Archive for the 'landscape' Category

12
Jul
16

Review: ‘Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st May – 24th July 2016

National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition

Curator: Shaune Lakin

 

 

An independent vision

 

Pictorialism, Surrealism and Modernism: Light, geometry and atmosphere

This is the quintessential hung “on the line” exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia which features the work of two well respected Australian photographers, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton, showing over three gallery spaces at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne. Of its type, it is a superb exhibition which rewards repeated viewing and contemplation of the many superb photographs it contains.

While Dupain may be the more illustrious of the two featured artists – notable for taking the most famous photograph in Australian photographic history (Sunbaker, 1937, below); for being the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism; and for bringing a distinctly Australian style to photography (sun, sea, sand) – it is the artist Olive Cotton’s work that steals almost every facet of this exhibition through her atmospheric images.

Dupain’s importance in the history of Australian photography cannot be underestimated. He dragged Australian photography from Pictorialism to Modernism in a few short years and met fierce resistance from the conservative camera clubs, stuck in the age of Pictorialism, because of it. He was the first to understand what Modernism meant for the medium in Australia, and how photographers would in future picture the country. He wanted to see the world through ‘modern’ eyes. As he observed, ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’ Dupain’s awareness of the ‘zeitgeist’ of modernity was coupled with a keen eye for composition, light and form (what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’), and an understanding of photography’s expressive potential. Over the next 50 years he captured many memorable images, some of the most famous images ever taken of this sun burnt country.

Dupain started to hit his straps with his early cross-over images which contained elements of both Pictorialism and Modernism. His 1930s series of three photographs of Fire Stairs at Bond Street Studio (one of which is feature in the exhibition), and images such as Design – suburbia (1933, below) and Still life (1935, below) still possess that soft, raking light that was so beloved by Pictorialists, coupled with an implicit understanding of form, geometry and light. As fellow photographer David Moore observes, by the time of photographs such as Pyrmont silos (1935, below) and Through the Windscreen (1935), ‘any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’. That sense of the European avant-garde, the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, the strength of industrial forms, imbues Dupain’s photographs with a crisp, clean decisiveness, that ‘symphony of forms and textures’. Whether it be the monumentalism of silos, or the monumentalism of bodies (such as in the classic Bondi, 1939), Dupain relished the opportunity to merge aesthetics with representation, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible within the medium, believing that both representation and aesthetics could exist within the same frame. Evidence of this merging of can be seen in photographs such as Untitled [Factory chimney stacks] (1940, below) and Backyard, Forster, New South Wales (1940, below). These images are silent in their formalism… they are very quiet, and still, and rather haunting, beautiful in their tonality (with lots of yellow in the 8 x 10 and perhaps even small prints).

Dupain and Cotton both revel “in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present,” and evidence “a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.” But as the press release insightfully observes, “Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.” And this is where the photographs of Olive Cotton are so much more engaging, and alive, than those of Max Dupain.

While Dupain was busy running a commercial studio (with Cotton his assistant and for a couple of years his wife), Olive seems to have had more freedom to experiment, to express herself in a less structured way than her erstwhile husband. Walking around this exhibition my initial thoughts were wow, Olive Cotton, you are an absolute star. Photographs such as The way through the trees (1938, below), while not possessing the technical brilliance of a Dupain, possess something inherently more appealing – a sensitivity and feeling for subject that nearly overwhelms the senses. Truly here is a symphony of texture, light and form. The composition is a subtle paean, a song of praise to the natural and modern world – a world of geometry, textures, light and form. The rendition of this image, a performance of interpretation, is simply magnificent in its sensitivity to subject matter. The print is also glorious in its delicacy and colour. For me, this is what is so appealing about the work of Olive Cotton, an innate sensitivity that all of her photographs seem to possess – in composition, in proportion, in printing and in colour. Cotton maintained an independent vision forged out of experimentation, creating spaces for erotic imaginings, spaces for action and spaces for quiet contemplation. Her use of light and shade, of body and shadow, of classical and modernist motifs …. is superlative. While Dupain’s photographs are more structured and more dazzling in a technical sense, Cotton’s photographs possess more “atmosphere”, a complex and insightful way of seeing and imaging the world which has few equals in the annals of Australian photography.

Below is a short transcription of a voice memo I made on my phone as I toured around the exhibition for the third time:

“What a great show this is, the photographs of Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. But it is the photographs of Olive Cotton that are the wonder of this exhibition. Photographs such as Orchestration in light (1937, below), Sky submerged (c. 1937) and especially The way through the trees (1938, below) are just masterpieces of complex seeing. A sort of… mmmm … an intimate previsualisation where there are hints of Pictorialism – dappled light, moss on the trees – and yet there is a geometric form to the composition that marks it as definitively Modernist. As the wall text states, “this exceptional landscape appears at first glance like a classic Pictorialist view of the Australian bush but typical of Cotton’s best pictures, this landscape merges Pictorialism’s stylistic and formal codes  with those of a cosmopolitan modernist sensibility. Cotton pays particular attention to the similarly angled tree trunks, as well as the all over pattern of the spotted gums and the dapples of light, not bound or hemmed in dogma, Cotton created a view of being completely immersed in the landscape.” The colour of the print, there are hints of pinks and greens and beiges. When was it taken and printed, it must have been an early one, 1938 … and then again the beautiful tonality of it. Wow!

As with all of her best work Cotton is constructing her environment – through music, through geometry, through light. Over the city (1940, below), the light over the city, the shadow of the city, the silhouette of the city in outline, followed by Grass at sundown (1939, below) shooting contre jour, into the light. In Max after surfing (1937, below) there is evidence of Cotton’s understanding of the play of form, of light, of shadow and the composition of the pictorial plane into triangles, horizontals and verticals. This creates a sense of mystery within the four walls of the photograph. As art historian Tim Bonyhady observes, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. The sensuality and atmosphere of the Cotton’s are just gorgeous. Olive Cotton just has such a marvellous grasp of the construction of the picture plane using form, texture and shadow… and feeling. If had a choice I would take away most of the Cotton’s (laughs), because I think they are just amazing…”

There are so many great images in this exhibition, from both Cotton and Dupain, that is hard to know where to start. I haven’t even mentioned images such as Dupain’s sensual but commercial Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935, below), his seminal Street at Central (1939, below) with its raking light and abstraction, or Cotton’s most famous image Teacup ballet (1935, below). I could go on and on. The only disappointment with the exhibition is that, for the uninitiated, there is little to place both photographers works in the context of their time and place, other than a few The Home magazines in a couple of display cases and the wall text. There is little sense of what a tumultuous period this was in Australian history – between two world wars, during a depression, with the advent of modernity, freedom of movement through cars, White Australia policy in full swing, meat and four veg on the table, women’s place in the home, the rise of vitalism and the cult of the bronzed Aussie body and the worship of nature and the outdoors, mateship and the beach as a place of socialisation. But that is the nature of such a classic, hung “on the line” exhibition. It would have been great to see some large photographs, floor to ceiling, of the environment from which all these nearly contextless (as in a particular time and place) images emerged but this is a minor quibble. In the end, I restate that this is a stunning exhibition that is a must see for any aficionado of great Australian photography. Go see it before it closes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,685

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

 

 

“I like few people … to go into a room of strangers is a chore for me … I can effect a relationship, but afterwards, I think: was it worth it?”

.
Max Dupain

 

“Looking at the work of these two great Australian photographers together is enlightening; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Rarely do we get to see two great Australian artists working side-by-side in this way. And while Max Dupain’s reputation might now stand well above most other Australian photographers, this exhibition shows that Olive Cotton had a significant role to play in his development as a photographer, and was in many ways his equal.”

