe began to understand herself as a woman as early as 1904. In 1912, Elbe and Wegener moved from Copenhagen to Paris, where Elbe openly dressed and identified as a woman. Throughout their partnership, Elbe was a favoured muse of Wegener and modelled for many of her paintings, including Art Deco and Art Nouveau images of the independent “New Woman.” Many of Wegener’s images depict female characters in erotic or homosocial environments – in the case of Venus and Amor, feminine and androgynous figures populate an idyllic allegorical scene. In 1930, Elbe traveled to Germany for the first of four sex reassignment surgeries, which was completed under the supervision of physician Magnus Hirschfeld, who had coined the term “transsexual” in 1923. Elbe died from complications of a fourth surgery in 1931.

In 2000, David Ebershoff depicted Wegener and Elbe’s relationship in his book The Danish Girl, which was adapted into a film in 2015.

On view: Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener), An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles, 1917, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1919, Watercolour; Gerda Wegener, Venus and Amor, c. 1920, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Ulla Poulsen (Ballerina), c. 1927, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Erotic Scene, Ink and watercolour on paper.

 

Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931) 'An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles' 1917

 

Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931)
An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles
1917
Oil on canvas
Height: 61cm (24 in); width: 81cm (31.8 in)

 

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

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Oil on canvas

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Portrait of Cécile de Volanges' 1934

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Portrait of Cécile de Volanges
1934
Pencils on paper

 

 

Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) was a Russian painter and a leading figure in the inter-disciplinary artistic movement and eponymous journal Mir iskusstva (World of Art), active from 1897 to the mid-1920s. Somov often depicted doll-like harlequin characters, women wearing masks, and French Rococo-style costume in his work. Some of these romantic or erotic compositions reference works by Aubrey Beardsley, an English illustrator who also evoked erotic masquerades in his artwork.

In Somov’s scenes, costumes often obscure the gender of couples engaging in romantic activity and reference an excessive game of love and emotion – a theme common to other artists associated with the Decadent movement and Russian Symbolism. Somov was also known for portraying women as ugly or masculine in images he described as encapsulating his frustration with his own same-sex attraction. Along with his erotic scenes, Somov painted male nudes and portraits of his close friends and partners. Somov also adopted the rainbow as a reference to homosexuality via the story of the biblical flood, in which the rainbow represents absolution and acceptance after divine punishment for corporeal sin.

On view: Standing Male Model from Back, 1896, Crayons and sauce-crayon on paper; A Shepard and a Dog, 1898, Exhibition print; Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks), 1910, Watercolours and whitewash on paper; Les Tribades illustration for Le Livre de la Marquise, Watercolours and zincography on paper; Landscape with Rainbows, 1915, Oil on canvas; Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, Pencils on paper.

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)' 1910

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)
1910
Watercolours and whitewash on paper
46 × 35cm

 

Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944) 'Nude with a light bulb' c. 1935

 

Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944)
Nude with a light bulb
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Lionel Wendt

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) was a photographer, pianist, critic, and filmmaker born in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to a Burgher father and a Sinhalese mother. As a young man, Wendt traveled to London, where he studied music and earned a law degree. In 1924, Wendt returned to Ceylon and became associated with prominent artists including Geoffrey Beyling, Ivan Peries, and George Keyt, with whom he founded the 43 Group. Recognised as the first modern art group in Ceylon, the 43 Group promoted artwork that departed from academic style and colonial tradition in favour of free expression.

Wendt is known for his photographs of Sinhalese subjects, documentation of indigenous ways of life, intimate portraits, and his experimental images, which deployed techniques the artist observed in Surrealist photography. Some of these images use photography to complicate the act of viewing or trouble the cohesion of Wendt’s subject. For example, Wendt’s Nude with a light bulb (c. 1935) deals with the concept of exposure in multiple registers. The image’s composition alternately exposes the male body and refuses identification, perhaps commenting on the alternately public and private nature of homosexuality. The image also references the techniques of photography itself; a single lightbulb literally exposes a domestic interior to reveal an assembly of jars, pitchers, and timer-tools; items often present in a dark room where a photographer makes an “exposure” of a negative to produce a print.

On view: Nude with a light bulb, c. 1935, Gelatin silver print.

 

Circle of Eakins. 'Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude' c. 1883

 

Circle of Eakins
Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude
c. 1883
Platinum print
8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in. (22.7 x 28.1cm)
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection, purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust

 

 

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important American artists.

For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some 40 years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of contemporary Philadelphia; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons.

In addition, Eakins produced a number of large paintings that brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject that most inspired him: the nude or lightly clad figure in motion. In the process, he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilising his studies in perspective. Eakins also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator.

No less important in Eakins’ life was his work as a teacher. As an instructor he was a highly influential presence in American art. The difficulties which beset him as an artist seeking to paint the portrait and figure realistically were paralleled and even amplified in his career as an educator, where behavioural and sexual scandals truncated his success and damaged his reputation.

Eakins was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as “the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American art”. …

The Swimming Hole (1884-1885) features Eakins’ finest studies of the nude, in his most successfully constructed outdoor picture. The figures are those of his friends and students, and include a self-portrait. Although there are photographs by Eakins which relate to the painting, the picture’s powerful pyramidal composition and sculptural conception of the individual bodies are completely distinctive pictorial resolutions. The work was painted on commission, but was refused.

In the late 1890s Eakins returned to the male figure, this time in a more urban setting. Taking the Count (1896), a painting of a prizefight, was his second largest canvas, but not his most successful composition. The same may be said of Wrestlers (1899). More successful was Between Rounds (1899), for which boxer Billy Smith posed seated in his corner at Philadelphia’s Arena; in fact, all the principal figures were posed by models re-enacting what had been an actual fight. Salutat (1898), a frieze-like composition in which the main figure is isolated, “is one of Eakins’ finest achievements in figure-painting.” …

 

Personal life and marriage

The nature of Eakins’ sexuality and its impact on his art is a matter of intense scholarly debate. Strong circumstantial evidence points to discussion during Eakins’s lifetime that he had homosexual leanings, and there is little doubt that he was attracted to men, as evidenced in his photography, and three major paintings where male buttocks are a focal point: The Gross Clinic, Salutat, and The Swimming Hole. The last, in which Eakins appears, is increasingly seen as sensuous and autobiographical.

Until recently, major Eakins scholars persistently denied he was homosexual, and such discussion was marginalised. While there is still no consensus, today discussion of homoerotic desire plays a large role in Eakins scholarship. The discovery of a large trove of Eakins’ personal papers in 1984 has also driven reassessment of his life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Salutat, Between Rounds (a portion of which was executed separately as Billy Smith) and Taking the Count are a series of three large boxing paintings done by Eakins. The former two depict events surrounding a boxing match that took place on April 22, 1898. Featherweight Tim Callahan fought featherweight Billy Smith in a match that was close until the final round, when Callahan gained the advantage and won the fight. However, for Salutat, Eakins chose to depict Smith as the winner. In the work, Smith raises his hand to salute the audience, in the style of a gladiator. On the painting’s original frame Eakins carved the words “DEXTRA VICTRICE CONCLAMANTES SALVTAT” (With the victorious right hand, he salutes those shouting [their approval]).

As with a number of other Eakins works, the rendering of the figures is extremely precise, such that it has allowed art historians to identify individual members of the audience. While working on the boxing pictures, friends would visit the studio, and Eakins invited them to “stay a while and I’ll put you in the picture.” For Salutat, audience members include Eakins’s friend Louis Kenton (wearing eyeglasses and a bow tie), sportswriter Clarence Cranmer (wearing a bowler hat), David Jordan (brother of Letitia Wilson Jordan, whom Eakins painted in Portrait of Letitia Wilson Jordan), photographer Louis Husson (next to Jordan), Eakins’s student Samuel Murray, and Eakins’s father Benjamin Eakins.

Smith is bathed in soft white light, which illuminates his muscles. Amid a general tonality of warm greys and browns that contains no strong chromatic notes, the skin tones of the three main figures are pale. All three men have the quality of relief sculpture, and with Smith’s figure separate from those of his seconds, they appear to move across the canvas in an arrangement reminiscent of a frieze.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) 'Salutat' 1898

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Salutat
1898
Oil on canvas
50 in. x 40 in. (127 cm x 101.6cm)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, gift of anonymous donor
Replica of Thomas Eakins’ original frame created and given as a partial gift by Eli Wilner & Company with the additional support of Maureen Barden and David Othmer

 

 

Katz told Windy City Times that being defined as a homosexual “was both a gift and a problem” for queer people during those years, depending on how the word affected their daily lives. For some, it clarified who they were and that was a benefit to them while for others their sexual possibilities were limited otherwise people would define them as a homosexual.

“The reason this is important is previously same-sex desire was understood not as a noun but as a verb,” said Katz. “It was something you did, not something you are. What we are trying to do is assess what happens after the identity category was created and a group of people fell under that name. The important theoretical point I am trying to make is that as language grew increasingly strict and binary, the menu of sexual and gender possibilities that was open to everybody grew increasingly constricted. What resulted out of that is as language became increasingly impoverished regarding sexuality and gender, art took up the slack. Art started to represent all sorts of sexual possibilities that language could no longer understand or name.” …

“These works will be looked at not just in the Euro-American frame, but in a global frame,” said Katz. “We are also assessing how, for example, following the lines of colonial domination European ideas were imposed over more local sexual definitions and names. What we have really is the first imaging of the first homosexuals. What is remarkable about this is some of these are among the most famous paintings among the most famous painters in their respective regions, but they have not been gathered under this rubric. The images are known, they just have not been interpreted in this way.” …

“This show resolutely demonstrates that we, as queer people, have a history, too – a rich, complex history that has been left out of the prevailing accounts of art history,” said Willis. “Too often we hear the accusation that queer, trans, and non-binary identities are something ‘new,’ and thus something without a history. The exhibition shuts down any such allegation, resurfacing this ‘lost’ generation of modern LGBTQ ancestry.” …

“I think this exhibition will begin to open up or underscore the way in which our language of binaries is way too delimited and poor of frame to understand the complexities of human behavior,” said Katz. “What this show does, and what art is great at because it does not have to use language, is depict all these variations. You will see therefore a range of possibilities of gender and sexual desire that our language does not have words for.”

Carrie Maxwell. “Jonathan D. Katz previews his upcoming ‘First Homosexuals’ exhibit,” on the Windy City Times website 17th September 2022 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927) 'Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac' 1883

 

Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927)
Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac
1883
Oil on canvas
63 x 82.7 x 1.2 in (framed)
Collections Comédie-Française

 

 

Louise Abbéma (30 October 1853 – 29 July 1927) was a French painter, sculptor, and designer of the Belle Époque. …

She was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon, where she received an honourable mention for her panels in 1881. Abbéma was also among the female artists whose works were exhibited in the Women’s Building at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A bust Sarah Bernhardt sculpted of Abbéma was also exhibited at the exposition.

Abbéma specialised in oil portraits and watercolours, and many of her works showed the influence from Chinese and Japanese painters, as well as contemporary masters such as Édouard Manet. She frequently depicted flowers in her works. Among her best-known works are The Seasons, April Morning, Place de la Concorde, Among the Flowers, Winter, and portraits of actress Jeanne Samary, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Charles Garnier. …

 

New Woman

As educational opportunities were made more available in the 19th century, women artists became part of professional enterprises, including founding their own art associations. Artwork made by women was considered to be inferior, and to help overcome that stereotype women became “increasingly vocal and confident” in promoting women’s work, and thus became part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer “New Woman”. Artists then, “played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives,” including Abbéma who created androgynous self-portraits to “link intellectual life through emphasis on ocularity”. Many other portraits included androgynously dressed women, and women participating in intellectual and other pastimes traditionally associated with men.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) 'Berlin Ante War' 1914

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Berlin Ante War
1914
Oil on canvas with painted wood frame
34 x 43 in.
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: gift of Ferdinand Howald

 

“Berlin Ante War” (1914), or “Prewar,” explores the profound impact the city had on the artist.

 

 

Marsden Hartley (January 4, 1877 – September 2, 1943) was an American Modernist painter, poet, and essayist. Hartley developed his painting abilities by observing Cubist artists in Paris and Berlin. …

 

German sympathies

In April 1913 Hartley relocated to Berlin, the capital of the German Empire where he continued to paint, and became friends with the painters Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. He also collected Bavarian folk art. His work during this period was a combination of abstraction and German Expressionism, fuelled by his personal brand of mysticism. Many of Hartley’s Berlin paintings were further inspired by the German military pageantry then on display, though his view of this subject changed after the outbreak of World War I, once war was no longer “a romantic but a real reality”.

Two of Hartley’s Cézanne-inspired still life paintings and six charcoal drawings were selected to be included in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York.

In Berlin, Hartley developed a close relationship with a Prussian lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg, who was the cousin of Hartley’s friend Arnold Ronnebeck. References to Freyburg were a recurring motif in Hartley’s work, most notably in Portrait of a German Officer (1914). Freyburg’s subsequent death during the war hit Hartley hard, and he afterward idealised their relationship. Many scholars interpreted his work regarding Freyburg as embodying homosexual feelings for him. Hartley lived in Berlin until December 1915.

Hartley returned to the U.S. from Berlin as a German sympathiser following World War I. Hartley created paintings with much German iconography. The homoerotic tones were overlooked as critics focused on the German point of view. According to Arthur Lubow, Hartley was disingenuous in arguing that there was “no hidden symbolism whatsoever”. …

Hartley was not overt about his homosexuality, often redirecting attention towards other aspects of his work. Works such as Portrait of a German Officer and Handsome Drinks are coded. The compositions honour lovers, friends, and inspirational sources. Hartley no longer felt unease at what people thought of his work once he reached his sixties. His figure paintings of athletic, muscular males, often nude or garbed only in briefs or thongs, became more intimate, such as Flaming American (Swim Champ), 1940 or Madawaska – Acadian Light-Heavy – Second Arrangement (both from 1940). As with Hartley’s German officer paintings, his late paintings of virile males are now assessed in terms of his affirmation of his homosexuality.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978) 'Bathers at the Pond' 1920-1921

 

Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978)
Bathers at the Pond
1920-1921
Oil on canvas
35 x 19 in.
© Estate of Duncan Grant. All rights reserved, DACS London / ARS, New York

 

 

Duncan James Corrowr Grant (21 January 1885 – 8 May 1978) was a British painter and designer of textiles, pottery, theatre sets and costumes. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947) 'Friends (Double Portrait)' [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders] 1922-1923

 

Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947)
Friends (Double Portrait) [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders]
1922-1923
Oil on canvas
24 x 30.3 in.
Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago

 

 

Frances Mary Hodgkins (28 April 1869 – 13 May 1947) was a New Zealand painter chiefly of landscape and still life, and for a short period was a designer of textiles. She was born and raised in New Zealand, but spent most of her working life in England. She is considered one of New Zealand’s most prestigious and influential painters, although it is the work from her life in Europe, rather than her home country, on which her reputation rests.

Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders were artists and taught art at the Manchester Girls High School. They were friends and supporters of artist Frances Hodgkins.

 

There is in Hodgkins’s life, however, evidence of an unconventional existence, supported, populated, and propelled by a roll call of LGBTQI+ people, including: Jane Saunders, Hannah Ritchie, Amy Krause, Dorothy Selby, Arthur Lett Haines, Cedric Morris, Norman Notley, David Brynley, Geoffrey Gorer, Christopher Wood, Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, Duncan Grant … and many more. While this is not proof that Hodgkins was a lesbian (if that should even be necessary), it signals an openness to a queer world – its people and their relationships – that makes for a fascinating investigation. …

In the early-to-mid-1920s, she lived off and on with lesbian partners Jane Saunders and Hannah Ritchie. These were desperate years for Hodgkins. Ritchie and Saunders housed and fed her, and gave her financial support in the form of an allowance. When Hodgkins was seriously thinking of returning to New Zealand, they gave her reason to stay in the United Kingdom. …

Ritchie and Saunders, both students of Hodgkins since 1911 and 1912, drew her into their milieu of influential literary and artistic friends. Their network included Forrest Hewit, chairman of the Calico Printers’ Association who helped her secure a job as a designer on a salary of £500 a year. The job-offer came just a month before Hodgkins was due to return home to New Zealand and changed the course of her life forever.

