Archive for the 'memory' Category

01
May
21

Exhibition: ‘Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography’ at Museum Folkwang, Essen

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 16th May, 2021

 

Timm Rautert. 'Tokaido Express, Tokyo' 1970

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Tokaido Express, Tokyo
1970
Gelatine silver print
45.5 x 59 cm
Museum Folkwang
© Timm Rautert

 

 

What an admirable artist.

Unfortunately with a limited number of media images available one cannot cover in any depth the many bodies of work of this fine artist. I would have liked to have seen more photographs from Rautert’s series The Amish and The Hutterites, and some photographs from his series on Thalidomide victims (none are available anywhere online). Very few of his portraits (only two are included here) or homeless series are available as well.

Particularly intriguing is work from the series Image-Analytical Photography in which Rautert explores “the fundamental conditions of photographic work – from the photographic act and the development of photographic images under an enlarger in the lab to the various possibilities of presentation”, using “black-and-white photographs, passport photos, lab experiments, combinations of selected photo prints with their negatives … but also non-photographic material such as a grey card (used for measuring light mainly in photo studios), postcards and graphic manuals” in order to understand “what photography means as a medium, what is expected from it, and how it has shaped the perception of the world.” Very few of these investigative images can be found online and only two are included in this posting. The second is a cracker.

Through the simple expedient of turning the camera upside down and photographing himself doing it coupled with the photographic outcome of the resulting picture we – the viewer, the looker, the seeker (of “truth”) – are so eloquently made aware that the camera is a machine, that it has a monocular perspective, and that every photo the camera takes is a construct. As Rautert asks in the quote below, “what is photography? what is light? what is time? what is space? how does one tell great stories? what means what?”

An excellent example of this enquiry is the series Gehäuse des Unsichtbaren (Houses of the Invisible) which depicts “working environments in the automobile and computer industries, creating a long-term chronicle of the transformation of the workplace in the wake of industrial automation.” In these conceptual but documentary, applied but artistic photographs, the human is masked, occluded and / or dwarfed by the humungous complexity and size of the machine – becoming an invisible attendant (a small cog in the wheel) of the mighty mechanism (think Metropolis, 1927). A solid story with a social and conceptual form.

There seems to be a strong eye and a whip sharp mind at work here: inquiring and questioning, ethical and creative, telling great stories through the lives of photography. An admirable artist indeed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Till May 16, 2021, Museum Folkwang presents a comprehensive retrospective of photographer Timm Rautert’s oeuvre. The exhibition Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography spans five decades of his artistic production: beginning with Rautert’s experimental early work as a student of Otto Steinert, it shows his famous portrait series such as “Deutsche in Uniform (Germans in Uniform)” or “Eigenes Leben (Own Life),” as well as his artwork collages and his 2015 photographic installation work L’Ultimo Programma. The nearly 400 works illustrate not only the thematic and methodological versatility of Rautert’s oeuvre, but can also be read as documents of photography’s long journey into the museum and the art canon.

 

 

“I thought to myself: what is photography actually? What is it really?
I decided to develop a kind of grammar for photography:
What is light? What is time? What is space?
How does one tell great stories?
What means what?”

.
Timm Rautert

 

“Timm Rautert’s work forges links between applied and artistic photography. It reflects man in his time as much as the worlds created by man: the factories and machines, cultural highlights and the social fringe, heaven and hell of modern society. For many years Rautert has worked as a socially critical photographer and engaged himself in different long term projects.”

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography' at Museum Folkwang, Essen

Installation view of the exhibition 'Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography' at Museum Folkwang, Essen

Installation view of the exhibition 'Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography' at Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Installation views of the exhibition Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography at Museum Folkwang, Essen showing at bottom left, photographs from The Final Program, Campo S. Angelo, Venezia (2014)
Fotos: Jens Nober

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'The Final Program, Campo S. Angelo, Venezia' 2014

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
The Final Program, Campo S. Angelo, Venezia
2014
Black and white photograph, bromide silver gelatine
Sheet size 50.8 x 40.5cm

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'The Final Program, Campo S. Angelo, Venezia' 2014

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
The Final Program, Campo S. Angelo, Venezia
2014
Black and white photograph, bromide silver gelatine
Sheet size 50.8 x 40.5 cm

 

 

To mark the 80th birthday of the photographer Timm Rautert, Museum Folkwang is organising a comprehensive retrospective covering half a century of his artistic work.

Timm Rautert (born in 1941 in Tuchola, then West Prussia) is considered one of Germany’s preeminent contemporary photographers. Over the decades he has succeeded not only in anticipating the most important trends in photography, but has also played a major role in shaping them: as a studio photographer for galleries, as a photojournalist, as a chronicler of changing work environments and, finally, as a university lecturer, he has influenced ensuing generations.

As a student under Otto Steinert at what was then the Folkwangschule in Essen-Werden, Rautert quickly developed solid foundations for a committed, social-documentary photography. Alongside this, he explored the fundamentals of photography and developed his “image-analysis photography”, which has methodically permeated his artistic work to this day. For Rautert, alternating between applied and artistic elements is not a contradiction, but an expression of resolute photographic authorship.

In 1970, Rautert travelled to the USA and photographed figures such as Franz Erhard Walther, Andy Warhol and Walter de Maria. In Osaka, he documented the World’s Fair and the deeply traditional Japanese society of the time. From the mid-1970s, Rautert worked together with the journalist Michael Holzach on joint reportages for ZEITMagazin. For over a decade he produced social documentary reportages on migrant workers, the homeless, or previously inaccessible communities like The Hutterites (1978) and The Amish (1974).

In the 1980s, Rautert turned to documenting working environments in the automobile and computer industries, creating a long-term chronicle of the transformation of the workplace in the wake of industrial automation. Around 70 photographs from the series Gehäuse des Unsichtbaren (Houses of the Invisible) with photographs of research and manufacturing sites such as the Max Planck Institute (1988) or Siemens AG (1989) are being presented for the first time in a digital double projection, which Rautert developed specially for the exhibition at Museum Folkwang.

Artist portraits have been a recurring theme in Rautert’s work; his first was that of the Czech photographer Josef Sudek made for an exhibition of work by Otto Steinert and his students. It was followed by portraits of Otl Aicher, Pina Bausch, André Heller, Jasper Morrison and Éric Rohmer. Rautert focused not only on the subject, but also on their surroundings and actions; capturing their sphere of influence as part of their identity.

After being appointed professor of photography at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig (1993-2008), Rautert dedicated himself to his own work. His focus is on re-examining, restructuring and reshooting past projects. His students include Viktoria Binschtok, Falk Haberkorn, Harry (Grit) Hachmeister, Margret Hoppe, Sven Johne, Ricarda Roggan, Adrian Sauer, Sebastian Stumpf and Tobias Zielony.

In 2008, Timm Rautert was the first photographer to receive the Lovis Corinth Prize for his life’s work.

Text from the Museum Folkwang website [Online] Cited 18/04/2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography' at Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography at Museum Folkwang, Essen showing photographs from Deutsche in Uniform (1974)
Fotos: Jens Nober

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Liane Schneider, 33, Ground Hostess, Deutsche Lufthansa' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Liane Schneider, 33, Ground Hostess, Deutsche Lufthansa
1974
From Germans in Uniform
C-Print
28.7 x 22cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Otto Koniezny, 39 Jahre, Bundesbahnschaffner (Federal Railroad conductor)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Fräulein Monika Powileit, 33 Jahre, Diakonieschwester (deaconry sister)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Herr Konrad Benden, 61 Jahre, Tambourmajor im Stadttambourchor, St. Maximilian 04, Düsseldorf (drum major in the city drum choir, St. Maximilian 04, Düsseldorf)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Herr Werner Kudszus, 47 Jahre, Oberstleutnant, Kommandeur eines Feldjägerbataillons (Lieutenant Colonel, commander of a military police battalion)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Herr Peter Müller, 22 Jahre, Oberwachtsmeister im Bundesgrenzschutz Bonn (chief sergeant in the Federal Border Police in Bonn)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Claudia Krüll, 17, German Red Cross Helper' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Claudia Krüll, 17, German Red Cross Helper
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Herr Wolfgang Markgraf, 28 Jahre, Pfarrer, Evangelische Friedens-Kirchengemeinde (pastor, Evangelical Peace Church Congregation)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Deutsche in Uniform' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Herr Jürgen Lobert, Frau Marlene Lobert, 30 und 31 Jahre, Schützen regiments könig und Königin (rifle regiment king and queen)
From the series Deutsche in Uniform
1974
© Timm Rautert

 

 

Timm Rautert’s 1974 series “Germans in Uniform”, presenting a range of Germans in their professional attire in both a sociological and ironic manner, was first published in German by Steidl in 2006, and is now available in English in this expanded version.

For his project Rautert invited a range of public servants and officials to his Düsseldorf studio, where he photographed them in their work clothes – from a pastor, monk, Red Cross helper and hotel valet, to a more flamboyant drum major, forest warden and even a Santa Claus. Rautert depicts his subjects before the same neutral backdrop with similar framing and perspective, thus emphasising how they reveal their characters beyond their uniforms. Below each photo are the subject’s name, age and profession; at times personal quotes from conversations with Rautert during the shoot are also included. The result today is at once a complex portrait of post-war Germany, a nostalgic historical document, and an expression of the interplay between uniformity and personality that continues to shape society. In contrast to today’s professional clothing … the uniforms photographed by Rautert reflect a time of social upheaval. This documentary project was followed by the 1976 series entitled Die Letzten ihrer Zunft (The Last of this Profession) about the extinction of certain trades and professions.

Anonymous text from the Steidl website [Online] Cited 18/04/2021

 

In shooting these landmark 1974 portraits of Deutsche in Uniform, Timm Rautert met his subjects in their own territories, but then set them against a neutral background, separating them from their work aesthetics. This portable studio setting gives special significance to the moment of representation, when the subject is captured as a symbol of the state or an occupational group. By using not only names and job titles but also quotes from interviews, Rautert also prompts observers to focus on the subject or the connection between the individual’s gestures and his official work clothes. In contrast to today’s professional clothing, which is transformed into outfits by logos, the uniforms he photographed reflect a time of social upheaval.

Anonymous text from the Amazon website [Online] Cited 18/04/2021

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Swiss Pavilion' 1970

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Swiss Pavilion
1970
From: Expo ’70 – Osaka
Gelatine silver print
50 x 56cm
Museum Folkwang
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) From the series 'The Amish' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
From the series The Amish
1974
Gelatine silver print
17.4 x 26.8cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

 

In 1974 the young Timm Rautert travelled to Pennsylvania to photograph those who normally don’t allow themselves to be photographed: the Amish, a group of Anabaptist Protestant communities. Four years later Rautert returned to America, this time to the Hutterites who live so stringently by the Ten Commandments and the bible’s restrictions on images that they have their identity cards issued without photographs. Both these two series were influential on Rautert’s later work…

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book 'No Photographing' (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) photographs from the book No Photographing (Steidl, Hardcover, 2011)

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Homeless II' 1973

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Homeless II
from the series In Germany’s Homeless Shelters
1973
Gelatine silver print
47.8 x 32cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Homeless due to housing shortage' 1973

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Homeless due to housing shortage
from the series In Germany’s Homeless Shelters
1973
Gelatine silver print
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Socio-educational scheme, Cologne' 1974

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Socio-educational scheme, Cologne
1974
Gelatine silver print
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'Social work in Cologne' 1977

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Social work in Cologne
1977
Gelatine silver print
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Otto Steinert, Essen' 1968

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Otto Steinert, Essen
1968
Gelatine silver print
39.8 x 27.1cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

 

The Powerlessness of Photographs

When television moved into people’s living rooms in the 1950s, many predicted the moving picture would spell the end of still photography. Yet it is not films but photographs with their capacity to eternalise individual moments, freeze them in time and, by bringing things to a halt, compel viewers to look at them and think, that continue to define our collective memory today. Buzz Aldrin on the moon, children fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam, the student in front of the army tanks in Tiananmen Square, victims of torture at Abu Ghraib – these are the images that are said to have changed the world.

Timm Rautert began his career as a photojournalist. Inspired by the belief that photography could change the world, he addressed social issues on behalf of major magazines and newspapers. His work took him to Japan, Russia and the USA, and led him to the homeless, the jobless and to Thalidomide victims. He wanted to use his camera to get to the heart of things, and draw the viewer’s attention to injustice in the long term through his haunting series of images. But it turned out that the power of these images and their influence on society was limited: “My images haven’t change a thing,” was Timm Rautert’s sobering realisation some years later.