.
Shaune Lakin

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Gallery one

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

installation-g

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

At left, Max Dupain’s Bawley Point landscape (1938) and middle, Dupain’s Untitled [Factory chimney stacks], 1940

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s famous Sunbaker (1937) is second from the right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Olive Cotton’s most famous image, Teacup ballet (1935) at left

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Jean with wire mesh (c. 1935) at right

Gallery two

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Cabinet with view of The Home magazine (April 1st 1933 right) which feature the photographs of Max Dupain

Gallery three

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain’s Street at Central (1939) left, followed by his Thin man (1936) and Olive Cotton’s Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model) (1937) at right

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain' at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Max and Olive: The photographic life of Olive Cotton and Max Dupain at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne
All images © Marcus Bunyan, The National Gallery of Australia and The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

 

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 website

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind' c. 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, ‘O summer sun’:

O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' c. 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
c. 1935
gelatin silver photograph
14.8 x 14.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1998

 

 

In this highly abstracted portrait, Cotton seems to present Dupain as an athlete – perhaps, with his strangely extended arms, a hammer thrower, in an image that predates by at least two years Dupain’s own photographs of athletes outdoors. It is likely that Cotton photographed her friend in this way because of the graphic pictorial effect she wished to achieve. Cotton exploits the shape of the Rolleiflex camera’s square-format film: Dupain’s body cuts across the right-hand corner of the picture, from which his overstretched forearms (the shape and tone of which were the result of much dodging and burning in the darkroom) create a diagonal oblique angle that is classically modernist. A similar conflation of diagonal lines, which was common to the ways that modern life in Australia at the time was represented in advertising and architectural photography, can also be seen in pictures such as Surf’s edge and Teacup ballet.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

“Max Dupain put his lack of clannishness down to a temperament which inclined to the stoic and an early life as an only child. He relished the solitude of his darkroom, familiar places and routines and the early morning calm of Sydney Harbour, where he rowed his scull until prevented by ill health in the early 1990s. He was not a joiner or follower of teams; he was republican in politics and agnostic. Philosophically, Dupain mixed rationalism and a less defined alliance with the passionate exhortation to live directly in one’s environment, body and heart. This philosophy was espoused by poets and writers such as D.H Lawrence, from the movement known in the 1920s and 1930s as Vitalism.

Although he acknowledged that he was a bit of a loner by temperament, portraiture was a significant part of Max Dupain’s personal and professional work. He included some dozen or so portraits in his selection for his 1948 monograph, fifty plates showing ‘my best work since 1935’. Dupain’s images, including many portraits especially of the 1930s to 1960s, have stamped the public image of this era of rapid progress and increasing cultural sophistication in Australia. Portraiture was at the top stratum of Dupain’s first three decades of work but volume decreased markedly from the 1960s, when Max Dupain and Associates, his business, began to specialise in architectural and industrial commissions.”

‘Vintage Max’ by Gael Newton, 1 June 2003

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Sunbaker
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
37.7 x 43.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982

 

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 photograph
16.6 x 15.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The sleeper' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The sleeper
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
29.2 h x 25.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]' Nd (probably late 1930s)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Untitled [Olive Cotton in Wheat Fields]
Nd (probably late 1930s)
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton shot this portrait of fellow Australian photographer, Max Dupain during their brief marriage at their home in Longueville on Sydney’s lower north shore. Dupain is captured affectionately in the portrait, represented as at once casual through pose and, as industrious on account of his rolled up sleeves and the Rolleiflex TLR camera which hangs from his neck. It is indicative of the combination of a working and personal relationship Cotton and Dupain shared during the late 1930s when they operated a commercial studio together. The couple separated in 1941 but Cotton went on to manage the Dupain Studio while Max was away serving as a camouflage officer during the Second World War 1.

1. Ennis H 2005, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, p. 6

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Max after surfing' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Max after surfing
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This intimate study of Dupain, who Cotton was romantically involved with at the time, first appeared in the mid-1990s; Cotton did not include it in her reassessment of her oeuvre in the mid-1980s that involved making prints of her best images. For many commentators, this remains a radical image in the history of Australian photography. For the art historian Tim Bonyhady, it ‘is not just one of the most erotic Australian photographs, but possibly the first sexually charged Australian photograph by a woman of a man’. This is the only known vintage print of the image, which inexplicably carries the signature and a message from the fashion photographer George Hoyningen‑Huene, who visited Sydney in December 1937 and spent time with Dupain. It suggests perhaps that Hoyningen-Huene was present when Cotton made the print.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max after surfing is a portrait of Dupain taken in 1939, around the time of their brief marriage. While the photograph was taken indoors, the sharply delineated contrast and the dramatic interplay between light and shade evoke harsh sunlight. The work is loaded with suggestion and emotional intimacy. As art historian and curator Helen Ennis noted in 2000, the close vantage point and the tension between visible form and dense shadow ‘creates a space for erotic imaginings’.

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Jean with wire mesh' c. 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Jean with wire mesh
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
46.0 h x 34.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2006

 

 

This portrait of Jean Lorraine, a close friend of Cotton, was one of many taken of her by Cotton and Dupain. This photograph is notable for its technical virtuosity – Dupain’s control of the variegated light across Jean’s body, beautifully lyrical and sensuous, is masterful. It also reflects Dupain’s active interest in the work of Man Ray, whose earlier Shadow patterns on Lee Miller’s torso (1930) was no doubt an influence. Like Man Ray’s image of his lover, Dupain’s portrait of Jean is also notable for its eroticism. While Dupain might have argued that this photograph was a study of light falling on surfaces, the light and shade take particular pleasure in the form of Jean’s naked torso. This eroticism has been underplayed throughout the history of the picture, not surprising given the nature of the relationships involved: when it was published in The Home in February 1936, Jean with wire mesh was known simply as a Photographic study. Dupain printed at least two versions of this shot, another with Jean’s eyes open.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Girl with mirror' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Girl with mirror
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 31.7 h x 29.9 w cm sheet 32.6 h x 30.6 w cm
Purchased 1987

 

 

The photographs Cotton took while attending Dupain’s fashion shoots often focussed on the graphic effects created by light rather than fashion or the dynamics of the shoot itself. Cotton’s role as assistant left her free to explore personal interests, without the imperative of getting a shot for the assignment. This image of a model attending to her make-up, seemingly absorbed in her own image, is primarily concerned with the patterns created by light falling on sand dunes and the way they contrast with the decorative print of her clothing. It is notable that the image we see in the mirror is not the model’s face, but the patterns created by light hitting the sand. As Cotton later remembered, ‘I took it mostly because I really liked the pattern in the sand and the contrasting pattern in the left-hand corner’, which includes a series of diagonal shadows cast by Dupain’s tripod.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'The floater' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
The floater
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia
Purchased 1976

 

 

Two versions of this image of a woman floating in water were printed by Dupain, so like Sunbaker it held particular interest for him. It acknowledges one of the great moments in avant-garde photography, André Kertész’s iconic study of underwater distortion Underwater swimmer (1917). As with Kertész, Dupain’s interest was with the visual effects created by light hitting the water and the impact of this on the contours of the swimmer. In his personal copy of the anthology Modern Photography (1931), Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’ (Wall text)

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Fashion shot, Cronulla sandhills (Max Dupain photographing model)
1937
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 30.4 h x 38.5 w cm sheet 40.2 h x 48.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1988

 

As the studio assistant, Cotton accompanied Dupain on fashion shoots to attend to models, doing their make-up and helping with costume changes. She often used these opportunities to take her own photographs, including this wonderful image of Dupain photographing the model Noreen Hallard for David Jones. As well as producing a striking image of Dupain and Hallard at work, Cotton was interested in the landscape in which they operated, paying particular attention to the pattern created by their footsteps in the sand.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“Olive Cotton and Max Dupain are key figures in Australian visual culture. They shared a long and close personal and professional relationship. This exhibition looks at their work made between 1934 and 1945, the period of their professional association; this was an exciting period of experimentation and growth in Australian photography, and Cotton and Dupain were at the centre of these developments.

