Archive for the 'New York' Category

14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

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

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

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Wednesday – Friday 10am – 10pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm

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02
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Ilse Bing’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 23rd September 2022 – 8th January 2023

Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Scandale' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Scandale
1947
Gelatin silver print
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The first exhibition for Art Blart in 2023!

The Art Blart archive has been going since November 2008. This is the first time I have posted on the avant-garde artist Isle Bing and her documentary humanism. Elements of Modernism, movement, New Vision, Bahuas, Surrealism, abstraction, form, geometry are all spontaneously and intuitively, precisely and poetically expressed in the artist’s work. Manipulation, solarisation, enlargement of fragments and cropping in the darkroom enhance the original negative.

“In addition to numerous portraits, Ilse Bing was primarily interested in urban motifs. They were fascinated by architectural elements and structures as well as urban hustle and bustle. Her way of working repeatedly explores the tracing of symmetry and rhythm in the experience of everyday situations.”1

“In Paris, Ilse Bing forged her style [using a Leica], combining poetry and realism, dreamlike enchantment and the clarity of modernity. She sought contrasts and original juxtapositions that transformed the banal reality of daily life into a new idea.”2

“Ilse Bing was once amongst the very first few women photographers to influentially master the avant-garde handheld Leica 35mm camera in the 1930s. She was also amongst the first to use solarisation, electronic flash and night photography, and established her own distinctive photographic style adoring romanticism, symbolism and dream imagery of surrealism.”3

“It was a time of exploration and discovery. … We wanted to show what the camera could do that no brush could do, and we broke every rule. We photographed into the light – even photographed the light, used distorted perspective, and showed movement as a blur. What we photographed was new, too – torn paper, dead leaves, puddles in the street—people thought it was garbage! But going against the rules opened the doors to new possibilities.” ~ Ilse Bing

Magnificent. Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Many more works can be viewed on the MoMA website.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  2. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing. Photographs 1928-1935,” on the Galerie Karsten Greve website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  3. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing: Paris and Beyond,” on the Exibart street website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023

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

 

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

 

“I felt the camera grow as an extension of my eyes and move with me.”

.
Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 22.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Budgeheim' 1930

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Budgeheim
1930
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Laban Dance School, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Laban Dance School, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
9.7 x 16.6cm
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
1933
27.9 × 35.6cm
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pommery Champagne Bottles' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pommery Champagne Bottles
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 19.7cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'French Can-Can Dancer' 1931, printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can-Can Dancer
1931, printed 1941
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.2 x 34.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) '"It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower", Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
“It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower”, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 28.2cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Ilse Bing’s photographic oeuvre, created between 1929 and the late 1950s, was influenced by the different cities where she lived and worked: Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, Paris in that decade and post-war New York where above all she experienced the situation of an enforced emigré. Her work cannot, however, be easily located within the photographic and cultural trends that she encountered, although it was certainly enriched by all of them. Bing’s output was influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Weimar Bauhaus, by André Kertész and by the Surrealism of Man Ray, which she encountered when she moved to Paris in 1930. At the time of her arrival the French capital was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of a number of movements that would be crucial for the evolution of the avant-gardes. Surrealist echoes are evident in Bing’s photographs of objects and in her approach to the framing of her shots of chairs, streets and public spaces, images that transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation.

The Bauhaus was an extremely important influence on Bing’s work via both El Lissitzky’s theories and those of Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision, which promoted the fusion of architecture and photography and the autonomy of photography as a medium in relation to painting. New Vision offered infinite possibilities and Bing took full advantage of them, employing some of them in her work, such as abstraction, close-ups, plunging viewpoints, di sotto in sù, photomontages and overprinting, all to be seen in the images on display in the exhibition.

Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Ilse Bing was born in Frankfurt on 23 March 1899 to a middle-class Jewish family. She took her first photographs at the age of fourteen. Self-taught in this field, she realised that this would become her principal activity when she began photographing in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis. She studied mathematics and physics before opting for art history. In 1929 she gave up her university studies and, armed with her inseparable Leica, devoted herself to photography for the next thirty years. In 1930 she moved to Paris, where she continued active as a photojournalist while also producing her own more creative work, gradually becoming one of the leading representatives of modern French photography. In 1941 and with the advance of National Socialism, Bing moved to New York with her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff. Two decades later, at the age of 60, she ceased taking photographs and focused her attention on making collages, abstract works, drawings and also poetry writing. Ilse Bing died in New York in 1998.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE exhibition brochure

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower
1931
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 28.2cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Poverty in Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Poverty in Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 35.3cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
International Center of Photography, Nueva York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 × 9 in. (15.9 × 22.9cm)
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Greta Garbo Poster, Paris' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Greta Garbo Poster, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
22.3 × 30.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Donation of David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Overview

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

 

The exhibition

Featuring around 200 photographs and a range of documentary material, the exhibition presents a chronological and thematic survey of Ilse Bing’s career, divided into ten sections: “Discovering the world through a camera: the beginnings”, “The life of still lifes”, “The dancing body and its circumstances”, “Lights and shadows of modern architecture”, “The hustle and bustle of the street: the French years”, “The seduction of fashion”, “The United States in two phases”, “Self-image revelations”, “Portrait of time”, and “Live nature”.

 

Four keys

The Bauhaus. From 1910 onwards Frankfurt became the prototype of modern urban design thanks to the architect Ernst May, and the city’s medieval layout was gradually modified in a transformation based on its different societal requirements. This new architecture soon began to echo the ideas of El Lissitzky’s Constructivism, partly via the Dutch architect Mart Stam, a friend of Ilse Bing. Stam and the theories of the Bauhaus had a major influence on her works. László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus, had promoted the union of architecture and photography as well as the independence of the latter in relation to painting. The possibilities of Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) seemed endless and Bing applied some of its concepts and devices to her work: abstraction, immediate close-ups, plunging and di sotto in sù viewpoints, photo-montage and overprinting.

Surrealism, the spirit of an era. When Ilse Bing moved to Paris in 1930 the city was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of some of the key movements in the evolution of the avant-gardes. One of them – Surrealism – had a particular influence on her and its echoes are clearly discernible in her photographs of accessories taken for fashion magazines which reflect Surrealist theories on fetishism. It is also evident in the framing she chose for her images of chairs, streets and public spaces, which transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation. Finally, this influence also arose from Bing’s relationship with prominent figures associated with the movement, such as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Movement. Despite her fascination with abstraction and pure compositions, evident in many of her photographs of architecture and her still lifes, Ilse Bing was also captivated by the dynamism and movement of life and changing reality. She expressed this in her photographs of the Moulin Rouge and its surrounding area and in her investigation of dance. Bing captured the dynamism of the dancers twirling their skirts but also the expressivity of their bodies as they moved, jumping into the air or doing the splits.

Woman photographer. Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self-determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Prostitutes, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Prostitutes, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 34cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait with Leica' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 30.7cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
28 x 22cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Fair, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Fair, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.2 × 22.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
Donation of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Equine butcher shop' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Equine butcher shop
1933
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 28.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper's Bazaar' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper’s Bazaar
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 21.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Study for "Salut de Schiaparelli" (Lily Perfume), Paris' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Study for “Salut de Schiaparelli” (Lily Perfume), Paris
1934
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 28.2 x 22.3cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Gold Lamé Evening Shoes' 1935

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Gold Lamé Evening Shoes
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Between France and the USA (Seascapes)' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Between France and the USA (Seascapes)
1936
Gelatin silver print
21 × 28.3 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Legacy of Ilse Bing Wolff 2001
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York, the Elevated, and Me' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York, the Elevated, and Me
1936
Gelatin silver print
Galerie Le Minotaure, Paris
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 22.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

The artistic career of Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899-New York, 1998) can be located within a particularly complex temporal and socio-cultural context. This German photographer principally lived and worked in three places: in Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, in Paris in that decade and in post-war New York where she above all experienced the status of enforced emigré. Bing also visited other places, including Switzerland, Italy and Holland, but they never became decisive spaces that significantly influenced her way of working with regard to photography.

Analysed with the distance and perspective offered by the passing of time, Ilse Bing’s artistic corpus cannot easily be located within the various photographic trends she encountered during her lifetime, particularly in her initial German phase and the decade in Paris. While her work is charged with elements associated with both Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Bauhaus, which emerged during the Weimar Republic, as well as with the Surrealism she assimilated during her years in France, Bing’s position evades any strict norm or visual orthodoxy. In this sense it could be said that hers is a notably unique photographic gaze and approach in which modernity and formal innovation are indissolubly linked to a humanist approach involving a social conscience.

It is also important to emphasise that Ilse Bing’s career within the context of relatively difficult times was marked by a resolute determination to make her way in a world which viewed the presence of women as active agents in the social and thus the cultural realm with disdain or even hostility. Bing belonged to a generation of female photographers that achieved a previously unattainable visibility. The camera became for an essential tool of self-determination for numerous women artists, including figures such as Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund.

Juan Vicente Aliaga
Curator

 

Discovering the World Through A Camera: The Beginnings

With the exception of a few photographs of an amateur type, nothing indicated that Ilse Bing, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, would dedicate much of her life to the practice of photography. After an initial focus on scientific subjects and a period studying art history, Bing decided to illustrate her doctoral thesis with images taken in different museums. From that moment onwards and following a study trip to Switzerland when she discovered the work of Vincent van Gogh, she took the decision to focus her attention on photography. While she initially made use of a Voigtländer plate camera, she soon acquired a Leica which she would continue to use for much of her career. This was the camera she employed for the commissions she received from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, work that gave her a degree of financial independence during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic.

At the outset Bing covered a range of subjects, doing so with ease and formal audacity. Everything seemed to attract her attention: men at work, the spatial simplicity of a gallery, the organic lines of a roof, the leg and arm movements of the ballerinas of the Rudolf von Laban company, the modern architecture which she had discovered through her friend the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and more. Bing’s gaze sought out unusual angles, it looked upwards and downwards, at times encountering normally overlooked elements of no monetary value and ones brought together by chance, as in Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket on Sidewalk, Frankfurt (1929).