His interest in social and moral issues continued unabated. But his photographic style changed, becoming more conscious and more reflective. Increasingly, Timm Rautert straddled the boundary between applied and artistic photography. But he still put the message of his images above their aesthetic quality: “Photography is an important medium to understanding the world; it is such a waste to use it only as art.” Nevertheless, he combined form and content in the knowledge that his work could only ever show his personal perspective on things.

His teacher, Otto Steinert, had a profound influence on this approach. The founder of subjective photography claimed it was impossible to depict reality objectively. The mere presence of the camera distorted the situation for everyone involved and therefore the image – including the photographer himself. Timm Rautert, too, sees the camera as standing between himself and reality – biasing his view of life.

Text from the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation website [Online] Cited 18/04/2021

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Mensch in einem Photoautomaten' (Human in a photo booth) New York, 1969

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Mensch in einem Photoautomaten (Human in a photo booth)
New York, 1969
From the series New York
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Gotham City NY' New York, 1969

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Gotham City NY
New York, 1969
From the series New York
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'New York (Wellington Hotel)' 1969

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
New York (Wellington Hotel)
1969
From the series New York
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'New York' 1969

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
New York
1969
From the series New York
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert. 'New York' 1969

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
New York
1969
From the series New York
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Self with Camera Turned (by. 0° 180°)' 1972

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Self with Camera Turned (by. 0° 180°)
1972
From Image-Analytical Photography
Gelatine silver print
20.4 x 26.9cm
Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Self with Camera Turned (by. 0° 180°)' 1972

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Self with Camera Turned (by. 0° 180°)
1972
From Image-Analytical Photography
Negative mounting, on cardboard
Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Dresden
© Timm Rautert/SKD
Foto: Herbert Boswank

 

 

‘I Started as a Scientist and Finished as an Artist’ | Interview with Timm Rautert

 

 

“I thought to myself: what is photography actually? What is it really?
I decided to develop a kind of grammar for photography:
What is light? What is time? What is space?
How does one tell great stories?
What means what?”

 

Timm Rautert’s Bildanalytische Photographie (Image-Analytical Photography), from 1968 to 1974, highlights the fundamental conditions of photographic work – from the photographic act and the development of photographic images under an enlarger in the lab to the various possibilities of presentation. A systematically elaborated ensemble of analogue black-and-white and colour photographs, of image-text compilations, and of manuals and photographic material provokes elementary questions about what photography means as a medium, what is expected from it, and how it has shaped the perception of the world. Scenic black-and-white photographs, passport photos, lab experiments, combinations of selected photo prints with their negatives are found here among Rautert’s 56 works, but also non-photographic material such as a grey card (used for measuring light mainly in photo studios), postcards and graphic manuals. Each work becomes an element of “analysis” showing the numerous potential scenarios of photography.

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) from 'Variation' 1967

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
from Variation
1967
C-Print
39.3 x 29.7 cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography' at Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Installation view of the exhibition Timm Rautert and the Lives of Photography at Museum Folkwang, Essen showing work from the series Houses of the Invisible
Foto: Jens Nober

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Siemens AG, Munich' 1989

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Siemens AG, Munich
1989
From Houses of the Invisible
Digital projection, variable size
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm GmbH, Ottobrunn' 1989

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm GmbH, Ottobrunn
1989
From Houses of the Invisible
Digital projection, variable size
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Fraunhofer Institut für Mikroelektronik, Duisburg' 1986

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Fraunhofer Institut für Mikroelektronik, Duisburg
1986
From Gehäuse des Unsichtbaren (Houses of the Invisible)
Digital projection, variable size
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Rolf Deininghaus & Maxmillian Oesterling, Dortmund' 1994

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Rolf Deininghaus & Maxmillian Oesterling, Dortmund
1994
From A life of one’s own
Gelatine silver print
57 x 44.2cm
Courtesy the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941) 'Mona Lisa' 2010

 

Timm Rautert (German, b. 1941)
Mona Lisa
2010
Mixed Media Farbcollage, Offsetdruck, Tonpapier
80.5 x 63 cm
Courtesy of the Artist
© Timm Rautert

 

 

Museum Folkwang
Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 8pm

Museum Folkwang website

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24
Apr
21

Exhibition: ‘Photography Is Art’ at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 18th April – 8th August 2021

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840-1882) 'Entrance to Black Cañon, Colorado River, from Above' 1871

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
Entrance to Black Cañon, Colorado River, from Above
1871
Albumen silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

 

A quick posting as I am not feeling that well.

This exhibition drags up that perennial favourite, is photography art? by addressing it in the affirmative ‘Photography Is Art’.

While historically the statement has had to be fought for, even having to make that statement today in the title of exhibition implies – through its very existence – that there still exists an opposite, that photography is not art. Surely a more apposite title could have been found, especially as over half the media images are from a period when photography was collected by major galleries and museums around the world.

Highlights for me are the O’Sullivan, Stieglitz, Clarence H. White and the Gordon Parks.

Let the photographs speak for themselves (now there’s a good title: ‘Speaking for themselves’).
They need no justification.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Has photography always been considered art? Though widely accepted today as a medium in its own right, art museums have not always embraced photography. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that many museums began actively collecting and displaying photographs. Photography Is Art tells the story of American photographers’ efforts, from the late 19th century on, to explore and proclaim photography’s artfulness. Drawn from the Carter’s expansive and renowned photography collection, this exhibition reveals how artists shaped their medium’s artistic language.

Text from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art website

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) 'A Wet Day on the Boulevard, Paris' 1894

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
A Wet Day on the Boulevard, Paris
1894
Photogravure
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Gift of Doris Bry

 

Clarence H. White (1871–1925) 'Nude' c. 1900

 

Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925)
Nude
c. 1900
Platinum print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Texas
Bequest of the Artist

 

Carlotta Corpron (1901-1988) 'A Walk in Fair Park, Dallas' c. 1943

 

Carlotta Corpron (American, 1901-1988)
A Walk in Fair Park, Dallas
c. 1943
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist
© 1988 Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

 

Carlotta Corpron was born in Blue Earth, Minnesota, but spent fifteen years of her youth in India. She returned to the United States in 1920 to earn degrees in art education at Michigan State Normal College and Columbia University, and was first introduced to photography in 1933. Her interest grew out of her desire to create close-up images of natural forms for use in art and design courses, and her vision was influenced by László Moholy-Nagy, and further shaped by her friendship with Gyorgy Kepes, who included her in his book The Language of Vision (1944). Of particular note are Corpron’s early light drawings, made by tracking moving light at amusement parks – radiant images of wild edges and rhythmic lines – and her “space compositions,” which employed eggs and shells, although their real subject is the constructed space in which they exist. This space, achieved by the use of light-reflecting surfaces, often seems to reproduce the perceptual distortions of underwater realms. Corpron also made “fluid light designs” examining reflections on plastic materials; “light follows form” studies of sculpture; abstractions of light flowing through glass; and solarisations of flowers and portraits. She retired from teaching in 1968 but continued printing her earlier work. Corpron’s photographs were shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, and were included in the 1979 ICP exhibition Recollections: Ten Women in Photography.

Corpron’s experiments with light are among the most intriguing abstract photographic works from her day, sharing as they do the concerns of her predecessors Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Her work is significant for its inventive and resolutely independent exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of light and space. Wrought from simple materials and the free play of imagination, Corpron’s light abstractions are increasingly admired.
Cynthia Fredette

Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 212 on the International Centre of Photography website [Online] Cited 18/04/2021.

 

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) 'Leonard "Red" Jackson (standing, right) supervises painting of bicycles belonging to members of his Harlem gang. In foreground is "Brother" Price, Red's cousin and assistant gang leader 1948' Oct. 8, 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Leonard “Red” Jackson (standing, right) supervises painting of bicycles belonging to members of his Harlem gang. In foreground is “Brother” Price, Red’s cousin and assistant gang leader 1948
Oct. 8, 1948
Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Barbara Crane (American, b. 1928) 'NS-015-1969' 1969

 

Barbara Crane (American, b. 1928)
NS-015-1969
1969
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Gift of Elizabeth, Jennifer, and Bruce Crane

 

Richard Avedon (1923-2004) 'Clyde Corley, Rancher, Belgrade, Montana, 8/26/79' 1979

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004)
Clyde Corley, Rancher, Belgrade, Montana, 8/26/79
1979
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Ellen Carey (American, b. 1952) 'Self-portrait' 1984

 

Ellen Carey (American, b. 1952)
Self-portrait
1984
Dye diffusion transfer print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
© 1984 Ellen Carey

 

Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969) 'The Wall' 2000

 

Justine Kurland (American, b. 1969)
The Wall
2000
Inkjet print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
© Justine Kurland / Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

 

Sharon Core (American, b. 1965) 'Peaches and Blackberries' 2008

 

Sharon Core (American, b. 1965)
Peaches and Blackberries
2008
Dye coupler print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds provided by Nenetta C. Tatum and Stephen L. Tatum

 

Alex Prager (American, b. 1979) 'Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas)' 2010

 

Alex Prager (American, b. 1979)
Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas)
2010
Dye coupler print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

 

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17
Apr
21

Exhibition: ‘Faces. The Power of the Human Visage’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 20th June 2021

Artists: Gertrud Arndt, Marta Astfalck-Vietz, Irene Bayer, Aenne Biermann, Erwin Blumenfeld, Max Burchartz, Suse Byk, Paul Citroen, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Andreas Feininger, Werner David Feist, Trude Fleischmann, Jozef Glogowski, Paul Edmund Hahn, Lotte Jacobi, Grit Kallin-Fischer, Edmund Kesting, Rudolf Koppitz, Kurt Kranz, Anneliese Kretschmer, Germaine Krull, Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, Helmar Lerski, László Moholy-Nagy, Lucia Moholy, Oskar Nerlinger, Erich Retzlaff, Hans Richter, Leni Riefenstahl, Franz Roh, Werner Rohde, Ilse Salberg, August Sander, Franz Xaver Setzer, Robert Siodmak, Anton Stankowski, Edgar G. Ulmer, Umbo, Robert Wiene, Willy Zielke.

 

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 588' 1935-1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 588
1935-1936
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

There is a limited number of media images from Faces. The Power of the Human Visage at the Albertina, Vienna, an exhibition which investigates how 1920s and ’30s saw photographers radically renew the conventional understanding of the classic portrait during the Weimar Republic. From a distance, the overall selection of artists seems slightly ad hoc: mainly German or Austrian, with Swiss, Polish, Danish and American thrown in for good measure. Surely then, you would include luminaries such as Claude Cahun, Florence Henri and Eva Besnyö for example.

The standouts in the posting are August Sander and Herman Lerski, both from opposing camps. Peter Pfrunder observes that Lerski’s earlier subjects, “showed portraits of anonymous people from the underclass of the Berlin society, presenting them as theatrical figures so that professional titles such as “chamber maid”, “beggar” or “textile worker” appeared as arbitrarily applied roles” that reveal the inner face of the photographer (his imagination) – whereas the work of Sander, who was at the same time working on his project “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts”, was an objective, social taxonomy of various representatives of the Weimar society.

Lerksi’s is the more esoteric enterprise, as he sought to provide proof “”that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination.” The Howard Greenberg gallery suggests that the “portraits” reflect a search for the photographers own wandering soul.

For me Lerki’s project Metamorphosis through Light (1935/36) – 137 “photographs of a man” taken by the artist on a Tel Aviv rooftop using natural sunlight and the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters – is a meditation on the mutability of the human face, identity and psyche, a brooding contemplation on the ever changing nature of the human spirit pictured through the face, over time. In this case, a compressed time atop a rooftop in Tel Aviv using an out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete, Leo Uschatz, as a stand-in for the artist himself.

Our face becomes us. It is our presentation to the world of who we are. The worry lines, the grey hair and the broken nose are all hard-earned signs of the life that we have led. The iconography of the face. Lerski captures this outer reflection of our inner self in a series of transcendent, abstract, modernist visages [the manifestation, image, or aspect of something] – that are among the most powerful representations of the human face that have ever been captured on film.

In their very context less being, in their very transposition from prophet, to peasant, to dying soldier, to old woman, to monk, they transgress [go beyond the limits of, and become an aspect of something else] what is normally seen and recognised of what Erwin Goffman calls ‘facework’,1 our interaction through our face with the outside world. They go beyond saving face: “Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.”2

In light, through time, their transmutation is the transformation of our lives, compressed, condensed, communicated.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. For more information on the face, please see my writing Facile, Facies, Facticity (2014)

 

  1. Facework theory is concerned with the ways in which we construct and preserve our self images, or the image of someone else. See Goffman, Erving. (1955) “On face-work: An analysis of ritual elements in social interaction,” in ‘Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes 18, pp. 213-231.
  2. Georges Didi-Huberman. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49.