This is the first exhibition to look at the work of these two photographers as they shared their lives, studio and professional practice. Looking at their work together is instructive; they were often shooting the same subjects, or pursuing subjects and pictorial effects in similar ways. Comparisons articulate and make apparent Dupain’s more structured – even abstracted – approach to art and to the world; similarly, comparisons highlight Cotton’s more immersive relationship to place, with a particularly deep and instinctual love of light and its ephemeral effects.

This exhibition focuses on the key period in each of their careers, when they made many of their most memorable images. Keenly aware of international developments in photography, Cotton and Dupain experimented with the forms and strategies of modernist photography, especially Surrealism and the Bauhaus, and drew upon the sophisticated lighting and compositions of contemporary advertising and Hollywood glamour photography.

They brought to these influences their own, close association with the rich context of Australian life and culture during the 1930s and ’40s. Their achievement can be characterised, borrowing terms they used in discussions of their work, as the development of a ‘contemporary Australian photography’: a modern photographic practice that reflected their own, very particular relationships to the world and to each other.

Lives

Cotton and Dupain’s friendship stretched back to childhood summers spent at Newport Beach, NSW, where their families spent summer holidays. They were both given their first cameras – Kodak Box Brownies – by relatives as young teenagers, and spent days together wandering around taking photographs. They shared a similar commitment to photography as teenagers and young adults: both made and published or exhibited photographs while at school, and in 1929 they became members of the Photographic Society of New South Wales. But their approach to achieving the ‘professional life’ of a photographer took different paths: Dupain undertook a formal apprenticeship with the pictorialist master Cecil Bostock between 1930-33, while Cotton studied arts at Sydney University with the idea of becoming a teacher and photographed after hours.

Cotton and Dupain became romantically involved in 1928 and married in 1939; they separated in 1941 and eventually divorced in 1944. In spite of these personal vicissitudes, Cotton and Dupain remained professionally connected. Cotton managed the Dupain studio from late 1941-45, while he worked with the Department of Home Security’s Camouflage Unit during the Second World War. On his return, Cotton left Sydney and spent the rest of her life in relative isolation near Cowra, NSW, where she raised her family of two with husband Ross McInerney and, between 1964 and 1983, operated a small studio. And while Dupain returned from the war to develop his reputation and significance as Australia’s most recognised twentieth-century photographer, his work was deeply affected by his experience of the war and took on a completely different complexion to his work from the previous decade.

Studio

In 1934, Dupain opened a studio in a rented room at 24 Bond Street, Sydney; Cotton joined him as his assistant soon after. By 1936, the Dupain studio’s business had expanded to the extent that it moved into larger premises in the same building, before relocating in early 1941 to a whole floor of a building at 49 Clarence Street.

Their positions at the Dupain studio were clearly defined – he was the photographer, she the studio assistant. Even so, Cotton and Dupain each maintained distinct but in some ways closely aligned practices, both in and out of the studio. Cotton did not tend to take photographs commercially until after she took over the management of the Dupain studio in late 1941, when photographs were circulated in her name. Before then, she made use of the studio’s equipment afterhours, including Dupain’s large Thornton Pickard camera; her work was exhibited and published on occasion, both locally and internationally.

At the same time, Dupain’s photographs became increasingly widely-seen and influential. Sydney Ure Smith’s iconic monthly magazine The Home regularly published Dupain’s portraits, documentary work, social photographs (often actually taken by Cotton), and fashion and product photographs made for clients such as David Jones. When Dupain went to war, the studio continued to operate successfully under Cotton’s management. While some long-standing clients such as David Jones took their business elsewhere, Cotton took some of her most important pictures in the early 1940s, and her increasing confidence at this time can be identified across images of the city, industry and labour.

Dialogue

Cotton and Dupain were active members of Sydney’s network of young artists and photographers, of which the Dupain studio was a centre. Along with their contemporaries, including figures like Geoffrey Powell, Damien Parer and Lawrence Le Guay, they staked a claim for photography as a vital part of contemporary culture, exhibiting photographs alongside other artworks at venues like Sydney’s David Jones Gallery.

Their networks included members of Sydney’s progressive architectural, design, publishing and advertising communities, with whom they often collaborated. The threads of influence within this complex network of making, exhibiting, publishing and commissions were intricate. It is possible, for example, to see Dupain’s strong visual style affect those around him. His interest in surrealist style, which really took hold in 1935, can be identified in work by other, often lesser photographers working at the time, and indeed in the design of The Home, which published his work in editorial and advertisements. There were also times when Cotton indicated certain directions for Dupain. For example, her images of bodies outdoors, which cleverly pulled together classical and modernist motifs, predate similar images by Dupain.

It is clear also that Cotton and Dupain were engaging in dialogue within their own work. Their shared interest in photographing form, texture and shadow is seen across many pictures throughout the mid- to late 1930s. Their pictures also engage critically with photography as a medium, in images that draw attention to the photograph as a double of its subject, and in pictures that seem to play with photograph’s stillness. As Dupain later remembered, together they ‘shared the problems of photography’.

Contemporary Australian Photography

What were ‘the problems of photography’ that Dupain and Cotton sought to settle? In the most straightforward sense, they involved the assumption that Australian photographers were yet to completely embrace or realise the medium’s potential, which rested in careful attention to its aesthetic possibilities, recognition of its mechanical origins, and negotiation of the particular way the medium engaged notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Their solution to these problems involved a progressive photographic practice that intended to release photography from the shackles of history and orthodoxy, and to revel in photography’s great capacity to make sense of the relations of light, texture and form as they exist in the present.

Cotton’s and Dupain’s solution to ‘the problems of photography’ was to make work that made a feature of the medium’s modernity, and the strange way that mechanics, physics and aesthetics come together in modern photography to look at the world and to find beauty in it. They did this in a way that remained firmly footed in their own, very particular place in the world and history. In terms of style, their solution integrated legacies of Pictorialism – especially its interest in the atmospheric effects found in landscape – with a range of other, often competing modes and styles: a modernist concern with line, form and space; documentary photography’s interest in realism and ‘the living moment’; and the pictorial and formal attributes of commercial photography.

It is possible that, for the first time, Australian photography found in the work of Cotton and Dupain a contemporary expression: a photographic practice that emerged from, responded to and expressed the mood, ambitions and sensibility of its time.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Street at Central' 1939

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Street at Central
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
45.6 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Two different versions of this photograph. Notice the different cropping and colour of each image, and how it adds emphasis to the light and to the shadows of the people.

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Teacup ballet
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
37.5 x 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

‘This picture evolved after I had bought some inexpensive cups and saucers from Woolworths for our studio coffee breaks to replace our rather worn old mugs. The angular handles reminded me of arms akimbo, and that led to the idea of making a photograph to express a dance theme.

When the day’s work was over I tried several arrangements of the cups and saucers to convey this idea, without success, until I used a spotlight and realised how important the shadows were. Using the studio camera, which had a 6 ½ x 4 ½ inch ground glass focusing screen, I moved the cups about until they and their shadows made a ballet-like composition and then photographed them on a cut film negative. The title of the photograph suggested itself.

This was my first photograph to be shown overseas, being exhibited, to my delight, in the London Salon of Photography in 1935.’ Olive Cotton 1995 1

Olive Cotton and Max Dupain were childhood friends and, although she graduated in English and mathematics from the University of Sydney in 1934, her interest in photography led her to work in Dupain’s studio from this year. Cotton was employed as a photographer’s assistant in the studio, however she worked assiduously on her own work and continued to exhibit in photography salon exhibitions. Tea cup ballet is one of Cotton’s most well-known photographs and yet it is somewhat eccentric to her main practice, being at first glance typically modernist with its dramatic lighting and angular shapes. Her longstanding interest in organic forms provides a deeper reading. The abstraction of form by the lighting and the placement of the cups and saucers enables the relationship to dancers on a stage to become clear.