 

The Life of Still Lifes

Objects from daily life are frequently present in modern art: a bottle, a newspaper, a letter, a collage-like fragment of a label, a jug, etc. Surrealism marked a revolution with regard to the representation of the object, which is never literal but rather filled with hidden aspects. The insertion of external objects into the visual space combined with other ones favours the emergence of the imaginary. By the time Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in 1930 she was already captivated by the chance encounter of often humble elements. Her French period served to accentuate her interest in a wide range of cast-off possessions and objects that seemed to allude to a universe in flux. Bing’s gaze always came to rest on real elements. The chairs she photographed existed but the framing she employed, the closeness or distance of the shot, the fact that the chairs are unoccupied and that the floor on which they stand has the silvery darkness of rain are all the result of her choices, adding an air of melancholy to the image.

Over the course of her career Bing used a range of different techniques in parallel while remaining constantly fascinated by inanimate objects. During her Paris years and despite financial difficulties her work is generally characterised by a poetic gaze in which the imagination moves towards undefined, almost dream-like realms. In contrast, in the period of exile in the United States a degree of coolness emerges, with the appearance of formal and symbolic traits such as a closing-in or enclosing of the depicted scene.

 

The Dancing Body and Its Circumstances

During her initial phase, in 1929 Ilse Bing established contacts with the dance and gymnastics school founded by Rudolf von Laban. She was struck by the way in which he aimed to draw a parallel between geometry and human movements and gestures.

Soon after arriving in Paris, Bing was commissioned to photograph the Moulin Rouge waxworks museum. The old Parisian dance hall where La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec had been leading attractions had lost much of its splendour. Bing spent time there and was attracted by numerous aspects of the place: its daily life on and off stage, including the couples who enjoyed a drink there, the boxing matches taking place, a dancer cheering up a weary boxer, the interesting nature of the clients, and the boredom of the doorman at the entrance to the cabaret. Aside from these aspects, what really caught the attention of the Paris photography world were Bing’s images of dancers in movement. Her restless eye was able to represent the vibration of the circular twists and turns, the complex, effortful open leg movements of a dancer captured in action, the troupe of dancers energetically waving their skirts, and more.

Another group of images of the troupe centres around the dancer Gerard Willem van Loon.

The third and last series of images focusing on dance was commissioned in relation to the ballet L’Errante, choreographed by the American George Balanchine and with set designs and libretto by the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Bing demonstrated her skill at capturing movement without making it seem frozen or trapped in time. Her eye translated the weightlessness of dreamlike fantasies to her images through the dynamic way in which she captured shadows.

 

Lights and Shadows of Modern Architecture

The architecture of Paris is generally reflected in Bing’s photography through images of middle- or working-class houses or walls and façades of dilapidated buildings. There was one notable exception, namely the Eiffel Tower. This emblematic work, constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was nothing less than a revelation for Bing. The Tower’s imposing metal structure had been captured by various photographers, including László Moholy-Nagy in 1925, followed by Erwin Blumenfeld, André Kertész, François Kollar and Germaine Krull.

Bing chose to locate herself inside the structure and take shots at different heights, the majority looking downwards. Using this method, the reality of the space occupied by passers-by becomes perfectly visible. In other words, the intention is not to emphasise the abstract core, pure geometry and beauty of the forms, girders, mainstays, braces and other constructional elements but rather to show that this architectural marvel was also located in a specific place, in this case the gardens of the Champ de Mars.

At a later date, New York’s modern architecture astonished Bing for its display of power expressed as imposing constructions. She translated her amazement into a group of images primarily characterised by a distanced and simultaneously critical gaze on the architectural spectacle before her eyes. Her position was not simply an uncritical and admiring one, as evident in various photographs of skyscrapers abutting on poor areas of the city. The thrust of the symbolic power of vertical architecture is called into question by being juxtaposed with humble spaces and buildings, as we see with Chrysler Building (1936).

 

The Hustle and Bustle of the Street: The French Years

When Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in late November 1930 the city’s cultural context was particularly favourable in terms of the number of illustrated publications that made use of images taken by a large group of male and female photographers. These publications included Vu, Voilà, Marianne, Regards, L’Art Vivant, Arts et Métiers Graphiques and Urbanisme.

One of the commissions that Bing received allowed her to delve into an evident reality: the existence of poverty in certain parts of a major capital such as Paris. She focused her work on portraying the soup kitchens where large numbers of destitute people gathered.

The artist revealed her abilities in Paris, rue de Valois (1932), an image that allows for a questioning of the supposedly objective truth habitually associated with photography. On an inner city street Bing’s gaze focuses on a puddle in which the roofs of an adjacent building are reflected. She shows us the paradox of something that is located above and high up appearing below, on the ground.

While Bing’s Parisian photography has a melancholy, even sombre tone to it, it also looked at areas of human activity characterised by lively bustle and social interaction, such as her images of a gingerbread fair.

These years in France provided the setting for a veritable laboratory of ideas in which the influence of Bing’s Frankfurt years is still evident. It was also a time when the emergence of Surrealism was occupying the Parisian cultural scene, with its exploration of the unconscious and of hidden desires. It can be detected in the ghostly feel of the solarised photographs that Bing took on the Place de la Concorde.

In this context, and thanks to an invitation from the Dutch-born Hendrick Willem van Loon, Bing discovered the Netherlands, visiting places such as Veere and Amsterdam and capturing different moments of daily life. The country’s nature as a terrain regained from the sea also led the artist to reflect this geographical reality in a number of snapshots.

 

The Seduction of Fashion

During her Paris years Bing experienced financial difficulties, a recurrent problem for her over the years, for which reason in November 1933 she began to contribute to the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, an American publication noted for its modern style. She secured this work with a recommendation from the editor of the French edition, Daisy Fellowes, a fashion-world figure brought up in aristocratic circles. Some of Bing’s photographs are in fact of accessories that belonged to Fellowes, including the grey felt hat and an elegant pair of gloves. In these and other images Bing applied a highly innovative approach in which she brought out the texture of the objects and the sheen of the surfaces by cropping the frame in such a way that the various garments acquired a sensual touch as well as suggesting the attractiveness of a coveted object.

During these years Bing also met Elsa Schiaparelli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer with links to Surrealism. Bing took photographs as advertisements for perfumes such as Salut and Soucis, both of 1934. The aim of these images was to encourage the viewer to desire the product with all its sensual resonances without renouncing a modern aesthetic.

 

The United States in Two Stages

Bing’s experiences in New York can be divided into two quite distinct phases. The first was a visit in 1936 while the second came in 1941 with her forced departure from France following the Nazi occupation. She continued to live there until her death in 1998, although she brought her photographic activity to an end forty years earlier.

The first American trip lasted from April to June 1936. Bing was impressed by the colossal dimensions of the city’s architecture while her restless gaze also focused on other aspects of the metropolis: the harsh life of down-and-outs (Variation on Dead End), the dirtiness of the streets, a circus show with acrobats and animals, and more.

In these difficult circumstances and experiencing isolation, Bing transferred her sense of solitude to the reality that surrounded her, observing it attentively. The result is a number of desolate images in which her own feelings are transmuted into melancholy landscapes and objects: scrawny, leafless tree branches, picket fences enclosing plots, and a fire hydrant in a snowy landscape next to a fallen tree.

From 1941 onwards, still suffering from the effects of exile and in need of earning a living in a hostile environment, Bing turned her activities to various different jobs, taking passport photographs for immigrants, portrait photographs on commission and even working as a dog groomer, among other things. The illustrated magazine world clearly turned its back on her at this period.

 

Self-Image Revelations

In 1913 the teenage Bing took what she considered to be her first self-portrait. She poses in her bedroom in the family home in Frankfurt, sitting sideways at a desk and resting her feet on a chair. What we see in reality is her reflection in a cupboard mirror, which shows the young Ilse with her long hair. In front of a background of paintings, she looks out attentively and places her hand on the camera – a Kodak box model. She was unaware at the time that this device (albeit not this make) would become her principal working tool.

Throughout her life as an artist Bing repeated the exercise of portraying herself (usually indoors) with the aim of leaving a record of a specific moment of her existence. Through these self-portraits she forged her own identity as an emancipated and independent woman in times of enormous patriarchal pressure.

During her first visit to New York Bing conceived an image that is a clear indication of the sense of estrangement and alienation she felt at seeing herself so small before the immensity of the mecca of skyscrapers, as in New York, the Elevated, and Me (1936).

Bing would later make the representation of shadow a stark extension of her life and personality, frequently using it throughout her American years.

During the course of her lifetime Ilse Bing explored the transitory states of her own identity, sometimes presenting herself as firm and decided, at times as vulnerable and anxious and on other occasions as a fleeting shadow cast on a wall.

 

Portrait of Time

In addition to seeking out the intricacies of her subjectivity in her own image, from almost the outset Bing engaged in an intensive photographic activity in which she combined commissions for portraits, especially of children, with the desire to explore the human psyche.

With regard to childhood, Bing saw children as complete beings on the same level as adults, with their own internal struggles and issues. During her own childhood the prevailing view was that they were not fully formed but Bing was uncomfortable with this perception and over time she learned to see adulthood and childhood as two phases of life that had much more in common than was generally thought.

Similarly, she did not share the view that women should be conceived on the male model as if they were a mere accompaniment to their tune. She considered that “the human being can be represented and symbolised by women”, albeit without aiming to idealise them. These concepts, which clearly reflect an underlying feminist attitude, seem to allude to a holistic vision of existence devoid of hierarchies or fixed categories.

Bing went beyond merely capturing the moment, the temporal space in which her models pose. Rather, with both her child sitters and adults she aimed to show them engaged in an activity, extracting aspects of their character and personality from them.

 

Live Nature

Any assessment of Ilse Bing’s work must necessarily emphasise the impact on her career of her urban experiences in Frankfurt, Paris and New York. While this assertion seems indisputable, an analysis of her corpus would be diminished without a consideration of the close relationship she maintained with nature, both the untamed natural world and nature designed and organised by human hand, as in the case of the gardens of Versailles.

The natural world was also the locus in which Bing’s emotions and feelings took hold. The photographs taken on the banks of the Loire, for example, generally exude an air of calm and balance comparable to that which she felt in her own life at the time, contrasting strongly with the landscapes of wild and rugged places such as those she captured in the mountains of Colorado at a period of greater personal tension.