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

 

 

Starting from Helmar Lerski’s outstanding photo series Metamorphose – Verwandlungen durch Licht (Metamorphosis through Light) (1935/36), the exhibition Faces presents portraits from the period of the Weimar Republic.

The 1920s and ’30s saw photographers radically renew the conventional understanding of the classic portrait: their aim was no longer to represent an individual’s personality; instead, they conceived of the face as material to be staged according to their own ideas. In this, the photographed face became a locus for dealing with avant-garde aesthetic ideas as well as interwar-period social developments. And it was thus that modernist experiments, the relationship between individual and general type, feminist roll-playing, and political ideologies collided in – and thereby expanded – the general understanding of portrait photography.

 

 

“For heaven’s sake, dear Mr. Meidner, you aren’t going to throw down your brush and palette and become a photographer, are you? … Don’t take offence at the machine. Here too, it’s the spirit that creates value… Photography is something great. It doesn’t do any good to step back and cry. Join in, but hurry! Photography marches on!”

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Helmar Lerski to the painter Ludwig Meidner, 1930

 

“His model, he [Lerski] told me in Paris, was a young man with a nondescript face who posed on the roof of a house. Lerski took over a hundred pictures of that face from a very short distance, each time subtly changing the light with the aid of screens. Big close-ups, these pictures detailed the texture of the skin so that cheeks and brows turned into a maze of inscrutable runes reminiscent of soil formations, as they appear from an airplane. The result was amazing. None of the photographs recalled the model; and all of them differed from each other.

Out of the original face there arose, evoked by the varying lights, a hundred different faces, among them those of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman, a monk. Did these portraits, if portraits they were, anticipate the metamorphoses which the young man would undergo in the future? Or were they just plays of light whimsically projecting on his face dreams and experiences forever alien to him? Proust would have been delighted in Lerski’s experiment with its unfathomable implications.”

.
Siegfried Kracauer. ‘Theory of Film’. Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 162

 

“‘Facies’ simultaneously signifies the singular ‘air’ of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the ‘genre’ or ‘species’ under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of ‘representation’, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

.
Georges Didi-Huberman. ‘Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere’ (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49

 

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 536' 1935-1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 536
1935-1936
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 537' 1935-1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 537
1935-1936
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

But Lerski’s pictures were only partly in line with the maxims of the New Photography, and they questioned the validity of pure objectivity. The distinguishing characteristics of his portraits included a theatrical-expressionistic, sometimes dramatic use of lighting inspired by the silent film. Although his close-up photographs captured the essential features of a face – eyes, nose and mouth –, his primary concern was not individual appearance or superficial likeness but the deeper inner potential: he emphasised the changeability, the different faces of an individual. Lerski, who sympathised with the political left wing, thereby infiltrated the photography of types that was practised (and not infrequently misused for racist purposes) by many of Lerski’s contemporaries.

In his book “Köpfe des Alltags” (Everyday Faces) (1931), a milestone in the history of photographic books, Lerski clearly expressed his convictions: he showed portraits of anonymous people from the underclass of the Berlin society, presenting them as theatrical figures so that professional titles such as “chamber maid”, “beggar” or “textile worker” appeared as arbitrarily applied roles. Thus his photographs may be interpreted as an important opposite standpoint to the work of August Sander, who was at the same time working on his project “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts” – that large-scale attempt at a social localisation of various representatives of the Weimar society.

But Helmar Lerski’s attitude was at its most radical in his work entitled “Metamorphosis”. This was completed within a few months at the beginning of 1936 in Palestine, to where Lerski and his second wife Anneliese had immigrated in 1932. In “Verwandlungen durch Licht” (this is the second title for this work), Lerski carried his theatrical talent to extremes. With the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters, he directed the natural light of the sun in constant new variations and refractions onto his model, the Bernese-born, at the time out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete Leo Uschatz. Thus he achieved, in a series of over 140 close-ups “hundreds of different faces, including that of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman and a monk from one single original face” (Siegfried Kracauer). According to Lerski, these pictures were intended to provide proof “that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination. We are only just becoming aware of the modernity of this provocative series of photographs.

Peter Pfrunder. “Helmar Lerski: Metamorphosis,” on the Fotostiftung Schweiz website 2005 [Online] Cited 17/04/2021.

 

Lerski led a nomadic existence, driven by the events that splintered Europe and the Holy Lands throughout his life. His life was a sequence of transportations without a central resting place. It might be assumed that his thematic focus in photography, as pictured in his books Köpfe des Alltags, Les Juifs (of the “Jewish Heads” series) and Metamorphosis Through Light was of an external fascination with the human face and gesture but really reflects a search for his own self. The constant exposure to anti-Semitism and its horrible repercussions resulted in an acknowledgment of his own Judaism and for an historical identity. Ultimately, Lerski’s penetrating vision of others is a mirror of his own wandering soul.

Anonymous text on the Howard Greenberg website [Online] Cited 17/04/2021.

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 604' 1935-1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 604
1935-1936
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994) 'Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)' c. 1927

 

Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)
Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze) (Marta Vietz, nude with lace)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Dietmar Katz/Berlinische Galerie © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Dietmar Katz/Berlinische Galerie

 

 

Almost all of her archive was lost when her Berlin home was bombed in 1943. What remains was discovered by the curator Janos Frecot in 1989 and is now housed at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin.

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Handlanger' (Bricklayer / Handyman) 1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Handlanger (Bricklayer / Handyman)
1928
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; BILDRECHT, Wien, 2020

 

 

Later in the 1920s Sander shot what was to become one of his most iconic works, ‘Handlanger (Bricklayer)’. This photograph belongs to ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, one of seven chapters within his People of the 20th Century project. The title and subject of this photograph form an archetype of Sander’s sociological documentation of people from a variety of occupations and social classes. Formally, the portrait’s centrality, flat background and conventional framing demonstrate Sander’s investment in photography as a ‘truth-telling’ device; one which represents reality as it is, without formal experimentation and within the boundaries of the history of photographic portraiture. Sander wrote in his seminal lecture ‘Photography as a Universal Language’ that photography was the medium most able to best reflect the ‘physical path to demonstrable truth and understand physiognomy’.

Anonymous text from the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

August Sander’s Handlanger is one of the photographer’s definitive images from his epic series, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Men of the Twentieth Century). Sander also selected this image for publication in Antlitz der Zeit, his seminal 1929 book of portraits of the German people. Although very much of-a-piece with the portraits in this book, Handlanger stands out for the intensity of its subject’s gaze and for Sander’s strongly symmetrical composition. The photograph is an archetypal portrait of the working man, emanating capability and strength.

Titled simply Handlanger (hod-carrier, or handyman), this image took its place in Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) alongside portraits of farmers, bureaucrats, students, political radicals, artists, and others, most identified only by their occupation or type. Sander’s purpose was to create a collective portrait of the German populace that was thoroughly objective, unsentimental, and unprejudiced. His stated goal was nothing less than ‘… to be honest and tell the truth about our age and its people.’ Sander’s project and its inclusive scope, however, brought him to the attention of the German authorities. In 1934, the Reich Chamber of Arts ordered the destruction of the printing plates for Antlitz der Zeit and the seizure of all copies, effectively halting Sander’s picture-making.

Anonymous text from the Sothebys website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Jungbauern' (Young Farmers) 1914

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Jungbauern (Young Farmers)
1914
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; BILDRECHT, Wien, 2020

 

 

What This Photo Doesn’t Show

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991) 'Andor Weininger as Clown' 1926

 

Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991)
Andor Weininger as Clown
1926
Gelatin silver paper
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Chicago-born but raised in Hungary, Irene Bayer-Hecht studied commercial art in Berlin. After seeing the Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, she decided to concentrate on fine art. In 1925 she married Herbert Bayer and moved to Dessau, where she studied photography at the Bauhaus in order to assist him in his work. Her own photographs were mostly of people, both portraits and formal studies. Bayer’s work was included in the landmark Film und Foto exhibition in 1929 in Stuttgart. After moving back to the United States in 1938, Bayer gave up photography and became a translator.

Anonymous text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

An international figure, Irene Bayer-Hecht was born in Chicago, grew up in Hungary, and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Berlin, and the Sorbonne and École de Beaux-Arts, Paris. In 1923 she visited the first large Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar, where she met Herbert Bayer, whom she married in 1925. This allowed her to attend the Bauhaus’s Vorkurs (foundation course) that year without formally enrolling at the school. At the same time she attended photography courses at the Academy of Graphic Arts and Book Publishing in Leipzig. She took her own photographs and also used her technical training to support Bayer’s photographic work. The couple separated in 1928. Beyer-Hecht’s photographs feature experimental approaches and candid views of life at the Bauhaus; these pictures were included in the exhibition Film und Foto, in 1929. In 1938 she returned to the United States, abandoning photography and working instead as a translator.

Mitra Abbaspour on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000) 'Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 22' (Mask self-portrait No. 22) 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 22 (Mask self-portrait No. 22)
1930
Silbergelatinepapier
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Bildrecht, Wien 2020

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walther Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm. In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses (MoMA 1607.2001), which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Mitra Abbaspour on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

In 1930, Gertrud Arndt, a Bauhaus-taught weaver and textile designer, took forty-three portraits of herself in only a few days. Adopting a style which was in direct contrast with the functional Bauhaus aesthetic – indeed, it was a “welcome break” from it –, Arndt slipped into the rôles of different eras and cultural circles and captured these mises en scène with her camera. They were private photographs, photographs intended purely as a means of coming to terms with her own self, not for publication.

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961) 'Lotte (Auge)' 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Auge)
1928
Silbergelatinepapier
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Bildrecht, Wien 2020

 

 

Max Burchartz (1887-1961) studied painting at the Akademie der Künste in Düsseldorf and came into contact with the Bauhaus in Weimar during the 1920s. In 1924 together with Johannes Canis he opened an advertising agency in Bochum, which gained a reputation for creating innovative advertising campaigns with photography and typography. Until 1932 Burchartz taught photography and commercial art at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in Essen. One of his students was Anton Stankowski. After Hilter came to power in 1933 Burchartz joined the Nazi Party and voluntarily joined the German army which he remained in until the end of the war. In 1949 he was reappointed to the Folkwangschule, where he taught until 1955, publishing books on design theory such as Schule des Schauens in 1962.

 

Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'

 

Two pages from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021

 

Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969) 'Kopf mit Taschenlampe' (Head with flashlight) c. 1928

 

Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969)
Kopf mit Taschenlampe (Head with flashlight)
c. 1928
Silbergelatinepapier
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Sigrid Nerlinger

 

 

Excluded & yet entangled in two dictatorships: The political constructivist Oskar Nerlinger 10/02/2021

 

 

Oskar Nerlinger (1893-1969) was one of the most important artists of the committed art scene in the Weimar Republic. He was a member of the Association of Proletarian Revolutionary Art (ASSO for short), which was founded in 1928 and belonged to the KPD, which cooperated with the Soviet avant-garde artist group Oktober. At that time there was no conflict between positions of aesthetic modernism and KPD politics. In 1932 the political and artistic avant-garde in the Soviet Union fell apart, with serious consequences for left-wing artists in Germany. Almost at the same time, the Nazi system broke with all forms of modernity. With his idea of art suddenly doubly isolated within his own party, which followed Stalin’s art verdict, and within Germany through the Nazi art policy, Nerlinger went into so-called “inner emigration”, but behaved in a very contradictory manner and adapted his artistic language to the Nazi aesthetics. After 1945 he joined the SED and followed the given political norms of socialist realism as part of the formalism campaign.

The twofold turning point in 1932 and 1933 left lasting traces in Oskar Nerlinger’s art. With this transition from innovation to regression, Nerlinger stands for a whole generation of politically committed artists in the Weimar Republic who, blindly believing in the doctrines of the communist party, gave up their own aesthetic and moral convictions. In a paradoxical way, Nerlinger was marginalised and at the same time entangled in two dictatorships.

 

Erich Retzlaff (German, 1899-1993) 'Bride's Traditional Dress from Kleines Walsertal' before 1936

 

Erich Retzlaff (German, 1899-1993)
Bride’s Traditional Dress from Kleines Walsertal
before 1936
From German Folk Costumes
17.6 × 12.3cm
Gelatin silver print on supporting cardboard
The Albertina Museum, Vienna – Permanent loan from the Österreichische Ludwig-Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft)
© Volker Graf Bethusy-Huc

 

 

Erich Max Wilhelm Retzlaff was born in Reinfeld in Schleswig Holstein, Germany on October 9th 1899. He came from a prosperous protestant middle class background. His father, Friedrich, was the noted author of the definitive Handbuch für die Polizei im Reich (German police handbook) published in 1892. The young Erich grew up in the twilight of the Wilhelmine era and enlisted enthusiastically into the German army in 1916 to fight in the First World War. Retzlaff served as a machine gunner on the western front (Flanders), was very badly wounded and subsequently spent over a year in a military hospital. He received the Iron Cross (second class).