1. Ennis H 1995, ‘Olive Cotton: photographer’, National Library of Australia, Canberra p. 25

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Shasta daisies' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Shasta daisies
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

 

Celebrated Australian photographer Olive Cotton was given her first Box Brownie by her family for her eleventh birthday (1922) and continued to experiment with taking and developing pictures throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s Cotton had mastered the Pictorialist style so popular at the time and was on her way to establishing her own approach which also incorporated Modernist principles. The recurrent themes of landscape and plant-life are important to the photographer’s approach, which photography scholar Helen Ennis describes as Cotton’s concern for the ‘potential for pattern-making’.

Shasta daisies is an interesting and rare combination of natural form and a highly-constructed scenario, the flowers having been photographed in Cotton’s studio and carefully arranged for the camera. Cotton, in the 1995 book, wrote of the photograph: “I chose to photograph these in the studio because out of doors I would have had less control of the lighting and background. I examined the composition very carefully through the studio camera’s large ground glass focussing screen and – the view from the camera’s position being slightly different to my own – made as many rearrangements to the flowers as seemed necessary. I then used (apart from a background light) one source of light to try and convey a feeling of outdoors.” Shasta daisies is important within Cotton’s oeuvre for uniting her interest in plants in their natural ‘outdoors’ environment with her enquiry into photographic form and space.

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Homage to D.H. Lawrence' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Homage to D.H. Lawrence
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
45.8 x 33.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Dupain admired vitalist philosophies, which argued that modern identity had become fragmented and asserted the importance of the integration of body and emotion, of sensual and emotional experience. He was attracted to the work of British writer D.H. Lawrence, especially his insistence on the ‘thingness’ of things as a way of embodying a properly integrated mind and body. This photograph uses surrealist juxtaposition to draw together a copy of Lawrence’s Selected poems, a flywheel (representing the modern world) and a classical bust, recalling the idealised relationship of natural and sensual worlds in ancient Greece and Rome. Other images incorporating classical busts appeared in the pages of the Modern Photography annuals, but Dupain makes them his own, lifted above mere pastiche.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Orchestration in light' 1937

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Orchestration in light
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
Image 24.1 h x 27.4 w cm sheet 25.4 h x 28.2 w cm
Purchased with assistance from the Helen Ennis Fund
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Cotton took this landscape early one morning at Wullumbi Gorge in the New England tablelands, during a camping trip with Dupain. It is remarkable for both the way the light transforms the landscape into quivering energy and the way Cotton makes sense of that enigmatic experience in pictorial form. As its title suggests, the photograph recalled for Cotton – who trained as a musician as a girl – a musical composition, particularly ‘the beautiful graduation in tone going from a bass tone to a high treble at the top of the picture’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The patterned road' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The patterned road
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
24.6 h x 28.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Bawley Point landscape' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Bawley Point landscape
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29 x 26.6 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This landscape, one of many taken by Dupain on the south coast of New South Wales, was made in the same year as Cotton’s similar study of shadow and landscape, The patterned road (above). These two landscapes share an interest in what Dupain later termed ‘passing movement and changing form’. Although Dupain rarely published or circulated his landscapes at this time, pictures such as Bawley Point landscape certainly relate to a broad range of other images, perhaps most notably still lifes and nudes, that articulated an Australian modernist photography through the interplay of light passing through openings. These images find monumental stillness in movement and strong shadows, which quite literally ‘double’ their subject.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'Over the city' 1940

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Over the city
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
32.2 h x 30.3 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Grass at sundown' 1939

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
Grass at sundown
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.l. pencil, “Olive Cotton ’39”. Titled l.r. pencil, “Grass at sundown”.
Printed image 28.9 h x 30.8 w cm sheet 30.0 h x 31.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Design - suburbia' 1933

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Design – suburbia
1933
Gelatin silver photograph
29.4 h x 23.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

This early image proudly displays the influence of the work of pictorialist photographers that Dupain knew well, most notably the Sydney-based photographer, Harold Cazneaux. At the time Dupain made this image, he was serving an apprenticeship in the commercial studio of Cecil Bostock, a Pictorialist and founding member with Cazneaux of the Sydney Camera Circle in 1916. Dupain’s interest in the pictorial effects created by light passing through apertures (here, the posts and beams of a suburban fence) seems to remember similar images of light streaming through blinds and pergolas by Cazneaux, who Dupain called ‘the father of modern Australian photography’. The fascination with capturing light as it passes through openings will stay with Dupain throughout his life, though the focus will sharpen as he moves away from the diffused effects favoured by art photographers in the early decades of the century.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 - 1992) 'Still life' 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911 – 1992)
Still life
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 h x 20.8 w cm
Purchased 1982

 

 

While the subject of this photograph seems to be a simple, lidded pail (which featured in a number of Dupain’s still lifes) seen in morning light, it is actually an exercise in abstraction. Of most interest to Dupain is the complex network of diagonal lines created by light, shadow and timber boards. The picture reflects the pleasure Dupain took in the pictorial effects created by light (he was fond of quoting the Belgian photographer Léonard Misonne’s dictum, ‘the subject is nothing, light is everything’), and at the same time expresses the fundamental principle upon which his photographic practice was always based. While the image of light passing through apertures is an analogy for the way the camera operates, the still life also embodies photography’s expressive potential. As Dupain later stated, ‘with still-life you can arrange or rearrange or do what you like, it becomes a very, very personal exercise that you have total control over’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain. 'Pyrmont silos' 1933, printed later

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Pyrmont silos
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 25.2 h x 19.2 w cm sheet 31.2 h x 26.2 w cm mount 42.4 h x 32.0 w
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Max Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace Modernism, and took a number of photographs of Pyrmont silos in the 1930s. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power. Olive Cotton’s Drainpipes 1937 shows the precisely formed circles and curves of the pipes, interspersed with slivers of light and long shadows.

In almost text-book fashion, this image reflects Dupain’s assimilation of the aesthetics of contemporary European photography, which he encountered in publications such as the Das Deutsche Lichtbild [The German photograph] and Modern Photography annuals, the 1932 edition of which was edited by Man Ray. While Dupain’s relationship to the contemporary world was complicated, he nonetheless advocated for the latest photographic trends out of Europe and America, and for photographing modern, industrial subjects; as he asserted in 1938, ‘great art has always been contemporary in spirit’. Writing in 1975 about this image for Dupain’s retrospective at the Australian Centre for Photography, fellow photographer David Moore, who had worked with Dupain in the late 1940s, saw it as a turning point in Dupain’s career, believing that here ‘his awareness of the strength of industrial forms was confirmed with confident authority … From this moment any return to sentimental Pictorialism was precluded’.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Pyrmont silos is one of a number of photographs that Dupain took of these constructions in the 1930s. In all cases Dupain examined the silos from a modernist perspective, emphasising their monumentality from low viewpoints under a bright cloudless sky. Additionally, his use of strong shadows to emphasise the forms of the silos and the lack of human figures celebrates the built structure as well as providing no sense of scale. Another photograph by Dupain in the AGNSW collection was taken through a car windscreen so that the machinery of transport merges explicitly with industrialisation into a complex hard-edge image of views and mirror reflections. There were no skyscrapers in Sydney until the late 1930s so the silos, Walter Burley Griffin’s incinerators and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were the major points of reference for those interested in depicting modern expressions of engineering and industrial power.