In 1959 Ilse Bing gave up photography for good. After three decades as a photographer and long before her work started to be recognised in museums in the United States, France and Germany, with exhibitions and publications of her work in Paris, New Orleans, Aachen and New York, the artist, who had proved herself able to represent the vibration of life, considered that she no longer had anything new to say or contribute in this medium.

Fundación MAPFRE exhibition texts

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Cleaner, Paris' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Cleaner, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Antigone with Teacher' 1950

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Antigone with Teacher
1950
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 26.7cm
International Center of Photography
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Nancy Harris' 1951

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Nancy Harris
1951
Gelatin silver print
50.3 × 40.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography 2000
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'All of Paris in a Box' 1952

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
All of Paris in a Box
1952
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 48.4cm
James Hyman Gallery, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Picket Fence' 1953

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Picket Fence
1953
Gelatin silver print
50.5 × 40.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Steven Schwartz 2013
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris' 1957

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris
1957
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 40cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

 

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10
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 19th July – 9th October 2022

Curators: Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Pensacola, Florida' 1966

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Pensacola, Florida
1966
Gelatin silver print
22.5 × 34cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

 

LIBERTY!

Even though I know the history of photography reasonably well(!) I had never heard of the Kamoinge Workshop (a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963) before I started to assemble this posting. This “group of people acting together… produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century.” Their work “reminds us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

What is notable about the work of Kamoinge artists as evidenced by the vibrant, graphic photographs of high contrast and chiaroscuro presented here is the mainly abstract nature of their representation of Black life.

Through images such as Anthony Barboza’s broken liberty in Pensacola, Florida (1966) and fragmented Street Self-portrait (1970s), Adger Cowans’ distorted Three Shadows (1966), C. Daniel Dawson’s Backscape #1 (1967), Louis Draper’s Untitled (Swing and Shadow) (1967) and Boy and H, Harlem (1961), James Mannas’ desperate No Way Out, Harlem, NYC (1964) and Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana (1972), Herbert Randall’s melancholy Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer) (1964), Herb Robinson’s Brother and Sister (1973) and Central Park, Kids (1961), Beuford Smith’s, hanging, Boy on Swing, Lower East Side (1970), Ming Smith’s decaying Untitled (Harlem, NY) (c. 1973) and Shawn Walker’s barricaded Harlem, 117th Street (c. 1960) … the viewer can begin to picture, begin to feel and empathise with – the life of displacement and deprivation, poverty and protest, strength and joy – that was at the centre of Black experiences. The work of the Kamoinge artists offered “an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.”

“Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.” (Exhibition text)

For me what is so important about this group of artists (or any individual or group of people that represent through art: difference, diversity and the fight for equality and liberty) is that they represent themselves and historically archive their continuing struggle against oppression – so that, as the definition of the word “liberty” states – we can all attain “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views.”

Usually the fight comes not from the top down, but from the grass roots up… from community, from culture and how these begin to influence wider social attitudes and prejudices. Fighting against any injustice, whether it be racism, sexism, ism ism ism, is a fight against ignorance and bigotry. It is a fight against people being unaware of what is going on, what affect their actions have on others, it is a fight against misinformation and misrepresentation, and it is a fight against power residing in the hands of the few. As such, the photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop artists are a vital reflection on the process of change and acceptance, of progress (or the lack of it) and the constant need to be vigilant, to keep fighting against any force that seeks to subjugate us. Their photographs heighten our aesthetic awareness, one of the defining qualities of being human, connecting us to our ability to reflect on and appreciate the world around us in all its mysterious spirit and joyful difference.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

This is the first major exhibition about the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963. Members of the group produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century. The exhibition explores Kamoinge’s photographic artistry in the 1960s and 1970s, celebrating the group’s collaborative ethos, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop' at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Installation view of the exhibition Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles showing at centre, the work of Louis Draper.

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Kamoinge Members' 1973, printed 2019

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Kamoinge Members
1973, printed 2019
Inkjet print
45.7 × 50.8cm (18 × 20 in)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual' 1973

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual
1973
Pictured: Beuford Smith, Joe Crawford, Ray Francis
Gelatin silver print
12.1 × 17.9cm (4 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) '1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC' 1979

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC
1979
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24.9cm (7 7/16 × 9 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Easter Sunday in Harlem' 1974

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Easter Sunday in Harlem
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.4 x 22.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Street Self-portrait' 1970s

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Street Self-portrait
1970s
Gelatin silver print
19.9 x 15.1cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop.

Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center July 19 – October 9, is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organising, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Working Together reflects Getty’s continuing efforts to diversify our collection, and thereby represent a more expansive history of photography. To that end, several of the works shown in the exhibition were recently acquired for the Museum’s collection.”

Within their first year as a group, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the members of the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name – which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya – to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States.

The exhibition will focus on the first two decades of the collective, from the founding of the group in 1963 through the various activities of the International Black Photographers association in the early 1980s, and includes photographs by 15 of the organisation’s early members. The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop.

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life at mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction, jazz musicians, and the Black experience abroad. Though the photographers included in the exhibition produced diverse bodies of work, many of their photographs are printed with dark tones that compellingly evoke the unsettling era in which they were made.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation of Working Together in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

Working Together: The Photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop is organised by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Three Shadows' 1966, printed 1968

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Three Shadows
1966, printed 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 15.7cm (10 1/2 × 6 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Adger Cowans, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Footsteps' 1960

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Footsteps
1960
Gelatin silver print
21 × 33.8cm (8 1/4 × 13 5/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Adger Cowans

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Backscape #1' 1967

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Backscape #1
1967
Gelatin silver print
15.2 × 22.9cm (6 × 9 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Olaifa and Egypt' 1978

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Olaifa and Egypt
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 24.1cm (6 1/2 × 9 1/2 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Fannie Lou Hamer' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Fannie Lou Hamer
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 × 13.3cm (7 1/8 × 5 1/4 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women’s rights activist, community organiser, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organised Mississippi’s Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organisation created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970, she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977, aged 59, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Congressional Gathering' 1959, printed later

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Congressional Gathering
1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
23.4 × 16.9 cm (9 3/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Swing and Shadow)' 1967

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Swing and Shadow)
1967
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 15.2cm (9 × 6 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Billy)' About 1966-1972

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Billy)
About 1966-1972
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 33.3cm (9 1/2 × 13 1/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Boy and H, Harlem' 1961

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Boy and H, Harlem
1961
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 32.2 cm (8 3/8 × 12 11/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled
1960s
Gelatin silver print
23.3 × 17.3cm (9 3/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Reward MLK Poster, New York' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Reward MLK Poster, New York
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 x 13.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Community

The Kamoinge Workshop began as a community of photographers who supported and encouraged one another. Within their first year, they also made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They introduced one of their early projects by explaining, “The Kamoinge Workshop represents black photographers whose creative objectives reflect a concern for truth about the world, about the Society, and about themselves.” Years later, member Louis Draper expanded: “Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can. This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed, and that countered the untruths we’d all seen in mainline publications.”

 

Mentorship

Kamoinge members taught photography in programs across New York City, from Brooklyn and Harlem to the Bronx, equipping a younger generation with the technical and philosophical knowledge they needed to portray their communities. Louis Draper noted that they were eager for “a sense of purpose other than individual acclaim; we wanted to serve.” In the late 1960s, Draper and Daniel Dawson taught a photography course for teens every summer, and Draper led a youth mentorship program in the Bronx. The photographs in this section of the exhibition document some of their students.

 

Civil Rights

Although most Kamoinge members resisted being labeled civil rights photographers – a term they felt conjured images of firehoses and attack dogs – oral and written histories of the group emphasise that the collective formed in the midst of the civil rights movement. As Louis Draper described: “Many of the group had been a part of the March on Washington with Reverend King. Others had witnessed southern law brutality brought on by voting rights activity and sit-in demonstrations. Within a year’s time, these same volatile forces would propel many of us into engaged and enraged resistance.” Part of their resistance was to make images of Black Americans that were absent from the national conversation. Some members photographed leading figures and pivotal events of the civil rights movement but not necessarily to provide a journalistic record. Many created images reflected the theme of civil rights on a symbolic level instead.

 

“Like Jazz”

Music played an enormous role in the art of the Kamoinge Workshop. Jazz was a near-constant soundtrack for the group’s meetings, and musicians and live performances were the subjects of many of their photographs. Jazz also served as a metaphor for photography itself. Rhythm, timing, and improvisation are key elements in street photography as well as experimental abstraction. Innovative musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane inspired Kamoinge artists, as did attending rehearsals and performances by figures as diverse as Mahalia Jackson and Sun Ra. These musicians moved the photographers to experiment and above all to hone their craft. Ming Smith characterised photography as “making something out of nothing,” adding, “I think that’s like jazz.”

 

A Global Perspective

A significant factor leading to the formation of the Kamoinge Workshop was, as Louis Draper put it, “the emerging African consciousness exploding within us.” Even before most of the members began traveling internationally, their choice of a name from the Kikuyu people of Kenya emphasised their interest in Black experiences outside the United States. Kenya, which gained independence from colonial rule in 1963, the same year Kamoinge was founded, was frequently in the press during the group’s earliest meetings. The decolonisation movement swept across the African continent from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the same years that the US civil rights movement intensified. Many Kamoinge members traveled to African countries that had recently gained independence, and also to regions with significant diasporic communities. Some worked outside the United States on film projects or on assignments for magazines and in their off-hours made time for their own art. These travels expanded their sense of belonging to a global Black fellowship, however widely dispersed.

 

Shadows, Reflections, and Abstractions

Kamoinge has often been associated with street photography, but abstraction was also a crucial part of their work. By the time they joined the group, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, and Adger Cowans were already making abstract images in addition to more recognisably documentary pictures. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, many of the other members began to follow suit. Workshop photographers pushed themselves and the medium by experimenting with new forms and ideas. Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.