After the conclusion of the war he drifted into work in civilian life eventually completing a business apprenticeship in a paint factory in Düsseldorf. With help from one of his former army officers, Retzlaff was able to secure a position as a supplies buyer for a factory in Hamburg. He began to earn a decent salary and became a patron of the arts, visiting many exhibitions and associating with artists to the point that he contemplated a creative career himself. But Retzlaff was unable to pursue painting; his wounds during the war had left his hand permanently damaged. Instead, Retzlaff began to experiment with photography, initially as an amateur enthusiast and then ultimately as a career, starting up a small photographic portrait studio on the Königsallee (Düsseldorf). By the late 1920s Retzlaff moved to larger premises on the Kaiserstrasse as custom increased and the business grew. His circle of friends and associates widened and by the late 1930s included painters such as Werner Peiner, Emil Nolde, the photographer Paul Wolff and the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. A passionate German Nationalist, Retzlaff became a member of Hitler’s National Socialist party in 1932 (No.1014457).

Retzlaff moved his studio several times during the 1930s and 1940s working in a number of locations including locations in Düsseldorf and Berlin. He also expanded his oeuvre as commercial needs demanded and as well as his portraits he photographed traditional German regional costumes, landscapes and industrial scenes. However, at the heart of his portfolio was Retzlaff’s interest in photographing in a physiognomic way. Physiognomy is a belief that one can read a face to discover the personality and character of the individual. Physiognomy was hugely popular as a means of evaluating people and their lives in Germany after the First World War. During the Hitler years this interest continued with an added emphasis on race. The focus of Retzlaff’s photographs from this period was making images that applied a physiognomic parascience within a political and ideological framework.

After 1945 Retzlaff continued to make his living as a photographer and his work was still widely published. His portfolio from the post-war period includes fashion photography, landscapes, portraits of prominent Germans (such as Chancellor Konrad Adenauer), and dramatic images of West German industry. However, in a general sense, the photographs he made after 1945 are less dynamic than the work made in the 1930s and 40s. The images tend to lack the punch and bite of the earlier Retzlaff. The ideology is gone and with it the personal sense of purpose that his earlier images possessed.

These biographical details are drawn from the transcript of Professor Doctor Rolf Sachsse’s 1979 recorded interview with Erich Retzlaff and from additional biographical information provided to me by Retzlaff’s son Herr Jürgen Retzlaff and his daughter Bettina Retzlaff-Cumming.

Text on the Aberystwyth University website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) 'Masquerade' 1928-1933

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Masquerade
1928-1933
Gelatin silver print
Münchner Stadtmuseum – Nachlass Franz Roh, München

 

 

The 1920s are the decade of masquerade in the history of modern art. Was it the coming of the cinema, that “Hades of the Living”, in which the protagonists forever assume new identities and “the shadows already become immortal while still alive”31, or was it first and foremost the psychological consequences of the profound social changes following the First World War which made masks, disguises and rôle-playing the favourite means of self-stylisation and self-discovery among artists and writers of both sexes? For the psychoanalyst Joan Rivière, masquerade was one of the essential features of womanliness, which – she wrote in 1929 – “could be assumed and worn as a mask”, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it. […] The reader may now ask how I define womanliness or where I draw the line between genuine womanliness and the ‘masquerade’. My suggestion is not, however, that there is any such difference; whether radical or superficial, they are the same thing.”32 Gender rôle-playing, hitherto reserved in the 19th century for the very close circles of male-attired lesbians, became a fashion phenomenon with the arrival of the “garçonne” in the 1920s.33 The poetess Else Lasker-Schüler, who would frequently masquerade as the Prince of Thebes in the literary cafés of Berlin, was written about as follows: “Disguise was an aid to becoming a person. It symbolises the ego in the process of either developing or disintegrating. […] Disguise is both the secret and the prediction of a person who seeks himself or herself in the game of (mis)taken identities; one who is versatile in the art of transformation, who can condense into many different persons again and again, but never into a tangible personality.”34 Thus photography was the ideal means of objectifying these transformations and of viewing one’s other self from a distance.

Extract from Herbert Molderings and Barbara Mülhens-Molderings. “Mirrors, Masks and Spaces. Self-portraits by Women Photographers in the twenties and thirties,” on the Jeu de Paume website 03/06/2011 [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

Franz Roh (21 February 1890 – 30 December 1965), was a German historian, photographer, and art critic. Roh is perhaps best known for his 1925 book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäischen Malerei (“After expressionism: Magical Realism: Problems of the newest European painting”) he coined the term magic realism.

Roh was born in Apolda (in present-day Thuringia), Germany. He studied at universities in Leipzig, Berlin, and Basel. In 1920, he received his Ph.D. in Munich for a work on Dutch paintings of the 17th century. As a photographer and critic, he absolutely hated photographs that mimicked painting, charcoal, or drawings. During the Nazi regime, he was isolated and briefly put in jail for his book Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye); he used his jail time he used to write the book Der Verkannte Künstler: Geschichte und Theorie des kulturellen Mißverstehens (“The unrecognised artist: history and theory of cultural misunderstanding”). After the war, in 1946, he married art historian Juliane Bartsch. He died in Munich.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

An art historian, photographer, and art critic, Franz Roh deplored photographs that were derived from painting or pretended to be drawings or charcoal sketches. His writings brought him close to avant-garde artists, who inspired many of his photographs. In 1929 he co-published and co-edited a book, Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye), with graphic designer Jan Tschichold. Asserting that photographs were an effective weapon against “the mechanisation of spirit” and one of the world’s greatest physical, chemical, and technological wonders, Roh and Tschichold based the book on a film and photography exhibition held in Stuttgart. The book’s progressive stance led to Roh’s brief imprisonment by the government censors, who forbade him to continue writing. In 1946 he was awarded a professorship at the University of Munich, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

Anonymous text from the J.Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021

 

Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'

 

Two pages from the book Faces.The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya' 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929

 

 

Lotte Jacobi (August 17, 1896 – May 6, 1990) was a leading American portrait photographer and photojournalist, known for her high-contrast black-and-white portrait photography, characterised by intimate, sometimes dramatic, sometimes idiosyncratic and often definitive humanist depictions of both ordinary people in the United States and Europe and some of the most important artists, thinkers and activists of the 20th century.

 

Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'

 

Two pages from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021

 

Cover from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'

 

Cover from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage featuring Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) Metamorphosis, 537 1935-1936

 

 

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09
Apr
21

Review: ‘Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th February  –  18th April 2021

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne
1985
Pigment print from scanned negative
39 x 58cm (image size)
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

 

“One can also pursue politics with art.
Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.”

.
Hans Richter

 

“I always wanted to document people’s lives – their work, their family, their relationships, their leisure – their pain and pleasure.

“To me, every individual’s life is more wondrous than any fantasy could ever be.”

.
Ruth Maddison

 

 

The Art of a Fellow Traveller

Since the 1970s Australia has been blessed with many talented women photographers… Sue Ford, Carol Jerrems, Joyce Evans, Ponch Hawkes, Micky Allan, Ruth Maddison, Rosemary Laing, Hoda Afshar, Anne Ferran, Katrin Koenning, Robyn Stacey, Janina Green, Bindi Cole, Tracey Moffatt, Polixeni Papapetrou, Pat Brassington, Claire Rae, Claudia Terstappen, Jacqui Stockdale, Siri Hayes, Petrina Hicks, Kim Lawler, Carolyn Lewens, Nicola Loder, Jill Orr, Kim Percy, Patricia Piccinini, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Jane Brown, to name just a few…

 ** Thinking. Australia. For such a small (in population) and isolated (geographically) country, rarely in the history of photography can there have been such an accumulated wealth of talent within the space of 60 years or so. I have suggested to a major public gallery in Melbourne a group exhibition of these artists but it went nowhere. Why? This is world class talent! **

.
Which brings me to the exhibition Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times which occupies all galleries at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

What a delight it is to see this artist in full flight in this exceptionally strong exhibition. As pictured in the flow of images, Maddison has carved her name as a social documentary and feminist photographer, her holistic body of work providing a “significant contribution to the documentation of Australian life and society from the 1970s to the present – from her earliest iconic hand-coloured works, the working life of women, Melbourne’s social and cultural life of the 1980s, and Maddison’s documentation of the people and industries of her adopted home of Eden.”

Through direct, frontal mainly black and white / hand coloured photographs, Maddison builds compelling stories in her work, stories which explore the cultures and sub-cultures of Australia: the political upheavals, alternative lifestyles and counter culture, the women’s movement, gay liberation, Vietnam, union, nuclear, anti-fascist and other protests; the fight for equality and equal pay, the fight against discrimination and other actions that fight for fairness, acceptance and respect for all, within Australian society. With compassion and understanding Maddison pictures youth and exuberance, old age and protest, life on the land and sea, and life leaving it for the cities. Her photographs serve a testificatory function – related to BOTH a person who has witnessed these events (the artist) AND an object used as evidence (the photograph).

Maddison’s testimony to such events creates a polyperspectivity – not so much in terms of what the camera sees in individual images, but in what it sees directed by the artist over an entire career, comprising more than 40 years. Of looking, of being present, of being ethical. In her work, “the shadows already become immortal while still alive.”1

This is the crux of the matter. Since the very day that Maddison picked up a camera being ethical when representing the world around her has been a gut reaction. “Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy. The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.” Her presentation of the world reflects her character and disposition. Her ethos is embedded in her being and psyche – the human soul, mind AND spirit. You can’t make this stuff up, you either have it or you don’t.

Maddison has this generosity of spirit in spades. The belief in balance, fairness, and equality for all. Yes, her photographs document people’s pleasure and pain, their lives, their existence but only through her own presence and vision. Her photographs are a reflection of her inner being, her spirit. What she believes the world can be, should be. It is this force of nature, her own being, that propels the investigation forwards. Never more so than now, in the midst of a pandemic, the world needs such ethical artists. To remind us for what we fight for.

For example, Netflix have recently announced a new “docu-soap” series “Byron Baes” (babes) to be filmed in the northern NSW beachside town of Byron Bay, which will reveal “hot Instagrammers, living their best lives, being their best selves,” with a cast of “celebrity-adjacent-adjacent influencers.” Who cares about these egotistical non-entities, when in the town drug use is rampant, housing is unaffordable and people cannot get a job! That is the real story, one which an artist such as Maddison would recognise and document with empathy and insight.

Maddison is a fellow traveller2 and I travel with her. She doesn’t follow “the running dog of capitalism” – or as people used to call them, “running dogs”3 – nipping at your heels, constantly harassing you, but these days not even that… just lackadaisical multinational corporations who don’t even care to hide their disdain for the working class, or their ecological disdain for the health of the world. All that matters is money and keeping the shareholders happy. She follows her own path and long may that continue. Looking and documenting is always both personal and political and this is Maddison’s story: “Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.” Blessings to her.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Joseph Roth, quoted, in translation, from Ulrich Raulff. “Umbrische Figuren,” in Floris M. Neusüss. Fotogramme – die lichtreichen Schatten. Kassel 1983, p. 16.
  2. A person who travels with another; a person who is not a member of a particular group or political party … but who sympathises with the group’s aims and policies.
  3. A servile follower, especially of a political system.

.
Many thankx to the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the installation photographs at the bottom of the posting. All other iPhone photographs by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

 

 

Gallery One

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'First roll of film' 1976

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From First roll of film (installation view)
1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing at left the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945) 'No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)' 1977-78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)
1977-78
From the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland 1979

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Christmas holiday with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1977/78

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
From Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945) 'Christmas Holidays with Bob's family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australia, b. 1945)
From Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland
1979

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the series Christmas Holidays with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979) from the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Untitled #18' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Untitled #18
1979
From the series Christmas holidays with Bob’s family. Mermaid Beach, Queensland 1979
Pigment print from scan, edition 1/1
10.5 x 16.2cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing photographs of women workers and single mothers (various dates and series, see above)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing images from the series And so we joined the Union (1985)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Prison Officers, Pentridge' 1985

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Prison Officers, Pentridge
1985
Pigment print from scanned negative (Print by Les Walkling)
50 x 50cm (image size)
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) From the series 'Let's Dance' 1979

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) From the series 'Let's Dance' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
From the series Let’s Dance (installation views)
1979
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ruth Maddison photographed the social spaces that had been important to activist communities but which were in the process of passing away. These were mainly commissioned projects for labour and social movements, otherwise these histories would have been lost.