Joanne Drayton. “Frances Hodgkins: A portrait of queer love,” on the Te Papa Tongarewa website Nd [Online] Cited 06/11/2022

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden' c. 1925

 

Unknown photographer
Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden
c. 1925
Cellulose triacetate copy negative
12.5 x 10cm
National Library of New Zealand

Please note: Photograph not in exhibition

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Berlin Ante War by Mardsen Hartley.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Salutat by Thomas Eakins.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.
Introductory clip: A Representation of Loïe Fuller and her “Serpentine Dance” produced by Pathé Frères in 1905.

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses the work of Louise Abbéma.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.

 

 

Wrightwood 659
659 W. Wrightwood
Chicago, IL 60614

Opening hours:
Friday 12 – 7pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm

Wrightwood 659 website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

23
Nov
22

Text: “Bench Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

November 2022

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925) 'Instructions for the use of Sandow's spring grip dumb-bells' Between 1900 and 1909 (detail)

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925)
Instructions for the use of Sandow’s spring grip dumb-bells (detail)
Between 1900 and 1909
(23 pages): illustrations; 18 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra viewed 10 November 2022

 

 

Since the demise of my old website, my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001) has no longer been available online.

I have now republished the second of twelve chapters, “Bench Press”, so that it is available to read. More chapters will be added as I get time. I hope the text is of some interest. Other chapters include Historical Pressings which investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it.

Dr Marcus Bunyan November 2022

 

 

“Bench Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’1, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it. The text also examines the positive and negative effects of this culture on the individual and collective lives and bodies of gay men.

NB. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Historical Pressings and Re-Pressentation chapters for a fuller overview of the development of the muscular male body. This chapter also contains descriptions of sexual activity.

 

Keywords

The Cult of Muscularity, male bodies, queer bodies, bodybuilding, gym culture, masculinity, images of masculinity, development of gym culture, gay men and gym culture, muscular mesomorph, gay lifestyle, self-esteem, body-esteem, Polite Porn, phallic armoured body, desire, HIV/AIDS, photography and the body, before/after photographs, gay desire

 

Sections

  • The Cult of Muscularity
  • The Body and the Social Environment
  • Science, Photography and the Body
  • Before / after photographs
  • Power and the Muscular Body
  • The Phallic Armoured Body
  • Muscle Gods, Hot Jocks, and Gay Desire
  • The Muscular Male Body: Positive and Negative Effects

Word count 7,036

 

 

Bench Press

 

The Cult of Muscularity

 

“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

.
Richard Dyer 2

 

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925) 'Instructions for the use of Sandow's spring grip dumb-bells' Between 1900 and 1909 (detail)

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925)
Instructions for the use of Sandow’s spring grip dumb-bells (detail)
Between 1900 and 1909
(23 pages): illustrations; 18 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra viewed 10 November 2022

 

 

‘The Cult of Muscularity’ was formed in the last decade of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century in a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. Sporting and war heroes became national icons. Muscle proved the ‘masculinity’ of men, fit for power, fit to dominate women and less powerful men. The ‘ideal’ of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world.3

The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the fist time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures).

Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Gym group possibly German/Prussian]' c. 1890-1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Gym group possibly German/Prussian]
c. 1890-1910
Silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ultimately, going to the gym has more to do with fitting a certain ‘ideal’ image of ‘masculinity’, that of the muscular mesomorph, than it has to do with getting fit. Aerobic activity such as swimming or running are much more effective ways of getting fit. But what gym work does much better than aerobic activity is that it builds muscle mass. And for a man that wants to be recognised for his physical presence, having more muscle is the epitome of the ‘ideal’.

In a patriarchal society, in other words in a society where men have power over women and other men, to have a masculine body was / is seen as the opposite of being feminine or gay – it emphasises the difference between the position of men and women / gays in society. They are seen as inferior whilst a mesomorphic body confirms ‘real’ men in positions of power over others. No wonder homosexuals found muscular working class men (‘rough trade’) so enticing a sexual fantasy in the early part of this century, and still do to this day.

Still, in being named by the majority limp-wristed ‘nancies’ and by accepting that label now historically ourselves, we forget that not all gay men were pansies with effeminate mannerisms, even in those times.

In contemporary society the division between straight and gay ‘masculine’ bodies has diminished. At dance parties it is now difficult to tell which is the gay body and which is the straight. In seeking acceptance and assimilation into the general society gay men have moulded their bodies on the ‘ideal’ of the muscular mesomorphic model. Both gay and straight men are likely to be striving after the same muscular mesomorphic ideal so much so that they may both become homogenised into a non-feminine, paradoxical asexual masculinity, where very little sexuality exudes from any-body at all!

 

Siegmund Klein – 'Strength & Health' (March 1933) Vol. 1 No. 4

 

Siegmund Klein – Strength & Health (March 1933) Vol. 1 No. 4

 

 

The Body and the Social Environment

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks).

Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However, this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept as the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is re-enforced through social moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for this type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.

In the four photographs from the 1930s (below) we can see a range of ethnic men portrayed, all seeking the attainment of what was, for them, the perfection of the muscular human form. Indian, Chinese, Black American and Phillipino are all represented. Compare this to today’s cast of body types from a gay muscle fitness video (soft core pornography video aimed squarely at the gay market) and you can see how the broad inclusion of different ethnic types has been tailored to the demographics of its particular buying public (‘masculine’ white gay male).

Today what is desirable in a masculine body seems to be even more limited in its stereotyping than was the case in the 1930s. Then, at least, there was a diversified range of ethnicity. Now, within the ‘lifestyle’ health and fitness magazines, the paradigm for the desirable male body is predominantly the tanned, toned, muscular white male. Thankfully, professional buff, body-builders do still come in all colours!

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Anselus T. Del Rosario' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Anselus T. Del Rosario
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 78
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

“There is something unusual about the back of this young Phillipino, Anselus T. Del Rosario. The pose is rather original and offers suggestion to others.”

 

Anonymous photographers. 'Three bodybuilders' c. 1930

 

(left to right)

Anonymous photographer
Cheah Chin Poh
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 261
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Prof. C. C. Shah
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 261
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Wesley Williams
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 154
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Science, Photography and the Body

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras the knowledge of science, such as the science of physical fitness for example, allowed the body to become an object that was subject to technical expertise. Physical fitness was taken up by governments and their armies to enforce standards of fitness for recruits, the medical examination ensuring suitability for service and the fitness regime ensuring that all bodies were interchangeable and replaceable in the event of death on the battlefield. The body became a site of intervention; it became malleable and plastic, subject to the demands of the self and State. This trend continues at an unabated pace today especially within the personal sphere; in the ‘miracles’ of steroid enhancement, plastic surgery, implants and liposuction all there to help you attain the ‘perfect’ body. Now ALL bodies can start to look alike, interchangeable one with another.

Photography, also a relatively new science in that era (photography is both an art and a science), confirmed the ‘truth’ of the power of the muscular body through documentary evidence. The camera acted to legitimise the concerns of men over their body image through relationship of power to the practice of representation. Surveillance of the self became a major factor in the construction of your social identity. Through photographs you could judge for yourself whether you measured up to the ‘ideals’ put forward as valuable by society. Therefore images of muscular mesomorphs can and do affect the self-esteem of individuals through a powerful semiotic system that is embedded in the idealised body factually re-presented in a photograph.

This power is validated because people know the key to interpret the coded ‘sign’ language through which photographs, and indeed all images, speak. In neglecting to acknowledge alternative significations present within this semiotically coded power structure there is the opportunity for one dominant image to be chosen selectively over other types of less ‘valuable’ body images, eventually leading to the possible loss of the key to decode the desirability of ‘other’ body images.

The problem with dominant images that promote the masculinity and power of the muscular mesomorphic body is that they portray one supposed objective truth which is impossible, for there can be can many changing ‘truths’ (viewed from many subjective and objective positions).4 Personally, I believe we should see things not solely as they are from an objective point of view and not purely from an appeal to an “actively struggled for” subjectivity (as argued for by David Smail), but perhaps emerging from a knowledge of the fluid nature of truth, an ever changing combination of many variable truths. Being true to ourselves does not require a one-eyed point of view for we must try to see things from many different points of view to appreciate that there are many shifting, non-final subjective, objective and variable ‘truths’ in life.

Images can be a fabrication just as easily as they are supposed to speak the language of an objective ‘truth’. For example, in the 1870s Dr. Barnardo had photographs taken that showed rough, dirty, and dishevelled children arriving at his homes, and then paired them with photographs of the same children bright as a new pin, happy and working in the homes afterwards. These photographs were used to sell the story of children saved from poverty and oppression and happy in the homes; they appeared on cards which were sold to raise money to support the work of these homes. Dr. Barnardo was taken to court when one such pair of photographs was found to be a fabrication, an ‘artistic fiction’.5

Photographs can be used not only as a tool of observation but as a commodity, to advertise, support and sell the existence of a regime of power that controls the body, in the case of Dr. Barnardo the body of the child. In this way the body of the child becomes a commodity too.

 

Before / after photographs

Anonymous photographer. 'M. J. Poncela' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
M. J. Poncela
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 211
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'George Renzi, Jr.' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
George Renzi, Jr.
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 210
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' c. 1952

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1952
‘Before photo/after photo, 35 day Johnson bodybuilding program advertisement’, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, pp. 26-27.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The New Theory of Evolution (Unretouched photographs taken over a period of less than 12 weeks)' 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
The New Theory of Evolution (Unretouched photographs taken over a period of less than 12 weeks)
1998
Experimental and Applied Sciences advertisement, 1998, in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, pp. 2-3.

 

 

The same process of commodification of the body can be seen in the ‘Before and After’ photographs from the 1930’s. The science of physical fitness has always sold product to go with its ideals and the use of before and after photos echoes those of Dr. Barnardo. Here I am looking at my own weak and puny body and then looking at these photographs and advertisements that are telling me: ‘You can have a bigger, better body in only (substitute x amount of time) days or weeks!’ You can attain the perfect male body. But it will cost you. In time, in money, in sacrifices, perhaps in failure. But you desire that body don’t you, you want that body, you want to belong!

The photographs from the 1930s show examples of bodily improvement over a period of one year, a reasonable amount of time given the improvement shown. As the century progressed however, the claims for products became more outlandish and photography was used to bolster these claims. In the 1952 photographs above for example, the photograph is used to authenticate the models physical improvement in just 35 days! Note, however, that in the second photograph the model is standing closer to the camera than in the first one, he has a tan which makes him look healthier, is oiled up, and his hair is bigger to give him more physical presence. He is also engaging the gaze of the viewer, returning his look, which in itself is a more challenging, defiant act.

Nothing much has changed in advertising claims from the 1950s until today. In the unretouched sequence of photographs (above) from 1998 (for a leading supplier of sports nutritional supplements), we are asked to believe a new, super-fast “Theory of Evolution” exists, all achieved in less than 12 weeks.

I am not suggesting for one minute that these photographs actually lie. But they do restructure the ‘truth’. Firstly, the model does not have an ‘ordinary’ body to start with. You only have to look at the legs and arms in all four photographs to realise that this man is probably a bodybuilder who is out of condition and training. In the first photograph he is stooped, unkempt, unshaven, hairy, flat-footed & slovenly. Much the same as the photographs of children arriving at the Dr. Barnardo’s homes in the 1870s. Funny about that. As the sequence progresses he becomes happier, taller, more ‘pumped’ and ‘cut’ till he positively shines like burnished steel, his muscles glowing as he strides on the balls of his feet into the future. His fists become clenched to emphasise his bulging muscles and his manliness.

Hey, its a ‘lifestyle’ thing. Muscular men look after their bodies, have no moral disorders and are happier and more successful!

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Bill Good executing Stretching Exercise course' c. 1930 and 'Bill Good executing Free Motion exercises' c. 1930

 

(left and right)

Anonymous photographer
Bill Good executing Stretching Exercise course
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. I. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 143
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Bill Good executing Free Motion exercises
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. I. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 127
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Power and the Muscular Body

Increasingly, the body was not only able to exercise on its way to muscularity it was also able to exercise the ritual semiotic language of the hyper-masculine body as power over the social body in general. A sociology of the body was constructed based on the interaction with history, memory and context. Men sought to transform their body and the social body through the structures and rituals of power, naming deviants such as homosexuals as ‘other’ and therefore reducing them to an inferior status. It is not surprising that homosexual men are attracted to this power. For a long time they have been subject to persecution & derision, and saw themselves as inferior. Now, with the adoption of hyper-masculine bodies as the epitome of gay male image, gay men seek to be ‘real’ men perhaps even more than straight men. Unfortunately this may reinforce traditional patriarchal stereotypes within the gay community, a community that is supposed to pride itself on equality and diversity. The very things that homosexuals have long fought against, oppression and discrimination, may be confirmed in the exercising of power by the muscular ‘ideal’ within the gay community.

In the conformation of the power of the muscular body I suggest that gay men may have adopted a mask to cover their own insecurities in order to seek acceptance for themselves into the gay and general population. This mask has become more than just a facade for some gay men, it has become their reality. The owner of a body that measures up to the ideal may seek acceptance of him- self in the perfection of his own reflection. What he sees in this reflection is, perhaps, not his ‘true’ self but a mask that is put on, a pre-formed surface that reflects the values of the society from which it emanates, perhaps a surface that is only skin deep inscribed by his social enculturation and assimilation. Once put on this mask is very difficult to take off; how many times do we see the words “straight acting” in newspaper advertisements in the gay press describing what is sexually offered and wanted, as though being str8-acting enables our gay masculinity and makes us ‘real’ men? I believe it is no longer an ironic act for gay men to try and fulfil the straight hyper-masculine ideal, not a ‘camp’ ironic comment as it used to be, but a deadly serious endeavour. This has important repercussions for the psyche of all gay men and I discuss these repercussions later in this chapter and also in the (S)ex-press chapter.

As can be seen from the photographs within this text, there has been a development of the complete ‘look’ of the body over the last century. Beautiful muscles compliment a beautiful ‘lifestyle’6 and an equally beautiful tan. Appearance and the power of that appearance is now of the essence. The appearance of this ideal ‘lifestyle’ is available to everyone of us, regardless of social status or age, how rich or poor we are as gay men – yeah, right!

 

Raymond Vino. 'Steve Downs' 1998

 

Raymond Vino
Steve Downs
1998
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 103.

 

Bob Jones (American) 'Short Mens Class', 'Untitled', 'Untitled' 1952

 

(top to bottom)

Bob Jones (American)
Short Mens Class
Untitled
Untitled
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 8
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Now aren’t there some good looking men amongst this lot! I wonder how many of them were gay? Not an effeminate man to be seen here, you can bet your life. These are all ‘real’ he-men: strong, masculine and ruggedly virile examples of manhood. There is still a range of ethnicities present in these 1950s photographs, from Brazilians to Afro-Americans & men of Asian origin but there is not a hairy man amongst them. They probably shaved for the event, a very feminine thing for a man to do! These photographs also serve to illustrate another point: that although body shape might be slightly different when compared to each other, overall the bodies seem to form a homogenised whole, forms which seem to have been pressed from the same mould (‘template man’).

 

 

We observe the billboards with the fashionable ‘lifestyle’ Calvin Klein underwear ads, featuring some truly amazing bodies. We desire these bodies in all their airbrushed glory, ‘simulations’ of an ideal world where bodies are perfect, not all sorts of shapes and sizes as in the real world.

We lust after the perfect idealisation of the muscular body and the projected power that this ‘ideal’ body image and its lifestyle proposes. This perfection is never obtainable, of course, because we can always have bigger muscles, a better tan, more fashionable clothes, etc. … The ‘ideal’ is like a carrot on a stick, always just beyond our reach, like an ever receding dream.

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Posing straps]' 1952

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Posing straps]
1952
Athletic Model Guild advertisement, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 50.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Phallic Armoured Body

In much of the imagery of the muscular male the body becomes a substitute for the undisclosed and hidden power of the penis. The body becomes a huge phallus, hard and rigid, strong, erect, and powerful. The muscular body acts as a phallic symbol, surrounding itself with an implied sexual mystique, the physical embodiment of the male phallic power. But the penis can never live up to these expectations.7 After all the penis is just an appendage of limp flesh and looks faintly ridiculous most of the time!