Dupain was the first Australian photographer to embrace modernism. One of his photographs of the silos was roundly criticised when shown to the New South Wales Photographic Society but Dupain forged on regardless with his reading, thinking and experimentation. Some Australian painting and writing had embraced modernist principles in the 1920s, but as late as 1938 Dupain was writing to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Great art has always been contemporary in spirit. Today we feel the surge of aesthetic exploration along abstract lines, the social economic order impinging itself on art, the repudiation of the ‘truth to nature criterion’ … We sadly need the creative courage of Man Ray, the original thought of Moholy-Nagy, and the dynamic realism of Edouard [sic] Steichen.”1

1. Dupain, M 1938, “Letter to the editor,” in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'Backyard, Forster, New South Wales' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
Backyard, Forster, New South Wales
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
30.5 h x 30.5 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

This highly formal view of the backyard of a hotel in the coastal town of Forster embodies Dupain’s sense of Australian modernist photography. The picture’s frontalism and overriding use of horizontals and verticals acknowledge that the camera faced its subject face-to-face and that the view has been consciously framed. But as the title of the photograph makes clear, it is also a record of a particular place. In his personal copy of G.H. Saxon Mills’ essay ‘Modern photography’, which greatly assisted Dupain to conceptualise his own sense of a contemporary photographic practice, Dupain highlighted and annotated with a question mark the following statement: ‘”modern” photography means photography whose aim is partly or wholly aesthetic, as opposed to photography which is merely documentary or representational.’ Dupain believed that both were possible within the same frame.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) '(Factory chimney stacks)' 1940

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
[Factory chimney stacks]
1940
Gelatin silver photograph
49.0 h x 38.4 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Dupain highlighted the writer G.H. Saxon Mills’ claim that photography’s value existed in both its capacity to record the world and the optical effects it found or created – ‘its … symphony of forms and textures.’

These factory chimney stacks are reduced to their most simple and direct form, which is shown free of any distraction. As Dupain noted, borrowing from the great American architectural historian Lewis Mumford, the ‘mission of the photograph is to clarify the subject’. The choice of subject matter was influenced by an essay by the English journalist, G.H. Saxon Mills, written in 1931 and read by Dupain soon after: ‘(photography) belongs to the new age … it is part and parcel of the terrific and thrilling panorama opening out before us today – of clean concrete buildings, steel radio masts, and the wings of the air line. But its beauty is only for those who themselves are aware of the ‘zeitgeist’ – who belong consciously and proudly to this age, and have not their eyes forever wistfully fixed on the past.’

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 - 2003) 'The way through the trees' 1938

 

Olive Cotton (Australian, 1911 – 2003)
The way through the trees
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.6 h x 29.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1987

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 - 1992) 'An old country homestead, Western Australia' 1946

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911 – 1992)
An old country homestead, Western Australia
1946
Gelatin silver photograph

PHOTOGRAPH NOT IN EXHIBITION

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
The University of Melbourne,
Swanston Street (between Elgin and Faraday Streets)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria
Tel: +61 3 8344 5148

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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07
Jul
16

William Blackwood: ‘Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House’ 1858

July 2016

 

We can only imagine the impact viewing this immense panorama (over 3m long) of eleven imperial size, wet plate photographs had on the populace of Sydney. They would have seen little like it before, and of such clarity and quality. I have included text, additional photographs and paintings to help the viewer and researcher position the panorama historically within the context of time and place. For example, note how illustriously and romantically the artist captures every detail in a painting such as Conrad Martens Campbell’s Wharf (1857, below), then notice how rough and ready the sections of this photographic panorama are even as they pertain to the veracity of the occasion. The length of each exposure can be estimated by the movement of the large sailing ship in the centre of section 7 of the panorama – at a guess probably just under a minute.

While larger individual images of the panorama can be found on the State Library of New South Wales website, the whole panorama photograph on that site is very small and gives little idea of how the individual sections concertina out. Some of the images also seem denuded, drained of their colour, probably due to the poor condition of the images (notably sections 2, 8, 9 and 11) . Hopefully these images – which can be reproduced without getting permission from institutions – more fully reflect the beauty and sensitivity of the panorama.

It was a great pleasure to meet collector Dennis Joachim, the owner of this panorama, up at Mossgreen in Armadale, Victoria recently. What a remarkable man and such great energy!

Marcus

.
Please click on the long small image below to see the full panorama. Click again to enlarge and scroll from left to right.

 

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858

 

William Blackwood (1824 – 1897)
Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House
1858
12 albumen photoprints (comprising 1 panorama in 11 sections – 1 photoprint) in a leather and gold embossed album
Images 19 x 29 cm
Panorama length 324.5 cm

 

 

“Olaf William Blackwood, also known as William Blackwood, was a portrait painter of Swedish and Scottish descent. It was, however as a professional photographer of panoramic Sydney views that he achieved the greatest success. By 1858, he had established a photographic studio in Woolloomooloo and began photographing surrounding street scenes, using the collodion wet-plate process. He took eleven imperial size, wet plate photographs from the roof of Government House which he then combined to form a large scale Panorama of Sydney Harbour, the first and largest produced in the colony. His panoramic views were met with critical acclaim, and were praised by The Sydney Morning Herald as ‘faultless’, ‘super-excellent’ and the ‘largest yet seen’1

By August, his 180 degree panorama of Sydney Harbour was again praised as ‘superior to anything of the kind we have seen. Nothing dim or smoky appears … no muddled trees – no hazy outlines – no hard sheets of glaring white for water’2 This was the most sophisticated and extensive panorama photography ever produced in Australia. Blackwood published another album that same year consisting of some of the earliest Australian architectural studies, and photographs of Sydney’s nine banks. From a technical point of view, Blackwood’s albums were an extraordinary achievement.

Large format views required extreme skill on the part of the photographer, and he coated his plates and processed them while still wet. In the early 1860s Blackwood worked in partnership with Henry Goodes and they created eight photographic views which were submitted to the New South Wales section of the 1862 London International Exhibition. Between 1862 and 1864, Blackwood worked with James Walker at Walker’s Pitt Street studio. Despite his early, energetic and entrepreneurial projects, little is known of Blackwood’s output after 1859 and he seems to have left photography after 1864.”

  1. Sydney Morning Herald, 26 March 1858
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 1858

Text from the Mossgreen website

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 front cover

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 front cover

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 1

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 1

Entrance to Government House, Macquarie Street, city view including Customs House, Sydney Cove

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 2

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 2

Entrance to Government House, Macquarie Street, city view including Customs House, Sydney Cove.
(The Customs House is horizontally left of the tall ship’s mast with the row of double windows)

 

Charles Percy Pickering. 'Customs House' 1872

 

Charles Percy Pickering
Customs House
1872
New South Wales. Government Printing Office
Collection of the State Library of New South Wales

 

 

The Customs House is an historic Sydney landmark located in the city’s Circular Quay area. Constructed initially in 1844-1845, the building served as the headquarters of the Customs Service until 1990. The driving force behind the construction of the original sandstone edifice on Circular Quay was Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes, the Collector of Customs for New South Wales for a record term of 25 years from 1834 to 1859. Colonel Gibbes persuaded the Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, to begin construction of the Customs House in 1844 in response to Sydney’s growing volume of maritime trade. The building project also doubled as an unemployment relief measure for stonemasons and laborers during an economic depression which was afflicting the colony at the time.

The two-storey Georgian structure was designed by Mortimer Lewis and featured 13 large and expensive windows in the facade to afford a clear view of shipping activity in Sydney Cove. Colonel Gibbes, who dwelt opposite Circular Quay on Kirribilli Point, was able to watch progress on the Customs House’s construction from the verandah of his private residence, Wotonga House (now Admiralty House). The Customs House opened for business in 1845 and replaced cramped premises at The Rocks. It was partially dismantled and expanded to three levels under the supervision of the then Colonial Architect, James Barnet, in 1887. Various additions were made over the next century, particularly during the period of the First World War, but some significant vestiges of the original Gibbes-Lewis building remain. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 3

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 3

City view, Sydney Cove, The Rocks, Campbell’s Wharf and Dawes Point

 

Conrad Martens (England 1801 - Australia 1878; Australia from 1835) 'Campbell's Wharf' 1857

 

Conrad Martens (England 1801 – Australia 1878; Australia from 1835)
Campbell’s Wharf
1857
Watercolour with highlights in gum arabic
Image 46.0 h x 66.0 w cm sheet 46.0 h x 66.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

 

From his arrival in 1835 until his death in 1878, Conrad Martens was the most celebrated artist in Sydney. Although a skilled painter in oils, his greatest works were executed in watercolour, and Campbell’s Wharf is among his most ambitious compositions. Commissioned by John Campbell in 1857, the work portrays the income source of the Campbell family, whose eighteenth and nineteenth century business interests encompassed wharfing, storing and merchant shipping.