Dancing and entertainment were features of Ruth Maddison’s work throughout the 1980s. These photographs reflected Maddison’s own social life, which often revolved around Melbourne’s pubs and nightclubs. But there was also a classical documentary function to her photographs of trade union dances and the annual women’s dance at St Kilda Town Hall. These pictures reflected social spaces that had been important to activist communities, but which by the mid-1980s were in the process of passing away; as women’s groups began to fragment, and as the membership of labour organisations changed. The photograph shown here of the Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball at Collingwood Town Hall were part of a commission. Like many photographers in this exhibition (including Helen Grace, Sandy Edwards and Ponch Hawkes), political affiliation and professional practice often came together in commissioned projects for labour and social movements.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Vehicle Builders' Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne' 1979

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Vehicle Builders’ Union Ball, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne
1979
Gelatin silver print

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Single Mothers and their Children' 1994

 

Installation view of a work from Ruth Maddison’s series Single Mothers and their Children 1994
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Mmaskepe Sejoe and her daughter Nthabelong. Botswana - Melbourne' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Mmaskepe Sejoe and her daughter Nthabelong. Botswana – Melbourne (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Mary Marcoftsis. Macedonia - Melbourne' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Mary Marcoftsis. Macedonia – Melbourne (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Nada Jankovic. Serbia - Buli, NSW' 1997 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Nada Jankovic. Serbia – Buli, NSW (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Lia Tata Ruga, Devi Hamid, Anna Dartania and Ita Sulis. Indonesia – Sydney' (installation view) 1997

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Lia Tata Ruga, Devi Hamid, Anna Dartania and Ita Sulis. Indonesia – Sydney (installation view)
1997
From the series Australian Women
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE' 1984 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE (installation view)
1984, printed 2020
Pigment print from scanned negative
18.6 x 28cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE 1984' (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Trade workshop for girls, Preston TAFE (installation view)
1984, printed 2020
Pigment print from scanned negative
18.6 x 28cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Women's Dance, St Kilda Hall' 1985, printed 2014 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Women’s Dance, St Kilda Hall (installation view)
1985, printed 2014
Gelatin silver prints

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Ponch Hawkes, Helen and Alice Garner' 1978-2018

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Ponch Hawkes, Helen and Alice Garner
1978-2018
Pigment print from scanned negative
Image: 22.6 x 15cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Jane Clifton and Helen Garner' 1976-2013 (installation view)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Jane Clifton and Helen Garner' 1976-2013 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Jane Clifton and Helen Garner (installation views)
1976-2013
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery one of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing at second top left, Keith Haring (1985-2014)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Keith Haring' 1985-2014

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Keith Haring
1985-2014
Pigment print from scanned negative, hand-coloured and digitally enhanced
40 x 40cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Monika Behrem, Rochelle Haley and their baby Indigo' 2017 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Monika Behrem, Rochelle Haley and their baby Indigo (installation view)
2017
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne' 1985 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Equal pay demo, Bourke Street Melbourne (installation view)
1985
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gallery two

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery two of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Highway 23' 2009 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Highway 23 (installation view)
2009
Type C print from digital file
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views showing work from the series Crossing the Monaro (2009) in the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In Ruth Maddison’s regular trips across the Monaro she stopped frequently to take photographs. She is drawn to the expansiveness of this unencumbered landscape, the way it opens up and seems to encourage something similar in ourselves.

“I drive across the Monaro and look at the sweep of the land and think about what was there and what has gone – time and time again. Stopping at small cemeteries scattered across the Monaro, passing through the dying towns, collecting bird and animal bones scattered all along the way, watching grass seeds blowing across the road. I am conscious of layers of history held beneath the surface of the land. …

History is writ large on this route. Small towns attest to times of brief plenty: the promise of gold, the economy of fleece. They are established at distances determined in an era when horses paced the daily work. Where rail provided a short-lived reprise. They are now towns that compete for use to “Stop Revive Survive” or to which some retire…

This new body of work is a departure from the people-focused documentary / portrait based work that has informed my public practice for 30 years. This departure is the outcome of my social and professional isolation [in Eden], which I sought and have embraced. Yet I consider this work a documentary piece – I am documenting the passage of my life through a place and a time via photography and the problem solving processes it presents to me. I am documenting what it is that makes me want to go on and on with the work.”

Ruth Maddison artist statements 2008-09 quoted in Merryn Gates. “There is a time,” (catalogue essay) from the exhibition There is a time at the Huw Davies Gallery, September 2009 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery two of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Millsy (Jason Mills)' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Millsy (Jason Mills) (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Bounge (Gregory Curtis) and Apple (John McCrory)' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Bounge (Gregory Curtis) and Apple (John McCrory) (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Norm Joiner' 2000-2002 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Norm Joiner (installation view)
2000-2002
From the series Now a river went out of Eden
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Imlay Street, Eden 1.44 pm 31 December 2019' and 'Walking towards Aslings Beach 7.14 am 31 December 2019' 2019 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Imlay Street, Eden 1.44 pm 31 December 2019 (installation view)
Walking towards Aslings Beach 7.14 am 31 December 2019
2019
From the series When No Birds Sing 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Volunteers sorting. At the Fishermen's Co-op, Eden. 3.06 pm 18 January 2020' 2020 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Volunteers sorting. At the Fishermen’s Co-op, Eden. 3.06 pm 18 January 2020 (installation view)
2020
From the series When No Birds Sing 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Julie Ristanovic, canteen supervisor. Chip mill' Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Julie Ristanovic, canteen supervisor. Chip mill (installation view)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gallery three

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints

 

Fifty-one selected posters, from the Samuel Goldbloom Collection, Melbourne University Archives, pigment prints
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing on the television The Dustbins of History (1950s / 2020), edited from ASIO footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

The Dustbins of History (1950s), edited from Asio footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia.

 

Still from The Dustbins of History (1950s / 2020), edited from ASIO footage sourced from the National Archives of Australia

 

 

She [Maddison] also discovered reels of surveillance film documenting suspected members of the Communist party as they arrived at a secret meeting in one of Melbourne’s laneways in the 50s. This footage appears in the exhibition as The Dustbins of History, a short film that is comedic in its ambiguity and monotony. All that’s missing is the Keystone Cops.

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne showing works from the series My father’s footsteps (1942-2020)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'To everything there is a turn, turn, turn' 2020

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
To everything there is a turn, turn, turn
2020
From the series My father’s footsteps (1942-2020)
Diptych
Pigment print from ASIO files

 

 

After decades of being denigrated in the press and parliament, in 1990 Goldbloom was awarded an OAM for his service as an activist for peace. Later, a street was named after him in Canberra. Maddison has paired an ASIO image of her father at a peace rally in 1965 with the Goldbloom street sign, evidence she says of “history doing the wheel again”.

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view detail)

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Hiroshima Day, Melbourne' 1981/2020 (installation view detail)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Hiroshima Day, Melbourne (installation views)
1981/2020
Pigment print from scanned black and white negative. Hand coloured and digitally enhanced
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herta and Jill Koppel

 

 

I just met the most wonderful lady at the Ruth Maddison exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne.

100 year old Herta Koppel (pictured with her daughter Jill) was as bright as a button. She escaped the Nazis from Vienna with her two sisters in 1939, a few weeks before the war, leaving behind her parents who did not make it.

In the gallery the family were reminiscing on the people they knew in Ruth’s photographs while ‘The Internationale’ played in the background. How fitting.

Marcus

Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)

 

Samuel Goldbloom. Four photographs by ASIO 1957/1965/1968/1970 archival pigments prints 2020 (installation view)
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) Sam self-portrait, self-redacted Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Sam self-portrait, self-redacted (installation view)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) Sam self-portrait, self-redacted Nd (installation view detail)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Sam self-portrait, self-redacted (installation view detail)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery three of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Maddison's parents' Nd (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Maddison’s parents (installation view)
Nd
Pigment print from scanned black and white negative
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)' 2020 (installation view)

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Last night I had the strangest dream (#1) (installation view)
2020
Pigment print, hand coloured and digitally enhanced
64 x 70cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

From an early age, Ruth Maddison knew her father, Sam Goldbloom, was being watched. “He used to tell us not to worry about the men sitting in the car in front of the house … we were aware the clicks on the phone meant ‘they’ were listening too,” the award-winning Melbourne-born photographer says.

“They” were the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. In the 1940s, Goldbloom’s anti-fascist ideals drew ASIO’s attention. He later joined the Communist party before becoming a major player in the World Peace Council. These associations made him a person of interest for more than 30 years. …

While the spy agency’s prolonged surveillance of her father was not news, Maddison says that when her mother, Rosa, died in 2008, she discovered a much more layered history. As she and her two sisters packed up the family home, Maddison was tasked with clearing out her father’s shed. He had died in 1999 but until then no one had gone through “Sam’s stuff”.

There she found packs of slides, video footage from Goldbloom’s numerous peace missions to communist regimes including the USSR, East Germany and Cuba, as well as home movies, correspondence and other paraphernalia related to his activist work. This discovery became the entry point to The Fellow Traveller, the centrepiece for the first major survey of Maddison’s work, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

She [Maddison] uses her camera to explore the influence of politics on everyday life, often focusing on the personal. In The Fellow Traveller she exposes the social and political climate of the postwar years through a very intimate and at times painful lens.

“For my father, politics was number one,” she says. “To see it all laid out in the ASIO files, you know, night after night after night Sam was at meetings, and then this year he’s overseas for one month, and then another year for two months, then three. While I was looking at all of that I realised family wasn’t number one for him.”

While Maddison was not witness to her father’s interactions with world leaders, she imagined him meeting men like Mao and Khrushchev. In a series, “Last night I had the strangest dream” Maddison has inserted Goldbloom into pictures with his political heroes [see Last night I had the strangest dream (#1) below].

“It’s not about reinterpreting history, I am playing with him and his life, and wondering if he ever daydreamed these images like I am now.” These hand-coloured photographs are also visual evidence of the fiction ASIO pursued.

Maddison describes her treatment of the archival materials as “part real, part desire and part imaginary”, which parallels the narrative in the ASIO files. In the endless reams of observational notes, innocuous photographs and informers’ statements lies the hope that Goldbloom was up to something.

After decades of being denigrated in the press and parliament, in 1990 Goldbloom was awarded an OAM for his service as an activist for peace. Later, a street was named after him in Canberra. Maddison has paired an ASIO image of her father at a peace rally in 1965 with the Goldbloom street sign, evidence she says of “history doing the wheel again”. [See the diptych To everything there is a turn, turn, turn 2020 above]

Alison Stieven-Taylor. “The communist who raised me: photographer Ruth Maddison interrogates her father’s Asio file,” on the Guardian website Thurs 25 February 2021 [Online] Cited 05/04/2021

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945) 'Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)' 2020

 

Ruth Maddison (Australian, b. 1945)
Last night I had the strangest dream (#1)
2020
Pigment print, hand coloured and digitally enhanced
64 x 70cm
Courtesy of the artist and the Centre for Contemporary Photography

 

 

 

Gallery four

 

Text from the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne

 

Installation views in gallery four of the exhibition Ruth Maddison It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times is a significant survey exhibition focusing on Maddison’s social documentary practice from 1976 to the current day. Bringing together key historical works with a major new commission, this exhibition is a timely and focused look at one of Australia’s leading feminist photographers.

The exhibition features several key series, from Maddison’s earliest hand-coloured works Miss Universe (1979); her iconic Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1979); a selection of series focusing on women in the workforce (from 1979); The Beginning of Absence (1996) documenting her father’s mortality; photojournalistic works documenting political rallies and activism in Australia (1975-2015); to Maddison’s more recent projects documenting the people and industries of Eden, NSW (2002-2014).

These works are presented alongside Maddison’s documentation of the cultural milieu of Melbourne with a focus on the late 1970s and 1980s. Her portraits of Melbourne’s leading writers, artists, theatre makers and musicians include Helen Garner, Tracey Moffatt, Steven Cummings, Jenny Watson, Mickey Allen, Ponch Hawkes and the founders of Melbourne’s Circus Oz amongst others.

Maddison’s more recent projects documenting Eden’s people and industries illustrate the changing face of regional Australia and the societal pressures that have come to bear. The Eden teens captured in Maddison’s 2002 series have now splintered, with half leaving town for new opportunities and the other remaining. The two industries – fishing and timber – that have underpinned Eden’s economy for decades have been dramatically reduced. While the 2019 bushfires, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have further economically ravaged a community trying to rebuild itself.

The newly commissioned work The Fellow Traveller (2020) is an immersive photographic installation exploring Maddison’s father’s radical political activities in Australia and overseas from the 1950s-1980s, which were under ASIO scrutiny. Combining archival material, footage and hand-coloured photographs among a sea of revealing and curious images, The Fellow Traveller presents the shifting nature of long held personal and historical truths at a time of increasing social and political urgency.