Thus, the muscular body becomes a form of dominance display; hard, bulging muscles embodying the mystical potency and virility implied in its phallic construction. Gay men are attracted to the fantasy of a powerful phallus. They too want to be powerful. In some sections of the gay community (especially the ‘Muscle Marys’ as they are known) the muscular body is seen as the epitome of physical attractiveness. This body type has a powerful image, as much for the supposed power of its hidden penis as anything else. A big body can stand as a metaphor for the power of a big dick, something which some gay men seem obsessed with. Muscular gay men are often derided by other gay men by saying that ‘he must have a big body because he can’t have a big dick’, or if a gay man is obviously on steroids then his balls, ‘will have shrivelled up like walnuts and he will have no sex drive’.

I wonder whether this a truth or are some gay men just jealous?

The body as phallus has also become an armoured body, supposedly able to protect its occupant from the anxieties and stress of modern life. This body
allows the occupant to control his environment through his body, not allowing any transgressive pleasures / messy secretions / intimacy / love to interject into his controlled armoured existence – no a(r)mour, no love. The body surface becomes an impervious barrier, all orifices closed to seepage across its boundaries. Hard, shiny and smooth nothing can penetrate this perfect projectile. This is especially significant with the onset of the HIV/AIDS virus. A big body was and is perhaps still seen as a healthy body, muscles becoming a sign and symbol of health within the gay community.

“Burn off more than you can chew” (below) is a contemporary advertisement that I believe illustrates the linkage between the phallic smooth, white muscular mesomorphic body and product. Advertising helps encourage the body to become a consumer of the product and postulates the body as a perfect product for consumption itself, at one and the same time. The model with the 6-pak looks longingly at the phallic, erect, penis shaped bar (a ‘bar’ in gay slang is a stiff cock), eats the bar to burn fat, to become ‘ripped’, so other men can gaze at and desire the perfection of his body as a product they wish to consume themselves by having sex with him. His body, his (chocolate) bar becomes a metaphor for the mythological power of his bulging (just) hidden penis.

 

Iron Man

1950s bodybuilders

 

(left to right)

Douglas (photographer)
“Vic Seipke of the N.E.YMCA of Detroit. Height 5’9″. 186 pounds, neck 18, chest 48, arm 17, waist 29, thigh 25, calf 16, ankle 9 and a half. Won Mr. Michigan, 3rd in Mr. Mid-America 7th in Mr. America.”
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 23.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer. “Bill Pearl, another pupil of the Stern gym is 21 and at a height of 5’9″ weighs 209, with a 17″ neck, 47″ chest, 32″ waist, 18″ arm, 8″ wrist, 25 and a half thigh and 16″ calf.”
1952,
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 22.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Bob Jones (photographer). “Jim Park, Mr. World”
1952, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 7.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Fritshe (photographer)
“Mike Barrilli, a pupil of Fritshe, won the Jr. Mr. Atlantic title in 1950. At 20 years of age he is 5’6″ tall and weighs 160 pounds of perfectly proportioned muscle.”
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 21.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer/designer. "Burn off more than you can chew" c. 1999

 

Anonymous photographer/designer
“Burn off more than you can chew”
c. 1999
Aussie Bodies advertisement in Clifton, Paul and Gennari, Isabelle (eds.,). Midsumma Festival 2000 guide. Melbourne: Midsumma Festival, 1999.

 

Body Builders

 

(left to right)

Carl Hensel
Untitled
Nd
in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 193

Anonymous photographer
Bob Paris
Nd
in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 248

 

 

Muscle Gods, Hot Jocks, and Gay Desire

 

“It was my dream to get a body … I would see all of those guys with their muscles and I wanted to be one of them … It’s not even like I want to really even hang out with the muscle gods, I mean, after I do get into bed with one, it usually is a letdown. Beyond the sex, which is sometimes really dull, I’m usually saying to myself, why did you obsess over getting this guy? We never have anything in common. They’re usually so involved in their bodies – and it really is an all-consuming project to be a muscle god, and work out, like, all the time – that they don’t have any interests beyond talking about the gym and the scene. But that’s the thing about it. It’s the private club, the world of the muscle gods, and you don’t want to be excluded from it …”

.
Mark, 44 year-old New Yorker quoted in Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p. 168.

 

In the relationship between gay men and going to the gym to muscle up a sense of belonging to the group is an important factor. Often having been persecuted in early life gay men want to belong to a team, and if belonging to the team that is seen as the most desirable means getting a bigger body then so be it, they will do anything to get that body. Gay men can become muscle gods too!

In the above photograph by Carl Hensel we can see one of these muscle gods, his body pumped up like a hooded cobra about to strike. The importance of his genital area is reduced thanks to the smallness of his posing pouch. In serious bodybuilding reducing the eroticism of the body is important in containing the possibility of homoerotic attraction when men view other men’s bodies. The supposed lack of homoeroticism in bodybuilding is upset when one of the fold, for example Bob Paris (above right), openly declares himself to be gay.

Men do lust after and desire other men’s bodies in any context.

This desire has been commodified in contemporary muscular male imagery. The ‘hot jock’ stereotype has been legitimised as a site of lust and desire. The advertisement below comes from a magazine entitled Exercise for Men Only, a publication aimed primarily at ‘lifestyle’ straight and gay men. These images are not aimed at women. They reveal, as the ad says, “Every shape of their Stunning, Young, Muscular Bodies,” and appeal to men who admire, come along and “feel the heat” of these types of physique. This is soft porn of the entire body a la 1990s style, clothed in the justification of beautiful, artistic cinematography much as the photographers of the 1950s used the devise of association with classical ‘ideals’ to justify the publication of their images. Note how in this advertisement all the bodies conform to the stereotypical ‘ideal’ of the muscular, buff, tanned, white male.

To a great extent this ‘ideal’ has been promulgated and propagated by the imagery used in American gay porn videos since the early 1980s. The imagery of Muscleforce (below) is a good example, linking as it does muscle and power within an eroticism of homosexual lust and desire.

(For more detailed information about the development of the imagery of gay pornography in the media please visit the gay male pornography section in the In-Press chapter).

 

The Muscular Male Body: Positive and Negative Effects

 

“Given their poor reception in the outside world, men who are physically weak understandably experience low self-confidence. What’s surprising is that their mirror opposites – the hunks and superjocks – often suffer from the same problem.”

.
Barry Glasner8

 

Looking at the positive side of developing a muscular body we find several benefits. Increased fitness is healthy and the gym provides a raised awareness of the bodies capabilities. The sense of belonging to a socially powerful group of people that comes with being part of a team may increase your self-esteem; your self-esteem may also be improved through the admiration of others for your body. More sexual intercourse may also occur because your body-type is seen as more desirable by men. James Hatzi from Colts Gym in Melbourne, Australia, sees no negative aspects to the pressure exerted on gay men to get a muscular body:

“They’ve got to eat right to look that way, they’ve got to exercise. So all the things they are doing are positive. If they build themselves up and look good, they’re always going to have a positive outlook. I can see only positive effects of people wanting to improve themselves.”9

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Muscle Heatwave' Vista Video advertisement, c. 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Muscle Heatwave
Vista Video advertisement, c. 1998
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 47.

 

Join Eight Muscular Young Fitness Stars in this Steamy Sequel to “Muscles in Paradise”
Exciting Sequences and Remarkable Photography reveal every shape of their Stunning, Young, Muscular Bodies
Come Along… Live the Adventure and Feel the Heat!
(Includes Beautiful Artistic Cinematography of the ENTIRE Male body)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Muscleforce' c. 1996

 

Anonymous photographer
Muscleforce
c. 1996
Cover of Fox Studios pornography video

 

 

My research suggests that there are positive effects, such as higher levels of self-esteem (but not necessarily), more confidence in themselves, greater fitness and management of health, and the ability to have sex with more desirable partners. But there are also many negative effects which James Hatzi does not mention. Perhaps because he runs a gym?

Dr. Lina Ricciardelli, researcher on body image and eating disorders in The School of Psychology at Deakin University, Melbourne, conducted a study that found that gay men had the second highest level of body dissatisfaction after heterosexual women.10 Further, Arthur Blouin and Gary Goldfield have noted that,

“A relationship among self-esteem, proneness to depression, and body dissatisfaction has been reported among both males and females … Among males, body image concerns appear to be greatest for those who are below average weight for height with serious negative effects on self-esteem and social adjustment. As a result, it has been suggested that men who see themselves as underweight may pursue bodybuilding, male hormones, and steroids in order to attain an exaggerated “hypermesomorphic” look.”11

.
But becoming a bodybuilder does not alleviate these problems and indeed probably exacerbates them. Blouin and Goldfield go on to comment that,

“In addition to the body image dissatisfaction and abnormal eating practices exhibited in bodybuilders, bodybuilders reported perfectionism, feelings of ineffectiveness, low interoceptive awareness, and low self-esteem.”11

.
So much for James Hatzi not seeing any negative effects in bodybuilding!

 

One of the most important studies on the muscular mesomorphic body has been undertaken by Marc Mishkind, Linda Rodin, Lisa Silberstein and Ruth Striegel-Moore. They found that a majority of all men preferred the mesomorphic shape body over the ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (fat). Within the mesomorphic category most men preferred the hypermesomorphic or muscular mesomorphic body. They found that men have a greater degree of body satisfaction when their body shape fits this ‘ideal’. When there is a gap between their actual and ‘ideal’ body types, and the greater this gap, the lower their self-esteem. They observed that,

“The discrepancy between self and ideal is problematic only when men believe that those closest to the ideal reap certain benefits not available to those further away. Research strongly suggests that this is true, both because physical appearance is so important generally in our society and because of the specific benefits that accrue to mesomorphic men.”12

.
This is particularly true within the gay community, where attraction and sex are based primarily on physical appearance and the muscular mesomorphic shape is seen as the ‘ideal’. Indeed, Mishkind et al found that gay men, who place increased importance on aspects such as body build, grooming, dress and handsomeness,

“Expressed greater dissatisfaction with body build, waist, biceps, arms and stomach. Gay men also indicated a greater discrepancy between their actual and ideal body shapes than did “straight” men and showed higher scores on measures of eating disregulation and food and weight preoccupation.”12

.
(For a longer extract from the paper by Mishkind et al please see Appendix A after the footnotes)

 

In this research project I have taken this obsession with possessing the ideal muscular body in the gay community into largely unexplored territory. As can be seen from two of the interviews that I have conducted (See Story 4 and Story 5 in the Personal Press chapter) gay men are placing themselves at greater risk of contraction of the HIV/AIDS virus because of their need to possess the body of the ‘ideal’. This may mean taking risks such as having sex without a condom in order to achieve their desires.

Personally I suffered from an acute lack of self-esteem in respect to my body image; I went to gym for years wanting a bigger body, desiring this kind of body for myself and in others. I could never achieve what I wanted and this made me really depressed; it undermined my self-esteem. But I learnt to live with the body I had and came to enjoy its familiarity. Now as I get older the youth and beauty thing is passing and I am no longer ‘forever young’. This is a difficult time for gay men and a lot (of gay men) enter counselling after the age of 35 to cope with this situation. Magazines with covers, articles and quotations like the one below, using the imagery of young men when advertising an issue on anti-ageing, don’t help either. You might not be this young but you can drool over (t)his aspect of youth that WE ALL strive to maintain.

 

Martin Ryter. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Martin Ryter
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, Cover

 

“Talk about anti-ageing – our cover model looks as if he just graduated high school. The important thing to remember is that Martin Ryter’s cover shot reflects the aspects of youth that we all strive to maintain. You may not always look quite this young, but there is no reason why you can’t look your best at any age.”

 

100 anti-ageing tips.
Special Longevity/Anti-Ageing Issue.
Age-Defying Shoulder Regimen for men Over 35
(as though all our shoulders fall apart after 35!)
Human Growth Hormone: Nature’s Fountain of Youth.
Total Body Training Builds Muscle after 40.
Power Chest Routine Halts the March of Time.

 

 

Nothing halts the march of time I’m afraid. What you have to get used to is accepting the fact, accepting that your body is getting older and changing, and you move on from there. Using a model that, as they say, looks as if he has just graduated high school is promoting the ‘ideal’ of the eternal youth. Gay men are obsessed by youth and beauty, and this magazine panders to their insecurities, telling them that they can beat the march of time, remaining ever youthful and desirable. This is a fallacy much as the strong muscular body is a deceptive phallacy, a hard armoured body that signifies the supposed sexual mystique of the phallus and the omnipotence of the hidden penis.

Another tool ‘Polite Porn’13 magazines such as ‘Exercise For Men Only’use are the poses of the models. ‘Shredded, ageless abs in just 6 weeks’ scream the headlines and there is the model with his hands wandering seductively down to his genital region via his unbuttoned trousers – the suggestiveness of the pose has nothing to do with abs at all and everything to do with sex.

 

Atomic Studio/Mark Howland. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Atomic Studio/Mark Howland
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 36

 

J. Neu. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

J. Neu
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 20.

 

 

Many of the poses in these magazines come straight out of pornography magazines and videos. Arms raised behind head to reveal the erotic under- arm area, genitals pressing against skimpy Lycra outfits so the outline of the cock can be seen, as in the example above. This has to be one of my favourite photographs from this issue, probably close to my ideal body-type (his height, smoothness, size of his arms, magnificent abs, lats, pecs, his button nose and his blue eyes). What would I do to have sex with him?

The body in all its glory becomes both an active and a passive site of desire. In the Prevail Sport advertisement (below) from the same issue of Exercise for Men Only, we can see the gaze of the model at top left actively challenging the desiring gaze of the viewer. At bottom left the hard body as phallus compliments the outlines of the erect penis in the underwear, hinting at its hidden power. At middle left and right the body becomes a passive masturbatory landscape for the viewer as the model is seemingly asleep, allowing the viewer to caress the body with his eyes without fear of rejection. The crotch and arse become the focus of this desire.

(For more information on the gaze please go to the Eye-Pressure chapter)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
Nd
Prevail Sport underwear advertisement
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 15

 

 

It is very difficult not to take binary positions in regard to the positive and negative contributions of gym culture to the gay community throughout the Western world. Nothing in the world is ever solely black / white, straight / gay, masculine / feminine, but many shades of grey in-between. There are both positive and negative effects that emanate from gym culture and the desire of many gay men to attain a muscular mesomorphic body but on balance I believe that gym culture and its ‘lifestyle’ are quite exclusive and elitist. I would suggest that if you are going to try and attain the body that you desire then the best way to go about it is to fully understand the implications of your decision to try and attain that body before you start, and the reasons that lie behind your decision.

Brian Pronger has observed that,

“The ‘new gay man’ … is the man who has developed his body to reflect his desires and therefore his understanding of himself.”14

.
I disagree with this statement.

Contrary to what Brain Pronger proposes I suggest that the ‘new gay man’ who has developed his body has not necessarily developed a greater understanding of himself compared to any other gay man. I propose that what gay men are attracted to is a reflection, and it is only a reflection, a mirror image of how they would like to see themselves; this is not a greater understanding of themselves and having a developed body does not necessarily lead to a greater understanding of the Self. The (self)reflection of a person’s desires through the development of their body may indeed tell them (and you) something about their desires (for a similar body?), but I suggest that this desire has, in many cases, been directed by external forces; by society, reflected appraisal, social comparison and rituals of learned behaviour for example.

In some instances developing the body can be seen as a cure all by gay men to the problems that beset them – insecurities, fear of rejection, and the lack of love, intimacy and connection with other men to name just a few. Unfortunately the development of a muscular mesomorphic body may mask these problems behind a hard, armoured facade where no one can see what is going on, least of all the person that lives in the body. I believe that this is not encouraging or developing a greater understanding of the Self but is perhaps just the self gratification of personal desires enacted through the (self)reflexivity of a perfect image.