 

Kamoinge’s Legacy

Kamoinge Workshop members supported not just one another but also the broader community of Black photographers. In 1973 Beuford Smith founded the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that helped bring attention to artists outside the Kamoinge circle. In 1978, other members started a group called International Black Photographers, which honoured the work of photography elders and encouraged younger generations. Neither endeavour was part of the workshop’s official activities, but each grew out of the members’ ambition to serve and promote Black artists. Following their exhibitions in the mid-1970s, the Kamoinge Workshop neither organised exhibitions nor produced publications again until the mid-1990s. The group never disbanded, however, and the members remained close. They resumed formal meetings in 1992, applied for nonprofit status, and renamed themselves Kamoinge, Inc. A subsequent influx of new members energised the group as they continued the work that began in 1963.

Exhibition texts adapted from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts publication Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop published as “Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Salt Pile' 1971

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Salt Pile
1971
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and the Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Sphere' 1974

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Sphere
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and The Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'March on Washington' 1963

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
14.8 × 23.8cm (5 13/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'New York' 1960s

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
New York
1960s
Gelatin silver print 16 × 23.3cm (6 5/16 × 9 3/16 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'No Way Out, Harlem, NYC' 1964

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
No Way Out, Harlem, NYC
1964
Gelatin silver print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana' 1972

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 15.9cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)' 1964

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)
1964
Gelatin silver print
34.3 × 22.9cm (13 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)' 1960s

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)
1960s
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 23.3cm (13 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Miles Davis at the Vanguard' 1961, printed later

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Miles Davis at the Vanguard
1961, printed later
Gelatin silver print
35.3 × 25cm (13 7/8 × 9 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Herb Robinson, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Brother and Sister' 1973

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Brother and Sister
1973
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 22.9cm (6 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Central Park, Kids' 1961

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Central Park, Kids
1961
Gelatin silver print
33.8 × 23.5cm (13 5/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'The Girls' 1969

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
The Girls
1969
Gelatin silver print
8.6 × 21.3cm (3 3/8 × 8 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side' 1972

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 34.3cm (9 3/8 × 13 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith/Césaire

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Boy on Swing, Lower East Side' 1970

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Boy on Swing, Lower East Side
1970
Gelatin silver print
17.3 × 25.1cm (6 13/16 × 9 7/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith

 

 

Interviews with Kamoinge Artists

Interviewed by video during the pandemic, Kamoinge artists reflect on their experience with the group and the ongoing significance of their work together.

Video includes subtitles/closed captions in English and Spanish. Footage courtesy of the artists and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Adapted by the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York' About 1976

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York
About 1976
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 47cm (12 1/2 × 18 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Untitled (Harlem, NY)' About 1973

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Untitled (Harlem, NY)
About 1973
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 22.2cm (12 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA' 1992

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA
1992
Gelatin silver print
46.2 x 31.8cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Ming Smith

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Harlem, 117th Street' About 1960

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Harlem, 117th Street
About 1960
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 12.7cm (7 1/4 × 5 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Shawn Walker PhotoArts Studio

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Family on Easter, Harlem, NY' 1975

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Family on Easter, Harlem, NY
1975
Gelatin silver print
11 × 15.9cm (4 5/16 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund
© Shawn Walker

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Women in the Field, Cuba' 1968

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Women in the Field, Cuba
1968
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Shawn Walker

 

 

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28
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA

 

 

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

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 3/8″ (19.1 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

With a focus on people, this is a challenging exhibition that can only scratch the surface of the importance of the photographic work of women artists to the many investigations critical to the promotion of equality and diversity in a complex and male orientated world.

Germaine Krull is always a favourite, as is the work of neutered genius (and my hero), Claude Cahun. Susan Meiselas’s immersive work is also impressive in its “understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject”, especially in her early work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975). I also particularly like the sensibility of the Mexican women photographers: sensitive portraits of strong women.

The most cringe worthy photograph that illustrates some of the ills associated with a male-orientated society is Ruth Orkin’s staged but spontaneous photograph, American Girl in Florence, Italy (1951, below) which was “an instant conversation starter about feminism and street harassment long… [and which is] more relevant now than ever for what it truly represents: independence, freedom and self-determination.”

“The photos ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 in a photo essay, “When You Travel Alone…”, offering tips on “money, men and morals to see you through a gay trip and a safe one.” The article encourages readers to buy ship and train tickets ahead of time. It reminds them to bring their birth certificate and check in with the State Department. The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era.

“Public admiration … shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

It’s a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That’s what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women – behind and in front of the camera – challenging the era’s gender roles and loving every minute of it.”1

.
Talking of challenging gender roles, I’m rather surprised there aren’t any photographs by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman or Francesca Woodman for example, critical women photographers who challenge our orientation towards our selves and the world. Many others could have been included as well. But that is the joy and paradox of collecting: what do you collect and what do you leave out. You have to focus on what you like and what is available.

“Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography.” (Press release)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Emanuella Grinberg. “The real story behind ‘An American Girl in Italy’,” on the CNN website March 30, 2017 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

How have women artists used photography as a tool of resistance? Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum reframes restrictive notions of womanhood, exploring the connections between photography, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and queer liberation. “Society consumes both the good girl and the bad girl,” wrote artist Silvia Kolbowski in 1984. “But somewhere between those two polarities, space must be made for criticality.”

Spanning more than 100 years of photography, the works in this exhibition range from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s early documentary photographs of racially segregated education in turn-of-the-century United States, to a contemporary portrait by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero that celebrates the specificity of Indigenous art forms. A tribute to the generosity of collector Helen Kornblum, Our Selves features women’s contributions to a diversity of practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, advertising, and performance.

As we continue to reckon with equity and diversity, Our Selves invites viewers to meditate on the artist Carrie Mae Weems’s evocative question: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 × 11 7/8″ (22.9 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay' c. 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (16.5 × 21.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

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 Walter 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, 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.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

.
The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967) 'Interior Cartography #35' 1996

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967)
Interior Cartography #35
1996
Chromogenic print and acetate
9 3/8 × 6 3/16 in. (23.8 × 15.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Tatiana Parcero

My name is Tatiana Parcero. I’m from Mexico and I’m a visual artist and a psychologist. The work is called Interior Cartography #35, and belongs to the series of the same name.

Cartography is a science that deals with maps. I am interested in working with the body as a territory, where I can explore different paths at a physical and also in a symbolic level.

I am the one that appears in all the photographs. When I did this specific shot, I wanted to show a moment of introspection and calm. And when you see my hands near my cheeks, I wanted to represent a way to be in touch with myself, not just in a physical way, but in a more spiritual way.

The image superimposed on the face is from the Codex Tudela of the 16th century. The codices are documents that were created by ancient civilisations, like Mayans, Aztecs, that represent the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, their amazing universe, and the way that they lived.

When I moved to New York from Mexico, I was feeling a little bit out of place and I wanted to recreate a sense of belonging. The work is a way to connect myself with my country and the ancient cultures that are before me.

I decided to study psychology because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to understand emotions and be able to translate personal experiences into images and make them more accessible. It’s important for me to give the viewer several layers so that you can really explore the image and make your own interpretations and reflections. I think art can transform you and take you to a parallel universe. That is where I feel that you can be able to heal and to cure.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954) 'Self-Portraits' 1987

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954)
Self-Portraits
1987
Chromogenic print
22 1/2 × 18 9/16″ (57.2 × 47.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.

Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899) – a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States – will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997) – a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.

Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.

Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 colour and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943) 'Mujercita' 1981

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943)
Mujercita
1981
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 × 6 3/4″ (25.7 × 17.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002) 'Mujeres Mazahua' 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002)
Mujeres Mazahua
1989
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 18 1/2″ (34.6 × 47cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Reina (Queen)' 1989

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Reina (Queen)
1989
Gelatin silver print
12 1/4 × 8 3/4″ (31.1 × 22.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Corn Stalks Growing' 1945

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Corn Stalks Growing
1945
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 × 9″ (31 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975) 'Plant Detail' 1931

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975)
Plant Detail
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 1/2″ (24.6 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 9 13/16″ (32.7 × 24.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982) 'Composition Nature Morte' 1931

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982)
Composition Nature Morte
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.6 × 11.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Eucalyptus Leaves' 1933

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Eucalyptus Leaves
1933
Gelatin silver print
12 × 9″ (30.5 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006) 'Angel Wings' 1943

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006)
Angel Wings
1943
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 6 1/4″ (24.4 × 15.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998) 'Elizaveta "Lila" Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece' November 1930

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998)
Elizaveta “Lila” Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
November 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 8 1/2″ (15.2 × 21.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Three Red Petit-Fours' 1990

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Three Red Petit-Fours
1990
Chromogenic print
23 × 35″ (58.4 × 88.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Figurines' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Figurines
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 8″ (21.6 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997) 'Mannequin in Window' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997)
Mannequin in Window
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 6″ (24.1 × 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid' 1955

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid
1955
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 4 3/4″ (18.3 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 1/2″ (22.2 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942)
Untitled
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 11/16″ (23 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017) 'Masks, Boston' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017)
Masks, Boston
1966
Dye transfer print
10 × 7″ (25.4 × 17.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Man and Candlesticks' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Man and Candlesticks
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 × 7 3/4″ (20.3 × 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964) 'Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.' 2010

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.
2010
Two inkjet prints (diptych)
18 3/4 × 28″ (47.6 × 71.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)

Artist, Barbara Probst: I am Barbara Probst. I’m an artist working with photography. I’m born in Munich, in Germany, and I live in New York.

I’m interested in photography as a phenomenon that seemingly and supposedly depicts reality. But maybe it is the subjectivity of the photographer, which determines the image. And not the objectivity of the world.

I get a set of pictures from the same moment. By comparing these pictures, it becomes quite clear that the link between reality and photography is very thin and fragile because every picture from this moment gives a different take of this moment.

None of these images is more true or more false than any others. They are equally truthful. The viewpoints and angles and settings of the cameras and the framing and all these things determine the picture.

It’s not what is in front of the camera that determines the picture. It’s the photographer behind the camera that decides how reality is translated into an image.

Audio of Barbara Probst from the video “Elles X Paris Photo: Barbara Probst.” © Fisheye l’Agence 2021

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)' 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 3/16 × 27 3/16″ (69.1 × 69.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“My work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition.”