Delivered through the collaboration of Adam Harding CCP Director, Jack Willet CCP Curator, Ruth Maddison and independent Curator Olivia Poloni, with inceptive curatorial work from Linsey Gosper and Madé Spencer-Castle.

 

Biography

Ruth Maddison (b. Melbourne, 1945, lives and works in Eden) is one of Australia’s foremost senior feminist photographers. Best known for her hand-coloured series, Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977-78), for over 40 years Maddison has been exploring ideas surrounding relationships, working lives, and communities through portraiture and social documentary photography.

An entirely self-taught practitioner, Maddison shot her first roll of film in 1976 under the encouragement of longtime friend Ponch Hawkes, and has hardly put down a camera since. Maddison’s work is represented in major public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Library and the State Libraries of Victoria and New South Wales.

Text from the CCP website [Online] Cited 28/03/2021

 

Gallery one

Documentation photography J Forsyth

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery two

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery three

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Gallery four

 

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

’Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, installation view Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021. Documentation photography J Forsyth.

 

Ruth Maddison: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, installation views Centre for Contemporary Photography, 2021.
Documentation photography J Forsyth

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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04
Apr
21

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

April 2021

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Ma mère' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Ma mère
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Earlier in my life I believed that identity was always fluid, always in flux. These photographs reflect that belief.

Now as I get older, this belief has changed.

Identity is always steady – at a certain level – and that the old adage to know ones-self is still the greatest challenge. And that this knowledge brings a core that is consistent.

The fluidity of self-knowledge disappears when attention is sharpened.

.
Marcus Bunyan 2021

 

 

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. Please click the photographs for a larger version of the image. Please remember these are straight scans of the prints, all full frame, no cropping !

Marcus

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a vintage 8″ x 10″ silver gelatin print costs $700 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see my store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled (Rembrandt thinking)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Rembrandt thinking)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The conversation' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The conversation
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (Pope folded)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Pope folded)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (Pope unfolded)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Pope unfolded)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'The Angelus, New R, 1892' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The Angelus, New R, 1892
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Thy Kingdom Come' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Thy Kingdom Come
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Purity' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Purity
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Whistler's mother (looking out to sea)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Whistler’s mother (looking out to sea)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Holbein's Happiness' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Holbein’s Happiness
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled (Sweet heart with leaves)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (Sweet heart with leaves)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Windows at 63aa' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Windows at 63aa
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Urban abstraction (for Max)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Urban abstraction (for Max)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Between the breath and the silence' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Between the breath and the silence
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Shame Fraser' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Shame Fraser
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Port Melbourne to Port of Melbourne' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Port Melbourne to Port of Melbourne
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Out back' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Out back
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (pear on black)' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (pear on black)
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Pear I' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Pear I
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Pear II' 1994

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Pear II
1994
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract I' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract I
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract II' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract II
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Nude in sunlight' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Nude in sunlight
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract III' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract III
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract IIII' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract IIII
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract V' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract V
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Abstract VI' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Abstract VI
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Question  mark' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Question    mark
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Four lines and two trestles' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Four lines and two trestles
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Four tyres' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Four tyres
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (two cracks)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (two cracks)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (plank)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (plank)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creature)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creature)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creatures)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creatures)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled (creatures)' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled (creatures)
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel I' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel I
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel II' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel II
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel III' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel III
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Roundel IIII' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Roundel IIII
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The structure and fabric of existence 1' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The structure and fabric of existence 1
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Passionfruit²' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Passionfruit²
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Passionfruit²' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Passionfruit²
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The structure and fabric of existence 2' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The structure and fabric of existence 2
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Untitled' 1995

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 1' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 1
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 2' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 2
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Williamstown 3' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Williamstown 3
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Case Tractor – 1925 –' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Case Tractor – 1925 –
1996
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fordson Tractor 1922' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fordson Tractor 1922
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Hart Parr' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Hart Parr
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'John Deere Tractor c. 1925' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
John Deere Tractor c. 1925
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Lanz Bulldog Tractor 1930' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Lanz Bulldog Tractor 1930
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'McCormick Deering Tractor c. 1928' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
McCormick Deering Tractor c. 1928
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fighter 1' 1994-96

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fighter 1
1994-96
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Fighter 2' 1994-96

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Fighter 2
1994-96
Gelatin silver print

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) '"Boomerang Way" Tocumwal Wishing Well' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
“Boomerang Way” Tocumwal Wishing Well
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'A twist of the mind' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
A twist of the mind
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Australian landscape' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Australian landscape
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Untitled
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Two men and a ute' 1994-95

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two men and a ute
1994-95
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Plume (X marks the spot)' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Plume (X marks the spot)
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Lumbe, Blacksmith, Undertaker' 1995

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Lumbe, Blacksmith, Undertaker
1995
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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27
Mar
21

Text / Exhibition: ‘Clarice Beckett: The present moment’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Exhibition dates: 27th February – 16th May 2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Solitude' c. 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Solitude
c. 1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Realist structuralist illusionist

The only four words that you really need to know are this: I bought the catalogue.

Beckett’s story of tragedy and redemption is briefly told. Trained as a painter under Max Meldrum in the modernist Australian tonalist school (which she far surpassed). Painted the hazy, misty suburbs of Melbourne en plein air in all weather conditions, usually in the early morning or at dusk. Worked incredibly hard at her art but, as with a lot of artists, had little recognition during her brief career despite numerous solo exhibitions. Died at a young age of double pneumonia after an outdoor painting session. Work lost to the mists of time until the art historian Rosalind Hollinrake salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair – from an open sided barn in country Victoria. Sadness at the loss of a young life cut short, of so many paintings lost to the elements and possums, but a deep gratitude that we still have what remains of her reality, as seen through her paintings. Now become, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest Australian painters of all time.

In her review of the exhibition Catherine Speck observes that Beckett’s works are a “study in transience”; another commentary has her as the “master of the half-light”; curator Tracey Lock has said her work is “luminous, ethereal, and very gentle… producing some of the most radically minimalist landscapes of the period … atmospheric abstractions of the commonplace.” All true.

Beckett had studied theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – and had read Madame Blavatsky’s book The Voice of Silence. Blavatsky urged her followers to seek spiritual knowledge beyond sensory experience – a sense of “limitless” and expanse. As John MacDonald observes, Beckett “explored the spiritual dimension of modernism” but only in so far “as a function of the open-minded, open-hearted way she approached the subject of a painting.” Again, all true.

But I find there is something more grounded in Beckett’s work than just smoke and mirrors.

While Beckett’s work can be seen as both radically minimalist landscapes and “atmospheric abstractions”, if you really look at these paintings – seemingly just daubs of paint over layers of thin background washes – there is an incredible draughtsmanship and structure to all of her paintings. The underpinning of these transient paintings are anything but random tones applied to the canvas. A foundation built on sand cannot last, cannot sustain such a penetrating inquiry.

In many ways I see Beckett as much a structuralist as a modernist or tonalist. Following Meldrum’s ideas about the rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents, we can say that Beckett worked to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel in the immediacy of her painting, in her painting outdoors, in her inner vision of a reality that she felt and saw. In the phenomena of her life she envisaged, intimately, her interrelations with the world, and understood that below the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure.

How she evinces that structure in the solitude of a man in a boat, or passing trams, the warmth of the setting sun, or motor car lights in rain shows her “characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment.” As with a legion of great artists – van Gogh’s bedroom, Cezanne’s still life, Hooper’s diner at night – it is her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary that sets her apart from the rest. “She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.”

In paintings such as The Red Bus (Nd), Morning Ride (Nd), Out Walking (c. 1928-29), The Bus Stop (1930), Evening light, Beaumaris (c. 1925), Beach Road after the rain (Street scene) (c. 1927), Walking home (1931) and Dusk (Nd) it is the spatial distance between objects, not just physically but mentally – that leap of faith that the viewer must make into the space of the painting – that draws you in, that immerses you into that time and space that Beckett observed so truthfully. Poetic and lyrical yes, but also grounded and spatial, opening out this vista in front of you … humans as colourful accretions of paint (in)distinct in their existence, placed in fleeting moments, caught on the wind.

MacDonald notes, “If this show were being staged at Tate Modern or the Museum of Modern Art, Beckett would be hailed as a figure of world renown.” I heartily concur. Much as the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) – whose lyrical abstract canvases were hidden for 20 years after her death – has recently had blockbuster exhibitions at Moderna Museet Malmö, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and coming to the Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney later in 2021, so I believe that Clarice Beckett will be recognised as an important world artist.

You really can’t pick out a bad painting by Beckett. Each has its own personality and seduction. I am ravished by them all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.”

.
Clarice Beckett

 

“It sometimes sounds as though [Max] Meldrum actually invented the idea of tone, but artists had understood this quality since the days of Leonardo da Vinci and Velasquez. In brief, it refers to the lightness or darkness of colours and the way they relate to each other in a composition. Meldrum’s innovation was to make tone the defining feature of painting – the inflexible standard to which every other aspect of a work must conform.”

.
John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

“The facts of Beckett’s life may be told in short order. She was born in 1887 into a well-heeled, middle-class family. She had a passion for art and literature and would go on to study drawing under Fred McCubbin at the National Gallery School, then spend nine months attending the independent art school run by the outspoken Max Meldrum. It was an experience that would help mould her technique and views on art, although not so much as many have presumed. Although Beckett had admirers, she turned down several offers of marriage and would end her life living at home in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, having spent years looking after her invalid mother.

In 1935, shortly after her mother’s death, Beckett caught double pneumonia and passed away at the age of 48. What happened next is just as tragic, as her father burnt paintings that he didn’t consider finished or good enough. Her sister, Hilda, would store the remaining 2000 canvases in an open-sided shed in the countryside near Benalla. When Hollinrake tracked them down in 1970, only 369 were salvageable. The weather and the possums had laid waste to the rest.

The loss of so many works ranks as one of the great disasters of Australian art history. We may all be thankful that Hollinrake saved what she could.”

.
John MacDonald. “This exhibition is so phenomenal I saw it three days in row,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, March 25, 2021 [Online] Cited 29/03/2021

 

“Modern science maintains that all colours in the universe are founded in three elements: hue (colour), saturation (chroma) and tone (value). Hue refers to the spectral colours such as red, green, blue, and so on, that are visibly distinct from each other…

Saturation represents the intensity, or quantity, of colour… The best way to understand this is if you take a can of blue paint and gradually stir in some white, rather than getting a new colour, the result is a lighter blue. An exception to this rule is that by adding white to red, we make pink. Red is a highly saturated pink; they are of the same hue but the quantity of red colour is less in pink.

Tone refers to how light or dark a colour is. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 is colourless (or white), 5 is a medium grey [think Zone V in the black and white zone system] and 10 is black. So, as the tone increases, it intensifies the darkness [of the colour]. Tone begins to impact the saturation … once it reaches a percentage high enough to overpower it. This percentage varies with each colour, just as the saturation range varies with hues. For example, saturation in a yellow … may reach as high as ninety percent, whilst in a blue … it may only reach three percent, with the result that a small percentage increase in tone on a blue … would have a far greater impact on the blue, resulting in the grey becoming more noticeable. [Colours] with a higher saturation, such as yellow, would require correspondingly higher levels of tone for the brown to be observed. When the percentage of tone exceeds the saturation, the brown or grey will actually become the body (primary) colour and the hue the modifier, for example bluish-grey.”

.
Hamish Sharma. “Colour: How we see diamonds and gemstones,” in the Leonard magazine, Issue 90, February – March 2021 Cited 19/03/2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring the artist’s luscious and distinctive soft focus, the Art Gallery of South Australia’s newly opened Clarice Beckett exhibition, curated by Tracey Lock, presents her paintings as a sensorium – with colour, music and video to enhance the experience.

Each room in the gallery’s exhibition space is dedicated to her paintings of specific times of the day, from sunrise, to early morning, then midday and sunset, concluding with the nocturnes. She was fascinated with temporal change. The exhibition is very much an experiential journey. Viewers enter through an elliptical portal to an immersive rounded space filled with magnified projections of her paintings, and music from Simone Slattery’s specially commissioned soundscape.

Beckett was musical too. The transcendence to another realm has begun. The mood changes with each room in the exhibition.

 

A sad loss but precious works remain

The poignant Clarice Beckett story is known by many. She died from pneumonia in 1935 at 48 years of age, and left behind a large cache of work. It was stored for a number of years in an open-side shed in rural Victoria, only to be discovered in the late 1960s, in a poor state of repair, by art historian Rosalind Hollinrake. She salvaged a mere 369 paintings – 1,600 were beyond repair.

Hollinrake guided the artist’s rediscovery at a time when numerous women artists were reinserted into the canon. The impetus for this exhibition is the generous donation by Alastair Hunter of a large collection of Beckett’s work previously held by Hollinrake.

 

Mysticism meets science

Theosophy – a belief in divine wisdom via mysticism – was a major influence on her approach to painting. Like others around the world, Beckett came under the popular esoteric movement’s spell in the early years of the 20th century. She owned a well-thumbed copy of Madame Blavatsky’s seminal occult text The Voice of Silence, attended spiritualist meetings and moved in artistic circles where post-dinner seances were often held.

But Beckett also took on board painter Max Meldrum’s quasi-scientific ideas about rational analytic observation of subtle visual patterns of tones and accents. She studied with him for nine months, although it is widely accepted she surpassed him with her brilliant tonal landscapes. This is the hybrid intellectual and artistic milieu she moved in, supplemented by an interest in Eastern philosophy and Freud.

For Beckett, painting was as much about performing her spiritual beliefs as it was about portraying that which was observable. Her friends in the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, to which she belonged, recall she loved talking about theories behind her work.

What emerges in the exhibition is her finely honed and daring visual language.

 

Artist without a studio

A curatorial coup is achieved with the installation of a domestic kitchen in the exhibition space. Her father had declined her request for a studio to work in. He suggested she use the kitchen table instead.

While most of her paintings were completed outdoors, she did paint still life and portraits, and finish off larger en plein air works at home. This work was indeed done on the kitchen table, which is so tellingly included in the exhibition, surrounded by her still life paintings including Marigolds (1925).

Catherine Speck. “Clarice Beckett exhibition is a sensory appreciation of her magical moments in time,” on The Conversation website March 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Passing trams' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Passing trams
c. 1931
Oil on board
48.60 mm (1.91 in); Width: 44.20 mm (1.74 in)
Art Gallery of South Australia
Public domain, Google Art Project

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Summer fields' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Summer fields
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The plains' 1926

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The plains
1926
Naringal, Western District, Victoria
Oil on board; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet sand, Anglesea' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet sand, Anglesea
1929
Victoria
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The boatshed' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The boatshed
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'October morning' c. 1927

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
October morning
c. 1927
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Walking home' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Walking home
c. 1931
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

The Art Gallery of South Australia is presenting the most comprehensive retrospective ever staged of Clarice Beckett, one of Australia’s most enigmatic and admired modernist painters. Clarice Beckett: The present moment, sees nearly 130 works by the artist on display as part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival in February 2021.

Associated with a legendary story of rediscovery, Clarice Beckett is today celebrated for her ethereal, atmospheric landscape paintings that capture the commonplace. In 1935 Clarice Beckett died at the age of forty-eight, and for the next thirty-five years her work vanished from art history before being rescued by Dr Rosalind Hollinrake. Hollinrake salvaged 369 of the artist’s neglected canvases from a remote, open-sided shed in rural Victoria. Hollinrake’s extensive research and promotion led to Beckett’s recognition as a major force in Australian modernism.

The present moment includes many of the salvaged paintings, as well as her master works drawn from national public collections as well as private collections including Russell Crowe and Ben Quilty. Misunderstood in her lifetime, The present moment presents Beckett as a visionary mystic who saw nature as all powerful and as an artist driven by spiritual impulses rather than worldly success.

Her timeless and incidental everyday scenes have been curated to chart the chronology of one single day. The present moment exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

AGSA Curator of Australian Art and Exhibition Curator Tracey Lock says, ‘Audiences experience an affinity with the art of Clarice Beckett. On one level Beckett represents the triumph of the spirit over adversity and certainly the ideal of an artist driven by something beyond worldly success. On a deeper level they sense a profound humanity, something that has united the world in such adversity over the past year.

‘There is a certain magnetism to her paintings: an experiential quality of sound, sight or feeling that transcends language. Enveloped in diffused light and exuding peacefulness, her paintings invite a sense of stillness that points to a healing, spiritual quality.’

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM says, ‘The Art Gallery of South Australia is thrilled to stage this important exhibition which was initiated following the significant acquisition of 21 paintings by Clarice Beckett early in 2020, made possible thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Alastair Hunter OAM.’

Press release from the Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sandringham Beach' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sandringham Beach
c. 1933
Oil on canvas
55.8 h x 50.9 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Centre painting in the second installation image below.

 

 

Clarice Beckett’s Sandringham Beach is a dynamic and modern composition of sand, bathing boxes and beach walkers. Beckett depicted the scene from an unusual perspective – from a cliff looking down onto the beach. Captured in the glare of a summer day, the smooth body of sand appears to shimmer with ‘white heat’. Backing onto scruffy vegetation, the brightly coloured striped roofs of the bathing boxes are the most solid aspects of the composition.

The ocean occupies a small portion of Beckett’s view, with beachgoers strolling along the water’s edge and a game of beach cricket taking place. The bright modern swimsuits and exposed skin of the walkers have been brushed onto the canvas with soft dabs of colour. The playful atmosphere of Sandringham Beach encapsulates Australian’s love of the beach as a key site of recreation and relaxation.

Beckett first studied in Ballarat, and then from 1914 to 1916 with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School. In 1917 she attended Max Meldrum’s public lecture on tonal painting at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre and, impressed by his theories, enrolled in his classes. While Beckett was considered a ‘Meldrumite’ – a devotee of her teacher’s theories of tonal values as the best means of depicting nature – she adapted his ideas to create her own lyrical vision of the Australian landscape.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Beach Scene' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Beach Scene
1932
Oil on canvas
52.1 x 62.0cm
Cbus art collection

 

Second left painting in the second installation image below.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

It may be that a dash of Meldrum had a beneficial effect on artists who took only what they wanted and never became followers. By contrast, those who bought the full package seem to belong to a single family, sharing the same DNA. The true Meldrumites in this show are Colin Colahan, Clarice Beckett, Percy Leason, A.D.Colquhoun, Hayward Veal, Justus Jorgensen, A.E.Newbury, John Farmer and Polly Hurry. Most took part in the first group exhibitions of the Meldrum School held in 1919, 1920 and 1921, in which paintings were exhibited in uniform black frames and identified only by numbers. A photograph in the catalogue shows pictures crammed together like items on a supermarket shelf.

This was not simply a way of submerging the ego of the student into that of the great God, Meldrum, it was intended to demonstrate the futility of any personal, subjective approach. For Meldrum, learning to paint was largely synonymous with learning to look. In his first major public lecture, given in 1917, he argued:  “The art of painting is a pure science – the science of optical analysis.”

Needless to say there were numerous techniques to master, all of them expounded at great length in an anthology of 1950, titled The Science of Appearances – which has been freshly issued in a new (but expensive) paperback edition. The Meldrumite palette was restricted to only five tones, with outlines being strictly forbidden. This was one of the master’s articles of faith from his earliest days. …

Meldrum’s famous method required a lot of squinting and stepping back from the canvas to compare one’s impression with the true tones of the motif. Some students wore sunglasses to get the appropriate frisson, some put their palettes on trolleys that could be wheeled back and forth. They cared so little for the subject that detractors thought the School motto should be: “Anything’ll do.”

The paintings that resulted were remarkably similar in their blurred edges and smudgy, atmospheric surfaces. Looking at a large number of these works side by side one begins to see the world as a dim, misty, melancholy place. Even though Meldrum despised the word, this penchant for gloom seems to have been a temperamental preference among his students. They liked to paint on rainy, overcast days, which may explain why Melbourne remained the heartland of the movement.

Despite the self-imposed bondage of Meldrum’s method many of these artists were exceptionally talented. Painting in a doctrinaire style that eschewed individuality, squinting at the most ordinary scenery in the rain, they still managed to produce beautiful and poetic pictures.

Following her rediscovery in recent decades, Clarice Beckett is firmly established as a significant figure in Australian modern art. By almost universal assent she is now considered the greatest of the Meldrumites; her previous obscurity being caused by her early death at the age of forty-eight in 1935 and the misfortune of having many of her works in storage eaten by possums.

John MacDonald. “Misty Moderns,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website, November 21, 2009 [Online] Cited 19/03/2021.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Tea Gardens by Clarice Beckett, c. 1933, Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Hawthorn Tea Gardens' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Hawthorn Tea Gardens
1933
Oil on canvas laid on pulpboard
51.0 x 43.7cm
Gift of Sir Edward Hayward 1980
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Clarice Beckett: The present moment', Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021

 

Installation view of the exhibition Clarice Beckett: The present moment featuring Zinnias (Flower piece) by Clarice Beckett, 1927, Private collection, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2021
Photos: Saul Steed

 

 

Australian tonalism

Australian tonalism was an art movement that emerged in Melbourne during the 1910s. Known at the time as tonal realism or Meldrumism, the movement was founded by artist and art teacher Max Meldrum, who developed a unique theory of painting, the “Scientific Order of Impressions”. He argued that painting was a pure science of optical analysis, and believed that a painter should aim to create an exact illusion of spatial depth by carefully observing in nature tone and tonal relationships (shades of light and dark) and spontaneously recording them in the order that they had been received by the eye.

Meldrum’s followers – among the most notable being Clarice BeckettColin Colahan and William Frater – began staging group exhibitions at the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1919. They favoured painting in adverse weather conditions, and often went out together in the morning or towards evening in search of fog and wintry wet surfaces, which provided increased spatial effects. Their subtle, “misty” depictions of Melbourne’s beaches and parks, as well as its everyday, unadorned suburbia, show an interest in the interplay between softness and structure, nature and modernity.

The movement peaked during the interwar period, and its lingering influence can be seen in experimental works by other Australian artists, such as Lloyd Rees and Roland Wakelin. Although dismissed by many of their art world contemporaries, today the Australian tonalists are well-represented in Australia’s major public art galleries. The minimum of means they used to distil the essence of their subjects has drawn comparisons to the haiku form of poetry, and the movement has been described as prefiguring the late modernist style minimalism. [Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism and is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism and Conceptualism.]

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Evening, after Whistler' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Evening, after Whistler
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Motor lights' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Motor lights
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Tranquility' c. 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Tranquility
c. 1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sea Drift' c. 1930

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sea Drift
c. 1930
Melbourne
Oil on canvas on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

Clarice Beckett

Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian artist and a key member of the Australian tonalist movement. Her works are featured in the collections of Australia’s major public galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia. …

 

Work

Beckett is recognised as one of Australia’s most important modernist artists, though some have classified her as a ‘daughter of Monet’. In his review of the first of two exhibitions held at the Rosalind Humphrey Gallery in 1971 and 1972, Patrick McCaughey described Beckett as a remarkable Modernist, because of the ‘flatness of the surface in her painting’. Despite a talent for portraiture and a keen public appreciation for her still lifes, the subject matter favoured by her teacher Meldrum, Beckett preferred the solo, outdoor process of painting landscapes. She persistently and diligently painted sea and beachscapes, rural and suburban scenes, often enveloped in the atmospheric effects of early mornings or evening. Candice Bruce describes “a sense of an ever-present melancholy: a vulnerability mixed with a calm that, even if one were in total ignorance of the details of the artist’s life, would still be felt.” Her subjects were often drawn from the Beaumaris area, where she lived for the latter part of her life. She was one of the first of her group to use a painting trolley, or mobile easel to make it easier to paint outdoors in different locations.

 

Formal qualities and reception

In her mid-thirties, Beckett elucidated her artistic aims in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924:

To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.

By 1931, however, Percy Leason, writing a long review in Table Talk, draws comparison with Rembrandt, Whistler and Corot to say;

Miss Beckett’s work has so much in common with them: there is a like success in achieving the first essential, a convincing illusion of actual space and air and light; the same refinement and delicacy of true colour; the same regard for true form and character; and the same complete indifference to conventions and the mere clever handling of paint for the sake of it. (Leason in the next issue of Table Talk reiterated his praise, calling the show “one of the best exhibitions of the year.”)

However, like her female contemporaries, Beckett faced considerable prejudice from conservative male artists. Meldrum, commenting as late as 1939 on Nora Heyson’s receiving the Archibald Prize, expressed his opinion on women’s capacity to be great artists; “Men and women are differently constituted. Women are more closely attached to the physical things of life, and to expect them to do some things equally as well as men is sheer lunacy […] A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He becomes great only by exerting himself to the limit of his strength the whole time. I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a women,” an attitude he qualified in relation to his favourite pupil Beckett, announcing in the event of her death that “Beckett had done work of which any nation should be proud.”

During her lifetime no Beckett work was purchased for a public collection, though now almost every major Australian gallery holds examples. By 2001 her paintings had achieved six figures at auction.

 

Australian Tonalism

Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism, but is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism. The whole movement had been under fierce controversy and they were unpopular amongst other artists and derided as “Meldrumites”. Influential Melbourne artist and teacher George Bell described Australian Tonalism as a “cult which muffles everything in a pall of opaque density”.

Meldrum blamed social decadence for artists’ exaggerated interest in colour over tone and proportion. Beckett’s painting however represents a departure from Meldrum’s strict principles which dictated that tone should take precedence over colour, as commented upon in a newspaper critique of her 1931 solo exhibition. A reviewer of her 1932 Atheneum show expressed her particular version of this as “an adaptation of art to nature, which belongs neither to the realm of the orthodox normalist or the avowed modern, but is a purely individual expression of certain sensations in light, form and colour…” Rosalind Hollinrake, who was largely responsible for Beckett’s revival, notes a use colour to reinforce form, and more daring design, in the later years of the artist’s short life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Luna Park' 1919

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Luna Park
1919
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes, Brighton' 1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes, Brighton
1933
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The red sunshade' 1932

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The red sunshade
1932
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Wet day, Brighton' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Wet day, Brighton
c. 1928
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes in the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes in the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Bathing boxes after the storm' 1934

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Bathing boxes after the storm
1934
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

 

During the 1920s and 1930s Clarice Beckett surrendered to the sensory impressions of her everyday world with such intensity that the force of her painted observations created an entirely new visual language. The extreme economy of her painting tested her Australian audiences, and yet distinguished her as working at the avant-garde of international modernism. Drawn from national public and private collections, highlights include the artist’s famed ethereal images of commonplace motifs such as lone figures, waves, trams and cars.

Driven by spiritual impulses beyond worldly success, she was a visionary mystic that saw nature as all powerful. Through veils of natural light she captured the eternal in the temporal. Accordingly, the 130 paintings in The present moment will be thematically displayed around shifts in time that chart the chronology of one single day. The exhibition will take visitors on a sensory journey from the first breath of sunrise, through to the hush of sunset and finally a return into the enveloping mists of nightfall.

The Art Gallery of South Australia is renowned for collecting, displaying and publishing the work of modern Australian women artists. Clarice Beckett: The present moment showcases Alastair Hunter OAM’s recent support of the acquisition of 21 Clarice Beckett paintings and proudly announces the AGSA’s ongoing commitment to the promotion and celebration of the work of great Australian women artists.

Text from the Art Gallery of South Australia website [Online] Cited 19/03/2021

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Pavlova, the dying swan' 1929

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Pavlova, the dying swan
1929
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'The cottage San Remo' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The cottage San Remo
c. 1931
Melbourne
Oil on board
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Sunset' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Sunset
Nd
Melbourne
Oil on card
Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Across the Yarra' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Across the Yarra
c. 1931
Oil on cardboard
32.5 × 45.9cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Marjorie Webster Memorial, Governor, 1985

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Marigolds' c. 1925

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Marigolds
c. 1925
Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5cm

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Clarice Beckett' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Clarice Beckett
Nd
Art Gallery of South Australia

 

Further works by Clarice Beckett

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) '(Phillip Island from San Remo)' c. 1930-1933

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
(Phillip Island from San Remo)
c. 1930-1933
Oil on cardboard
18.6 × 23.7cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jennifer Rogers in memory of her father, Ron Lilburne, 2008

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
58.5 x 51.0cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

Clarice Beckett. 'The Red Bus' Nd

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
The Red Bus
Nd
Oil on canvas on composition board
36.5 x 44cm

 

 

The Red Bus is an excellent example of one of Clarice Beckett’s outer Melbourne suburban street scenes. It expresses her characteristic ability to catch the spontaneity of a lived moment, in an intensely lyrical and poetic manner. She found a distinctive beauty in the ordinary objects such as telegraph poles, strips of road, trams, cars, buses and the daily activity taking place in the street.

In this painting the everyday scene is made extraordinary by an atmospheric dreamlike slice of landscape which in turn is contrasted with the subtle feeling of action. This comes from the sensation of the motion of the bus travelling uphill in opposition to the gently felt abstract figures moving away downhill. Beckett’s use of the enveloping haze does not detract from the effect of the fresh atmosphere of a bright sunny morning in this painting, but serves to unify the scene and evoke a sense of quiet calm.

Beckett achieves this with her famed use of soft dissolving edges, a difficult technical feat employed to create an atmospheric reality of emotional content, a characteristic of her modernist style. The lumbering red bus moves towards the viewer and alerts our attention with its bright colour and dark windows which eerily suggest no visible driver. This creates an eerie feeling of uncertainty and mystery which is reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper who worked at a similar time to Beckett although half a world away. Beckett’s modernism lies in her minimalist aesthetic and her ability to arouse an emotional response with her images.

She was hailed for making the tarred road artistically acceptable and as the critic Mervyn Skipper wrote in The Bulletin 29 October 1930: “She has become the most original painter. She has merely abandoned conventions which earlier artists brought from Europe, has in fact done quite quietly and as if by accident what Australian poets and writers are only just beginning to do.”

Beckett was an innovative and extremely important figure in Australia’s art history during the 1920’s and early 30’s. Her work is seldom found in auction rooms or galleries, and The Red Bus is a part of the first private collection to have ever come up for sale. Her influence and inspiration has been wide in contemporary Australian art beginning fifty years after her death. Her original label of artist’s artist continues to be vindicated, although a more receptive public now are beginning to appreciate the beauty and allure of her ability to capture transient moments of life and the calming effect of her beautiful meditative images.

 

Clarice Beckett. 'Winter Morning, Beaumaris' c. 1927-31

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Winter Morning, Beaumaris
c. 1927-31
Oil on canvas
39.3 x 55cm

 

 

Beckett was renowned for her innovative compositions, her remarkable poetic lyricism and the dramatic intensity she was able to create. This work shows the essence of the atmospheric moment as well as creating an illusion of the actual temperature and a sense of atmospheric space all characteristic traits of the artist.

Winter Morning Beaumaris has a typically Melbourne winter mood and is a very strong image due to the compositional choice where the image is dramatically strengthened by a stark tree trunk which contrasts with Zen-like meditative softness of shifting fog shrouding the headland and flora. Subtle in its poetic style, it holds the wonderful sense of the mysterious unknown that sea fog brings to the landscape. Another characteristic of Beckett’s work was her ability to create a sense of place and a sense of the actual temperature of the subject. This was due to her ability to mix the finest degrees of tonal range that the landscape before her held and her ability to run her soft edges into each other to form a unified and genuine sense of airy atmosphere. This is even difficult to achieve in a studio environment.

This large size work is a rare example of a limited number (approx. 10) paintings on canvas and stretcher that survived the destruction of at least 60 works of this size and even larger which were burnt straight after her death. The challenge of painting an impression of nature en plein air on this size canvas is immense. Fleeting sunsets, sunrises and gathering dusk and moving sea fogs last for only minutes and the image and tones in a landscape changes constantly. The painter must work with enormous speed and a great knowledge of tones, being able to know what colours to mix to achieve the perfect reflection of what is being painted. Incredible skill with handling the paint and keeping a freedom of the impression is evident in this image. Beckett was greatly admired for achieving all those requirements of painting to achieve a sense of living breathing elusive reality.

This work was painted from Beckett’s favourite haunts on the cliff tops along the foreshore looking out to Port Phillip Bay. It shows her classic poetic lyricism and a contemporary daring with her sparing use of paint and her paring back of form.

Rosalind Hollinrake on the Lauraine Diggins Fine Art website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Out Walking' c. 1928-29

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Out Walking
c. 1928-29
Oil on canvas on board
29 x 34.5cm

 

 

Out Walking, c. 1928-29, depicts a view close to Clarice Beckett’s home in the Melbourne bay-side suburb of Beaumaris. Beckett moved there from Casterton, near Bendigo, in 1919 with her parents whose health was failing; and the suburb is aptly named, being a truncation of the French ‘beau marais’, meaning ‘beautiful marsh’. Following Melbourne’s European settlement, Beaumaris became a popular holiday destination noted for its winding coastal trails, atmospheric tangles of ti-tree and capacious views over Port Phillip Bay. At the base of the weathered sandstone cliffs lie secluded beaches and rock ledges full of fossils. Beckett would return to these familiar sites many times throughout her career – and in all weathers – to such an extent that it is impossible to walk the same territory today and not see it through her eyes.

The family lived at ‘St. Enoch’s’ in Dalgetty Road, and Out Walking shows that street’s intersection with Beach Road, with the shimmering blue of the bay beyond. Beckett would already have been a familiar sight to locals, as she walked the paths with her hand-built painting trolley. Her painting technique was aligned to the group of artists called the ‘tonalists’ who gathered around Max Meldrum; and the trolley, in fact, had a particular use beyond mere transport. ‘Tonalist works were created to be viewed, when complete, from a distance of about six metres (approximately twenty feet). The painting process required much to-ing and fro-ing between the subject and the observation point by both the painter and the painting … Consequently to assist with this process, many of the artists constructed custom-built wheeled easels or painting trolleys. Clarice Beckett was one of the first to adopt a trolley.’1 This description of the dedicated process involved in constructing such images belies the spontaneous sensation given by Out Walking, that of a snapshot briefly glimpsed before being captured in a hurried application of paint. As noted by the curator Ted Gott, ‘Beckett’s compositions have an elusive, phantasmic mystique. [By comparison] everything in our world today is sharp, crystal clear, hard and fast.’2 Not surprisingly, critics often attached the term ‘Whistler-ian’ to her work.

Judging by the long coats, Out Walking was painted on an early Spring morning, with the overcast sky punctured at points by sunshine which illuminates patches of the sandy road and grassed verge. To the left, a carer in a blue coat watches a red-caped girl as she rushes towards the intersection. Two older ladies in grey hats and coats walk the other way, deep in conversation; and, crunching the unsealed road between them, the hand-propelled cart in the middle-centre. The rows of telegraph poles create a frame within the frame, anchored horizontally by the white fence line indicating the cliff path. To the left, a flash of muted red indicates an emergency box, a tiny detail of colour which links visually to the girl’s cape and the man’s cart. Like the companion work with the same title,3 Beckett’s paintings of pedestrians are predominantly solo studies, making this version of Out Walking one of the rarer compositions to include small groups of people.

We are grateful to Rosalind Hollinrake for her assistance with this catalogue entry.

Andrew Gaynor. “Clarice Beckett, Out Walking, c. 1928-29,” on the Invaluable website [Online] Cited 08/03/2021.

  1. Lock-Weir, T. Misty Moderns: Australian tonalists 1915-1950, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p. 46
  2. Gott, T. ‘Foreword’, Clarice Beckett: 1887-1935, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 29 February – 1 April 2000, p. 5
  3. Rosalind Hollinrake describes this alternate version as being of Beckett’s young niece Patricia walking along the cliff top path

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Silent Approach' c. 1924

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Silent Approach
c. 1924
Oil on board
48.0 h x 58.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia

 

 

Clarice Beckett, like the visual arts equivalent of a haiku master, was able to distil the essence of her subjects with a minimum of means. Silent approach is a particularly fine example of the strength and delicacy of Beckett’s approach in which no mark is wasted. While the painting exudes a pervasive stillness, the green vegetation in the foreground appears to have a vitality of its own, extending out to the shadowy figure. This fluid organic form is balanced by the vertical power pole (with echoes of the form receding into the distance), a classic Beckett subject indicating modernity. The interplay between structure and softness gives way on the left to the foggy atmosphere in which space itself is the dominant aspect.

A magical aspect of Silent approach is that, for all the restraint of Beckett’s palette, subtle tonalities and subject matter, it is full of presence and imbued with an inner life. In 1919, Beckett moved with her parents to the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, an environment that provided her with evocative inspiration. Despite many challenges, she was driven to paint every day and in all weathers. She also exhibited regularly. While each work is self-sufficient, she felt considerable pleasure in seeing the cumulative effects of her paintings shown together – each illuminating the other.

Beckett’s interest in a tonal approach was informed by Max Meldrum, an influential teacher in Melbourne who espoused a theory of Tonalism. Meldrum considered her his star pupil and, before long, her independent vision shone through – a fact that he acknowledged in a tribute to her at a memorial exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1936. Tragically, she died far too early, at the age of forty-seven, from pneumonia after catching a chill while painting in inclement weather.

After Beckett’s death, a large number of her paintings were left to deteriorate in a barn and were unsalvageable. Thanks to the great generosity of a number of donors, the Gallery has been able to add Silent approach, one of her most accomplished remaining works, to the national collection.

Deborah Hart, Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920 in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014.

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935) 'Princes Bridge Station' c. 1928

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia, 1887-1935)
Princes Bridge Station
c. 1928
Oil on board
25.0 x 35.0cm
Private collection