Is it not ironic that in a community that prides itself on diversity, the reliance of that community on one type of physical ideal of attractiveness mirrors the discrimination that so many gay men have suffered over the years at the hands of heterosexuals. The muscular mesomorphic stereotype, much as the stereotyping of gay men as effeminate in the past, does not serve the gay community well. It just provides a reinforcement of traditional ‘masculinity’ and its values in the form of the muscular mesomorphic body. I suggest that this type of body has become the outward sign of a patriarchal homosexuality, the dominance of some gay men over other gay men through a desirable visible symbology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan
2001

 

 

Footnotes

1/ Throughout my PhD and project notes (including the development of interview questions, the analysis of data, and the development of evolving theory), I have used the quotation below as the basis for my definition of the term ‘masculinity’.
“The category of “masculinity” should be seen as always ambivalent, always complicated, always dependent on the exigencies [meaning: necessary conditions and requirements] of personal and institutional power … [masculinity is] an interplay of emotional and intellectual factors – an interplay that directly implicates women as well as men, and is mediated by other social factors, including race, sexuality, nationality, and class … Far from being just about men, the idea of masculinity engages, inflects, and shapes everyone.”
Berger, Maurice, Wallis, Brian and Watson, Simon (eds.,). Constructing Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 3-7. Introduction.

2/ Dyer, Richard. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 114, quoted in Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996, p. 195.

3/ See Gorn, Elliott. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986.

4/ “Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known…
Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree.
Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”
Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153.

5/ See Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 85.

6/ ‘Lifestyle’ was a term conceived by the Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler in the 1920s in order to describe the attitudes that inform a person’s experience of life. By the 1960s style, fashion and consumerism had overlaid its original meaning and now a ‘lifestyle’ is perhaps a style of life based on your ability to have, compete and move in valued social circles. It has become a combination of both materialism and psychiatry. Much as ‘homosexuality’ was medically named as a deviancy in the 1870s in order to control that deviancy through treatment and regulation, ‘lifestyle’ has links to the medical profession which names its [lifestyles that is] effects on the identity of the self.
“Lifestyle refers to a relatively integrated set of practices chosen by an individual in order to give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. The more tradition loses its ability to provide people with a secure and stable sense of self, the more individuals have to negotiate lifestyle choices, and attach importance to these choices.”
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp. 181-183.

7/ “The penis can never live up to the mystique implied by the phallus. Hence the excessive, even hysterical quality of so much male imagery. The clenched fists, the bulging muscles, the hardened jaws, the proliferation of phallic symbols – they are all straining after what can hardly ever be achieved, the embodiment of the phallic physique.” (My italics).
Dyer, R. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 116, quoted in Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996, p. 195.

8/ Glassner, Barry. Bodies – Why We Look the Way We Do (And How We Feel About It). New York: G.P. Puttnam, 1988, p. 122.

9/ Hatzi, James, quoted in Cho, Natasha. “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” in Melbourne Star Observer. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 6th June, 1997, p. 9.

10/ Riccciardelli, Lina, commenting on her study in Cho, Natasha. “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” in Melbourne Star Observer. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 6th June, 1997, p. 9.

11/ Blouin, Arthur and Goldfield, Gary. “Body Image and Steroid Use in Male Bodybuilders,” in International Journal of Eating Disorders Vol. 18. No. 2. John Wiley and Sons Inc., 1995, pp. 160-164.

12/ Mishkind, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

13/ McKee, Alan. “Polite Porn,” in Brother Sister. Melbourne. 18th May, 1995, p. 13.

14/ Pronger, Brain. The Arena Of Masculinity: Sport, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

 

 

Appendix A

Extract from Mishkind, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

 

How Men Feel About Their Bodies

One index of men’s bodily concern is their degree of satisfaction with their physical appearance … Studies suggest that men carry with them images of both their own body and also their ideal body, and that these two images are non identical … Dissatisfaction [amongst men] is not general and diffuse but highly specific and differentiated. Men consistently express their greatest dissatisfaction toward chest, weight and waist … Given that men experience significant body dissatisfaction because they see themselves as deviating from the ideal, it becomes crucial to determine the ideal male body type. When asked about physique preferences, the overwhelming majority of males report that they would prefer to be mesomorphic (ie., of well-proportioned, average build) as opposed to ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (fat).

This preference is expressed by boys as young as 5 and 6 (R. Lerner and E. Gellert. “Body Build Identifications, Preference, and Aversion in Children,” in Developmental Psychology 1. 1969, pp. 456-462; and R. Lerner and C. Schroeder. “Physique Identification, Preference and Aversion in Kindergarten Children,” in Developmental Psychology 5. 1971, p. 538) and also by college-age men (L. A. Tucker. “Relationship between perceived somatotype and body cathexis of college males,” in Psychological Reports 50. 1982, pp. 983-989). Within the mesomorphic category, a majority select what we shall refer to as the hypermesomorphic or muscular mesomorphic body as preferred (Tucker, 1982). This physique is the “muscle-man”-type body characterized by well-developed chest and arm muscles and wide shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. Men indicate greater body satisfaction to the extent that their self- reported (Tucker, 1982) or actual (S. Jourard and P. Secord. “Body Size and Body Cathexis,” in Journal of Consulting Psychology 18. 1954, p. 184; and A. Sugerman and F. Haronian. “Body Type and Sophistication of Body Concept,” in Journal of Personality 32. 1964, pp. 380-394) body shape resembles this ideal.

That many men feel bodily dissatisfaction because they do not resemble the mesomorphic or hypermesomorphic ideal might not in itself be particularly distressing. The discrepancy between self an ideal is problematic only when men believe that those closest to the ideal reap certain benefits not available to those further away. Research strongly suggests that this is true, both because physical appearance is so important generally in our society and because of the specific benefits that accrue to mesomorphic men.

 

Mesomorphy and Masculinity

We believe that the muscular mesomorph is the ideal because it is intimately tied to cultural views of masculinity and the male sex role, which prescribes that men be powerful, strong, efficacious – even domineering and destructive. The embodiment of masculinity, the muscular mesomorph is seen as more efficacious, experiencing greater mastery and control over the environment, and feeling more invulnerable … and men consider physical attractiveness virtually equivalent to physical potency (R. M. Lerner, J. B. Orlos and J. R. Knapp. “Physical attractiveness, physical effectiveness, and self-concept in late adolescents,” in Adolescence 11. 1976, pp. 313-326). Hence they experience an intimate relationship between body image and potency – that is, masculinity – with the muscular mesomorph representing the masculine ideal. A man who fails to resemble the body ideal is, by implication, failing to live up to sex-role norms, and may thus experience the consequences of violating such norms.

 

MARCUS: This is very interesting in regards to the relationship between gay men and the ‘ideal’ body image of the muscular mesomorph. I believe that gay men have a very strong relationship between body image and potency. The hard, armoured, muscular body can be seen as a huge phallus, a metaphor for the power of the hidden penis. From my own experience I know that most gay men have a thing about penis size (“he was hung like a cashew,” meaning he had a very small cock, or “he was hung like a donkey,” meaning he had a very large cock are common phrases) and some are real ‘size queens’. When the penis is hidden the external form of the body becomes a conduit for its power. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why gay men desire the muscular mesomorphic body so much, because of the perceived relationship between potency, the hidden size of the cock and the hard body. I do not agree with Mishkind et al that potency equates solely to masculinity. I think that potency is about a sexual virility and desire that is independent from, but connected to, masculinity. Masculinity is not just about men, it is about history, identity, women, society, culture, behaviour and many more perspectives. To equate potency with masculinity without qualifying that masculinity operates from multiple perspectives and in many diverse areas is I think a mistake.

 

A Man’s Body And His Sense Of Self

Studies have revealed consistently a significant correlation between men’s body satisfaction and self-esteem, the average correlation of these studies being around 0.5. Although some studies have found a stronger relationship between body-esteem and self-esteem for women than for men (R. M. Lerner, S. A. Karabenick and J. L. Stuart. “Relations among physical attractiveness, body attitudes, and self concept in male and female college students,” in Journal of Psychology 85. 1973, pp. 119-129; and P. F. Secord and S. M. Jourard. “The appraisal of body cathexis: Body cathexis and the self,” in Journal of Consulting Psychology 17. 1953, pp. 343-347), others have found comparable or even greater relationships between body satisfaction and measures of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression for men than for women (S. Franzoi and S. Shields. “The Body Esteem Scale: Multidimensional Structure and Sex Differences in a College Population,” in Journal of Personality Assessment 48. 1984, pp. 173-178; and B. Goldberg and C. Folkins. “Relationship of Body-Image to Negative Emotional Attitudes,” in Perceptual and Motor Skills 39. 1974, pp. 1053-1054). How a man feels about himself is thus tied closely to how he feels about his body. It remains for researchers to examine the relative importance of body image to a man’s sense of self when compared to other variables such as career achievement, but the data already available suggest that feeling about body play a significant role in self-esteem.

 

Efforts To Decrease The Gap Between Actual And Ideal Body Shape

We have seen that a great number of men acknowledge a gap between their actual and ideal body types, and that the greater this gap, the lower their self-esteem. As a result, men feel motivated to close this gap. This often depends upon which parts of the body are the foci of dissatisfaction. In a large-scale factor-analytic study, Franzoi and Shields (1984) found three primary dimensions along which men’s bodily satisfaction and dissatisfaction occur …

 

MARCUS: According to Mishkind et al basically:

    1. physical attractiveness (face);
    2. upper body strength (muscles); and
    3. physical conditioning (fitness)

 

Given that the physical effects of endurance workouts may be less readily visible than the effects of bodybuilding, we surmise that men who want to be recognized for their physical masculinity are more likely to opt for muscle building as their form of physical exercise … A man who strives to bridge the self-denial gap will experience a heightened attentiveness to and focus on his body. This may render his standards more perfectionist (and hence more out of reach) and enhance his perceptions of his shortcomings. Both his limitations and the gap itself can become increasingly salient. To the extent that he feels he falls short, he will experience the shame of failure. He may also feel ashamed at being so focused on his body, presumably because this has been associated traditionally with the female sex-role type …

Thus far we have focused only on the negative consequences of trying to attain the masculine body ideal. There a powerfully positive consequences. The more a man experiences himself as closing the self-ideal gap – for example, through exercising – the more positive he will feel toward body and self … (My italics). The more a man works toward attaining his body ideal and the closer he perceives himself to approximating it, the greater his sense of self-efficacy.

 

Subcultures Of High Bodily Concern

The increased cultural attention given to the male body and the increasing demands placed on men to achieve the mesomorphic build push men further along the continuum of bodily concern. Men are likely experiencing more body dissatisfaction, preoccupation with weight, and concern with their physical attractiveness and body shape now than they did even two decades ago … we might expect that subgroups of men that place relatively greater emphasis on physical appearance would be at greater risk or excessive weight control behaviours and even eating disorders.

An illustrative group is the gay male subculture, which places an elevated importance on all aspects of a man’s physical self – body build, grooming, dress, handsomeness (S. Kleinberg. Alienated Affections: Being Gay in America. New York: St. Martin’s, 1980; and R. Lakoff and R. Scherr. Face Value: The Politics of Beauty. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984). We predicted that gay men would be at a heightened risk of body dissatisfaction and for eating disorders. In a sample of heterosexual and homosexual college men, gay men expressed greater dissatisfaction with body build, waist, biceps, arms, and stomach. Gay men also indicated a greater discrepancy between their actual and ideal body shapes than did “straight” men and showed higher scores on measures of eating disregulation and food and weight preoccupation. If the increased focus on appearance continues for men in general, such concerns and eating disorders may begin to increase among all men. (My italics).

 

Conclusions

The body plays a central role in men’s self-esteem, and men are striving in growing numbers to achieve the male body image. This may have a profound impact on their psychological and physical health. We suspect that the causes and consequences of bodily concern reviewed here represent a growing cultural trend, attributable to increased emphasis on self-determination of health and the ambiguity of current male and female sex roles. (My italics).

.
Mishkind
, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

 

 

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

30
Oct
22

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

Exhibition dates: 15th July – 31st October 2022

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Historical Material and Loans

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

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

 

Catalogue

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

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Copper and the Daguerreotype

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

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

 

Hermann Biow and Alexander von Humboldt

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

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

 

Daguerreotypes of the Californian Gold Rush

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

 

Cartes de visite of pit brow women

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

 

Ignacio Acosta

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

John Cooper (British) 'Woman miner' 1860s

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Coal and Bitumen: Fossil Fuels and Moorland

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

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

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

 

Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister

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

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

 

Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt and Hermann Reichling

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

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

 

Eduard Arning

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

 

Anaïs Tondeur

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

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

 

Susanne Kriemann

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

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

 

Robert Smithson

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Noa Yafe

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

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Gevaert Photographic Paper

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

 

Alison Rossiter

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

 

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

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

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

 

James Welling

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

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

 

Madame d’Ora

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

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

 

Tobias Zielony

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

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Silver

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

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

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

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

 

Simon Starling

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daphné Nan Le Sergent

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

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Lisa Rave

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

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

 

Mary Mattingly

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

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

 

Lisa Barnard

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

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

 

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

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

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Events in the history of capitalism, ecology, and photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010 Instagram is launched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

13
Oct
22

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

Exhibition dates: 11th June – 16th October 2022

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

As I say, families smamlies!

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

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

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

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

Text from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Selection of Artists

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

14
Aug
22

Review: ‘WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th March – 21st August 2022

 

Entrance of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Entrance of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The black and white show

This is a challenging and stimulating exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square that attempts to answer the question: “who are you” when coming to terms with what it is to be an Australian.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra… [it] considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity… The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness… Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future…

The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world… A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today… Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation… The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist… The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them.” (Press release)

.
This is an ambitious agenda for several large exhibitions, let alone cram so many ideas into one exhibition. And in the end the central question “who are you” is unknowable, unanswerable in any definitive way… for it all depends on your ancestry, and from what point of view you are looking and in what context – and these conditions can change from minute to minute, day to day, and era to era. Identity is always partially fixed and fluid at one and the same time. It is always a construction, a work in progress, governed by social and cultural relations.

“Identity is formed by social processes. Once crystallized, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations. The social processes involved in both the formation and the maintenance of identity are determined by the social structure. Conversely, the identities produced by the interplay of the organism, individual consciousness and social structure react upon the given social structure, maintaining it, modifying it, or even reshaping it.”1

.
Identity construction is a self-referential system where identities are produced out of social systems. They (identities) then act upon those very systems to alter them, and then those systems re-act again forming anew, an ever changing identity. “The task of identity formation is to develop a stable, coherent picture of oneself that includes an integration of one’s past and present experiences and a sense of where one is headed in the future.”2 But that identity formation, while seeking to be stable, is both multiple and contestatory. It is through those contests that a future sense of self can challenge hegemonic power differentials. As Judith Butler observes,

“Thus every insistence on identity must at some point lead to a taking stock of the constitutive exclusions that reconsolidate hegemonic power differentials, exclusions that each articulation was forced to make in order to proceed. This critical reflection will be important in order not to replicate at the level of identity politics the very exclusionary moves that initiated the turn to specific identities in the first place … It will be a matter of tracing the ways in which identification is implicated in what it excludes, and to follow the lines of that implication for the map of future community that it might yield.”3

.
In other words, learn from the mistakes of the past and don’t let them repeat themselves in future identities! Do not exclude others in order to reconsolidate the hegemonic status quo. But people always form identities based on the “norm” – how can you change that? As A. David Napier states, “We rely, sometimes almost exclusively it seems, upon the construction and reconstruction of an evolutionary(?) sequence of events that simultaneously excludes outsiders and provides some basis for justifying our social rules and actions. Thus, we minimize diversity by reflecting on who we are, by achieving, that is, a self-conscious state that is not only accepted but considered desirable…”4

Critical reflection is thus so important in challenging who we are, both individually and collectively. In this sense, an exhibition like WHO ARE YOU is important in helping to reshape social relations, helping to challenge hegemonic power differentials, which in turn affects our personal identity construction by reflecting on who we are and changing our point of view, so that we become more informed, and more empathetic, towards different cultures and different people. So that we do not exclude other people and other points of view.

But all is not roses and light in this exhibition with regard to exclusion.