On the right is Campbell’s Wharf and warehouses that stretched along the west side of Sydney Cove. To their left are the old Campbell residence and the new Mariners Church. In the centre of the painting rises the four-storied Miles Building, and to its left juts the Cumberland Place buildings along the skyline. All this is viewed through a jumble of trading vessels, the source of the Campbell family wealth. The painting is, however, more than a depiction of maritime industry and family property. Martens was well acquainted with the work of the British painter JMW Turner, whose romantic landscapes are suffused with delicate evocations of light. Silhouetted against a soft pink sky, Martens transforms an industrial setting into a picturesque landscape awash with luminous colour.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 4

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 4

City view, Sydney Cove, The Rocks, Campbell’s Wharf & Dawes Point

 

 

Dawes Point, New South Wales

By the 1840s the people of Dawes Point and Millers Point were a maritime community in which rich and poor mixed more than elsewhere in Sydney. Wharf owners and traders lived and worked beside those who worked on the wharves and bond stores, as well as those who arrived and left on ships. Only two of the merchant houses, built by and for the early wharf owners, survive. One is Walker’s 50-foot wide villa built around 1825 and now part of Milton Terrace at 7-9 Lower Fort Street; the other is the home and offices of Edwards and Hunter, built in 1833 above their wharves which is where the Wharf Theatre now stands.

The fortunes of Dawes Point and Millers Point fluctuated more than elsewhere in Sydney. Mostly prosperous in its early years, the area was less desirable by the 1890s, and in 1900 there was a catastrophic event that led to a complete reshaping of Millers Point. At the beginning of the 20th century the government compulsorily acquired all private wharves, homes and commercial properties in the Rocks, Dawes Point and Millers Point. Modern and efficient wharves with dual level access were built, as well as new accommodation for workers, such as the Workers Flats of Lower Fort Street designed by Government Architect Vernon.

Most people still believe this redevelopment can be attributed entirely to an outbreak of plague in 1900, with the government acting benevolently as it demolished homes as well as wharves, and not for the last time decimated a community, while presenting their actions as ‘slum clearance’. In the 1960s and ’70s the government tried again to clear the area and build high-rise offices, but this was thwarted by the Green Bans, supported community and unions. In 2016, the NSW Government is again ‘relocating’ the long-term community of Dawes Point, Millers Point and The Rocks, and only a handful of these residents remain, while the majority of houses and flats along Lower Fort Street and Trinity Avenue are vacant. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 5

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 5

Sydney Harbour, Fort Macquarie, views to the North Shore

 

 

North Shore

Before British settlement, the Lower North Shore was home to the Gorualgal (Mosman and southern Willoughby) and Cammeraygal (North Sydney and Eastern Lane Cove). After the establishment of Sydney in 1788, settlement of the North Shore of the harbour was quite limited. One of the first settlers was James Milson who lived in the vicinity of Jeffrey Street in Kirribilli, directly opposite Sydney Cove. The north shore was more rugged than the southern shore and western areas of the harbour and had limited agricultural potential. The early activities in the area included tree felling, boatbuilding and some orchard farming in the limited areas of good soil. The North Shore railway line was built in the 1890s. Access to the Sydney CBD, located on the southern shore of the harbour remained difficult until the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. This led to commencement the development of suburbs on the North Shore. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 6

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 6

Sydney Harbour, Fort Macquarie (Bennelong Point/Opera House), views to the North Shore

 

 

Fort Macquarie (Bennelong Point/Opera House)

Fort Macquarie was a square castellated battlement fort built at Bennelong Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, where the Sydney Opera House now stands. A half moon battery on the east point of Bennelong Point was constructed in May 1798 when the ship HMS Supply was withdrawn from service, Lieutenant William Kent and crew were assigned to man the battery. The battery consisted of some of the guns taken from HMS Supply.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie directed that a fort be built between December 1817 to February 1821 under the direction of Francis Greenway. The fort was named after Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It was a square fort with circular bastions at each corner and a castellated square tower. The battery consisted of fifteen pieces of ordnance: ten 24-pounders and five 6-pounders. Three sides of the fort abutted Sydney Harbour. The two-storey tower in the middle of the fort, housed a guardroom and storehouse. The tower was 27.4 m (90 ft) in circumference. A powder magazine capable of storing 350 barrels of gunpowder was constructed underneath and the tower could provide accommodation for a small military detachment of 1 officer and 18 men, with stores for the battery. A drawbridge, on the landward side, over a small channel leading to a gate beneath the tower provided entry to the fort.

Fort Macquarie was demolished in 1901 to make way for new electric tramway sheds named Fort Macquarie Tram Depot. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Bennelong Point

The point was originally a small tidal island, Bennelong Island, that largely consisted of rocks with a small beach on the western side. The island was located on the tip of the eastern arm of Sydney Cove and was apparently separated from the mainland at high tide. For a brief period in 1788, this relatively isolated protrusion into Port Jackson (Sydney’s natural harbour) was called Cattle Point as it was used to confine the few cattle and horses that had been brought from Cape Town by Governor Phillip with the First Fleet.

The area at that time was also strewn with discarded oyster shells from many long years of gathering by the local aboriginal women. Those shells were regathered by the newly arrived convict women and burnt to make lime for cement mortar. The point was called Limeburners’ Point for that reason, though those shells only furnished enough lime to make a single building, the two-storey government house. In the early 1790s, the Aborigine Bennelong – employed as a cultural interlocutor by the British – persuaded New South Wales Governor Arthur Phillip to build a brick hut for him on the point, giving it its name.

In the period from 1818 to 1821, the tidal area between Bennelong Island and the mainland was filled with rocks excavated from the Bennelong Point peninsula. The entire area was leveled to create a low platform and to provide suitable stone for the construction of Fort Macquarie. While the fort was being built, a large portion of the rocky escarpment at Bennelong Point was also cut away to allow a road to be built around the point from Sydney Cove to Farm Cove. This was known as Tarpeian Way. The existence of the original tidal island and its rubble fill were largely forgotten until the late 1950s when both were rediscovered during the excavations related to the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Prior to the Opera House’s construction, Bennelong Point had housed Fort Macquarie Tram Depot. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Kerry & Co. 'Fort Macquarie' 1870

 

Kerry & Co.
Fort Macquarie
1870
Albumen photograph
From the collections of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Fort Macquarie was built on the end of Bennelong Point, where the Sydney Opera House now stands. Completed by convict labour in 1821 using stone from the Domain, the fort had 15 guns and housed a small garrison. The powder magazine beneath the tower was capable of storing 350 barrels of gunpowder. The fort was demolished in 1901 to make way for the tramway sheds that occupied the site until the construction of the Utzon masterpiece

 

Kerry & Co. 'Fort Macquarie' 1870

 

Kerry & Co.
Fort Macquarie
1870
Albumen photograph
From the collections of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

Anonymous. 'The tram shed at Bennelong Point before the Sydney Opera House was built' 1952

 

Anonymous
The tram shed at Bennelong Point before the Sydney Opera House was built
1952

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 7

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 7

Sydney Harbour view, sailing ships, Fort Denison (to the far right in the distance), Garden Island, Lady Macquarie’s Chair

 

Anonymous. 'SS Nieuw Holland passing Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour' c. 1930

 

Anonymous
SS Nieuw Holland passing Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour
c. 1930
Australian National Maritime Museum collection

 

Fort Denison was built on an island that was known to Indigenous people in the area as Muddawahnyuh, meaning ‘rocky island’. After European settlement in 1788 the island was called Pinchgut by convicts who were marooned there with meagre rations of bread and water as punishment for serious breaches of the peace. The island was originally a 15 metre sandstone rock, but during the 1800s it was excavated to provide sandstone to build Circular Quay, at that time the centre of shipping in Sydney.