.
Carrie Mae Weems

 

What does it mean to bear witness to history? The artist Carrie Mae Weems has asked this question for decades through photography, video, performance, installation, and social practice. For Weems, to examine the past is to imagine a different future. “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition,” she declared in an interview with her friend, the photographer Dawoud Bey. “I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”1

Weems was trained as both a dancer and a photographer before enrolling in the folklore studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, where she became interested in the observation methods used in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she began placing herself in her photographic compositions in an “attempt to create in the work the simultaneous feeling of being in it and of it.”2 She has since called this recurring figure an “alter-ego,” “muse,” and “witness to history” who can stand in for both the artist and audience. “I think it’s very important that as a Black woman she’s engaged with the world around her,” Weems has said, “she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”3

In her 1990 Kitchen Table series – 20 gelatin silver prints and 14 texts on silkscreen panels – Weems uses her own persona to “respond to a number of issues: woman’s subjectivity, woman’s capacity to revel in her body, and the woman’s construction of herself, and her own image.”4 Weems, or rather her protagonist, inhabits the same intimate domestic interior throughout the series. Anchored around a wooden table illuminated by an overhead light, scenes such as Untitled (Man smoking) and Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup) portray the protagonist alongside a rotating cast of characters (friends, children, lovers) and props (posters, books, playing cards, a birdcage). In Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup), for example, the woman sits at the table with a young girl; they gaze into mirrors at their own reflections, applying lipstick in parallel gestures. The photograph shows that gender is a learned performance, at the same time tenderly centering its Black women subjects.

With projects such as From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), the act of witnessing is suggested in the first-person title. The J. Paul Getty Museum commissioned the work in 1994, inviting the artist to respond to 19th-century photographs of African American subjects collected by the lawyer Jackie Napoleon Wilson. In 28 chromogenic photographic prints overlaid with text on glass, Weems appropriated images from a variety of sources: Wilson’s collection, museum and university archives, The National Geographic, and the work of photographers like Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. The artist cropped and reformatted these photographs, adding blue and red tints, text, and circular mats resembling a camera lens. Through this reframing, Weems poses a question about power: Who is doing the looking, and for what reasons?

Among the rephotographed images are four daguerreotypes by photographer J. T. Zealy of enslaved men and women – two father-and-daughter pairs, named Renty, Delia, Jack, and Drana – commissioned as racial types by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1850. Weems exposes Agassiz’s racist pseudoscience and the violence of the white Anglo-American gaze through the addition of texts that address the subjects: “You became a scientific profile,” “a negroid type,” “an anthropological debate,” “& a photographic subject.” Discussing the daguerreotypes, the artist has described the sitters as agents of resistance and refusal: “In their anthropological way, most of these photographs were meant to strip the subjects of their humanity. But if you look closely, what you see is the evidence of a contest of wills over contested territory, contested terrain – contested by the by the owner of the Black body and the photographer’s attempt to conquer it vis-à-vis the camera.”5

Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2021

 

  1. “Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey,” BOMB, July 1, 2009, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/carrie-mae-weems/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weems, quoted in Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1996), 6.
  5. Weems to Deborah Willis, “In Conversation with Carrie Mae Weems,” in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, eds. Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press; New York, NY: Aperture, 2020), 397.

 

Curator, Roxana Marcocci: We’re looking at a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s larger body of work, the Kitchen Table series.

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: About 1990, I think, I had been really thinking a lot about what it meant to develop your own voice. And so I made this body of work.

It started as a kind of response to my sense of what needed to happen, what needed to be and these ideas about the sort of spaces of domesticity that have historically belonged to women.

Roxana Marcoci: In this image, Weems applies makeup in front of a mirror while a young girl seated in front of another mirror, puts on lipstick and looks at her own reflection. The two enact beauty in a synchronised performance, through posing, mirroring, and self-empowerment.

Carrie Mae Weems: I made them all in my own kitchen, using a single light source hanging over the kitchen table. It just swung open this door of what I could actually do in my own environment. What I’m suggesting really is that the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the social dynamics that happens between men and women, that war gets carried on in that space.

The Kitchen Table series would not be simply a voice for African-American women, but more generally for women.

Audio of Carrie Mae Weems in the Art21 digital series Extended Play, “Carrie Mae Weems / ‘The Kitchen Table Series.'” © Art21, Inc. 2011

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977) 'Wakeah' 2018

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977)
Wakeah
2018
Inkjet print
52 × 44″ (132.1 × 111.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Cara Romero: My name is Cara Romero, and this photograph is called Wakeah.

The inspiration for the First American Girl series was a lifetime of seeing Native American people represented in a dehumanised way. My daughter was born in 2006 and I really wanted her self image to be different. But all of the dolls that depict Native American girls were inaccurate. They lacked the detail. They lacked the love. They lacked the historical accuracy. So the series began with Wakeah.

Wakeah is Wakeah Jhane Myers and she is an incredible artist in her own right. She descends from both the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma. We posed Wakeah in the doll box much like you would find on the store shelves, placing all of her cultural accoutrement around her. She is wearing a traditional Southern Buckskin dress. She has a change of moccasins and her fan that she uses in dance. A lot of people ask me about the suitcase, and this is an inside joke between Native people, many of us carry our regalia in a suitcase as a way to keep it safe.

It took five family members over a year to make her regalia that she wears to compete at the pow wow dance. These contemporary pieces of regalia are really here against all odds. They exist through activism, through resistance.

A lot of what I’m doing is constructing these stories about resisting these ideas of being powerless, of being gone. Instead, I’m constructing a story of power and of knowledge and of presence. I want the viewer to fall in love. I want them to see how much I love the people that I’m working with.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Angela Scheirl' 1993

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Angela Scheirl
1993
Silver dye bleach print
19 5/16 × 15″ (49.1 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947) 'Sappho and Patriarch' 1984

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947)
Sappho and Patriarch
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 3/4 × 27 1/2″ (101 × 69.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX
1997
C-print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964) 'Untitled' 2010

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964)
Untitled
2010
Chromogenic print
37 × 49″ (94 × 124.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tiny, Halloween, Seattle' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tiny, Halloween, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 5/16 × 9″ (33.8 × 22.9cm)
Sheet: 14 × 11″ (35.6 × 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley
1938
Gelatin silver print
7 × 9 1/2″ (17.8 × 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005) 'Shirley Condit de Gonzales' 1986

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005)
Shirley Condit de Gonzales
1986
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13″ (46 × 33cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988) 'Mother and Child' 1940

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988)
Mother and Child
1940
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 × 10 13/16″ (35.4 × 27.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Carnival Strippers' book cover 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Carnival Strippers
1976
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Tentful of marks, Tunbridge, VT' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont
1974, printed c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 11 3/4″ (19.5 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Wary of photography’s power to shape our understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, Susan Meiselas has developed an immersive approach through which she gets to know her subjects intimately. Carnival Strippers is among her earliest projects and the first in which she became accepted by the community she was documenting. Over the summers of 1972 to 1975, she followed an itinerant, small-town carnival, photographing the women who performed in the striptease shows. She captured not only their public performances, but also their private lives. To more fully contextualise these images, Meiselas presents them with audio recordings of interviews with the dancers, giving them voice and a measure of control over the way they are presented.

Additional text from “Seeing Through Photographs online course”, Coursera, 2016

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I’m a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I’m in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren’t many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don’t like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua
1978
Chromogenic print
23 1/2 × 15 3/4″ (59.7 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier
1978
Chromogenic print
15 3/8 × 23 1/4″ (39.1 × 59.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“The camera…gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong,” said the photographer Susan Meiselas. “It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” Meiselas studied anthropology before turning to teaching and photography, and her photographic work has remained firmly rooted in those early interests.

Beginning in 1972, Meiselas spent three consecutive summers documenting women who performed stripteases as part of itinerant, small-town carnivals throughout New England. She not only photographed them at work and during their down time, but she made audio recordings of interviews she conducted with the dancers (and the men who surrounded them), to add context and give her subjects a voice. Meiselas later reflected, “The feminists of that period were perceiving the girls’ shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down, and so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard, they should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.”1 Meiselas travelled with the dancers from town to town, eventually becoming accepted by the community of women. This personal connection comes across in the intimacy of the scenes. Her photo book Carnival Strippers2 was published in 1976, the same year that Meiselas was invited to join the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Over the last 50 years, Meiselas has remained dedicated to getting to know her subjects, and she maintains relationships with them, sometimes returning to photograph them decades after the initial project. One place she has photographed again and again is Nicaragua, starting with the burgeoning Sandinista revolution. From June 1978 to July 1979, she documented the violent end of the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1990 she returned to the country with her book of photographs made at that time, Nicaragua3, and used it as a tool to track down as many subjects of those photographs as she could: “Now I want to retrace my steps, to go back to the photos I took at the time of the insurrection, and search for the people in them. What brought them to cross my path at the moment they did? What’s happened to them since? What do they think now? What do they remember?”4 She gathered their testimonies and co-directed a film, Pictures from a Revolution 5, that explored the Nicaraguan people’s hardships after the revolution. She went back to Nicaragua yet again in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow, and worked with local communities to install murals of her photographs on the sites where they were taken.6 It is the job of a photojournalist to bear witness, but Meiselas also considers ways in which she can challenge and confront future communities with the scenes she has witnessed.

In 1997, Meiselas completed a six-year-long project about the photographic history of the Kurds, working to piece together a collective memory of people who faced extreme displacement and destruction. She gathered these memories in a book – Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History7 – an exhibition and an online archive that can still be added to today. Throughout this project Meiselas worked with both forensic and historical anthropologists who added their own specialised context; the innumerable oral accounts from the Kurdish people themselves provide a perspective often left out of history books.