Whilst a lot of people acknowledge and empathise with First Nations people we can have NO IDEA of the ongoing pain and hurt centuries of invasion, disenfranchisement, genocide, massacres, Stolen Generation, lack of health care, massive incarceration, suicide rates and shorter life expectancy, land loss, cultural loss that the violence of the white Anglo gaze has inflicted on the oldest living culture on Earth. While there are moves afoot (as there have been for years) for Aboriginal constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament, a permanent body representing First Nations people that would advise government on Indigenous policy; and a treaty that would help secure sovereignty and self-determination, enabling First Nations people make their own decisions and control their own lives, economy and land, free from the effects of changing governments – personally I believe until there is a complete acknowledgement of the pain invasion has caused Aboriginal people by the whole of Australia, nothing will ever change.

Having said that, contemporary Australia is now the most multicultural country it as ever been. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census, 27.6 per cent of the population were born overseas and the top 5 countries of birth (excluding Australia) were, in order, England, India, China, New Zealand and the Philippines.5 In Australia, 812,000 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represented 3.2% of the population.6

It is interesting to note that when looking through the art works in this exhibition – nearly all of which can be seen in this posting – how much of it is (historical) white art and how much of it is contemporary Aboriginal art, with a sop being made to art made by, or mentioning, other people including Chinese, Afghan, Muslim and Sudanese. Chinese people have been living in Australia for centuries, Afghan people similarly. Greek and Italian people arrived in droves in the 1950s-1960s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, Sudanese, Indian and Sri Lankan people in the late 20th century. More (historical and contemporary) work from these people was needed in this exhibition because they inform the construction of modern Australian identities.

Obviously the inclusion of so much contemporary Aboriginal work is a deliberate curatorial decision, but its disproportionate representation in this exhibition makes it feel like a “catch all”. Why do the curators feel the need to include so much Indigenous work? Is that how they truly see Australian identity? Also, does the inclusion of this art mean it is the best contemporary art that is available in Australia at the moment, or does its inclusion simply exclude other voices from different nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds that are just as important in the construction of contemporary Australian identities? While there is no denying the historical significance of invasion there needs to be a balance in such representation, especially in an exhibition purporting to investigate “who are you” over a broad range of references. As it stands the inclusion of so much Indigenous work feels like an agenda, a set point of departure, perhaps even an apologia for white guilt. As the critic John McDonald noted recently, we are living “at a time when museums and commercial galleries have gone completely gaga for such [that is, Aboriginal] work.”

Personally, I would have liked to have seen a greater range of voices expressing themselves in this exhibition. It struck me that the inclusion of so much (historical) white art and so much contemporary Aboriginal art formed a rather limited framework in which to examine “who are you”. Rather, I would have liked a more balanced representation through art of the many voices that contribute to the formation of evolving Australian identities, which ultimately could lead to a greater insight into the construction of our own self-portrait. That is the truly important aspect of any navel gazing exercise.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,450

 

  1. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Allen Lane, London, 1967, p. 194.
  2. Erickson, E. Identity: Youth in Crisis. Norton, New York, 1968
  3. Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. Routledge, New York, 1993, pp. 118-119
  4. A. David Napier. Foreign Bodies: Performance Art, and Symbolic Anthropology. University of California press, Berkeley, 1992, p.143.
  5. “Cultural diversity: Census” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022
  6. “Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population summary” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All installation images © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing from left to right, Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man (2012, below); Karla Dickens’ Mrs Woods and ‘Ere (2013, below); and Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song (2021, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018) 'Magma Man' 2012

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018)
Magma Man
2012
From the series The Ghillies 2013
Inkjet print
120.0 x 120.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013
© Polixeni Papapetrou/Administered by VISCOPY, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Ghillies shows the artist’s son wearing extreme camouflage costumes that are used by the defence forces to blend in with their environment. The photographs reflect on the passing of childhood, and the journey out of a maternally centred world into a wider existence. Papapetrou proposes that this is a significant moment for many young men as they seek to separate themselves from their mothers, and assume the costumes and identities of masculine stereotypes, often hiding themselves in the process. Papapetrou photographed her children fro most of her career, and explored a range of stereotypes that surround childhood. These works examine the placement of children and adolescents in a society which is determined and defined by adults.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967) 'Mrs Woods and 'Ere' 2013

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967)
Mrs Woods and ‘Ere
2013
Inkjet print on paper, ed. 3/10
Image: 66.0 x 100.cm
Sheet: 76.5 x 110.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Karla Dickens/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Tjayanka Woods (c. 1935-2014) was a senior Pitjantjatjara artist, born near Kalaya Pirti (Emu Water) near Mimili and Wataru, South Australia. She was a cultural custodian, leader and held significant knowledges regarding cultural law and medicine. As an artist, Woods often referred to the Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa (Seven Sisters) within her artworks. The Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa is an epic and ancient creation story revolving around the start cluster, also known as Pleiades. In 2013, Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, spent several weeks with Woods and other senior Pitjantjatjara artists research the creation story. During her time in Pitjantjatjara Country, Dickens photographed Woods as the aware and intelligent cultural leader she was, with dignity and strength.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976) 'Seven Sisters Song' 2021

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976)
Seven Sisters Song
2021
Enamel paint on road sign
120.0 x 180.0cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
© Kaylene Whiskey. Courtesy of the artist, Iwantja Arts and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Kaylene Whiskey seamlessly combines references to daily life in Indulkana with popular culture. Painted on an old road sign, Seven Sisters Song celebrates Whiskey’s witty sense of humour and personal reflection of Kungkarangkalpa Tjukurpa, the Seven Sisters creation story. Imbued within the work themes of sisterhood and kinship bonds, Whiskey brings together two vastly different worlds. Strong female characters including Wonder Woman, Whoopi Goldberg and Dolly Parton are situated within a desert landscape and seen interacting with native plants and wildlife, including traditional Anangu activities like hunting, collecting bush tucker, and cultivating mingkulpa (a native tobacco plant).

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945) 'William Barak at work on the drawing 'Ceremony' at Coranderrk' 1902

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945)
William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk
1902
Gelatin silver photograph, sepia toned on paper
8.7 x 8.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society 2000

 

 

Wurundjeri artist and ngurungaeta (Head Man) William Barak was an important cultural leader, diplomat and activist. Barak lived near Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, near Healesville, from 1863 until 1903, becoming an influential spokesman for the rights of his people and an informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore. The people of Coranderrk, however, were officially forbidden from observing traditional practices, so Barak began recording them in drawings, often using ochre and charcoals to depict ceremonies and aspects of Wurundjeri culture before colonisation. His artworks are significant expressions of cultural practice, and he is regarded as an important figure int he history of Indigenous Australian art.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Beruk (William Barak) (1824-1903), an elder of the Wurundjeri clan of the Woi-worung, was the most famous Aboriginal person in Victoria in the 1890s. After attending the Reverend George Langhorne’s mission school, Barak joined the Native Police in 1844 and remained there until at least 1851. From 1863 until his death he lived at the government reserve at Coranderrk, at a site near the Yarra River in Victoria. The history of the reserve is one of official interference and mismanagement, and Barak played a significant part in representing the wishes of his community to the government. In the decade of the 1880s he made many paintings and artefacts, mostly of Aboriginal ceremonial subjects.

 

Beruk (1824-1903), artist, activist, leader and educator, was a Wurundjeri man of the Woiwurrung people, one of the five Kulin Nations whose Country encompasses Narrm (Melbourne). It is said that Beruk was present at the signing of the so-called treaty with which John Batman reckoned he’d acquired 240,000 hectares of Wurundjeri land in 1835. In reality, the men with whom Batman negotiated, including one of Beruk’s uncles, had not transferred ownership, but merely given Batman permission to stay temporarily. Beruk was given the name William Barak (a European mispronunciation) in 1844 when he joined the Native Police. He was among the group of people from across Victoria who were the first to join the settlement at Coranderrk, near Healesville, established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1863 following several years of petitioning by community leaders. Beruk emerged as a leader at Coranderrk, which developed into a self-sufficient agricultural settlement. Following the passing of his cousin Simon Wonga in 1874, Beruk became Ngurungaeta (head man) of the Wurundjeri people. During the same period, when European pastoral interests started lobbying for Coranderrk to be broken up and sold off, Beruk led the campaign to prevent the settlement’s closure. It was gazetted as a ‘permanent reservation’ in 1881.

By this time, Beruk was recognised as a leader of his people and as a revered custodian of language and cultural knowledge. As the people at Coranderrk were officially forbidden from observing their traditional ceremonies, including corroborees, Beruk began recording his knowledge in drawings, utilising introduced methods and materials including paper, cardboard, and watercolour to preserve and communicate important stories and aspects of culture and spirituality. On the one hand, his drawings and the artefacts he made functioned as a commodity and were sold as souvenirs to increasing numbers of tourists. Museums in Europe began acquiring examples of his work in the late nineteenth century. On the other hand, and more significantly, Beruk’s drawings represent a profound assertion of pride in his heritage and identity, and the survival of a rich and complex culture in the face of concerted attempts to diminish it. As Wurundjeri elder and Beruk’s great-great niece Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy says: “We believe that what he wanted was for people to remember those ceremonies, so that if he painted them … then people would always know about the ceremonies on Coranderrk and of Wurundjeri people.”

This photograph of Beruk was taken by Johannes Heyer, a Presbyterian clergyman called to the parish of Yarra Glen and Healesville in 1900. The drawing that Beruk is shown working on in the photograph is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Anonymous text. “William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk,” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1961

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is the first exhibition to comprehensively bring together the rich portrait holdings of both the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Revealing the artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media.

Through the examination of diverse and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, WHO ARE YOU will question what actually constitutes portraiture – historically, today and into the future. Examples of some of the more abstract notions of portraits in the exhibition include John Nixon’s Self-portrait, (1990), and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles, titled Jeff the wiggle, 2009-2013. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma man, 2013, a photograph that merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country, Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018, further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. NGV Collection highlights include new acquisitions: Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song, 2021 – a playful take on portraiture by a living artist and Joy Hester’s Pauline McCarthy,1945, a rare example of Hester producing a portrait in oil.

WHO ARE YOU is the largest exhibition of Australian portraiture ever mounted by either the NGV or NPG, and is the first time the two galleries have worked collaboratively on such a large-scale project.

Text from the NGV International website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees' 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees’ Portrait of some rocks (1948, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lloyd Rees. 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Lloyd Rees (Australian, 1895-1988)
Portrait of some rocks
1948
Oil on canvas
76.6 x 102.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1948
© Lloyd Rees/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

 

 

One of Australia’s leading landscape artists of the mid-twentieth century, Lloyd Rees studied at Brisbane Technical College before moving to Sydney in 1917, where he worked as a commercial illustrator. In the early 1930s he concentrated solely on drawing, particularly the rocky landscapes around Sydney, but by the late 1930s he began painting in an increasingly romantic manner. Rocks were a meaningful subject for Rees because they evoked permanency and represented the constitution of the earth. Rees humanises his subject matter by using the word ‘portrait’ in the title, which suggests the rocks have shifted from inorganic to animate objects.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
60.7 × 47.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Immigration underlies the European history of Australia. Between 1815 and 1840, more than 58,000 people, predominately from the British Isles, came to Australia in search of a better life. Women migrants were also assisted to curb a gender imbalance in the colonies, to work as domestic servants and to foster marriages and childbirth.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Immigration is central to the history of Australia. The wistful tilt of this young woman’s head and her thoughtful expression are powerful symbols of the intense nostalgia and fear of the unknown experienced by those in search of a new homeland. Despite its apparent simplicity and sentimentality, the painting captures the issues of poverty, deprivation and emigration that people, especially women, faced in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983) 'Monga Khan 1916' 2016, printed 2019

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983)
Monga Khan 1916
2016, printed 2019
From the Aussie series 2016
Brush and ink on screenprint
Image: 114.5 x 80.5cm
Sheet: 117.5 x 83.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Supporters of Prints and Drawings, 2020
© Peter Drew

 

 

Monga Khan was a hawker, and one of the thousands of people who applied for an exemption to the White Australia Policy, a law which came into effect in 1901. Exemptions were considered for cameleers, hawkers and other traders who were considered essential workers. Drew created this poster and others in the Aussie series using photographs from the National Archives of Australia, and pasted them around Australia’s cities.

He explains: ‘When you address the public through the street you’re entering into a tradition that emphasises our fundamental freedom of expression, over the value of property. I enjoy examining our collective identities and my aim is always to emphasise the connections that bind us, rather than the fractures that divide us’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Maree Clarke’s Walert – gum barerarerungar (2020-2021, below); and at right, Uta Uta Tjangala’s Ngurrapalangu (1989, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990) 'Ngurrapalangu' 1989 (installation view)

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990)
Ngurrapalangu (installation view)
1989
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Elizabeth and Colin Laverty, Governors, 2001
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Uta Uta Tjangala forged a new art form at Papunya during 1971-1972 with startling works such as this one. Working for the first time on a discarded scrap of composition board, artists at Papunya rendered visible and permanent ephemeral designs, formerly made only for use in closed and secret ceremonial contexts on bodies, objects or the ground. The painted designs are closely connected to the artist’s cultural identity, his understanding of Country, and of sacred men’s business, unknowable to uninitiated members of the community.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Maree Clarke is recognised as one of the most respected possum skin cloak makers and teachers in the world. This work represents the first time Clarke produced a cloak to represent her own ancestral identity. Depicted on the cloak are seven important places, which her ancestors come from: Yorta Yorta Country, Trawlwoolway Country, Boonwurrung Country, Muttu Mutti Country and Wamba Wamba Country, as well as Tiperrary in Ideland, and Dunstable in Britain. Clarke has used a rare green ochre to represent her European ancestors. Together, these seven ancestral sites of significance inform Clarke’s identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view detail)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view detail)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Portraiture

In its uniting of artist and sitter, the self-portrait is an intriguing facet of portraiture. The self-reflection is a format that appears to grant the viewer the assurance of revelation and intimate access to the artist’s psyche. However, what the artist intends to communicate to their audience through portraiture is highly varied, and the message each artist conveys is as individual as the artist themselves. Additionally, there is room for the viewer to question how the artist has chosen to depict their image.

Self-portraiture is a diverse genre: there are myriad ways an artist can present themselves. A typical way for the artist to portray themselves is in the role of ‘the artist’, including in the work a visual clue to their profession – for instance holding a brush or paint palette – or showing themselves at work in the studio. As part of an investigation of self, these representations can also communicate the complexities of status and gender. This selection of works explores what the artists intend to reveal or exclude about themselves through their self-representations, considering he environment in which the artists are placed, and the props and imagery they choose to include in the works.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Brisbane-born Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling) studied at the Queensland College of Art from 1997 to 1999. She began papercutting during a period when she was without access to a studio, and was subsequently awarded grants that enabled her to study the technique in several centres throughout China. Her method and style resemble Foshan papercutting, which is widely practices in the home of her maternal grandparents, in Guangdong province. These papercuts are from a series investigating the lives of Chinese-Australians who flourished prior to the introduction of the White Australia policy. The works connect and juxtapose European silhouette portraiture and Chinese papercutting traditions, exploring the notion that a silhouette profile provides a means of ‘measuring’ a sitter’s character with the totemic and floral symbols evoking personal narratives, identity and professions.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view detail)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view detail)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian)
William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children (installation views)
1860s-1870s
Eight cartes de visite, hand-coloured, contained in red leather presentation case
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963) 'My other lives, #7' 2000

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963)
My other lives, #7
2000
From the My other lives series 2000
Type C photograph
102.0 × 145.2cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2002
© LIU Xiao Xian

 

 

Popular in nineteenth-century Australia, stereographs gave the illusion of three dimensions when placed in a handheld viewer. In this work, Liu Xiao Xian enlarges a typical example of this historical form of photographic portraiture and replaces the sitter’s face with his own on one side. Through this double-take, and the playful invitation to imagine an ‘other life’ for this sitter, this work is both a subtle self-portrait and a pointed reminder of the invisibility of the Chinese migrant experience in mainstream conceptions of Australian history and identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938 (installation view)

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter (installation view)
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter

 

 

Brush in hand, there is no mistaking A. D. Colquhoun’s occupation or the studio setting. The young, glamorous model is an essential part of this carefully orchestrated self-portrayal. By also including his painting of the model on the easel, Colquhoun presents himself in the company of not one, but two women whose presence asserts his own dominant masculinity. The artist’s gaze meets the viewer, placing them as the subject of the painter’s attention, creating a complex network of visual relationships between the artist, model and viewer.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Shirley Purdie’s Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (2018, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947) 'Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe' 2018 (installation view)

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947)
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (installation view)
2018
Natural ochre and pigments on canvas (36 parts)
Each: 45.0 x 45.0cm
Overall: 225.0 x 525.0cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2022
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Shirley Purdie (b. 1947) is a senior Gija artist at the Warmun Art Centre who has been painting for more than twenty years. Purdie has lived on her Country, Western Australia’s East Kimberley, all her life. Inspired by senior Warmun artists, including her late mother, Madigan Thomas, she began to paint sites and narratives associated with her Country in the early 1990s. A prominent leader in the Warmun community, her cultural knowledge and artistic skill allow her to pass on Gija stories and language to the younger generations.