 

Anonymous. 'Fort Denison' c. 1930

 

Anonymous
Fort Denison
c. 1930
Glass negative, quarter plate
Tom Lennon Photographic Collection from the Powerhouse Museum

 

 

Fort Denison

In 1839, two American warships entered the harbour at night and circled Pinchgut Island. Concern with the threat of foreign attack caused the government to review the harbour’s inner defences. Barney, who had earlier reported that Sydney’s defences were inadequate, recommended that the government establish a fort on Pinchgut Island to help protect Sydney Harbour from attack by foreign vessels. Fortification of the island began in 1841 but was not completed. Construction resumed in 1855 because of fear of a Russiannaval attack during the Crimean War, and was completed on 14 November 1857. The newly built fort then took its current name from Sir William Thomas Denison, the Governor of New South Wales from 1855 to 1861.

The fortress features a distinctive Martello tower, the only one ever built in Australia and the last one ever constructed in the British Empire. It was constructed using 8,000 tonnes (7,900 long tons) of sandstone from nearby Kurraba Point, Neutral Bay. The tower’s walls are between 3.3-6.7 metres (11-22 ft) thick at the base and 2.7 metres (8 ft 10 in) thick at the top. However, developments in artillery rendered the fort largely obsolete by the time it was completed. The tower itself had quarters for a garrison of 24 soldiers and one officer. Fort Denison’s armament included three 8-inch (200 mm) muzzle loaders in the tower, two 10-inch (250 mm) guns, one on a 360-degree traverse on the top of the tower and one in a bastion at the other end of the island, and twelve 32-pound (15 kg) cannons in a battery between the base of the tower and the flanking bastion. Eventually all the guns were removed, except for the three 8-inch (200 mm) muzzle-loading cannons in the gun room in the tower, which were installed before construction was complete. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

George Roberts (c. 1800-1865) '[Mrs Macquarie's chair]' c. 1843-1865

 

George Roberts (c. 1800-1865)
[Mrs Macquarie’s chair]
c. 1843-1865
Watercolour
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company. 'Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Sydney' c. 1870-1875

 

American & Australasian Photographic Company
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney (B. O. Holtermann seated at centre)
c. 1870-1875
State Library of New South Wales

 

 

Bernhardt Otto Holtermann

Bernhardt Otto Holtermann (29 April 1838 – 29 April 1885) was a successful gold miner, businessman, sponsor of photography for the encouragement of immigration and member of parliament. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his association with the Holtermann Nugget, the largest gold specimen ever found, 1.5 meters (59 inches) long, weighing 286 kg (630 pounds), in Hill End, near Bathurst, and with an estimated gold content of 3000 troy ounces (93 kg).

Holtermann financed and possibly participated in photographer Beaufoy Merlin’s project to photograph New South Wales and exhibit the results abroad to encourage immigration. The work was taken up after Merlin’s death in 1873 by his assistant, Charles Bayliss. In 1875, Holtermann and Bayliss produced the Holtermann panorama, a series of “23 albumen silver photographs which join together to form a continuous 978-centimetre view of Sydney Harbour and its suburbs.” Some of the photographs, including the panorama, were displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, where they won a bronze medal. The panorama was also displayed at the 1878 Exposition Universelle Internationale in Paris. 

Almost seventy years after Holtermann’s death, more than 3,000 of the glass negatives created by Merlin and Bayliss were retrieved from a garden shed in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood. The UNESCO-listed collection of negatives, known as The Holtermann Collection, is housed in the State Library of New South Wales. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (also known as Lady Macquarie’s Chair) is an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench, on a peninsula in Sydney Harbour, hand carved by convicts from sandstone in 1810 for Governor Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth. The peninsula itself is named Mrs Macquarie’s Point, and is part of the The Domain, near the Royal Botanic Gardens. Mrs Macquarie was the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. Folklore has it that she used to sit on the rock and watch for ships from Great Britain sailing into the harbour. She was known to visit the area and sit enjoying the panoramic views of the harbour.

Above the chair is a stone inscription referring to Mrs Macquarie’s Road. That road was built between 1813 and 1818, and ran from the original Government House (now the Museum of Sydney) to Mrs Macquarie’s Point. It was built on the instruction of Governor Macquarie for the benefit of his wife. There is no remaining evidence of the original road, other than a culvert over which the road ran. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 8

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 8

Sydney Harbour view, sailing ships, Fort Denison, Garden Island, Lady Macquarie’s Chair

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 9

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 9

Farm Cove, views to Potts Point and Darlinghurst

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 10

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 10

Farm Cove, views to Potts Point and Darlinghurst

 

 

Potts Point is named for Joseph Hyde Potts, who was employed by the Bank of New South Wales. He purchased six-and-a-half acres of harbourside land in an area then known as Woolloomooloo Hill – which he renamed Potts Point. Much of the area that today comprises Potts Point and the adjacent suburb of Elizabeth Bay, originally constituted part of a land grant to Alexander Macleay, who was the New South Wales Colonial Secretary from 1826 to 1837, and for whom Macleay Street is named. NSW Judge Advocate, John Wylde (for whom Wylde Street is named) was another 19th-century public servant who owned land in the area.

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 section 11

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 section 11

The Government Domain, Government House Stables

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 Government House

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858

Government House with porte cochère

 

 

In 1845 the British government agreed that a new Government House in Sydney had become a necessity, and the royal architect, Edward Blore, was instructed to draw up plans. Construction commenced in 1837 and was supervised by colonial architect Mortimer Lewisand Colonel Barney of the Royal Engineers. Stone, cedar, and marble for the construction were obtained from various areas of New South Wales. A ball in honour of the birthday of Queen Victoria was held in the new building in 1843, although construction was not complete. The first resident, Governor George Gipps, did not move in until 1845.

Government House, with its setting on Sydney Harbour, has a garden area of 5 hectares and is located south of the Sydney Opera House, overlooking Farm Cove. It was designed in a romantic Gothic revival style – castellated, crenellated, turreted and is decorated with oil portraits and the coats of arms of its successive occupants. Additions have included a front portico in 1873, an eastern verandah in 1879 and extensions to the ballroom and governor’s study in 1900-01. (Text from Wikipedia website)

Definition of porte cochère. 1: a passageway through a building or screen wall designed to let vehicles pass from the street to an interior courtyard. 2: a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.

 

John Paine. 'The entrance gates of Government House, Sydney' c. 1878

 

John Paine
The entrance gates of Government House, Sydney
c. 1878
Albumen print
15 x 20.4 cm
Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection

 

 

The Government House entrance gates and guardhouse, completed in 1848, are shown here in their original location on Macquarie Street. The elaborate iron gates were supported by six sandstone piers: in the centre was the ceremonial entrance, marked by metalwork lanterns complete with crowns, and this was flanked by two carriage gates and a pair of pedestrian gates. The design of the gates and guardhouse is attributed to the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis, the gatehouse being identical to the ‘Forest Gate Keeper’s Lodge’ illustrated in H B Zeigler’s ‘The Royal Lodges in Windsor Great Park’ (1839) The Gothic Revival guardhouse consisted of four rooms to accommodate the guard, with open verandahs on two sides, and it was to also serve the Treasury, completed on the opposite side of Macquarie Street c1850 (also designed by Lewis). The entrance gates and guardhouse, as a Gothic style entrance lodge, were consistent with Picturesque ideals for the entrance to a large estate and formed an appropriately imposing entrance to the vice regal residence.

 

William Blackwood (1824 - 1897) 'Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House' 1858 back cover

 

Blackwood’s Panorama of Sydney & Harbour from Government House 1858 back cover

 

 

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03
Jul
16

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

Exhibition dates: 19th March – 3rd July 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the V&A

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from the V&A

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

From my mentor:

“Great camera – very great photographer.