Referring to her early studies in anthropology, Meiselas said, “Those very primary experiences of diversity led me to be more curious about the world, putting me into a certain mode of exploration and openness to difference at a young age.” She has long understood the importance of giving a voice to her often little-known and marginalised subjects, and through her work she draws attention to a wide variety of human rights and social justice issues. Meiselas constantly considers the challenging relationship between photographer and subject, and the relationship of images to memory and history, always looking for new cross-disciplinary and collaborative ways to evolve the medium of documentary storytelling.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

 

  1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Seeing Through Photographs,” YouTube video, 5:03. February 13, 2019 https://youtu.be/HHQwAkPj8Bc
  2. Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers (New York: Noonday Press, 1976) and a revised second edition with bonus CD (New York: Steidl, 2003).
  3. Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
  4. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  5. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  6. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Reframing History, DVD (2004).
  7. Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997).

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) 'Penmanship Class' 1899

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)
Penmanship Class
1899
Platinum print
7 3/8 × 9 3/8 in. (18.7 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)

After setting up her own photography studio in 1894, in Washington, D.C., Frances Benjamin Johnston was described by The Washington Times as “the only lady in the business of photography in the city.”1 Considered to be one of the first female press photographers in the United States, she took pictures of news events and architecture and made portraits of political and social leaders for over five decades. From early on, she was conscious of her role as a pioneer for women in photography, telling a reporter in 1893, “It is another pet theory with me that there are great possibilities in photography as a profitable and pleasant occupation for women, and I feel that my success helps to demonstrate this, and it is for this reason that I am glad to have other women know of my work.”2

In 1899, the principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Hampton Institute was a preparatory and trade school dedicated to preparing African American and Native American students for professional careers. Johnston took more than 150 photographs and exhibited them in the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique (American Negro Exhibit) pavilion, which was meant to showcase improving race relations in America. The series won the grand prize and was lauded by both the public and the press.

Years later, writer and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein discovered a leather-bound album of Johnston’s Hampton Institute photographs. He gave the album to The Museum of Modern Art, which reproduced 44 of its original 159 photographs in a book called The Hampton Album, published in 1966. In its preface, Kirstein acknowledged the conflict inherent in Johnston’s images, describing them as conveying the Institute’s goal of assimilating its students into Anglo-American mainstream society according to “the white Victorian ideal as criterion towards which all darker tribes and nations must perforce aspire.”3 The Hampton Institute’s most famous graduate, educator, leader, and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington, advocated for black education and accommodation of segregation policies instead of political pressure against institutionalised racism, a position criticised by anti-segregation activists such as author W. E. B. Du Bois.

Johnston’s pictures neither wholly celebrate nor condemn the Institute’s goals, but rather they reveal the complexities of the school’s value system. This is especially clear in her photographs contrasting pre- and post-Hampton ways of living, including The Old Well and The Improved Well (Three Hampton Grandchildren). In both images, black men pump water for their female family members. The old well system is represented by an aged man, a leaning fence, and a wooden pump that tilts against a desolate sky, while the new well is handled by an energetic young boy in a yard with a neat fence, a thriving tree, and two young girls dressed in starched pinafores. Johnston’s photographs have prompted the attention of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, who has incorporated the Hampton Institute photographs into her own work to explore what Weems described as “the problematic nature of assimilation, identity, and the role of education.”4

Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute were only a part of her long and productive career. Having started out by taking society and political portraits, she later extensively photographed gardens and buildings, hoping to encourage the preservation of architectural structures that were quickly disappearing. Her pictures documenting the changing landscape of early-20th-century America became sources for historians and conservationists and led to her recognition by the American Institute for Architects (AIA). At a time when photography was often thought of as scientific in its straightforwardness, Johnston recognised its expressive power. As she wrote in 1897, “It is wrong to regard photography as purely mechanical. Mechanical it is, up to a certain point, but beyond that there is great scope for individual and artistic expression.”5

Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

 

  1. “Washington Women with Brains and Business,” The Washington Times, April 21, 1895, 9.
  2. Clarence Bloomfield Moore, “Women Experts in Photography,” The Cosmopolitan XIV.5 (March 1893), 586.
  3. Lincoln Kirstein, “Introduction,” in The Hampton Album: 44 photographs by Frances B. Johnston from an album of Hampton Institute (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 10.
  4. Quoted in Denise Ramzy and Katherine Fogg, “Interview: Carrie Mae Weems,” Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (New York: Aperture, 2000), 78.
  5. Frances Benjamin Johnston, “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera,” The Ladies’ Home Journal (September 1897): 6-7.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

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17
Apr
22

Exhibition: ‘Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something’ at the Museum of the City of New York

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 31st December 2022

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928) 'Christmas Shoppers' 1954

 

William Klein (American, b. 1928)
Christmas Shoppers
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Happy Easter to everyone around the world!

I had to have an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday night. Due to complications with low blood pressure and a reaction to the general anaesthetic I nearly didn’t pull through. I turned blue on the operating table, twice, for thirty seconds. Home now but not feeling so well just taking it easy… therefore a short text.

A fabulous exhibition in New York of photographs about New York: working, going, shopping, playing, gathering, loving, gazing, being, reflecting and buildings. Some excellent photographs that I have never seen before which evidence the soul of this imaginative city.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something' at the Museum of the City of New York

At left: Joseph Maida. Ben with fan 2001

At right: Mitch Epstein. Untitled [New York #3] 1995

 

Installation views of the exhibition Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something at the Museum of the City of New York, showing in the bottom photograph at left, Bruce Cratsley’s Brooklyn Bridge Centennial 1983
Photos: Brad Farwell

 

 

Celebrating the City: Recent Photography Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something highlights a gift that has dramatically advanced the Museum’s already exceptional photography collection. Juxtaposing striking recent images with work by some of the 20th century’s most important photographers, including the Museum’s first images by Robert Frank and William Klein, the exhibition is a moving celebration of the power of photography to capture New York and New Yorkers.

Since the invention of photography, the streets of New York City have lured picture-makers from across the world. Each borough, neighbourhood, and corner offers and opportunity to see something new through the lens, yielding images as varied as the street life itself. New York’s diverse built environment provides a backdrop for the true subject of many photographers: the varied lives of New Yorkers.

The photographers in this exhibition have immortalised this ever-changing urban centre. Each has created a distinctive vision of the city, providing a window into a vast and complex metropolis. The have also made use of the changing technology of photography itself to produce images whose meanings range from apparently objective reflections of reality to highly crafted expression of the artists’ responses to the people and the city around them.

 

Introduction

New York City may always be in flux, but shared activities and experiences connect New Yorkers across time and space. For more than a century, many of the world’s best photographers have used their cameras to capture iconic scenes of New Yorkers in action – from mundane daily routines to special events of gathering and ritual. They have sought out the deeply personal moments that occur within this city of millions and have capture both the “New Yorkiness” of its inhabitants and he ways New York experiences are linked to the larger human condition.

The photographs in this gallery are arranged into themes that capture these quintessential New York moments without consideration to chronology. The images allow us to see a range of photographic styles applied to experiences that are common to so many New Yorkers, while also highlighting the ever-changing state of the city over many decades.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Working

 

Michael Spano. 'Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)' 1994

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Man in street on phone, Police Plaza near Canal Street)
1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Michael Spano has made New York City the constant subject of his work over a long career, while exploring the possibilities of the medium, from print solarisation to collage. This photograph exemplifies Spano’s keen observational eye and attention to composition, with repeating patterns and visual dichotomy produced through light and shadow. Several other examples of work by this artist are on also on view in this gallery, including photographs from the series “Auto Portraits” and “Splits.”

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947) 'Flag Day' 1917

 

William Gordon Shields (American, 1883-1947)
Flag Day
1917
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Pizza Delivery' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Pizza Delivery
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York City #21)' 1997

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York City #21)
1997
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Going

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'A Llama in Times Square' 1957

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
A Llama in Times Square
1957
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Inge Morath

 

 

The noted photojournalist Inge Morath made this photograph of a llama in Times Square, easily her most recognisable photograph, for Life magazine in 1952. Although the image looks spontaneous, it was part of a highly planned assignment. The image was published in a one-page story, in the magazine’s humorous “Animals” section, and was entitled “High-paid llama in big city.” The piece featured a menagerie of television animals – including, in addition to the llama, dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a kangaroo, and a miniature bull – living at home with their trainers in a Manhattan brownstone. Morath’s full caption for the image reads, “Linda, the Lama [sic], rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s ABC studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.”

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949) '5th Ave. & the Park' 2005

 

Michael Spano (American, b. 1949)
5th Ave. & the Park
2005
From the series Auto Portraits
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Going Slushy Street, Times Square' 1948

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Going Slushy Street, Times Square
1948
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was an American photographer, described as an influential member of the New York school of photography during the 1940s and 1950s. His images are said to represent the best example of this movement.

Born in Baltimore in 1922 and raised in North Carolina, Croner developed an interest in photography while in high school. He honed his skills while serving as an aerial photographer in World War II before settling in New York City in 1947. At the urging of fashion photographer Fernand Fonssagrives, he enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s class at The New School where he studied with Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lisette Model. During this period he produced many of his most memorable images including “Taxi, New York Night, 1947-1948”, which appears on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times. Another of Croner’s photographs was used on the cover of Luna’s album Penthouse.

Croner also had a successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer – his work was published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He also worked extensively with corporations such as Coca-Cola and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ted Croner (1922-2005) was born in Baltimore, MD. and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. After joining the army during World War II, Croner worked as an aerial photographer with the United States Army Air Corps stationed in the South Pacific. In1946, Croner went to New York where he and Bill Helburn, another former Air Corps photographer, used their G.I. Bill aid to open a small photography studio on West 57th street in Manhattan. Shortly after that, Croner enrolled in Alexey Brodovitch’s photography class at the New School. Perhaps Croner’s best-known work, Taxi – New York Night, 1947-1948, was taken while he was a student in Brodovitch’s legendary “design laboratory”.

In 1948 Edward Steichen, then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, chose to include Croner in two exhibitions at the Museum: “In and Out of Focus” and “Four Photographers” which included three other photographers: Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan and Lisette Model. Other exhibitions of Croner’s work followed. As he continued to accept commercial work at magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Croner pursued his own photography, producing vigorously experimental, cinematic images of cafeterias, solitary diners and the city after dark.