In 2018, Purdie was selected to contribute to the National Portrait Gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition, So Fine: Contemporary Women Artists Make Australian History. Composed of 36 paintings, Purdie’s self-portrait Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngaginbe is an eloquent and stunning visualisation of personal history, identity and connection to Country. ‘It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that Country, just like to take a photo … When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too.’ Using richly textured ochres collected on her Country, Purdie’s work is a kaleidoscope of traditional Gija stories and Ngarranggarni passed down to her.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Shirley Purdie is senior Gija woman and a prominent leader within the Warmup Community in Western Australia’s East Kimberley. Combining her cultural knowledge with her art, Purdie creates visual depictions of Gija life and culture. Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, meaning ‘from my women’, is informed by Aboriginal ways of seeing, knowing and understanding oneself within the world. Each of the thirty-six panels shares a story about personal history, identity and Country to produce a non-representational self-portrait of the artist and her ongoing connection to women’s stories. By drawing on the significant women in her life, their relationships and histories, Purdie describes herself through these cultural connections and stories.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Sam Jink’s Divide (Self portrait) (2011, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973)
Divide (Self portrait) (installation views)
2011
Silicone, resin, horse hair
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2015
© Sam Jinks
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sam Jinks developed a talent for drawing and constructing his ideas alongside his father, a Melbourne cabinetmaker. Jinks worked as an illustrator before turning to sculpture. He worked in film and television special effects before becoming a fabricator for artist Patricia Piccinini. For the last ten years he has sculpted independently, working in silicone, fibreglass, resin and hair – human, animal and synthetic.

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922 (installation view detail)

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group (installation view detail)
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939 (installation view)

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove (installation view)
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Herbert Badham was an artist, writer and teacher who specialised in figures, urban life and beach scenes. Having studied for many years at the Julian Ashton School in the 1920s and 1930s, he produced a body of painting that typified the gentle, realist aspect of Sydney modernism of the prewar years. Head of the intermediate art department at East Sydney Tech from 1938 to 1961, he published the populist Study of Australian Art in 1949, and A Gallery of Australian Art in 1954. Badham’s work underwent a minor revival in the late 1980s, with a retrospective show held in Wollongong and Sydney, and three of his urban scenes were selected for the National Gallery’s Federation exhibition of 2001. Arguably the most interesting of several self-portraits of the artist, this painting was featured on the cover of the catalogue of the 1987 retrospective.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935) 'Self Portrait' Between 1951 and 1953

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935)
Self Portrait
Between 1951 and 1953
oil on cardboard
Frame: 57.0 x 47.5cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2000
© Janet Dawson/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Janet Dawson (b. 1935) is best known for her contribution to abstract art in Australia. Following her family’s relocation from Forbes to Melbourne in the early 1940s, Dawson attended the private art school run by Harold Septimus Power. In 1951, aged sixteen, she enrolled at the National Gallery School and attended night classes with Sir William Dargie. Five years later, Dawson won a National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship and went to London, where she studied at the Slade School and the Central School. Returning to Melbourne in 1961, she held her first solo exhibition the same year and in 1963 set up an art school and workshop. Dawson was one of only three women included in the influential exhibition of Australian abstraction, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. Her work is represented in all major public collections in Australia, and has been the subject of exhibitions at the NGV and the National Gallery of Australia.

Outside of her lyrical abstract work, Dawson always practised portraiture and won the Archibald Prize in 1973 with a portrait of her husband, the late writer, actor and playwright Michael Boddy. Painted during an evening class at the National Gallery School, this self portrait shows Dawson wearing an artist’s work shirt over her elegant day clothes, gazing confidently at the viewer.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Lina Bryans’ The babe is wise (1940, below); at middle, Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill (1920, below); and at right, Evelyn Chapman’s Self portrait (1911, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940 (installation view)

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000)
The babe is wise (installation view)
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Lina Bryans was an important part of the modern movement and a member of literary and artistic circles in Melbourne during the late 1930s and 1940s. Her vibrant paintings are characterised by bold brushwork and the expressive use of colour. In 1937, Bryans began painting portraits of her friends. Her most famous work, The babe is wise, is a portrait of the writer Jean Campbell, who had recently published a novel of the same name.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960) 'Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill' 1920

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960)
Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill
1920
Pastel
Image and sheet: 55.5 × 45.4cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jessie Traill, 1961
© Courtesy of the copyright holder

 

 

Chiefly known for her use of pastel, Janet Cumbrae Stewart devoted the most significant part of her career to producing sensuous studies of the female nude and portraits of women. Her portrait of fellow artist Jessie Traill shows Traill in the dress uniform of a Queen Alexandra Imperial Nurse. Nursing was one of the few options open to women wanting to serve in the First World War. Traill, who was living in France, volunteered and was stationed in Rouen in Northern France for three and a half years. Cumbrae Stewart and Traill were friends, both having grown up in Brighton, Victoria, and attended the National Gallery School alongside one another in the early 1900s.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911 (installation view)

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait (installation view)
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman

 

 

Evelyn Chapman, artist, studied with Antonio Dattilo Rubbo in Sydney and travelled overseas to paint in Paris, where she exhibited at the Salon. A few weeks after the end of World War 1 she took up the opportunity to visit the battlefields of France with her father, who was attached to the New Zealand War Graves Commission. Thus, she became the first Australian female artist to depict the devastated battlefields, towns and churches of the western front. Chapman remained overseas with her father, an organist who played in Dieppe, Venice and elsewhere, and married a brilliant organist, George Thalben-Ball, herself. After she married, she gave up painting, but she encouraged her daughter, Pamela, to pursue art. For the rest of her life, Chapman lived in England, only returning to Australia for a visit in 1960. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has her 1911 portrait of Dattilo Rubbo and a number of her paintings of France, Belgium and England. The Australian War Memorial, too, has several of her evocative French scenes.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, William Yang’s Self Portrait #2 (2007, below); and at centre in case, Alan Constable’s earthenware cameras (see below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australian, b. 1943)
Self Portrait #2
2007
From the Self Portrait series
Inkjet print
Sheet: 84.0 x 50.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Ms Cora Trevarthen and Professor Andrew Reeves, 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang shares childhood memories in this self-portrait. He recently reflected: ‘… I cal myself Australian, but I claim my Chinese heritage because that’s the way I look. Central to my art practice is my own story, which I tell in performances with projected images and music in theatres. My story is told against a backdrop of the times. This keys into my documentary-style photography. I have done a series of self-portraits of the same stories for exhibition in galleries. So my art and my life have become entwined and they both feed into each other. And I’ve come to terms with the way I look … It’s a great relief to feel comfortable in your own skin’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Alan Constable’s Green large format camera (2013, below); and at right Alan Constable’s Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera) (2013, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Green large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Green large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
16.5 × 24.0 × 9.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
25.0 × 29.0 × 26.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Box Brownie)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Box Brownie)
2013
Earthenware
17.0 × 24.5 × 18.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

Alan Constable’s lifelong fascination with cameras began when he was just eight years old, as he sculpted the objects picture on cereal boxes. Legally blind, Constable’s sculptural practice sometimes extends to other optical objects, such as binoculars and video recorders. Constable’s method involves holding the camera millimetres from his eyes, as he scans and feels the object, before quickly rendering his impressions in clay. Constable has worked at Arts Project Australia since 1991 and held his first solo show in 2011. His works speak to the processes of seeing and looking, and self-reflexively capture the objects that capture the image.

Display case text from the exhibition

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1978)
Authoring the explorer, James Cook
2015, printed 2016
From the Museum of Others series 2015-2016
Type C photograph on metallic paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of an anonymous donor through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017

 

 

‘Today, we are still conditioned by historical tropes such as the bust-style portraits of colonial men who had roles in furthering the position of colonial Britain at the height of the imperial pursuit for claiming new frontiers, at the expense of the Indigenous custodians of countries including Australia. However, as famous as these colonial figures still are, I try to demonstrate that it is never too late to pierce, subvert and re-stage the spectres of history to gain agency from the position of the other. Through the work, I am proposing: let us scrutinise your history, your identities, your flaws.’ ~ Christian Thompson, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The exhibition will be on display in Melbourne from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

Revealing the rich artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity.

Featuring more than two-hundred works by Australian artists including Patricia Piccinini, Atong Atem, Howard Arkley, Vincent Namatjira and Tracey Moffatt, and featuring sitters including Cate Blanchett, Albert Namatjira, Queen Elizabeth II, Eddie Mabo and David Gulpilil, the exhibition explores our inner worlds and outer selves, as well as issues of sociability, intimacy, isolation, celebrity and ordinariness.

The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, such as the abstract self-portrait by John Nixon and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man, a photograph which merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. Alongside these works, iconic self-portraits will also be displayed by artists including John Brack, Nora Heysen and William Yang.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV, said: “This exhibition marks the first major partnership between the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. By combining our respective portraiture collections and curatorial expertise in this area, we have been able to stage the largest thematic portraiture exhibition in the history of either institution. This presentation will no doubt offer audiences an unprecedented insight into the genre and its place in Australian art history.”

Karen Quinlan AM, Director, National Portrait Gallery, said: “The NPG is thrilled to work with the NGV on this extensive exploration of Australian portraiture. The exhibition comes at a time when, in the current global COVID environment, stories from home, about home, and the artists and identities who have shaped and continue to shape our nation are more compelling and important than ever. It is a privilege to be able to present our collection in conversation with the NGV’s and to explore the idea of Australian identity and its many layers and facets through the lens of portraiture.”

Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future. The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world. Highlight works include a conceptual map depicting self and Country by Wawiriya Burton, Ngayaku Ngura (My Country) 2009, as well as the NGV’s recent acquisition Seven Sisters Song 2021 by Kaylene Whiskey, a painted road sign that is filled with personally significant, autobiographical references to pop culture.

A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today. Works include Hari Ho’s Dadang Christanto 2005, which depicts the artist buried to the neck in sand, referencing the brutal killings of Indonesians in the failed military coup of September 1965, and Alan Constable’s Not titled (Green large format camera) 2013, personifying the act of photography with a hand modelled, ceramic camera.

Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation. Works include Pat Larter’s Marty 1995, a graphic collage depicting a male sex worker, challenging the ease with which society consumes images of female nudity, and Naomi Hobson’s Warrior without a weapon 2019, a photographic series in which the artist challenges stereotypes about Indigenous men from her home community in Coen, by using flowers as a metaphor for male vulnerability.

The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist, as exemplified by Eric Thake’s satirical vignettes of figures in dream-like settings, and Hoda Afshar’s Remain 2018, a video exploring Australia’s controversial border protection policy and the human rights of those seeking asylum.

The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them. Works featured in this section include Michael Riley’s Maria 1986 and Polly Borland’s HM Queen Elizabeth II 2002, two works displayed side by side, drawing connections between archetypal imagery of royalty, with negative renderings of ‘otherness’ found in historical ethnographic portraiture.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is presented by the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is generously supported by Major Partner, Deakin University.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria International

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at centre left, Bert Flugelman’s self portrait (1985, below). The legend of the artworks on the wall is below…
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938) 'Self portrait' c. 1985

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938)
Self portrait
c. 1985
Stainless steel
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Bert Flugelman/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Herbert ‘Bert’ Flugelman, sculptor, painter and lecturer, came to Australia from his native Vienna in 1938, aged fifteen. In the late 1940s he trained at the National Art School; he travelled and studied overseas through the first half of the 1950s. In 1967 he won first prize at the Mildura Sculpture Triennial with a large cast-iron equestrian piece. His subsequent public commissions include the untitled copper and ceramic mosaic fountain at Bruce Hall at the Australian National University; Spheres 1977 (known locally as Bert’s Balls) for the Rundle Street Mall, Adelaide; and the Dobell Memorial 1978 for Martin Place, Sydney. Controversially, Tumbling cubes (Dice) (Untitled) 1978/1979, originally made for Cameron Offices in Belconnen ACT, was some years ago moved to a nearby park, according to the artist a ‘hopelessly inappropriate site’. Cones 1982 dominates the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia, and the Winged figure (Lawrence Hargrave memorial) 1988 towers 6m high at Mt Keira, near Wollongong. Flugelman taught from 1973 to 1983 at the South Australian School of Art, and from 1984 to 1990 at the University of Wollongong, from which he received an honorary doctorate. There was a retrospective exhibition of his five decades’ work at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University in 2009.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973 (installation view)

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Lewis Morley Archive LLC

 

 

Lewis Morley OAM (1925-2013), photographer, was born in Hong Kong and went to the United Kingdom with his family at the end of World War 2. He studied commercial art in London and spent time in Paris before taking up photography in 1954, initially working for magazines like Tatler, London Life and She. In 1961, he founded Lewis Morley Studios in Peter Cook’s London club, The Establishment. Here, he built his reputation with photographs of the celebrities that defined the hip spirit of London in the 1960s, among them Cook, Dudley Moore, Charlotte Rampling, Twiggy, Vanessa Redgrave and Jean Shrimpton. In 1963, Morley took one of the world’s most famous photographic portraits – that of Christine Keeler, short-term shared mistress of a British politician and a Soviet diplomat, naked on a Scandinavian chair. By 1971, Morley’s magazine and theatre work in London was petering out, and he emigrated to Australia, where, he said, ‘bingo! there was the sixties all over again’. Shooting increasingly in colour, Morley took many photographs for Dolly, POL, Belle and other publications that now afford an evocative record of changing Australian culture through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of Morley’s portraits from this era were shown in the National Portrait Gallery’s retrospective exhibition Lewis Morley: Myself and Eye in 2003. His work was also the subject of a major exhibitions staged by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1989-1990; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2006.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Albert Namatjira was a descendant of the Western Arrant people of the Northern Territory. Inspired by the spectacular landforms and vivid colours around his home at the Hermannsuburg Mission in the 1930s, Namatjira fused Western-influenced style of watercolour with unique expressions of traditional sites and sacred knowledge. Sir William Dargie CBE described Namatjira as having ‘tremendous inner dignity’ and within this portrait, he located Namatjira in his country in the MacDonnell Ranges. Holding one of his own landscapes, the portrait represents the intrinsic connection between the artist’s painting and identity. Namatjira was, and still is, an important presence in Australian art and a leading figure in the development of Aboriginal rights.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view detail)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003) 'Sharpies, Melbourne' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Sharpies, Melbourne
1973, printed c. 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006

 

 

‘Rather than capturing the subjects unawares I have encouraged them to pause, and even pose, from the camera. In this way they have an opportunity to communicate directly with me and to project whatever image they believe suits them best.’ ~ Rennie Ellis

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936 (installation view)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Hera Roberts (life dates unknown) was a painter, illustrator, designer, commercial artist and milliner. During the 1920s and 30s she produced many covers for the Home magazine, and arranged photo spreads for the magazine promoting fashionable interiors and furniture. She designed a complete room for the Burdekin House exhibition of 1929, including furniture, and also designed furniture for her companion Sydney Ure Smith. Roberts was regarded as an authoritative commentator on matters of style. She was the student and cousin of the artist Thea Proctor, who was also part of the network of ‘lady artists’ who were able to make their careers in interior decorating and taste arbitration. Co-owner of a millinery shop in Pitt Street called ‘June’, Roberts was also one of the finest female fencers in the Southern Hemisphere, operating out of the Sydney Swords Club.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017) 'Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit'' 2015 (installation view)