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

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

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

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London
SW7 2RL
T: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Opening hours:
Daily 10.00 – 17.30
Friday 10.00 – 21.30

V&A website

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16
Jun
16

Exhibition: ‘Bill Henson: Landscapes’ at Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 30th April – 30th June 2016

 

Drawing on light

A magnificent installation from one of the world’s great photographers.

Why this artist is not having sell out retrospectives at MoMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou Paris or the Tate in London is beyond me. Is it because of continuing cultural cringe, or the fact that he’s not as well known in Europe and America?

Their loss is our gain.

The darkened room contains only eight images beautifully lit to create a wondrous, enveloping atmosphere. Henson’s night photographs emit light as though a result of the excitation of atoms by energy – the energy of the mind transferred to the light of place. A luminescence of thought is imaged in the photograph through the emission of light … produced not so much by physiological or electromagnetic processes as much as by a culturally informed mind that seems to bring forth its own light. And behold there is light.

As that eminent photographer Minor White used to opine when asked for technical information on his photographs in the back of popular American photography monthlies: for technical information the camera was creatively used.

For me, these are not images of ethereal malevolence or Australian anxiety about our environment and the ominous ordinary. They do not possess that feeling at all. These pictures are about an understanding and contemplation of light and place, a process which is in balance one with the other. Yes, the transient nature of earthly existence but more than that. The soft details of flowers in the grass, or the spatter of rain on water, not noticed until you really look at the image; or the shadow of a truck on a bridge underpass. In my mind I know where this is, in Gipps Street, Abbottsford near the train bridge… or so I believe in my imagination. All of these photographs have a feeling of a subtle vibration of energy in the universe. There is no malevolence here.

My only criticism of this, the first photographic exhibition at Castlemaine Art Gallery, is that there is not enough of it. There needed to be more of the work. It just felt a little light on. Another gallery was needed to make the installation experience fully enveloping. Having said that, congratulations must go to the artist and to gallery who are putting on some amazing exhibitions in the heart of regional Victoria.

Marcus

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

 

 

Opening titles for the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Opening titles for the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2005/2006' 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #9 2005/2006
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2005/2006' (detail) 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #9 2005/2006 (detail)
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #21 2005/2006 at left and Untitled #9 2005/2006 at right

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #21 2005-2006' (detail) 2005-2006

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #21 2005-2006 (detail)
2005-2006
CL SH541 N2
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 1999/2000' 1999-2000

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 1999-2000
1999-2000
Type C photograph
103.8 x 154.0 cm (image) 126.8 x 179.9 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2005 (2005.501)
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“Our current exhibition, Bill Henson: Landscapes captures the haunting convergence of opposites; two worlds, darkness and light.

These dreamlike pictures pursue the Romantic project by engulfing the viewer in the urban or semi-rural sublime. Through these landscapes, we are immersed in a realm which offers an otherworldly view of the transient nature of earthly existence. The inky depths of the encroaching natural environment suggest a dark abyss, an ethereal malevolence that relates to both the artistic conventions of Renaissance landscape painting and, a uniquely Australian anxiety about our environment and the ominous ordinary.”

Text from the Castlemaine Art Gallery Facebook page

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #23, 1998/1999/2000 at right bottom

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2001-2002' 2001–2002

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 2001-2002
2001-2002
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
1 of 5
Collection of Annabel and Rupert Myer

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled 2001/02' (detail) 2001–02

 

Bill Henson
Untitled 2001-2002 (detail)
2001-2002
Type C photograph
127 x 180 cm (sheet)
1 of 5
Collection of Annabel and Rupert Myer

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bill Henson: Landscapes' at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bill Henson: Landscapes at the  Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum with Untitled #28 1998 at right

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #28' (detail) 1998

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #28 (detail)
1998
CL SH 290 N3A
Type C photograph
104 × 154cm

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #48' (detail) 1998/1999/2000

 

Bill Henson
Untitled #48 (detail)
1998/1999/2000
CL SH 367 N11
Type C photograph
127 × 180cm

 

 

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum
14 Lyttleton Street (PO Box 248)
Castlemaine, Vic 3450 Australia
Phone: (03) 5472 2292
Email: info@castlemainegallery.com

Opening hours:
Monday        10am – 5pm
Tuesday       CLOSED
Wednesday   10am – 5pm
Thursday      10am – 5pm
Friday          10am – 5pm
Saturday      12pm – 5pm
Sunday        12pm – 5pm

Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum website

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11
Jun
16

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: England, 1993

 

I finally got around to scanning some more of my black and white archive, this time further photographs from a trip to England in 1993 forming a new sequence. The photographs picture my now ageing mother (these were taken over 20 years ago), an English fair, medieval tiles and Highgate Cemetery, among other subjects. They become especially poignant after the recent passing of my father.

The image of  my mother plays off against a land that is noting an absence – maybe an absence of a certain type of yang force… even the “strong draught horse” seems to come from another time. My mentor said of the sequence: “Wow – that is really good Marcus”. Praise I value highly indeed.

The photographs form a sequence and should be viewed horizontally. Please click on the long small image to see them in this format.

Unfortunately, WordPress only allows vertical presentations of images in this blog format that I am using – but I have still presented them for you to see in the posting below.

Marcus

 

I am scanning my negatives made during the years 1991 – 1997 to preserve them in the form of an online archive as a process of active memory, so that the images are not lost forever. These photographs were images of my life and imagination at the time of their making, the ideas I was thinking about and the people and things that surrounded me.

All images © Marcus Bunyan but can be used freely anywhere with the proper acknowledgement. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please remember these are just straight scans of the prints, all full frame, no cropping !

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'England 1993' second sequence

 

Marcus Bunyan
England
1993
Second sequence

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Maman' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Maman
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Bridge, Chatsworth House' 1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan
Bridge, Chatsworth House
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Covered figure with graves' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Covered figure with graves
1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'IOTA, 1893, Napoli, Cantanese Domenico, age 14 with gravestones' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
IOTA, 1893, Napoli, Cantanese Domenico, age 14 with gravestones
1993

 

 

December 20th 1893, a mounted messenger galloped into Boscastle with news that a large ship was driving ashore, but by 4 pm the 1000-ton iron barque IOTA of Naples had crashed under the great Lye rock off Bossiney Cove. Her crew leapt for the rocks, but two fell and were crushed under the barque’s bilges, while Domenico Cantanese, aged fourteen, was swept away… Only the body of the young cabin boy was recovered from the sea, he’s buried in the windswept graveyard of St Materiana Church Tintagel, where a wooden cross and a lifebuoy bearing his name and ‘Iota, Napoli, 1893’ still marks his grave.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Medieval tiles' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Medieval tiles
1993

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Esther' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Esther
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Three crosses four graves, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Three crosses four graves, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Death's pathway' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Death’s pathway
1993

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Descending' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Descending
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Landscape, Chatsworth House' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Landscape, Chatsworth House
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Two graves, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Two graves, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Five angels' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Five angels
1993

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Medieval tiles' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Medieval tiles
1993

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Covered figure with flowers' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Covered figure with flowers
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'An English fair' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
An English fair
1993

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Tree, Highgate Cemetery' 1993

 

Marcus Bunyan
Tree, Highgate Cemetery
1993

 

 

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive page

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06
Jun
16

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

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 12th June 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

.
Jan Senbergs, 1965

 

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

.
Jan Senbergs, 2008

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jan Senbergs drawings late 1970s - early 1980s

 

Jan Senbergs (born Latvia 1939, arrived Australia 1950)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Jan Senbergs, 2016

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Jan Senbergs, 2006

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

senbergs-paolozzi-detail

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

.
Patrick McCaughey, 2010

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

installation-r

installation-s

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Jan Senbergs, 2015

 

 

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

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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27
May
16

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

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

The exhibition

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

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
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Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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