Interest in Croner’s work was revived with the publication of The New York School, Photographs by Jane Livingston in 1992 which followed the 1985 exhibition of the same name at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC. For the cover of the book, Livingston chose a picture by Croner, “New York at Night, 1948” which shows a Manhattan skyline reduced to abstract slashes of white light among black tall buildings against a gun-metal grey sky. This was followed by inclusion in the exhibition “By Night” at The Cartier Foundation in Paris in 1996, the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition “American Century Part II” and in 2005, in the exhibition “At The Crossroads of Time: A Times Square Centennial” at the Axa Gallery in New York, and in “Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography 1940-1959” at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010.

Anonymous text from the Howard Greenberg Gallery website [Online] Cited 11/02/2022

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Home of the Brave, Times Square' late 1940s

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Home of the Brave, Times Square
late 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'The Street – Design for a Poster' 1903

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
The Street – Design for a Poster
1903
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was perhaps no more important figure for the advancement of photography’s position in the arts than Alfred Stieglitz. At a time when photography was viewed as a fact-based, scientific craft, Stieglitz had an unerring ambition to prove that the medium was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. This photograph, taken at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, with its moody scene and soft-focused, impressionistic aesthetic, exemplifies the painterly qualities Stieglitz espoused (sometimes described as Pictorialism). In later years, the photographer changed course and embraced “straight” sharp-focused photography as the best representation of the artistic qualities of the medium.

 

 

Shopping

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006) 'Chick's Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY' 1938

 

Walter Rosenblum (American, 1919-2006)
Chick’s Candy Store, Pitt Street, NY
1938
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Walter A. Rosenblum (1919-2006) was an American photographer. He photographed the World War II D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944. He was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp.

Rosenblum was a member of the New York Photo League where he was mentored by Paul Strand and Lewis Hine. He became president of the League in 1941. He taught photography at Brooklyn College for 40 years.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Stanton and Orchard Streets' 1936 (detail)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Stanton and Orchard Streets (detail)
1936
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

A llama in Times Square… fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge… polar bears playing in a pool at the zoo… subways, skylines, shadows, and stolen moments… all these things and more tell the varied story of New York City, captured by the lenses of many of the medium’s greatest photographers. Now, these images will be on view as part of “Celebrating the City: Recent Acquisitions from the Joy of Giving Something,” opening February 18th at Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition will feature approximately 100 photographs selected from the more than 1,000 images recently gifted to the Museum by the Joy of Giving Something (JGS), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the photographic arts.

“Photographs of New York are instantly recognisable and help us celebrate and elevate the many stories of our vibrant city that might otherwise go unnoticed,” says Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of Museum of the City of New York. “As we continue to emerge from the challenges of the COVID pandemic, this magnificent gift from the Joy of Giving Something dramatically advances MCNY’s already stellar 400,000+ image photography collection and gives us an even greater ability to share the stories of our beloved city and its inhabitants.”

“JGS is extremely pleased to donate a substantial group of prints from our collection to the Museum of the City of New York. Most of the work in our donation features New York as subject and it is a great match that the photographs stay in New York to be enjoyed by audiences far and wide,” says Jeffrey Hoone, President of Joy of Giving Something (JGS). “New York continues to be a subject for photographic artists from around the world and JGS is proud to help continue that legacy as we support younger artists through our many different programs. We applaud the Museum for their forward-thinking programs and their commitment to preserving and celebrating New York as a vibrant subject for photographers past, present, and future.”

Devoted to the field of photography, and ever on the search for its very best practitioners, JGS founder Howard Stein never limited himself to a single genre or style. Stein began acquiring photographs in the 1980s, eventually forming one of the most comprehensive collections in private hands, spanning the 19th through the 21st centuries. His understanding of the photographic medium and discerning eye for print quality and condition yielded a remarkable collection shared through exhibition loans around the world.

With images ranging from documentary to quirky, architectural to atmospheric, “Celebrating the City” features selections from this transformative donation, which notably includes works by 30+ creators new to the MCNY collection (see list on Page 4). The exhibition presents multiple images from Helen Levitt‘s dynamic and celebrated street photography; Sylvia Plachy‘s playful and eccentric examination of the people, animals, and moments of NYC; and Michael Spano‘s slice-of-life city shots spanning the 1990s and 2000s. Other key figures in 20th century photography are incorporated into the show, including Ilse Bing, Bruce Davidson, Mitch Epstein, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, William Klein, Saul Leiter, Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind Solomon, and Paul Strand, to name a few – all capturing indelible, sometimes implausible, intimate, and often incredible moments of the city.

MCNY’s “Celebrating the City” is organised into 10 categories, from working, going shopping, playing, and gathering to loving, gazing, being, reflecting and building, all illustrating the universality of the city and offering the opportunity to compare how some of the best-known photographers have returned to the same subjects again and again.

Some exhibition highlights include:

  • Bruce Cratsley’s “Brooklyn Bridge Centennial” (1983)
  • Bruce Davidson’s “Square Riggers, South Street Seaport” (1996)
  • Elliott Erwitt’s “New York City” (1955)
  • Larry Fink’s “Studio 54” (1977)
  • Ken Heyman’s “Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York” (1985)
  • Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Alice (Alice Rose George)” (1987)
  • Inge Morath’s “A Llama in Times Square” (1957)
  • Sylvia Plachy’s “Baseball Plié” (1982)

.
“In addition to offering glimpses of life in the city, ‘Celebrating the City’ juxtaposes various picture-making approaches, showing the different ways in which photographs are created as well as illuminating the decision-making process behind photography, collecting, and curation,” says Sean Corcoran, senior curator of prints and photographs, Museum of the City of New York. “We’ve paired the JGS photographs with a handful of recently acquired works – presented in the anteroom – in an effort to tell the story of a diverse and contemporary city from a range of perspectives.”

Press release from the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Playing

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Dogs' Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York' 1985

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Dogs’ Last Swim in Central Park Lake, New York
1985
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009) 'Dog in Central Park' c. 1955

 

Paul Himmel (American, 1914-2009)
Dog in Central Park
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Paul Himmel

 

 

Paul Himmel (1914 – February 8, 2009) was a fashion and documentary photographer in the United States.

Himmel was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. He took up photography as a teenager and studied graphic journalism under art director Alexey Brodovitch. From 1947 to 1969, he worked as a professional photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and several of his photographs were included in Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man” exhibition.

In the 1950s, Himmel started his own projects, including series on boxers, the circus and ballet. He experimented with grain structure in his negatives and prints, using a series of silhouetted and elongated forms abbreviated almost to the point of abstraction.

Himmel took his last photograph in 1967, and by 1969, he became disenchanted with photography and retrained as a psychotherapist. An exhibit of his photographs in New York City in 1996 brought him back to public attention. Himmel’s photographs are fresh and unusual. Many are high-contrast, emphasising the design and patterns contained in an image. His subjects ranged from New York City scenes to nudes reduced to grainy vestiges to colour abstractions.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941) 'Studio 54' 1977

 

Larry Fink (American, b. 1941)
Studio 54
1977
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Larry Fink was born in Brooklyn in 1941. In the 1960s, he studied with noted photographer Lisette Model. This photograph from Studio 54, made in 1977 in the hedonistic heyday of the disco era, is a well know image from Fink’s series “Social Graces,” which explored social class in America by comparing two different worlds: that of urban New Yorkers of “high society” and that of rural, working-class Pennsylvanians through social events like birthday parties. Fink has described his approach to his subject in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner, “The one thing I was trained in being was non-hierarchical. I don’t have an internal class system. Who you are is who is in front of me and who I am in the same, and that’s how we have to relate to each other.”

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Soccer Game' 2002

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Soccer Game
2002
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Pablo Delano. 'Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Merengue Musicians, Upper Broadway
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954) 'Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown' 1994-1995

 

Pablo Delano (Puerto Rican, b. 1954)
Dancers at Dominican Day, Parade, Midtown
1994-1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the photographer

 

 

Gathering

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928) 'New York City' 1955

 

Elliott Erwitt (American born France, b. 1928)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954) 'Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn' 1978

 

Dona Ann McAdams (American, b. 1954)
Group of Hassidic Men, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
1978
From the series Williamsburg, Brooklyn Portfolio
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947) 'Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY' 1995

 

Ed Grazda (American, b. 1947)
Abu Bakr Sedig Mosque, Flushing NY
1995
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Ed Grazda, from Flushing, Queens, had been photographing in Pakistan and Afghanistan for almost 15 years when the underground garage at the World Trade Center became the site of a car bomb attack, on February 26, 1993. The explosion killed six people and injured more than a thousand; in both print and televised media, the grisly scene was often accompanied by the phrase “Muslim terrorist.” As a counter to the spreading media stereotypes, Grazda began a new effort: to document some of the dozens of communities of New Yorkers who practice Islam. He engaged both the immigrant populations and the native New Yorkers, including converts, the longstanding African-American Muslim community, and a growing Latino-Muslim community. This project was eventually published as the book New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York in 2002.

 

Joseph Maida (American) 'Men in Park' 2001

 

Joseph Maida (American)
Men in Park
2001
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Loving

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005) 'Top Hats at Horse Show' 1947-1949

 

Ted Croner (American, 1922-2005)
Top Hats at Horse Show
1947-1949
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ted Croner

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming, NYC' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming, NYC
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

 

After Stephen Barker graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1980, he became an assistant for noted portraitist Hans Namuth and architectural photographer Wolfgang Hoyt. In response to the growing AIDS crisis, Barker became an activist, working with ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and managing the Brooklyn Needle Exchange for two years. He also took his camera into New York City’s sex clubs. Given the necessity for anonymity, many of the figures that appeared in this work, entitled Nightswimming, appear indistinct at first glance. The settings are often darkened cinemas and hallways, yet there are flashes of intelligibility – tenderness, passion, and even introspection.

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #9)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #9)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Since the 1970s, Mitch Epstein has been an early proponent of colour photography as a fine art, which he often uses to subtly examine American society. This photograph, and several others on view in this gallery, are drawn from a body of work entitled “The City.” The photographer describes the collection as a “series of photographs that reveal the blurred line between New York City’s public and private space and question its increasing surveillance. These pictures describe a chaotic and layered city, where people create an intimate solar system of family, friends, and associates to survive the brute anonymity of public space.”

 

 

Gazing

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) 'New York (Woman and taxi)' 1982

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York (Woman and taxi)
1982
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013) 'Dick and Adele, the Village' c. 1947

 

Saul Leiter (American, 1923-2013)
Dick and Adele, the Village
c. 1947
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929) 'Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx' 1954

 

George S. Zimbel (American-Canadian, b. 1929)
Irish Dance Hall, The Bronx
1954
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

George S. Zimbel (born July 15, 1929) is an American-Canadian documentary photographer. He has worked professionally since the late 1940s, mainly as a freelancer. He was part of the Photo League and is one of its last surviving members. Born in Massachusetts, he settled in Canada about 1971. His works have been shown with increasing frequency since 2000, and examples of his work are part of several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He has been described as a humanist. He has published several books of his photographs and in 2016 was the subject of a documentary retrospective film co-directed by his son Matt Zimbel and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956) 'Brooklyn, NY' 2000

 

Rebecca Norris Webb (American, b. 1956)
Brooklyn, NY
2000
From the series The Glass Between Us
Chromogenic development print

 

 

Rebecca Norris Webb has lived in New York City for more than 25 years. Originally a poet, she brings a lyrical sensibility to her photography and often interweaves text into her imagery. This photograph is part of a larger series published as a book entitled The Glass Between Us: Reflections on Urban Creatures (2006), that examines people’s complex relationship with animals in cities, primarily in the context of “conservation parks” such as zoos and aquariums. This image, taken at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, uses reflections and distortion of the water tanks to blur the boundaries between the young boy and the aquatic life he is observing.

 

 

Being

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019) 'Willie' 1962

 

Ken Heyman (American, 1930-2019)
Willie
1962
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Estate of Ken Heyman

 

 

Ken Heyman met noted anthropologist Margaret Mead while attending Columbia University. The two became friends and worked together on several projects; the experience influenced Heyman to focus his photography on human relationships and interactions. Heymen went on to become a leading photojournalist, working for Life, LOOK, and TIME magazines. In the mid-1950s Haymen photographed “Willie,” a four-year-old boy from Hell’s Kitchen, over the course of several months in an attempt to observe him negotiate his one-block world. The results were published in Heymen’s first book in 1962. He went on to publish 45 additional books, including collaborations with composer Leonard Bernstein, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and artist Andy Warhol.

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951) 'Alice (Alice Rose George)' 1987

 

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (American, b. 1951)
Alice (Alice Rose George)
1987
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, currently lives in New York City.He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with other notable New York-based photographers David Armstrong and Nan Goldin. Beginning in the 1980s, he created an influential body of work that blurred the lines between fact and fiction, blending a documentary style with staged photography techniques. The resulting photographs, often depicting mundane moments of life, are known for their dramatic cinematic quality. This image of noted writer, curator, and photography editor Alice Rose George exemplifies the taut psychological quality of diCorcia staged tableaux.

 

DiCorcia alternates between informal snapshots and iconic quality staged compositions that often have a baroque theatricality.

Using a carefully planned staging, he takes everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality, trying to inspire in his picture’s spectators an awareness of the psychology and emotion contained in real-life situations. His work could be described as documentary photography mixed with the fictional world of cinema and advertising, which creates a powerful link between reality, fantasy and desire.

During the late 1970s, during diCorcia’s early career, he used to situate his friends and family within fictional interior tableaus, that would make the viewer think that the pictures were spontaneous shots of someone’s everyday life, when they were in fact carefully staged and pre-planned. His work from this period is associated with the Boston School of photography. He would later start photographing random people in urban spaces all around the world. When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject, often isolating them from the other people in the street.

His photographs give a sense of heightened drama to accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions of those passing by. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached from the world around them, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity. Each of his series, Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, A Storybook Life, and Lucky Thirteen, can be considered progressive explorations of diCorcia’s formal and conceptual fields of interest. Besides his family, associates and random people he has also photographed personas already theatrically enlarged by their life choices, such as the pole dancers in his latest series.

His pictures have black humour within them, and have been described as “Rorschach-like”, since they can have a different interpretation depending on the viewer. As they are pre-planned, diCorcia often plants in his concepts issues like the marketing of reality, the commodification of identity, art, and morality.

In 1989, financed by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship of $45,000, DiCorcia began his Hustlers project. Starting in the early 1990s, he made five trips to Los Angeles to photograph male prostitutes in Hollywood. He used a 6×9 Linhof view camera, which he positioned in advance with Polaroid tests. At first, he photographed his subjects only in motel rooms. Later, he moved onto the streets. When the Museum of Modern Art exhibited 25 of the photographs in 1993 under the title Strangers, each was labeled with the name of the man who posed, his hometown, his age, and the amount of money that changed hands.

In 1999, diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and took a series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights. This resulted in two published books, Streetwork (1998) which showed wider views including subjects’ entire bodies, and Heads (2001), which featured more closely cropped portraits as the name implies.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Reflecting

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956) 'Nightswimming' 1993-1994

 

Stephen Barker (American, b. 1956)
Nightswimming
1993-1994
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC and the Photographer

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001) 'Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival' 1950

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
Mary and Robert Frank at San Gennaro Festival
1950
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Louis Faurer was born in Philadelphia, where he worked as a photo technician in portrait studios. After serving in the U.S. Signal Corps of Philadelphia during World War II, he began to commute to New York City for work at magazines and attended classes at Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory. There, he met fellow photographer Robert Frank. The two became fast friends and Faurer eventually moved into Frank’s large loft and used his darkroom. At the time, Faurer worked for various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Vogue, and the short-lived Flair.

This image, made in those early days in New York, reflects Faurer’s close relationship with Frank and his then-wife Mary. The late 1940s and 1950s were especially important to Faurer’s development as a photographer and were when he created his most memorable images of New York. As in this photograph, Faurer concentrated his image making on people out on the streets, reflections of store windows, and the bright city lights. This psychologically charged work highlights the complexity and energy of city life.

 

Louis Faurer (August 28, 1916 – March 2, 2001) was an American candid or street photographer. He was a quiet artist who never achieved the broad public recognition that his best-known contemporaries did; however, the significance and caliber of his work were lauded by insiders, among them Robert Frank, William Eggleston, and Edward Steichen, who included his work in the Museum of Modern Art exhibitions In and Out of Focus (1948) and The Family of Man (1955).

“Faurer … proves to be an extraordinary artist. His eye is on the pulse [of New York City] – the lonely “Times-Square people” for whom Faurer felt a deep sympathy. Every photograph is witness to the compassion and obsession accompanying his life like a shadow. I am happy that these images survive while the world keeps changing.” ~ Robert Frank

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019) 'Andrea on Third Avenue' 1955

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Andrea on Third Avenue
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Swiss-born Robert Frank immigrated to New York in 1947 to work for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Frank continued to create editorial work for magazines such as Life, LOOK, and Vogue until he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955. The award freed him to travel throughout the country for two years to make the photographs that would result in his seminal book, The Americans. This photograph, of Frank’s daughter Andrea in their apartment near Astor Place on Third Avenue, is emblematic of much of the photographer’s work; it is tender and intimate while remaining slightly enigmatic.

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943) 'Virgil Thomson' 1986

 

Sylvia Plachy (American born Hungary, b. 1943)
Virgil Thomson
1986
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896 – September 30, 1989) was an American composer and critic. He was instrumental in the development of the “American Sound” in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neo-romantic, a neoclassicist, and a composer of “an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment” whose “expressive voice was always carefully muted” until his late opera Lord Byron which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to “moments of real passion”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #11)' 1996

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #11)
1996
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952) 'Untitled (New York #3)' 1995

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Untitled (New York #3)
1995
Chromogenic development print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,
Courtesy of the Photographer

 

 

Buildings

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
From the Viaduct, 125th Street, New York
1915
Plate from Camera Work No. 49/50, June 1917
Photogravure
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956) 'East River, New York' 1914

 

Arthur D. Chapman (American, 1882-1956)
East River, New York
1914
Platinum print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

Arthur D. Chapman (1882-1956) was born in Bakersfield, California. An amateur photographer, he moved to New York and worked as a printer for The Globe and Commercial Advertiser and The New York American; he also listed himself in the New York City directories as a bookbinder (1913) and a photographer (1917). Chapman lived in Greenwich Village from 1911 until 1917 and, in his afternoons off from work, photographed everyday scenes around Manhattan. In his own neighbourhood, he chose to show not the Bohemian image the Village then projected, but rather what the residential Village looked like. With the use of shadow, Chapman was able to give depth and character to his photographs, and those focused down a street usually featured a striking foreground. His subjects include rooftops, buildings, and street scenes with such titles as “9½ Jane Street,” “Clinton Court,” and “Kelly’s Alley.” Most of the photographs are from the 1910s and show a quaint side of the Village that has all but vanished.

During the early 1950s Chapman thought it would be of historical interest to re-shoot some of the areas in Manhattan he had photographed almost a half-century before, in order to document how time had changed those places. Unfortunately, some of the scenes he wanted to photograph were still considered too “sensitive” so soon after the Second World War, and he was unable to obtain permission from the city government.

The New-York Historical Society bought this collection from Chapman between 1950 and 1955 as he, in his retirement, found and printed from old negatives which had lain hidden in his extensive collection. In 1953, Chapman gave two self-portraits to the Society as a gift, one taken in New York in 1913 and the second taken in 1953 in New Jersey. Both show him working with his photographic equipment.

In 1921, following his World War I service in France with the Photographic Section of the Army Signal Corp Chapman moved to New Jersey, where he continued with his “hobby” until his death on June 5, 1956. He was a member of Pictorial Photographers of America, and a member of New York Typographical Union No. 6 for over fifty years.

Anonymous text from the New York Historical Society website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'A Brick-Built Wall, New York' 1961

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
A Brick-Built Wall, New York
1961
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998) 'Brooklyn Bridge Centennial' 1983

 

Bruce Cratsley (American, 1944-1998)
Brooklyn Bridge Centennial
1983
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

John Reid. 'Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC' c. 1870

 

John Reid
Harlem Bridge, 4th Ave., NYC
c. 1870
Albumen print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of Joy of Giving Something, Inc.,

 

 

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