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’ (installation view)
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Trevor Turbo Brown, or ‘Turbo’ as he was known, was born in Mildura and grew up on Latje Latje Country. In 1981, Turbo moved to Melbourne were he became a celebrity in the Koori community. He trained as a boxer at the Fitzroy Stars Gym from 1986 to 1991 and would do breakdance street performances throughout Melbourne during the 1980s and 1990s. It was here that he got his nickname. Turbo was a regular character on the streets of Brunswick before he passed away in 2017. In this self-portrait Turbo impinges himself as a dingo, wild and free in the night.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967) Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit' 2015

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
122.3 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Vince Sinni in memory of Trevor Turbo Brown through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2018
© the artist’s estate

 

John Brack. 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australian, 1920-1999)
Self-portrait
1955
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

John Brack created images that explore the social rituals and realities of everyday living. Rendered in a subtle but complex colour scheme, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self-portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been recently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with second from left, Michael Cook’s Tunnel No. 2 (2014, below); at third from left, Ron Mueck’s Two Women (2005, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014 (installation view)

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2 (installation view)
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘In Majority Rule I created staged scenarios that question Australian history and the dominance of those in power. The series features the same anonymous Indigenous Man, multiplied over and over in each image. Australia’s Indigenous population comprises around three or four percent of our total population. My images seek to defy this reality and ask the viewer to speculate about an Australia where Aboriginal people constitute the majority of the country’s population; they paint a picture of a societal structure reversed … The works also serve as reminders fo the lack of Indigenous representation within Parliament, the judicial system and the business world.’ ~ Michael Cook, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005 (detail)

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women (detail)
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Pierre Mukeba’s Impartiality (2018, below); at second right, William Frater’s Reclining nude (c. 1933, below); and at right, Pat Larter’s Marty (1995, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006) 'Impartiality' 2018

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006)
Impartiality
2018
Fibre-tipped pen and printed fabric on cotton
245.0 × 270.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Anne Ross, 2018
© Pierre Mukeba, courtesy of GAGPROJECTS

 

 

Pierre Mukeba was a child when he fled with his family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Zambia, where they lived in a refugee camp before joining family in Zimbabwe. Following the Mugabe regime’s arrest order for non-nationals, the family applied for asylum through the Australian Embassy and relocated to Adelaide in 2006. In this work, Mukeba uses patterned Dutch wax print fabrics commonly perceived as being ‘African’, while in reality, they were appropriated from traditional Javanese bark by Dutch colonisers in the nineteenth century, mass produced in Europe and exported to Africa. This painting is part of a group of works by Mukeba, in which he draws on sociocultural standards of beauty and representations of his community.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913) 'Reclining nude' c. 1933 (installation view)

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913)
Reclining nude (installation view)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1950
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913) 'Reclining nude' c. 1933 (installation view detail)

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913)
Reclining nude (installation view detail)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1950
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974) 'The artist's wife' 1915

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974)
The artist’s wife
1915
Oil on canvas on plywood
47.0 x 32.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

Pat Larter (Australian born England, 1936-1996, Australia from 1962) 'Marty' 1995 (installation view)

 

Pat Larter (Australian born England, 1936-1996, Australia from 1962)
Marty (installation view)
1995
Coloured inks, synthetic polymer paint, plastic, glitter and self-adhesive plastic collage on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1997
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Throughout her career, Pat Larter produced performance art, photography and multimedia images that focus on the consumption of the naked body throughout the media. Often adapting pornographic images to encourage debate on art, the body and censorship, Larter actively looked to challenge society’s ideas of the nude by producing striking, and sometimes humorous images. Marty is part of a series for which Larter visited Sydney’s brothels to photograph male sex workers. By showing the model in a full frontal, active position, Larter reflects on the double standards of how society consumes nudity in art. Images of naked women are viewed with ease, while depictions of naked men cause shock and often outrage.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, John Longstaff’s The young mother (1891, below); at centre Patricia Piccinini’s Nest (2006); at second right, a group of four photographs one by each of Jack Cato, Virginie Grange, Olive Cotton and Athol Shmith (see below); and at right Pierre Mukeba’s Impartiality (2018, above)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

John Longstaff (Australian, 1861-1941, France and England 1887-1895, England 1901-1920) 'The young mother' 1891 (installation view)

 

John Longstaff (Australian, 1861-1941, France and England 1887-1895, England 1901-1920)
The young mother (installation view)
1891
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the NGV Women’s Association, Alan and Mavourneen Cowen, Paula Fox, Ken and Jill Harrison and donors to the John Longstaff Appeal, 2013
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A gifted student, John Longstaff was awarded the National Gallery School’s inaugural travelling scholarship in 1887. Longstaff and Rosa Louisa (Topsy) Crocker married two months before departing to London in September 1887. An intimate depiction of motherhood, The young mother shows Topsy tenderly waving a palm fan over the outstretched arms of her son, Ralph, who was born in 1890. Topsy appears pale and slim after a long winter spent in their one-room apartment, divided by a curtain into sleeping and eating quarters. The subject of the mother and child has its origins in the depiction of the biblical Madonna and Child, and continued to be a popular subject for nineteenth-century artists recoding their personal and secular experiences with tenderness and conviction.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

John Longstaff (Australian, 1861-1941, France and England 1887-1895, England 1901-1920) 'The young mother' 1891 (installation view detail)

 

John Longstaff (Australian, 1861-1941, France and England 1887-1895, England 1901-1920)
The young mother (installation view detail)
1891
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by the NGV Women’s Association, Alan and Mavourneen Cowen, Paula Fox, Ken and Jill Harrison and donors to the John Longstaff Appeal, 2013
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'Nest' 2006 (installation view)

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Nest (installation view)
2006
Enamel paint on fibreglass, leather, plastic, metal, rubber, mirror, transparent synthetic polymer resin, glass
(a-b) 104.2 × 197.0 × 186.4cm (variable) (installation)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2006
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) 'Nest' 2006

 

Patricia Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965)
Nest
2006
Enamel paint on fibreglass, leather, plastic, metal, rubber, mirror, transparent synthetic polymer resin, glass
(a-b) 104.2 × 197.0 × 186.4cm (variable) (installation)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2006
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at top left, Jack Cato’s No title (Nude model) (c. 1928-1932, below); at top right, Virginie Grange’s Untitled (1990, below); at bottom left, Olive Cotton’s The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain) (c. 1935, below); and at bottom right, Athol Shmith’s No title (Nude portrait of woman on beanbag) (
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Jack Cato (Australian, 1889-1971) 'No title (Nude model)' c. 1928-1932

 

Jack Cato (Australian, 1889-1971)
No title (Nude model)
c. 1928-1932
Gelatin silver photograph
Image and sheet: 44.1 × 33.7cm
Support: 49.1 × 37.8cm
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by John Cato, Fellow, 2005

 

Virginie Grange (French; Australian, 1969-1990) 'Untitled' 1990

 

Virginie Grange (French; Australian, 1969-1990)
Untitled
1990
Type C photograph
35.0 × 35.1cm
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist’s family, 1991
© Estate of the artist

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The photographer's shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911-2003)
The photographer’s shadow (Olive Cotton and Max Dupain)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
16.6 cm x 15.2cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010

 

 

Olive Cotton (1911-2003) and Max Dupain OBE (1911-1992) were pioneering modernist photographers. Cotton’s lifelong obsession with photography began at age eleven with the gift of a Kodak Box Brownie. She was a childhood friend of Dupain’s and in 1934 she joined his fledgling photographic studio, where she made her best-known work, Teacup Ballet, in about 1935. Throughout the 1930s, Dupain established his reputation with portraiture and advertising work and gained exposure in the lifestyle magazine The Home. Between 1939 and 1941, Dupain and Cotton were married and she photographed him often; her Max After Surfing is frequently cited as one of the most sensuous Australian portrait photographs. While Dupain was on service during World War II Cotton ran his studio, one of very few professional women photographers in Australia. Cotton remarried in 1944 and moved to her husband’s property near Cowra, New South Wales. Although busy with a farm, a family, and a teaching position at the local high school, Cotton continued to take photographs and opened a studio in Cowra in 1964. In the 1950s, Dupain turned increasingly to architectural photography, collaborating with architects and recording projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Dupain continued to operate his studio on Sydney’s Lower North Shore until he died at the age of 81. Cotton was in her seventies when her work again became the subject of attention. In 1983, she was awarded a Visual Arts Board grant to reprint negatives that she had taken over a period of forty years or more. The resulting retrospective exhibition in Sydney in 1985 drew critical acclaim and has since assured her reputation.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 24/06/2022

 

Athol Shmith (Australian, 1914-1990) 'No title (Nude portrait of woman on beanbag)' 1970s

 

Athol Shmith (Australian, 1914-1990)
No title (Nude portrait of woman on beanbag)
1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
28.0 × 22.4cm
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by the Shmith Family, Governor, 1995
© Estate of Athol Shmith

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with at second left, Danila Vassielieff’s Young girl (Shirley) (1937, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Hollick (Australian, 1883-1977) 'Janet Armstrong, Woodbury Estate, Deniliquin, New South Wales' c. 1939

 

Ruth Hollick (Australian, 1883-1977)
Janet Armstrong, Woodbury Estate, Deniliquin, New South Wales
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
21.6 × 28.8cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Lucy Crosbie Morrison, 1992

 

Danila Vassilieff (Australian born Russia, 1897-1958, Australia 1923-1929, Central and South America, Europe, England, 1929-1935, Australia from 1935) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937 (installation view)

 

Danila Vassilieff (Australian born Russia, 1897-1958, Australia 1923-1929, Central and South America, Europe, England, 1929-1935, Australia from 1935)
Young girl (Shirley) (installation view)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Australian born Russia, 1897-1958, Australia 1923-1929, Central and South America, Europe, England, 1929-1935, Australia from 1935) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Australian born Russia, 1897-1958, Australia 1923-1929, Central and South America, Europe, England, 1929-1935, Australia from 1935)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australian, 1892-1984) 'Boys drawing' c. 1926-1927 (installation view)

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australian, 1892-1984)
Boys drawing (installation view)
c. 1926-1927
Oil on plywood
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Marjorie Webster Memorial, Governor, 1983
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australian, 1892-1984) 'Boys drawing' c. 1926-1927

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australian, 1892-1984)
Boys drawing
c. 1926-1927
Oil on plywood
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Marjorie Webster Memorial, Governor, 1983
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The 1920s saw the advancement of modernism in Australia, due in large part to the dedication of women artists such as Grace Cossington Smith to work in modern styles. Celebrated for her iconic urban images and luminous interiors, Cossington Smith first studied with Antonio Dattilo Rubbo in Sydney, and between 912 and 1914, she toured Germany and England with her family. Following her return to Rubbo’s school, Cossington Smith starting producing work in a cutting-edge Post-Impressionistic style. For several years Cossington Smith worked as a part-time teacher at Turramurra College, a day and boarding school for boys. During this period she developed a painting technique based on the idea that vibrations emanating from colour expressed a spiritual condition as well as optical movement.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-1886, Australia 1834-1857, 1884-1886) 'Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware' 1856 (installation view)

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-1886, Australia 1834-1857, 1884-1886)
Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware (installation view)
1856
Oil on canvas
63.7 × 76.4cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Eleanor M. Borrow Bequest, 2007
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-86, Australia 1834-57, 1884-86) 'Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware' 1856

 

Robert Dowling (England 1827-1886, Australia 1834-1857, 1884-1886)
Masters George, William and Miss Harriet Ware with the Aborigine Jamie Ware
1856
Oil on canvas
63.7 × 76.4cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Eleanor M. Borrow Bequest, 2007

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with at left, E. Phillips Fox’s Dolly, daughter of Hammond Clegg Esq. (1896, below); at second left, Nora Heysen’s Self portrait (1934, below); and at third right, Florence Fuller’s Paper Boy (1888, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Nora Heysen (Australian, 1911-2003, lived in England and Italy 1934-1937) 'Self portrait' 1934

 

Nora Heysen (Australian, 1911-2003, lived in England and Italy 1934-1937)
Self portrait
1934
Oil on canvas
43.1 x 36.3cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Lou Klepac

 

Florence Fuller (Australian born South Africa, 1867-1946, Australia from 1868) '(Paper boy)' 1888 (installation view)

 

Florence Fuller (Australian born South Africa, 1867-1946, Australia from 1868)
(Paper boy) (installation view)
1888
Oil on canvas
61.2 × 45.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Paper boys were prominent part of street life in nineteenth-century Melbourne. Mostly from disadvantaged circumstances, boys as young as eight would work long hours selling newspapers on the city’s streets, many supporting single mothers or siblings, or working to survive independently. The boys were exposed to crime and exploitation, and were seen as hardened and cheeky, yet Florence Fuller’s portrait is sensitive and nuanced. Her work is often focused on those living in poverty, which provides insight into Melbourne’s social diversity. Fuller worked as a professional artist throughout her life – encouraged by her parents and her uncle, artist Robert Dowling – and exhibited at the Paris Salon and the Royal Academy, London.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

Josephine Muntz Adams (Australian, 1862-1950) 'Italian girl's head' 1913 (installation view)

 

Josephine Muntz Adams (Australian, 1862-1950)
Italian girl’s head (installation view)
1913
Oil on canvas
51.0 × 42.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1936
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Josephine Muntz Adams (Australian, 1862-1950) 'Italian girl's head' 1913

 

Josephine Muntz Adams (Australian, 1862-1950)
Italian girl’s head
1913
Oil on canvas
51.0 × 42.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing the work of Simon Obarzanek from his series 80 Faces (2002, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Simon Obarzanek (Australian born Israel, b. 1968, United States 1995-2001) 'Untitled (80 faces) #78' 2002

 

Simon Obarzanek (Australian born Israel, b. 1968, United States 1995-2001)
Untitled (80 faces) #78
2002
Gelatin silver photograph
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2013
© Simon Obarzanek

 

 

The black and white photographs from Simon Obarzanek’s 80 Faces series show frontal portraits of teenagers, captured from the shoulders up with a consistent, neutral backdrop. The sitters are all aged between fourteen and seventeen, the majority from Victoria’s state schools. When capturing their image, the artist only spends five minutes with each sitter, and discusses nothing about their life. In this body of work, Obarzanek explores the idea that the identity or appearance of an individual sitter reveals something new to the audience when viewed as part of a series.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

Simon Obarzanek (Australian born Israel, b. 1968, United States 1995-2001) 'Untitled (80 faces) #59' 2002

 

Simon Obarzanek (Australian born Israel, b. 1968, United States 1995-2001)
Untitled (80 faces) #59
2002
Gelatin silver photograph
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2013
© Simon Obarzanek

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Maria Brownrigg’s An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens (1857, below); and at second left, Samuel Metford’s MacKenzie family silhouette (1846, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Maria Brownrigg (Australian born Ireland 1812-1880, South Africa date unknown - c. 1852, Australia from 1852) 'An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens' 1857 (installation view)

 

Maria Brownrigg (Australian born Ireland 1812-1880, South Africa date unknown – c. 1852, Australia from 1852)
An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens (installation view)
1857
Watercolour and collage on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased, 2017
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Maria Brownrigg (Australian born Ireland 1812-1880, South Africa date unknown - c. 1852, Australia from 1852) 'An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens' 1857

 

Maria Brownrigg (Australian born Ireland 1812-1880, South Africa date unknown – c. 1852, Australia from 1852)
An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens
1857
Watercolour and collage on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased, 2017

 

 

Maria Caroline Brownrigg came to New South Wales in 1852, when her husband was appointed superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company’s operations in the Hunter River district. The family lived at Stroud and subsequently at Port Stephens, where Brownrigg made this portrait of her six children. It is the only known example of Brownrigg’s work. Though ‘amateur’, it is valuable to decorative arts and social historians, for its detailed documentation of an appropriately conducted mid nineteenth-century drawing room, and for what it reveals about Victorian gender ideals and aspirations to gentility.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

Samuel Metford (England 1810-1890, lived in United States 1834-1844) 'MacKenzie family silhouette' 1846

 

Samuel Metford (England 1810-1890, lived in United States 1834-1844)
MacKenzie family silhouette
1846
Brush and ink, pen and ink, stencil cutout with watercolour highlights on paper
43.2 x 64.0cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the Estate of Nancy Wiseman

 

 

Samuel Metford was born in Glastonbury, into a Quaker family. In England he came to specialise in full-length silhouette likenesses, cut from black paper and embellished with gold and white paint. According to the standard text on British silhouettes, Metford made ‘some very fine family groups – Father and Mother surrounded by their children and pets, with hand-painted backgrounds of imposing rooms whose tall windows looked out on wide landscapes, or a seascape with a tall-funnelled steamship in a prominent position.’ Metford moved to America in about 1834, and spent some ten years there, working mostly in Connecticut but also in New York and South Carolina. He returned to England in the early 1840s, and lived there for the rest of his life, although he revisited America in 1869 and 1867. He died at Weston-Super-Mare.

Samuel Metford (1810-1896), specialised in full-length silhouette likenesses on hand-painted watercolour backgrounds, sometimes embellished with gold and white paint or featuring gentrified interiors. Born in Glastonbury, Somerset, he received tuition from French silhouette artist Augustin Edouart, before going to America and working for the next ten years in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. His return to England in the mid-1840s coincided with the downturn in demand for profile portraits occasioned by photography which, by the 1860s, had rendered art forms such as the silhouette passé. This silhouette depicts the family of Francis MacKenzie (1806-1851, seated far right) at Adlington Hall in Standish, Lancashire. Following Francis MacKenzie’s death, his widow, Maria (1810-1874, third from left) emigrated to Australia with her five children. Maria’s eldest son, John (1833-1917, seated, left, at the table), was Examiner of Coalfields in the Illawarra from 1863 and 1865, later becoming Examiner of Coalfields for NSW. Her sons Walter (1835-1886, seated, right, at the table) and Kenneth (d. 1903) are thought to have become clergymen. Her youngest daughter, Maria (1842-1917, second from left), married a doctor, Alexander Morson, in 1875. Another daughter, Caroline (1837-1922, fourth from left), remained unmarried and died at the family property near Dapto in 1922. Other sitters shown in the silhouette are Maria’s mother, Mrs Thomas Edwards (far left); and her youngest child, William, who died, aged six, in 1851. Maria MacKenzie died at Wallerawang in New South Wales in 1874. The silhouette was bequeathed to the Gallery by her great-grandaughter in 2007.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website updated 2018 [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Installation view of Anna Josepha King and Fanny Jane Marlay

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing by unknown artists – at left, Anna Josepha King (c. 1826-1832, below); and at right, Fanny Jane Marlay (c. 1841, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown artist. 'Anna Josepha King' c. 1826-1832

 

Unknown artist (Australia)
Anna Josepha King
c. 1826-1832
watercolour and gouache on ivory
Frame: 9.7 cm x 8.3cm
Sheet: 8.5 cm x 6.5cm
Image: 7.0 cm x 5.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2018

 

 

Before the early 1840s, when photography began to take hold, portrait miniatures were a favoured means by which people might secure tangible and enduring mementos of their loved ones. Typically executed in watercolour on panels of ivory and contained in petite frames or mounted in pendants, brooches, rings, and lockets, miniatures were designed to be clutched, kissed, carried close to the heart or displayed on a bedside table. Many early Australian colonists brought British-made miniatures with them, but increasing numbers of free settlers from the 1820s onwards soon created demand for miniatures by local, readily-available artists.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Unknown artist. 'Fanny Jane Marlay' c. 1841

 

Unknown artist (Australia)
Fanny Jane Marlay
c. 1841
watercolour on ivory
Frame: 7.5 cm x 6.3cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2013

 

 

Fanny Jane Marlay (1819-1848) came to Sydney with her free-settler family around 1825. In 1838, she met John Lort Stokes (1812-1885), an explorer, naval officer and surveyor appointed to HMS Beagle, which was then engaged in a surveying voyage of the Australian coast. In the course of it, Stokes charted much of what is now the coast of the Northern Territory; gave Darwin its name (after his former shipmate, Charles Darwin); and surveyed the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Arafura Sea, the Torres Strait, the Western Australian coast, and Bass Strait. He and Fanny married in Sydney in January 1841. Later the same year, Stoke succeeded to the command of the Beagle. Their daughter was born in 1842. Fanny returned with Stokes to England in 1843 and died while en route to Sydney again in 1848. Back in England from 1851, Stokes was eventually promoted to admiral. He died at his home, Scotchwell, in Pembrokeshire, in June 1885, survived by his second wife, Louisa, whom he’d married in 1856, and by his daughter from his marriage to Fanny.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ada Whiting (Australian, 1859-1953) 'The Earl of Linlithgow' 1901

 

Ada Whiting (Australian, 1859-1953)
The Earl of Linlithgow
1901
Watercolour on ivory
6.6 × 5.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Violet Whiting, 1989

 

Ludwig Becker (Australian born Germany, 1808-1861) 'Caroline Davidson' 1854 (installation view)

 

Ludwig Becker (Australian born Germany, 1808-1861)
Caroline Davidson (installation view)
1854
Watercolour on fictile ivory
Image: 5.7 × 4.6cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1996
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown artist (Australia) 'Thomas and John Clarke, bushrangers, photographed in Braidwood gaol' 1867

 

Unknown artist (Australia)
Thomas and John Clarke, bushrangers, photographed in Braidwood gaol
1867
Albumen silver photograph laid down on a section cut from a nineteenth-century album page
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased, 2019

 

 

John (c. 1846-1867) (left) and Thomas Clarke (c. 1840-1867), bushrangers, grew up near Braidwood and from a young age were schooled in nefarious activities including horse-theft. John was 17 when he first went to prison and Thomas was purported to have ridden with the infamous Ben Hall. In October 1865, Thomas escaped from gaol while awaiting trial for armed robbery; thereafter, aided by various mates, he embarked on a string of depredations around Braidwood, Araluen and further south. In April 1866, at Nerrigundah, the gang engaged in a hold-up that left a policeman dead. Thomas was outlawed in May, by which time John had joined him. Reports described them as ‘well-mounted, and armed to the teeth’. In September 1866 colonial secretary Henry Parkes sent four special constables to Braidwood ‘for the express purpose of hunting down the desperate marauders’. In January 1867, the four were murdered in an ambush at Jinden. The Clarkes were blamed immediately and the authorities offered rewards of £1000 each, alive or dead. Aided by an effective bush telegraph system, the brothers evaded capture until April 1867, when they were tracked to a hideout near Araluen, apprehended, and taken to Braidwood Gaol. There, an as yet unidentified photographer took portraits that were sold by a Goulburn bookseller for two shillings and sixpence each. The brothers were later tried in Sydney before Sir Alfred Stephen, who in sentencing them to death noted the more than 60 offences, excluding murders, of which they were suspected.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing a selction of cartes de visite: at top left, Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (Australia 1854-1900) Maria Windeyer (c. 1865-1868); at second left top, Batchelder & O’Neill (Australia active 1857-1863) Frances Perry (c. 1863); at second right top, Townsend Duryea (Australian born America, 1823-1888) Sarah and Ann Jacob c. 1866; at top right, Batchelder & O’Neill (Australia active 1857-1863) Lady Barkly (1863); at bottom left, James E. Bray (Australia 1832-1891) Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist (c. 1870); at centre bottom, Stephen Edward Nixon (England 1842 – Australia 1910) Catholic clergymen from the Diocese of Adelaide (c. 1862); and at bottom right, Archibald McDonald (Canada c. 1831 – Australia 1873, Australia from c. 1847) Chang the Chinese Giant with his wife Kin Foo and manager Edward Parlett (c. 1871)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

James E. Bray (Australia, 1832-1891) 'Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist' c. 1870

 

James E. Bray (Australia, 1832-1891)
Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist
c. 1870
albumen silver carte de visite photograph
Mount: 10.1 cm x 6.2cm
Image: 9.4 cm x 5.5cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased, 2017

 

 

Marie Sibly (c. 1830-1894), mesmerist and phrenologist, performed in towns throughout Australia for nearly twenty years. Purportedly French-born, she arrived in Sydney around 1867 and worked as a clairvoyant, making her first stage appearances in 1868. By 1871 she was in Melbourne, ‘manipulating heads’ for packed houses at Weston’s Opera House on Bourke Street before embarking on a tour of Victoria. Through the 1870s she toured New South Wales and Queensland, her shows incorporating séances, phrenological readings and hypnotisms whereby audiences members were induced to fight, dance, sing or behave absurdly. A report of one performance described how she convinced two men to fetch a leg of lamb from the butcher; she then made them think they were dogs and they ate it. Her later repertoire included ‘baby exhibitions’ in which prizes were awarded to the specimens with the best mental and physical capacity. She took up land at Parkes in 1877 but continued touring regardless. By the mid-1880s she was in New South Wales again, performing with her daughter, ‘Zel the Magnetic Lady’, and advertising her range of remedies for conditions such as gout, rheumatism and neuralgia. She was known by various names throughout her career although it is unclear how many husbands she had. Having ‘retired from the platform’ she ran a store at Drake, near Tenterfield, where she died in April 1894.

James E Bray ran a business called the ‘Prince of Wales Photographic Gallery’ on George Street, Sydney, which was sold in late 1865. He then went to Victoria, and by early 1868 was reported as ‘having an extensive gallery built at his place of business, Camp Street, Beechworth’. There, he was enabled to ‘execute Every Variety of Photographic Portraiture’, including ‘Cartes de Viste, Tinted or Fully Colored in Water Colors’. He appears to have stocked portraits of international celebrities (such as the conman Arthur Orton, aka The Tichborne Claimant) in addition to taking likenesses for local citizens. Notably, he was among the photographers who documented the Kelly gang and their off-shoots: such as the 22 men of Irish descent who were banged up in Beechworth Gaol for four months without charge in 1879 on the off-chance they might be Kelly sympathisers. Another of Bray’s cartes shows constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, whose attempt to arrest Dan Kelly had initiated the gang’s formation in the first place. Marie Sibly performed in the Beechworth area on several occasions during Bray’s time there. Her reading of certain gentlemen’s heads in Eldorado in August 1871 was judged so accurate that it was assumed she’d ‘received some private information about the parties’; and at a séance in Wangaratta that year, ‘a young man, while under mesmeric influence’ had ‘rudely seized’ the wife of another chap, who struck said young man with a stick. In winter 1879 Sibly was in Beechworth, Chiltern, Corowa, Bright and other towns, variously causing offence, sensation or consternation, it seems, wherever she went – and thus becoming a ‘sure card’ for photographers.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ola Cohn (Australian, 1892-1964) 'Lina' 1958 (installation view)

 

Ola Cohn (Australian, 1892-1964)
Lina (installation view)
1958
Earthenware
34.4 x 14.9 x 21.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Lina Bryans, 1969
© Centre for Adult Education & Box Hill Institute
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ola Cohn (Australian, 1892-1964) 'Lina' 1958

 

Ola Cohn (Australian, 1892-1964)
Lina
1958
Earthenware
34.4 x 14.9 x 21.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Lina Bryans, 1969
© Centre for Adult Education & Box Hill Institute

 

Ah Xian (Australian born China, b. 1960) 'Dr John Yu' 2004 (installation view)

 

Ah Xian (Australian born China, b. 1960)
Dr John Yu (installation view)
2004
Glazed ceramic
42.0 x 42.0 depth 31.0cm
Commissioned with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2004
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ah Xian came to Australia from Beijing in 1989, having already gained some recognition and experience as an artist here. His application for permanent residency took many years to process, and he worked for a long time as a house painter. He began casting porcelain busts and painting them with traditional Chinese designs in 1997; an artist-in-residency followed, he sold a bust to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, and he held his first solo show in Melbourne in 2000. The following year, he won the National Gallery of Australia’s inaugural National Sculpture Prize with his life-size painted cloisonne enamel figure Human human: “Human Human : Lotus Cloisonne Figure 1 (2000-2001)”.

Dr John Yu (b. 1934), retired paediatrician and hospital administrator, was born in Nanking, China and moved to Australia with his parents when he was three years old. Educated in Sydney, from 1961 he worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children (which became the New Children’s Hospital, Westmead), becoming Head of Medicine and serving as its Chief Executive for 19 years before retiring in 1997. For many years he chaired and served on diverse bodies related to children’s health, education, medicine and the arts. From 2004 he was Chair of VisAsia, promoting appreciation of Asian visual arts and culture. He has published a number of books and many papers on paediatrics, hospital management and the decorative arts. Accepting his Australian of the Year Award in 1996, Yu said, ‘I am proud of my Chinese heritage but even prouder to be an Australian’.

In his celadon bust, Ah Xian depicts Yu life-size with his eyes closed while four colourful miniature children clamber over him. In Chinese tradition, children indicate great prosperity and happiness. As Yu noted: ‘A lot of Chinese sculptures have young children climbing all over the subject. I was really pleased because it related to and reflected on my life work as a paediatrician.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website updated 2018 [Online] Cited 28/06/2022

 

Ah Xian celebrates a once-threatened Chinese artisanal tradition of porcelain-ming and decoration. His portraits are a statement of creative freedom and his Chinese-Australian identity, which he shares with his sitter. The mould for this bust was cast in plaster from life – ‘a funny spooky feeling’ according to the subject, who was 1996 Australian of the Year, Dr John Yu. Yu observed of his portrait, ‘people might assume that the first thing that remains me of my heritage is my facial appearance. But it’s not. It’s actually the children … A lot of Chinese sculptures have young children climbing all over the subject. I was really pleased because it related to and reflected on my life work as a paediatrician’.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

Ah Xian (Australian born China, b. 1960) 'Dr John Yu' 2004

 

Ah Xian (Australian born China, b. 1960)
Dr John Yu
2004
Glazed ceramic
42.0 x 42.0 depth 31.0cm
Commissioned with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2004
© Ah Xian

 

Ricardo Idagi (Australian / Meriam Mir, b. 1957) False Evidence Appearing Real 2012 (installation view)

 

Ricardo Idagi (Australian / Meriam Mir, b. 1957)
False Evidence Appearing Real (installation view)
2012
Earthenware, under glaze, wood, steel, plastic and glassMeasurements
60.0 × 37.0 × 27.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2013
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Brook Andrew. 'I Split Your Gaze' 1997

 

Brook Andrew (Australian, b. 1970)
I Split Your Gaze
1997, printed 2005
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2005

 

 

‘I’ve cut the image in half and then reversed it so you can’t actually look at the person straight on. And I suppose that’s what racism is about. It’s about cutting racism down the centre. It’s about cutting differences down the centre. Neither part of the portrait in I split your gaze is whole and in being simultaneously halved and doubled the viewer is forced to stare blankly through the image, rather than making eye contact with the subject. Identity becomes mutable through repetition and we observe the man without really looking at him. The work operates as a metaphor for Australia as a society divided on issues concerning race relations.’ ~ Brook Andrew, 2005

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Mike Parr (Australian, b. 1945) John Loane (printer) (Australian, b. 1950) '12 untitled self portraits (set 3)' 1990 (installation view)

 

Mike Parr (Australian, b. 1945)
John Loane (printer) (Australian, b. 1950)
12 untitled self portraits (set 3) (installation view)
1990
Drypoint on 12 sheets of paper, unique state prints on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Sara Kelly 2010. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the early 1980s Mike Parr embarked no his ‘Self Portrait Project’, exploring representation of the psychological self. An artist who works across live performance, photography, works on paper, sculpture and installation, Parr said: ‘I am constantly finding ways to perform the alienation of likeness’. In this work, Parr’s self-image simultaneously coalesces and violently disintegrates across the drypoint plates. The work’s burrs – jagged edges where the needle has ripped through the metal – record the violence of the printing process. The butts hold more ink, creating the deep black lines and a ferocious visualisation of internal turmoil and chaos.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at centre, Peter Booth’s Painting (1977, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan