Archive for the 'Paris' Category

22
May
22

Exhibition: ‘André Kertész: Postcards from Paris’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 29th May, 2022

Curator: Elizabeth Siegel, curator of photography and media at the Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Grands Boulevards' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Grands Boulevards
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper, 1926-1935
Image: 3 1/16 × 45/16″ (7.8 × 10.9cm)
Sheet: 3 5/16 × 5 1/16″ (8.4 × 12.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

The next two postings focus on the creation and distribution of carte postale – in this posting fine art photographs taken by an artist experimenting with photography at the beginning of his career, intimate images cropped and printed for carte postale (postcard) photographic paper and distributed in very limited numbers to friends and family; and in the next posting social documentary photographs taken by mainly anonymous artists, printed in larger numbers by publishers for public consumption.

Arriving in Paris in 1925 Kertész used to his camera to document his feelings towards his new city, a city that was to become his spiritual home no matter where he lived. I have the same feeling towards Paris. One day I will live there, wander the streets and continue to take photographs of this beloved city. “Kertész used his camera to document his explorations of Paris in his first days there. During long walks, he photographed activity along the Seine, overlooked scenes behind buildings, and the tents at local fairgrounds. With few expectations to satisfy beyond his own ambition, the artist was free to explore and record, refining his eye as he composed his images in the camera and as he reviewed and printed them as cartes postales.”

In this posting there are only four external scenes of Paris including two crisp Modernist photographs of the same homeless man with street posters; an enigmatic image of the Eiffel Tower; and the highlight for me, an atmospheric high angle view of a fairground. Other highlights in the posting include Kertész’s vibrant, expressive Satiric Dancer (1927, below); his modern, simple and unpretentious Fork (1928, below) and Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses (1926, below) so clearly and crisply observed; and the most famous of all his photographs, the serene and beautiful Chez Mondrian (1926, below) in which Kertész said “Everything was there before me.” It only required his awareness and recognition of the scene to tell the story. My particular favourite is Kertész’s seeming homage to Eugène Atget, Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy’s Cousin) (1927, below) … an Atget interior and perspicacious portrait combined.

The key is to see things clearly and intelligently in order to express the story you want to tell with feeling and empathy. As Kertész tells it, to have enough technique to then forget about it. “I believe you should be a perfect technician in order to express yourself as you wish and then you can forget about the technique.” He insightfully observes, “You have beautiful calligraphy, but it’s up to you what you write with it.”

It’s about the story you tell and not (just) about technique and an empty beauty (as with much contemporary photography).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

In 1925, photographer André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) arrived in Paris with little more than a camera and meager savings. Over the next three years, the young artist carved out a photographic practice that allowed him to move among the realms of amateur and professional, photojournalist and avant-garde artist, diarist and documentarian. By the end of 1928, he had achieved widespread recognition, emerging as a major figure in modern art photography alongside such figures as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott. During this three-year period, he chose to print most of his photographs on carte postale, or postcard paper. Although this choice may have initially been born of economy and convenience, he turned the popular format toward artistic ends, rigorously composing new images in the darkroom and making a new kind of photographic object.

Postcards from Paris is the first exhibition to bring together Kertész’s rare carte postale prints. These now-iconic works offer new insight into his early, experimental years and reveal the importance of Paris as a vibrant meeting ground for international artists, who drew inspiration from each other to create new, modern ways of seeing and representing the world.

 

 

Kertész was an expert printer and a precise technician, even as he strove for spontaneity and naturalism in his imagery and, with the exception of cropping, was apparently averse to manipulations such as experimental darkroom techniques and photomontage.8 He was opinionated on the subject of how his photographs should be made: in 1923, still struggling for recognition, he refused to reprint in bromoil an image he had submitted to a competition, which cost him the silver medal. He later said of the episode, “I have always known that photography can only be photography.”9 In a letter from 1926 Jenö complimented his work, calling it technically impeccable, but Kertész also believed that technical perfection by itself “overshines the boot,” explaining, “You have beautiful calligraphy, but it’s up to you what you write with it.”10 In an interview near the end of his life Kertész said, “Technique is only the minimum in photography. It’s what one must start with. I believe you should be a perfect technician in order to express yourself as you wish and then you can forget about the technique.”11

.
Nancy Reinhold. “Exhibition in a Pocket: The Cartes Postales of André Kertész,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg (eds.,). Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Self-Portrait' July 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Self-Portrait
July 1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Estate of André Kertész, courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

 

 

Kertész sent this print to his brother Jenő with the inscription, “To my younger brother, Bandi.” (“Bandi” was André’s family nickname.) Although the photographer frequently mailed his carte postale prints to family and friends, he sent them in envelopes rather than affixing a stamp to the back and posting them directly in the manner the manufacturers intended. Moreover, rather than signing them on the back, as one would a postcard, he almost always signed them on the front, like a finished work of art. The paper’s utilitarian format nonetheless may have inspired him to circulate his pictures through the mail and use them to communicate with his family.

 

A Portrait of the Artist

With this self-portrait, André Kertész declared himself a cosmopolitan artist. He appears surrounded by objects that refer to both his birthplace of Hungary and his new home in Paris.

Kertész printed this image on postcard paper and sent it home to his family. Rather than writing on the back of the card and adding postage, he mailed it safely in an envelope as proof that he was surviving and even thriving in his new city and still resolved to become a photographer.

 

From Immigrant to Insider

Kertész arrived in Paris in fall 1925 with little other than his cameras and some savings. His first years were filled with experimentation as he learned from a community of other expatriate artists. Kertész hung a portrait of his mother on the door to his small apartment [see below]. Made at a professional studio in Budapest, it was printed on carte postale paper, the same kind he used to make his self-portrait and most of his work in Paris.

 

A Memento of Home

Kertész arranged himself at a table covered by a cloth from Hungary embroidered by his mother with the initials K.A., for Kertész Andor, his name before he adopted the French “André.”

Kertész’s apartment also featured a life mask, a plaster cast of his own face, which he kept as he moved from Hungary to Paris and later to New York. It appears as an alter ego – a strategy of doubling that he used often in his photographs.

Kertész presented himself as cultured and educated, with an overflowing bookshelf behind him and an open book before him on the table. Although he spoke three languages, Kertész later said, “My English is bad. My French is bad. Photography is my only language.”

Hanging prominently above the artist’s head is his take on an iconic Parisian landmark, the Eiffel Tower [see below]. One of the earliest photographs he made in Paris, this image – enlarged for the wall – symbolises his new home.

 

Romer Erzs Studio (Hungarian) Budapest. 'Kertesz's Mother' Before 1925

 

Romer Erzs Studio (Hungarian) Budapest
Kertesz’s Mother
Before 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Eiffel Tower' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Among Kertész’s earliest Parisian photographs is this view of the Eiffel Tower [see on the wall behind the artist in his Self-Portrait 1927, above]. Taken from a window in the apartment of a Hungarian architect, the moody image is less a typical tourist snapshot than a specific vision of the landmark captured from the perspective of a local. In a self-portrait, an enlarged version of this work can be seen hanging prominently on the wall of the photographer’s apartment – a decorating choice emblematic, perhaps, of his immersion in his adopted city. Kertész used his camera to document his explorations of Paris in his first days there. During long walks, he photographed activity along the Seine, overlooked scenes behind buildings, and the tents at local fairgrounds. With few expectations to satisfy beyond his own ambition, the artist was free to explore and record, refining his eye as he composed his images in the camera and as he reviewed and printed them as cartes postales. He maintained decades after he left the city, “Paris became my home and it still is. Paris accepted me as an artist just as it accepted any artist, painter, or sculptor. I was understood there.”

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'József Csáky' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
József Csáky
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.2cm
Card: 12.9 × 7.5cm

 

 

Joseph Csaky (also written Josef Csàky, Csáky József, József Csáky and Joseph Alexandre Czaky) (18 March 1888 – 1 May 1971) was a Hungarian avant-garde artist, sculptor, and graphic artist, best known for his early participation in the Cubist movement as a sculptor. Csaky was one of the first sculptors in Paris to apply the principles of pictorial Cubism to his art. A pioneer of modern sculpture, Csaky is among the most important sculptors of the early 20th century. He was an active member of the Section d’Or group between 1911 and 1914, and closely associated with Crystal Cubism, Purism, De Stijl, Abstract art, and Art Deco throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Csaky fought alongside French soldiers during World War I and in 1922 became a naturalised French citizen. He was a founding member of l’Union des Artistes modernes (UAM) in 1929. During World War II, Csaky joined forces with the French underground movement (la Résistance) in Valençay. In the late 1920s, he collaborated with some other artists in designing furniture and other decorative pieces, including elements of the Studio House of the fashion designer Jacques Doucet.

After 1928, Csaky moved away from Cubism into a more figurative or representational style for nearly thirty years. He exhibited internationally across Europe, but some of his pioneering artistic innovation was forgotten. His work today is primarily held by French and Hungarian institutions, as well as museums, galleries and private collections both in France and abroad. …

 

Legacy

Joseph Csaky contributed substantially to the development of modern sculpture, both as a pioneer in applying Cubism to sculpture, and as a leading figure in nonrepresentational art of the 1920s.

After fighting alongside the French underground movement against the Nazis during World War II, Csaky faced many difficulties: health issues, family problems and a lack of work-related commissions. Unlike many of his friends, whose names became widely known, Csaky was appreciated by fewer people (but they notably included art collectors, art historians and museum curators).

“Today, however,” writes Edith Balas, “in a postmodernist atmosphere, those aspects of his art that made Csáky unacceptable to the more advanced modernists are readily accepted as valid and interesting. The time has come to give Csáky his rightful place in the ranks of the avant-garde, based on an analysis of his artistic innovations and accomplishments.”

Text and more information on the artist can be found on his Wikipedia entry

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Pierre Mac Orlan' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Pierre Mac Orlan
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Unmarked recto; inscribed verso, on paper, along left edge, sideways, in graphite: “6” [one arrow extending from the left and the right side, running along the left edge]”; verso, upper centre, sideways, in graphite: “Pierre McOxlan / 1927.”; verso, lower centre, sideways, in graphite: “142”; printed verso, along right edge, sideways, in black ink: “CARTE POSTALE / Correspondance Adresse”
Image: 10.8 × 7.8cm
Card: 11.1 × 18.1cm

 

 

Pierre Mac Orlan, sometimes written MacOrlan (born Pierre Dumarchey, February 26, 1882 – June 27, 1970), was a French novelist and songwriter. His novel Quai des Brumes was the source for Marcel Carné’s 1938 film of the same name, starring Jean Gabin. He was also a prolific writer of chansons, many of which were recorded and popularized by French singers such as Juliette Gréco, Monique Morelli, Catherine Sauvage, and Germaine Montero.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

In 1925, photographer André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) arrived in Paris with little more than a camera and meager savings. Over the next three years, the young artist carved out a photographic practice that allowed him to move among the realms of amateur and professional, photojournalist and avant-garde artist, diarist and documentarian. This spring, the High Museum of Art will present “André Kertész: Postcards from Paris” (Feb. 18-May 29, 2022), the first exhibition to focus exclusively on his rare cartes postales, precise prints on inexpensive yet lush postcard paper.

Organised by the Art Institute of Chicago, “Postcards from Paris” brings together more than 100 of these prints from collections across Europe and North America and offers insight into Kertész’s early experimental years, during which he produced some of his now-iconic images and charted a new path for modern photography. The exhibition will also reveal the importance of Paris as a vibrant meeting ground for international artists, who drew inspiration from each other to create fresh ways of seeing and representing the world.

“We are delighted for the opportunity to share these rare prints by one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking photographers of the 20th century,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.

“Kertész was one of the most consequential photographers of the 20th century, and this exhibition focuses on his most innovative and prolific period,” said Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “He was a pioneer who mastered intimate portraiture, dynamic street photography and precise interior studies, moving effortlessly between his personal and commercial work. These distinctive carte postale prints are some of the finest examples of his iconic early photographs.”

Kertész moved to Paris due to the limited opportunities in his native Hungary, and by the end of 1928, he was contributing regularly to magazines and exhibiting his work internationally alongside well-known artists such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott. The three years between his arrival in Paris and his emergence as a major figure in modern art photography marked a period of dedicated experimentation and exploration for Kertész. During that time, he produced most of his prints on carte postale paper, turning this popular format toward artistic ends, rigorously composing images in the darkroom and making a new kind of photographic object. “Postcards from Paris” pays careful attention to the works as both images and objects, emphasising their experimental composition and daringly cropped formats.

The exhibition includes vintage prints of images that would come to define Kertész’s career, including “Chez Mondrian” (1926), an exquisitely composed scene of Piet Mondrian’s studio emphasising the painter’s restrained geometry; “Satiric Dancer” (1927), uniting photography with dance and sculpture by fellow Hungarians in Paris; and “Fork” (1928), declaring that photography could transform even the humblest of objects into art.

“Postcards from Paris” is curated by Elizabeth Siegel, curator of photography and media at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition will be presented in the Lucinda Weil Bunnen Photography Galleries on the Lower Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.

 

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition catalogue unites all of André Kertész’s known carte postale prints, including portraits, views of Paris, careful studio scenes and exquisitely simple still lifes. Essays shed new light on the artist’s most acclaimed images; themes of materiality, exile and communication; his illustrious and bohemian social circle; and the changing identity of art photography. The book’s design reflects the spirit of 1920s Paris while underscoring the modernity of the catalogue’s more than 250 illustrated works. It was selected as Photography Catalogue of the Year for Aperture’s 2021 PhotoBook Awards Shortlist.

“André Kertész: Postcards from Paris” is organised by the Art Institute of Chicago.

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Quartet' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Quartet
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Kertész often radically revised the images he captured with the camera. He produced all of his cartes postales as contact prints by placing the negative in contact with the postcard paper during exposure instead of using an enlarger. He made this photograph of Feri Roth’s string quartet by masking the negative (blocking out certain sections with tape) before printing to highlight just a small section of a publicity picture the group had commissioned. By cropping out the players’ heads to concentrate on their angled bows and the lines of the music stand, Kertész abstracted the idea of a quartet to hands, instruments, and a white rectangle of sheet music. He left a dramatic ratio of the postcard paper blank to emphasise the image’s unusual placement at the top of the support. He then trimmed the card to custom proportions, as he did with nearly all his cartes postales, underlining the interplay between image and paper as an indispensable component of the artwork. Kertész saw these bold interventions as a way to distinguish his art from his budding commercial career: the whole image was for them, he later said in an interview; the cropped print was for him.

 

A Close Look at André Kertész’s Quartet

André Kertész’s image of the Feri Roth string quartet is tiny, but it packs a wallop.

Four musicians gather to play, with four sets of hands holding their bows at different angles. Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) zooms in to concentrate on the lines of the bows and the music stand, resulting in a dynamic composition that abstracts the idea of a quartet to hands, instruments, and a white rectangle of sheet music.

Printed on intimately scaled carte postale (postcard) paper, this print could have been held in the hand, sent home to his family in Hungary, or passed along to a widening circle of international artist friends at the café tables Kertész frequented in 1920s Paris. In its subject and in its form, Quartet represents a key moment in the photographer’s career as he carved out a new, modern photographic practice in his adopted city.

The photograph began as a commission for his friend Feri Roth, a Hungarian musician whose renowned string quartet toured in Europe throughout the 1920s and was in need of publicity photographs. Kertész stood on a chair or stool to get an elevated position (a favourite technique) and made a wide picture that showed the complete scene.

The camera Kertész typically used produced negatives about the same size as the carte postale paper, which allowed for easy contact printing – meaning he placed the negative in direct contact with the postcard paper during exposure instead of using an enlarger. For this image, however, Kertész employed a larger camera, which allowed him to make some dramatic changes in the darkroom as he made his contact print: he cropped out all of the players’ heads and tilted the image slightly to orient it around the geometrical forms of the music stand. The photographer saw these interventions in the negative as a way to distinguish his art from his budding commercial career – the whole image was for them, he later said in an interview; the cropped print was for him.

Kertész’s approach in this print was typical of his work in his early years in Paris. He often made creative revisions in the darkroom, where he could produce a more refined composition by cropping out selected portions of the image. As was his habit with nearly all his carte postale prints, he precisely trimmed the card to custom proportions and carefully signed it on the front. Here, however, Kertész took an even more dramatic step in the print: he left most of the expanse of the postcard paper as empty white space, further emphasising the image’s cropping and its unusual placement at the top of the card. All of these actions elevated these humble materials of mass culture and underlined the interplay between image and paper as an indispensable component of the artwork.

Kertész also adapted this method of making a new composition out of an older one to his camera technique. Take, for example, his portrait of his friend Paul Arma (Imre Weisshaus), a Hungarian composer and pianist. Kertész first made a more traditional seated portrait showing the upper half of the musician’s body, his hands against the chair back holding his distinctive glasses. In another picture from the same sitting, he zoomed in on that gesture in an abstracted portrayal. Here, selected elements stand in for the whole subject, distilling Arma’s persona down to his instrument-playing hands and his particular vision.

Beyond demonstrating Kertész’s experimental approach, Quartet also tracks his expanding network, as he began connecting first to Hungarian – and soon to international – artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. He had built a community of creatives in his native Budapest, and in Paris he linked up with a group of Hungarian expatriates that included painter Lajos Tihanyi, sculptors Joseph (József) Csáky and Étienne (István) Beöthy, experimental puppeteer Géza Blattner, and dancer Magda Förstner, among others – all of whom he made carte postale portaits of. As his French improved and his circle widened, Kertész got to know and came to photograph French writer Pierre Mac Orlan, the poets Tristan Tzara (French-Romanian) and Paul Dermée (Belgian), Swedish painter Gundvor Berg, Spanish ceramicist Josep Llorens Artigas, Russian painter and gallery owner Evsa Model, and especially the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, whose spare painting and studio left a deep impression on the photographer.

Quartet is one of over one hundred rare carte postale prints brought together for the first time in the exhibition André Kertész: Postcards from Paris. This exhibition takes a focused look at a three-year period in the artist’s career – his first years in Paris – when he explored new compositions and techniques and printed most of his work in the intimate carte postale format. As a reminder of Kertész’s daring experimentalism in photography, the importance of understanding his works as objects as much as images, and proof of his widening network and expansive artistic influences, this small photograph has a big impact.

~ Elizabeth Siegel, curator, Photography and Media

Elizabeth Siegel, “A Close Look at André Kertész’s Quartet,” on the Art Institute of Chicago website October 26, 2021 [Online] Cited 17/03/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Arma' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Arma
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 7.9 × 7.9cm
Card: 13.5 × 8.1cm

 

 

Paul Arma (Hungarian: Arma Pál, aka Amrusz Pál; né Weisshaus Imre; 22 November 1905, in Budapest – 28 November 1987, in Paris) was a Hungarian-French pianist, composer, and ethnomusicologist.

Arma studied under Béla Bartók from 1920 to 1924 at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, after which time he toured Europe and America giving concerts and piano recitals. Béla Bartók influenced Arma in his love for folksong and collection. He left Hungary in 1930, eventually settling in Paris in 1933, where he became the piano soloist with Radio Paris. His music is generally characterised by modernist tendencies, although his varied output includes folk song arrangements, film music, popular and patriotic songs, in addition to solo, chamber, orchestral and electronic music.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Paul Arma is a crucial figure in the history of French Resistance music, both because of the songs he composed and because of his tireless efforts to preserve the enormous body of music created during the war. Arma saw the songs of the Resistance not simply as sources of hope and acts of wartime courage, but also as important artifacts to be saved as symbols of France’s national spirit. Born in 1905 as Imre Weisshaus, the Hungarian pianist, conductor, and composer Paul Arma studied with Bartok at the Academy of Franz-Liszt in Budapest. He worked as a conductor of orchestras and choirs in Berlin and Lepizig until 1933, before being arrested by the SS in Leipzig for spying against the Germans and for his connections with the intellectual and artistic avant-garde. Though deemed not enough of a threat to be imprisoned, Arma was subject to a mock execution by the SS prior to being released. He subsequently fled to Paris, where he worked until 1939 as a pianist for Radio-Paris and wrote songs supporting the Republican Spanish for the International Brigades such as ‘Madrid’ and ‘No pasaran’ (Do not pass). After the arrival of the Nazis, Arma composed ‘Les chants du silence’ (Songs of silence) on texts of Vercors, Eluard, Romain Rolland and Paul Claudel among others, writing: ‘During a period when, in France, freedom had to take place in prescribed silence … I sang silence in order to blackmail life.’ During the war, Arma secretly collected over 1,800 French songs, transcribing the melodies together with his wife. After the war, he sent out an appeal on radio and in national newspapers in France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, the Ukraine, Armenia and Bulgaria, seeking additional songs for his collection. The response was enormous: listeners sent in over 1,300 songs. From October to December 1945, Arma broadcast a number of these songs on the radio as part of a series entitled La Résistance qui chante (Resistance singing). …

From 1954-1984 Arma conducted research into electromagnetic music, as well as making 81 sculptures out of wood and metal on the theme of music, called Musiques sculptées (sculpted music). In the 1980s he became a French national, was awarded the S.A.C.E.M. Enesco prize, and was made a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, an Officer of the National Order of Arts and Letters, and an Officer of the National Order of Merit. He died in 1987 and his wife donated his music collection to the Musée Régionale de la Résistance et de la Déportation de Thionville (Regional Museum of the Resistance and Deportation at Thionville).

Daisy Fancourt. “Paul Arma,” on the Music and the Holocaust website Nd [Online] Cited 11/04/2021

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Arma's Hands, Paris' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Arma’s Hands, Paris
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 24 × 18 cm
Mount: 36.8 × 27.3cm
Art Institute of Chicago
Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Lajos Tihanyi' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Lajos Tihanyi
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.9cm
Card: 11.2 × 8.1cm

 

 

Lajos Tihanyi (29 October 1885 – 11 June 1938) was a Hungarian painter and lithographer who achieved international renown working outside his country, primarily in Paris, France. After emigrating in 1919, he never returned to Hungary, even on a visit.

Born in Budapest, as a young man, Tihanyi was part of the “Neoimpressionists” or “Neos”, and later the influential avant-garde group of painters called The Eight (A Nyolcak), founded in 1909 in Hungary. They were experimenting with styles of Post-Impressionism and rejected the naturalism of the Nagybánya artists’ colony. Their work is considered highly influential in establishing modernism in Hungary to 1918, when the First World War and revolution overtook the country.

After the fall of the Hungarian Democratic Republic in 1919, Tihanyi left and lived briefly in Vienna. He moved on to Berlin for a few years, where he connected with many Hungarian émigré writers and artists, such as Gyorgy Bölöni and the future Brassaï. By 1924 Tihanyi and numerous other artists moved to Paris, where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

In Paris, Tihanyi gradually shifted to more abstract styles in his work. His paintings and lithographs are held by the Hungarian National Gallery, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City, among other institutions, and by private collectors. With the centenary of The Eight’s first exhibition, Tihanyi has been featured in five exhibitions since 2004, including ones held in 2010 and 2012 in Hungary and Austria, and another in 2012 devoted to a solo retrospective of his work.

Text and more information on the artist can be found on his Wikipedia entry

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Satiric Dancer' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Satiric Dancer
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

“Do something with the spirit of the studio corner,” Kertész told his subject before he took this picture. He captured Hungarian dancer Magda Förstner in sculptor Etienne Beöthy’s studio, her contorted pose playfully mimicking the angular form of the work next to the sofa, Beöthy’s Direct Action. “She just made a movement. I took only two photographs. No need to shoot a hundred rolls like people do today. People in motion are wonderful to photograph. It means catching the right moment – the moment when something changes into something else.” Although Satiric Dancer, as it eventually came to be known, was not published or exhibited much during Kertész’s Paris years, it later became one of the artist’s most recognised images. Linking dance, sculpture, and photography, it evokes the ethos of sexual freedom and experimental self-expression that some women embraced in the 1920s as they shed patriarchal constraints, an ethos in which Kertész was steeped during his early years in Paris. It also reflects Förstner’s creative ends: she upends the traditional relationship between male artist and female model, such that Beöthy’s sculpture serves as inspiration for her own artistry.

 

Etienne Beöthy (Hungarian, 1897-1961)

István (Etienne) Beöthy (1897 – 27 November 1961) was a Hungarian sculptor and architect who mainly lived and worked in France.

After the First World War, in which he served, Beöthy began to study architecture in Budapest. There he was in contact with the avant-garde poet and painter Lajos Kassák, who familiarized him with the tenets of constructivism and suprematism. His earliest work as an architectural draftsman, from 1919, displayed constructivist tendencies. In that same year he would write the manifesto “Section d’Or” (The Golden Section), which did not appear in Paris until 1939.

From 1920 to 1924, Beöthy studied under János Vaszary at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. He travelled on a grant to Vienna, from where he undertook other travels to western Europe, until in 1925 he settled in Paris. Beöthy found a place in the Parisian art scene and took part in the exhibit of the Salon des Indépendants. In 1927 he married Anna Steiner, and in 1928 he had his first one-man show in the Galerie Sacre-Printemps.

In 1931, Beöthy co-founded the group Abstraction-Creation with sculptor Georges Vantongerloo and painter Auguste Herbin, and was its vice-president for a time. From 1931 to 1939, he had an exclusive contract with Leonce Rosenberg’s Galerie de l’Effort Moderne, and in 1938 he organised an exhibit in Budapest, which was the first exposure of his nonfigurative art to the public in Hungary. Like Herbin, he later explored parallels to other forms of self-expression, particularly music. His sculptures after this point develop along the lines of harmonies, which interact with each other like musical notes.

During World War II Beöthy designed fliers for the French Resistance. In 1946, he became a founding member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, and the Galerie Maeght in Paris showed a retrospective of his work. In 1951, he became a founding member of another group, “Espace”, and founded the journal “Formes et Vie”, with Fernand Léger and Le Corbusier. For a short time between 1952 and 1953, he gave lectures on colour and proportion to architecture classes at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in his subsequent years he worked together with architects and was otherwise part of the planning for the expansion of Le Havre.

Beöthy died in Paris on 27 November 1961.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Magda Förstner' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Magda Förstner (Standing in the doorway of Etienne Béothy’s studio)
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper, c. 1929
Image: 3 9/16 × 1 1/2″ (9.1 × 3.8cm)
Sheet: 5 1/8 × 1 11/16″ (13 × 4.3cm)
Mount: 14 1/2 × 10 11/16″ (36.8 × 27.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

In the year he met Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), André Kertész became acquainted with an aspiring [Hungarian] actress and cabaret singer named Magda Förstner (dates unknown). She was also his model for the celebrated Satiric Dancer.

Text from the Getty Museum website

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy's Cousin)' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Latin Quarter (Étienne Beöthy’s Cousin)
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 3  7/8 × 3 1/16″ (9.8 × 7.8 cm)
Sheet: 4 15/16 × 3 3/16″ (12.6 × 8.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Fork' 1928

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Fork
1928
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, purchased 1978

 

 

On the edge of a dinner plate, Kertész posed an ordinary fork. Its shadow traces a faithful double across the tabletop and bends into slanted stripes along the plate’s lip. Clean and modern, simple and unpretentious, this photograph asserted that art could be made with the humblest objects so long as they were carefully observed. Fork, as it came to be known, was an instant icon, featured in numerous international exhibitions and publications almost immediately after its making. One review of an exhibition in which it appeared read, “Among the still lives, one must above all admire a fork by André Kertész – yes, simply a fork – which is almost moving in its purity and its tones. It is perhaps the only image that gave me the impression of a true work of art.” Fork may have been the last image Kertész printed in the carte postale format. In 1928 he acquired a smaller, lightweight 35mm Leica camera, which gave him increased mobility and spontaneity but produced negatives too small for contact printing. He began photographing regularly for Parisian magazines, allowing them to crop and sequence works according to their own preferences. And his work was included in more international exhibitions, for which larger prints were more desirable. Nevertheless, he must have appreciated seeing Fork at carte postale scale, since he printed it at this size on different papers around the same time.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Legs' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Legs
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

On the back of this print, which he mailed home to Hungary, Kertész wrote, “Interesting coincidence. They claim it as being surrealistic, if it suits people better.” He recognised that the erotically suggestive image of overturned mannequin legs in a sculptor’s studio would have appealed to artists like photographer Man Ray, with whom he was becoming associated in exhibitions and criticism. But Kertész never embraced a fantastical approach to his work, maintaining firmly, “I am not a Surrealist. I am absolutely a realist.”

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Gundvor Berg in Her Studio' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Gundvor Berg in Her Studio
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 10.9 × 7.2cm
Card: 13.6 × 7.6cm

 

 

Andre Kertész: Postcards from Paris; Edited by Elizabeth Siegel; With essays by Sarah Kennel, Sylvie Penichon, and Elizabeth Siegel. Distributed for the Art Institute of Chicago

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Jean Sliwinsky, Herwarth Walden, and Friends at Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Jean Sliwinsky, Herwarth Walden, and Friends at Au Sacre du Printemps, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

At the Exhibition

Kertész took this photograph at his first major exhibition, held only a year and a half after he arrived in Paris. The 30 photographs showcased the fruits of an extraordinarily productive period. The works on the wall in the background of this photograph focused on still lifes and scenes of Paris.

This group of Kertész friends includes the gallery’s owner, Jan Sliwinsky [seated centre in the photograph]. Sliwinsky, who was a composer and pianist, was instrumental in connecting expatriate artists, musicians, and writers.

Included in the exhibition was a print of Chez Mondrian [bottom row second from right in the above photo; and below], which later became one of Kertész’s most well known images. Made in painter Piet Mondrian’s meticulously arranged studio, it is a study in contrasts: rectangles against curves, smooth surfaces against rough, and light against shadow.

Kertész made more carte postale prints of this image than of any other from the period, evidence, perhaps, of how much he esteemed it at the time of its making.

The works on view reflect Kertész’s engagement with the Parisian avant-garde and his widening circle of international artist friends.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
10.8 × 7.9 cm (image/paper); 37.2 × 27.4 cm (mount)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, gift of Jean and Julien Levy

 

 

Kertész’s encounter with Dutch painter Piet Mondrian marked a turning point in the photographer’s early Paris years. The geometry and balance of Mondrian’s painting – which extended to his rigorously controlled studio space – had a lasting effect on Kertész’s work. He captured the painter and his living space several times, culminating in this image showing the door of Mondrian’s studio opening onto a common stairway. Kertész later recalled the moment he took the picture: “I could see how the inside and the outside contrasted and yet balanced each other, aided by the natural light and shadows… Everything was there before me.” Kertész made at least eight prints of Chez Mondrian in the carte postale format, more than of any other image, an indication of how much the artist appreciated it at the time of its making. The photograph eventually became one of his most famous and enduring works. Kertész trimmed and mounted the version here in the style he favoured for exhibition.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Sculptures' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Sculptures
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of Patricia Corkin Kennedy and John Kennedy in honour of Jane Corkin

 

 

This photograph captures a tabletop sculpture by the German handcraft artist Hilda Daus. It can be seen third from left in the middle row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Hilda Daus' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Hilda Daus
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Jane Corkin, Toronto

 

 

Hilda Daus was a German handcraft artist; Kertész also made a carte postale print of her delicate tabletop sculptures. He included the image here in his first exhibition in Paris, in 1927 at the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps, where Daus also exhibited.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Paul Dermée' 1927

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Paul Dermée
1927
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

Belgian poet Paul Dermée was one of the founders of L’Esprit Nouveau, an avant-garde art journal that had ceased publication some years before but which he helped revive for one more issue in 1927. The issue, which debuted one month after Kertész’s exhibition at the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps, placed his photographs among works by an international group of artists active in Paris and elsewhere in Europe. Dermée also penned a poem in honour of the exhibition, which was featured on the invitation.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Wall of Posters' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Wall of Posters
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund, The Manfred Heiting Collection

 

 

The exhibition also included Kertész’s scenes of Paris streets, made in a diaristic fashion on exploratory walks through his new city. This photograph [fifth from the left on the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph] demonstrates the artist’s new interest in the geometry of typography as well as his sympathy for the city’s clochards, or vagrants.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Fairground, Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Fairground, Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Private collection, courtesy of Corkin Gallery, Toronto

 

 

Fairgrounds were particularly appealing to the photographer. Visitors could also have carte postale prints made of themselves playing games or posed in whimsical scenes. In this image [see third from left on the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph], Kertész capitalised on an elevated view, something he often explored in his portraits of artists in their studios.

Kertész’s exhibition shared the space with the abstract paintings of Ida Thal, another Hungarian artist. As the photographer absorbed formal lessons from avant-garde painters, sculptors, and designers, his work became more carefully composed.

Kertész’s exhibition drew praise from critics. The Chicago Tribune, reviewing the show, called him “one of the few talented photographers who recognise that their medium possesses the necessary qualifications for being an independent art.”

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894-1985) and are gelatin silver prints on carte postale paper.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian's Pipe and Glasses' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Pipe and Glasses
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker

 

 

With this photograph [second from left in the bottom row of the Au Sacre du Printemps photograph], Kertész perfected his technique of making a portrait in the absence of the sitter, evoking the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian with only his glasses, pipe, and ashtray. Whereas his images of Mondrian’s studio emphasised the straight lines and right angles of the space, here Kertész highlighted circular elements that allude to human shapes amid a rectilinear environment.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian's Studio' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Studio
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
4 3/16 × 2 5/8″ (10.7 × 6.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Mondrian' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
4 5/16 × 3 1/8″ (10.9 × 7.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Géza Blattner' 1925

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Géza Blattner
1925
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
3 1/16 × 3 1/4″ (7.7 × 8.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

 

Géza Blattner (Hungarian, 1893-1967)

Hungarian puppeteer, painter/stage designer and director who worked mostly in France. Géza Blattner studied painting in Munich (Germany) with the Hungarian painter Simon Hollósy. He became involved with puppetry during World War I by collaborating on productions of the Budapest City Theatre. To the great dismay of his parents he then dedicated himself fully to puppetry and completed his training with Richard Teschner in Vienna and Paul Brann in Munich.

In Budapest, in 1919, he held his first “secessionist” puppet show for adults entitled Wajang játékok (Wayang Plays), (see Wayang) using flat figures animated by strings to present works by famous Hungarian authors such as Dezső Kosztolányi and Béla Balázs. Between 1919 and 1925, he attempted to recreate fairground shows with Antal Németh (1903-1967), who later became a famous Hungarian theatre personality and an influential advocate of puppetry. Blattner also experimented with new lever-operated puppets (also called keyboard puppets) which he later improved upon after he immigrated to France in 1925.

Géza Blattner settled in Paris where he established the Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) Puppet Theatre. Artists from all over gathered around him: Constantin Detre, Sándor Toth, Marie Vassilieff … Others joined them later: Paul Jeanne, Frédéric O’Brady, Sigismund Walleshausen. The first important public show was in Paris at the 2nd UNIMA Congress in 1929. Up until 1934, Blattner performed experimental, “grotesque” or aesthetic pantomime productions with his puppets, and then later added classic mysteries and a variety of dramatic works.

Géza Blattner was one of the first to break with the traditional style of dialogue and naturalism to create a visual theatre that introduced new values in puppetry performance. He exerted a strong influence in Europe, especially in France and Hungary.

Géza Balogh. “Géza Blattner,” on the World Encyclopaedia of Puppetry Arts website (translated Anne Nguyen) 2013 [Online] Cited 11/04/2022

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris' 1926-1929

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris
1926-1929
Gelatin silver print on carte postale paper
Image: 3 1/8 × 3 7/8″ (7.9 × 9.8cm)
Sheet: 3 5/16 × 5 3/16″ (8.4 × 13.2cm)
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

 

The postcards are beautifully executed and finished works. Mondrian’s Studio (1926; MoMA 1722.2001) is one of several prints made from a single negative, as Kertész refined this now-famous image by cropping it. Most of the prints, such as Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris (1926-1929, above), have been expertly retouched or etched with a sharp tool in order to remove technical flaws in the image, such the dust spots that inevitably occur during printing (fig. 13). Kertész also retouched his negatives to reduce what might be considered flaws in the appearance of his subjects, such as, in Mondrian (fig. 15), the lines around the artist’s mouth (fig. 16). Other prints show slightly more invasive interventions, where various design elements have been reinforced with an unidentified medium that has been so skilfully applied with a brush that it is difficult to see even under magnification (fig. 14). Such subtle alterations have been used by photographers since the invention of the medium.

Nancy Reinhold. “Exhibition in a Pocket: The Cartes Postales of André Kertész,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg (eds.,). Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

 

'André Kertész – Postcards from Paris' book cover

 

André Kertész – Postcards from Paris book cover

 

 

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26
Mar
22

Exhibition: ‘The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved’ at the Museo Picasso Málaga

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2021 – 3rd April 2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Steps of Montmartre with a white dog, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
30 x 40cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

A quick text today as I’m still not well with bronchitis.

I really struggled to get images for this posting, the museum supplying 12 of the 21 photographs while I gathered the rest after seeing an installation image from the exhibition and deciphering further images from the preview to the catalogue of the exhibition on the Amazon website.

If you are interested in the subject matter – photographs of an environment where Picasso was in his element, a volcano at the epicentre of a vibrant, creative city – then I think the catalogue would be the way to go… but at close to $100 for just 152 pages the cost might seem a little excessive.

My favourite images in the posting are the two atmospheric photographs of Picasso’s sculptures in his studios.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris' 1947

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
A chair in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
23 x 17.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris' 1930

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Luxembourg Gardens basin, Paris
1930
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.3cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Au Cochon Limousin' 1935

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
‘Au cochon limousin’, rue Lecourbe, Paris
1935
Gelatin silver print, modern copy
29.8 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Fat Claude and her girlfriend at Le Monocle, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
27.6 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Kiki with her accordion player at the Cabaret des Fleurs, Rue de Montparnasse
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Trapeze artists, Medano Circus' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Trapeze artists, Medano Circus
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard' 1933

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Colonne Morris dans le Brouillard
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris' 1930-1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris
1930-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.6 x 22.9cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

  • The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved, presented by Museo Picasso Málaga, shows the work of one of the most famous European photographers of the first half of the 20th century. With his work, Brassaï helped to create the universal public image of Paris, the Eternal City. It is displayed here alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux, and with period piece films, posters, sheet music and a large quantity of documentary material.
  • Brassaï’s photographs invite the viewer to wander through Paris, with its river Seine, Notre Dame, its brothels and its markets. His conjured up a superb depiction of society in his many shots of the intellectual, literary, and artistic scene of 1930s and 1940s Paris, ranging from Sartre to Beckett.
  • This exhibition has been organised with sponsorship from Fundación Unicaja and the special collaboration of Estate Brassaï succession, Paris; Institut Français, Seville, and Musée national Picasso-Paris. It sheds light on the professional relationship and friendship between Brassaï and Picasso, who considered Brassaï to be the best photographer of his work.

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Brassaï arrived in Paris from Hungary in 1924. Little by little, he discovered the dynamic nature and the social idiosyncrasies of the great metropolis. While he initially explored the city’s nightlife, over time he began to create a precise X-ray of its architecture and its people. He joined the fascinating intellectual and artistic avant-garde community of which Picasso was a member, becoming one of its finest eyewitness photographers. But Brassaï was not just a photographer, he was also a versatile artist who drew, made sculptures, decorated, and made films.

As a photographer, Brassaï constructed a visual topography of the city of light (and shadows) in the 1930s and 40s, but this exhibition also aims to show him as a prolific creative artist. The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved features over 300 works, with photographs, drawings and sculptures that come mainly from the Brassaï family archives (Estate Brassaï Succession). Also on display are photographs and artworks by Pablo Picasso, alongside works by Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Lucien Clergue, Fernand Léger, Dora Maar and Henri Michaux.

Films, posters, musical scores, theatre programmes and a large quantity of documentary material from the Paris of that period, make up an exhibition that takes the visitor back to an unforgettable city and time.

The structure of the exhibition comprises four sections that relate to film, the visual arts, literature, and music, based on the photographic work of one of the most famous photographers of the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition layout begins with Who is Brassaï? which displays artistic works whose main feature is their expressive freedom. Paris by Day features scenes from everyday life as if they were being shown for the first time: Paris by Night is a journey through a city of shadows that evokes the melancholy that emanated from the streets and characters. Conversations with Picasso brings together work by the two artists who enjoyed a long-lasting professional and personal relationship.

 

The Eye of Paris

Brassaï was the pseudonym of Gyula Halász (1899-1984), a Hungarian photographer who was best known for his work on Paris, the city where he made his career. When he was three years old, his family moved to the French capital, in the year that his father, a professor of literature, was teaching at the Sorbonne. As a young man, Brassaï studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, before joining the Cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. In 1920, he went to live in Berlin to work as a journalist and to study at the University of the Arts. In 1924, he moved back to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. He soon made friends with writers Henry Miller (who described him in one of his books as “the eye of Paris”), León-Paul Fargue and Jacques Prévert. Inspired by his frequent night-time walks around Paris, Gyula Halász asked to borrow a camera to capture the beauty of the streets and gardens in the rain and fog. He used poetic metaphors in these pictures, leading more than one graphic reporter to describe him as a poet with a camera. He then began to sign his work with the pseudonym Brassaï. It means “the man from Brasso”, his birthplace, which is now part of Romania.

In the 1930s, Paris was by no means a feast. Various events were leaving their mark on a new age, with major financial and political repercussions. The decade began with one of the greatest financial crises the world had ever experienced: the Great Depression. This was to lead to the collapse of the financial system and to poverty for thousands of families. Europe was facing the possibility of new wars and uprisings that would lead to the rise of totalitarianism. Culture and art were not blind to these events, but art dealers and artists were irresistibly drawn to Paris, seeking in the City of Light a new artistic and personal life that matched their ideals, along with the necessary freedom to make them happen.

Brassaï’s photographic work during these years helped to construct the image we have today of the French capital, with its depictions of artistic, social and intellectual life. He took X-ray-like shots of the great city, during the day and at night, from its dark alleyways to it dazzling social and artistic scene. The exhibition The Paris of Brassaï. Photographs of the City Picasso Loved shows the modern, cosmopolitan city par excellence, in a Europe that bore the hallmarks of the great changes brought about by 19th-century industry and by the international exhibitions of the early 20th-century. It was a city that Brassaï loved, as did his colleague and friend, Pablo Picasso.

 

Night Walks

In 1932 he published his first photographic book, “Paris de Nuit”. It contained high-contrast night shots with full bleed and no margins that feature the play of light and shadow, taken on streets, squares, rooftops, street corners, gardens, buildings and monuments. During his nocturnal wanderings, smoking cigarette after cigarette, the gaslights, fog and car headlights lit up a unique Paris, transforming its rigorously classical architecture and capturing the strange beauty of the fleeting shadows. His negatives became black and white photographs with a strong sense of mystery. They are pictures that alter your perception of the familiar. “Paris de Nuit” was a cultural sensation and a well-deserved success that caught the attention of leading art magazines such as Minotaure, one of the most important cultural publications of the time.

Brassaï liked to say that his birthplace was very close to that of Count Dracula, and that, like him, he was a nocturnal creature. For this reason, in several of his unforgettable photobooks he showed an alternative Paris, with scenes in brothels and bars where young gay men, lesbians and transvestites are all seen having fun. They also contain scenes from the city’s social life, high society, and intellectual circles.

 

Portraying the Intellectual Circles

The photographer himself described 1932 and 1933 as the most important years of his life. It was during these years that he met the key figures of Parisian cultural life, many of whom were also foreigners, and he evolved alongside the intellectual milieu and the artistic avant-garde movements that were flourishing in Paris at the time.

His earliest works coincided with the rise of Surrealism in France. The movement believed that photography encouraged a division of the poetic personality simultaneously into subject and object. But although his pictures display the same attraction to the dreamworld expressed by the surrealists, and his series on graffiti indicates his interest in the wonder of random discovery and the primitive world, Brassaï always denied belonging to the movement. His photographs, based on the traditional realist style, are evocative images that condense the atmosphere of a brief moment, without becoming documentary photography.

Brassaï was part of the Paris intellectual circle, as was Picasso, at a time when art was flourishing. He took photographs of artists who were to become the sacred monsters of our age, many of whom were his friends: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, as well as leading writers of the time such as Jean Genet and Henri Michaux. His portraits reveal his great skill at capturing the personality of his sitters, creating a collective portrait of the intellectual circle.

 

On the Walls of Paris

Brassaï was the first person in the history of modern photography to intuitively consider the camera as a tool with which to dissect urban life. “The eye of Paris”, as Henry Miller dubbed him in one of his essays, also directed his gaze at the drawings, marks and doodles on Paris walls. He came across these popular anonymous signs and imprints on walls during his walks along Parisian alleyways: faces, symbols, animals, handprints, the scratched-on outlines of sketches… They were captivatingly primitive, and he elevated them to the status of “Art Maudit” or Damned Art because, for him, they were more than just ways for people to express themselves.

Over the years, Brassaï compiled a catalogue of the marks that the capital’s inhabitants left on its walls, with photos that no editor would publish, until at last they were collected together in a book, Graffiti (1961), after Edward Steichen declared his admiration for this work and his intention of organising an exhibition at MoMA in New York. When Brassaï immortalised these street pictures, the term graffiti had not yet been coined, and it was not until the 1980s that it finally became classified as Urban or Street Art.

Brassaï was a prolific creative artist who also produced drawings and sculptures, wrote numerous articles and published 17 books. His film Tant qu’il y aura des bêtes won the award for the best original short film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956, and in 1978 he won France’s Grand Prix National de la Photographie.

 

Brassaï / Picasso. A Friendship

Photography constantly accompanied Picasso, not only as a testimony to his life, but often revealing his personality, work and inner circle. Of all the many relationships he struck up in Paris with writers, essayists, playwrights and visual artists, the Museo Picasso Málaga exhibition focuses on the close and prolific professional relationship between Brassaï and Pablo Picasso.

In December. 1932, the art critic Tériade invited Brassaï to take pictures of Picasso, his studio and his sculptures, to illustrate the first issue of Minotaure. This collaboration led to a long and sincere friendship that was sustained by mutual admiration. Brassaï was fascinated by Picasso’s personality, and Picasso admired the photographer’s unbiased gaze. The two friends were both foreigners in the big city: one of them was to become one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and the other, the great artist who changed the history of art. They shared an extraordinary gift for observation, as well as great curiosity. They both collected strange objects that had been thrown away and found again by chance, and they shared a keen interest in primitive art, art brut, bones, poetry and graffiti. They also had a common dislike of focussing on a single discipline, in their urge to explore other creative fields.

This obvious and very special complicity meant that Brassaï became an exceptional witness to Picasso’s private world: the places where he created art, the works themselves, his family life and his friends. Brassaï was one of the few people Picasso allowed free access to his studios, and he was the first to photograph his sculptures. The Málaga-born artist opened the doors of his studios to him in Boisgeloup, La Boétie and Grands Augustins, successively. Brassaï had a great sense of detail, he knew how to put order into disorder, and he composed his photographs in an almost architectural way, giving a new dimension to the works Picasso created and the objects and materials with which he surrounded himself.

One of the most important books in terms of getting to know Picasso, is Brassaï’s Conversations with Picasso (1964), a fascinating text that is outstanding for the immediacy and detail of a man who wrote in the same way he took pictures. This chronicle, which Brassaï illustrated with over 50 photographs, runs from September 1943 – eleven years after he first met Picasso – to September 1962. It provides us with two decades-worth of the artist’s story and, above all, of an environment where Picasso was the epicentre, while at the same time describing the history of art and the main events of those years. The relationship between Brassaï and Picasso remained intact until the Spaniard’s death in 1973. Brassaï died in the South of France in 1984 and was buried in Montparnasse cemetery, in the city that both he and Picasso loved.

For the occasion, Museo Picasso Málaga and La Fábrica have jointly published the photobook Brassaï (Paris & Picasso), which contains 105 full-page photographs and an excerpt from the text in which Henry Miller dubbed Brassaï “The eye of Paris”. This bi-lingual hardback edition is printed on coated paper, to highlight the photographs’ half-tones and nuances of light and shade. The book is now available to purchase from the Museo Picasso Málaga bookshop and is due to be distributed to Spanish, European and US bookshops.

Press release from the Museo Picasso Málaga

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The fireplace in Pablo Picasso's studio, Rue La Boétie' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The fireplace in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Rue La Boétie
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso in the studio on Rue la Boétie, in front of the portrait of Yadwigha by Henri Rousseau, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
28.1 x 21.8cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

“When I enter the studio, I leave my body at the door… I only allow my spirit to go in there and paint”

.
Pablo Picasso

 

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso's studio, Boisgeloup' December 1932

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Plaster sculptures in Pablo Picasso’s studio, Boisgeloup
December 1932
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

In 1930, Picasso acquires a house and land near Gisors, Normandy, with the aim of creating monumental sculptures. Of those he creates there, La femme au vase (Woman with Vase), a piece from 1933, stands out for its great symbolic weight, given that it is placed on the artist’s tomb in the Château of Vauvenargues. But it is above all the busts of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his young secret lover, who both Brassaï and Boris Kochno capture with their respective lenses in attempts to recreate the peculiar atmosphere of that country studio, inhabited by strange creatures. While Kochno’s report is that of an amateur, Brassaï’s is a commission for the first issue of Minotaure art magazine, from 1933, accompanying a text by André Breton, “Picasso dans son élément” (Picasso in his Element), which reveals Picasso as a sculptor, a facet of his work that was completely unknown until then.

Anonymous text from the Museo Picasso website Nd [Online] Cited 11/03/2022

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Weekend, Paris' 1936

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Weekend, Paris
1936
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Man with Ram (1943), Bust of Dora Maar (1941) and Seated Cat (1941-1943) by Pablo Picasso, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.7cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris' 1939

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Pablo Picasso at the window of his studio on the Rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1939
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris' Paris, 26 February 1945

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Ile de la Cité – vue de Notre-Dame de Paris
Paris, 26 February 1945
Oil on canvas
80 x 120cm
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands- Augustins, Paris' 1943

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Detail of the plaster sculpture Woman with Leaves (Pablo Picasso, 1934) in the studio on the rue des Grands Augustins, Paris
1943
Gelatin silver print
27.7 x 22.1cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup' 1934

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Woman with Leaves, Boisgeloup
1934
Original plaster varnished
38.5 x 27.5 x 21cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
On temporary loan to the Museo Picasso Málaga
© Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2021

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato' 1931

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Circumstantial Magic. Sprouting Potato
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'The Sun King, Paris' 1930-1950

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
The Sun King, Paris
1930-1950
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
40 x 29.5cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984) 'Le Poussin' 1955

 

Brassaï (Hungarian-French, 1899-1984)
Le Poussin
1955
From the Graffiti series
Gelatin silver print
© Estate Brassaï Succession-Philippe Ribeyrolles

 

 

Museo Picasso Málaga
Palacio de Buenavista C/ San Agustín, 8
29015 Málaga, Spain

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 7pm

Museo Picasso Málaga website

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20
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Man Ray: The Paris Years’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

Curator: Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait with Camera
1930
Solarised gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

I remember many many years ago (2004) the National Gallery of Victoria held a major exhibition of the work of Man Ray, the first large-scale exhibition of Man Ray’s photography to have been presented in Australia. The exhibition was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales where it set an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors, before travelling to Brisbane and Melbourne – which exhibitions did in those days between state capitals, alas no longer.

All these years later I still remember being impressed by the technical, almost scientific element – and elemental – aspect of Man Ray’s photography, the sheer intensity of his images, and their small, jewel-like size. I was less impressed by the lack of feeling the photographs gave me, as though the photographs were scientific experiments which emphasised “his techniques of framing, cropping, solarising and use of the photogram in order to present a new, ‘surreal’ way of seeing” and which, to my young photographic eyes, saw their lush and enigmatic beauty subsumed in an unemotional technical exercise.

Concentrating on his portrait photographs during his Paris years, this exhibition includes more than 100 portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940. “In choosing portraits for the exhibit, the curator’s objective was to present the complete picture of Man Ray’s pantheon of cultural luminaries… “Since this exhibition is all about storytelling, we wanted to highlight the femme moderne and tell the public of their fierce individuality and creativity,” [Michael] Taylor says, explaining that the women’s inclusion makes for a more dynamic and meaningful exhibition. “These are musicians, models and performers whose contributions have been marginalized due to the legacy of colonialism and racism.” … The portraits chosen for “Man Ray: the Paris Years” reflect not only the staggering range of techniques Ray employed during his Parisian years, but also the fascinating people who inhabited his world. “Innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and completely original, Ray’s portraits are unlike the work of any of his contemporaries,” Taylor says.”1

But to my mind Man Ray’s other photography during this period, such as his 1922 album Champs Délicieux which contained 12 Dada inspired Rayographs (some of his first), his surreal photographic solarisations and his portfolio, Électricité (Electricity) (1931) are more expressive and revolutionary avant-garde statements of the creative power of photography than ever his portraits are.

And while his portrait photographs may be experimental and groundbreaking – all about technique – are they good portraits? That’s the key question. To my eyes his portraits have a “lumpy” quality to them, a kind of enigmatic blankness that never reveals much of the sitters personality. The doll-like beauty of Kiki de Montparnasse (c. 1924, below) becomes a later abstract wistfulness both photographs revealing nothing; a tough, shielded Gertrude Stein (at Home) (1922, below) is not a patch on Imogen Cunningham’s engaging, challenging portrait of 1934; and the portrait of Elsie Houston (1933, below) is just plain uncomfortable in its placement of the bandaged head and hand in the pictorial frame.

Apparently, Man Ray “was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.” Allegedly.

A volcanic unconscious. Who writes this stuff? I often feel I am looking at different photographs than the ones other people are writing about. Again, “Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative.” No it doesn’t… I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer! Compared to a Weston, Sander or Lange, a Stieglitz, Arbus or Julia Margaret Cameron, Man Ray’s portraits are modestly proficient evocations at best.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate. You had made it… immortalised in the negative, promoted in the positive. There is the key. To be worthy, to be “fashion” able. After all, Man Ray was running a commercial photographic studio with Berenice Abbott as his assistant in order to make a living. After Man Ray fired her in 1926 Abbott set up her own studio and they became business rivals.

The two most enticing portrait photographs in the posting are both wistful visages of the female: the slightly out of focus, low depth of field beauty of the direct Lee Miller, an ex-lover of Man Ray, staring down the desiring male gaze, like the most glamorous and scientifically symmetrically perfect “mug shot” you have ever seen; and the soft sfumato (which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated”) background to the contemporary Mona Lisa that is the vulnerable, tender Berenice Abbott surrounded by vanished shadows and evaporated space. “Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn’t count. What counts is the knowledge,” observes Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin.2

Science, knowledge and atmosphere. Only in this portrait of Berenice Abbott does Man Ray take his love of science and knowledge and approach what Preston Duncan observes: “It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release.”

A final thought emerges in my consciousness. I wondered whether there is a photograph of Man Ray by Berenice Abbott? Not that I can find…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Karen Newton. “Storytelling Portraits,” on the Style Weekly website August 31, 2021 [Online] Cited 20/02/2022
  2. Anonymous text. “…Leonardo’s masterful technique,” on the PBS Treasures of the World website [Online] Cited 20/02/2022

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

 

 

“The story of Man Ray and Paris has been told, but it’s usually been told through the lens – pardon the pun, it’s a photography show – of Man Ray’s innovations; the Rayograph, Solarization, his friendships, and his network. But what about the subjects?” says Chief Curator, Dr. Michael Taylor. “We took inspiration from the photograph on the cover of this show. It’s the first work you see in the exhibition. This is actually Man Ray taking your portrait. In other words, […] even though it’s called a self-portrait, a camera is photographing him, but he is looking at you with his camera. So we started to think about not just telling Man Ray’s story, which is fascinating, but the story of the sitters, the subjects, the models. …

While the primary focus of the exhibit is on portraiture and the radical expressiveness of his subjects – from the vanguards of femme moderne culture to aerialists in drag – there are some detours into avant-garde Rayography and cinema. This diversity of expression is resonant with Man Ray’s professional dedication to dismantling boundaries – those of gender, race, and national identity, as well as artistic traditionalism and aesthetic philosophy. …

Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative. It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release. It confronts us with the fact we are all winging this strange dance, contributing our solitary note to an overture that is entirely improvised, sharing in the simple hope that we may, for an instant, hear the enormity of the score.”

.
Preston Duncan. “The View From Paris,” on the RVA website November 3, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/02/2022

 

All the men of the age are there: Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Andre Breton, Picasso and Braque. Equally present are the era’s modern women, including Bernice Abbott, the rarely-as-well-photographed Gertrude Stein, Lee Miller and Virginia Woolf. The real stars, however, are the unknowns. Or rather, those unknown-to-us. “Man Ray used photography to challenge the artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” says Michael Taylor, the museum’s chief curator, who conceived the exhibition.

.
Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1924
Gelatin silver print
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Alice Ernestine Prin (French, 1901-1953)

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and often known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s.

Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries, but by the age of fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.

Adopting a single name, “Kiki”, she became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artist’s model, posing for dozens of artists, including Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moïse Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.

Her companion for most of the 1920s was Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her. She can be considered his muse at the time and the subject of some of his best-known images, including the surrealist image Le violon d’Ingres and Noire et blanche (see below).

She appeared in nine short and frequently experimental films, including Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique without any credit.

A painter in her own right, in 1927 Prin had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her work with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism. …

A symbol of bohemian and creative Paris and of the possibility of being a woman and finding an artistic place, at the age of twenty-eight she was declared the Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying “all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War II, which entered the city in June 1940. …

Prin died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat in Montparnasse, at the age of fifty-one, apparently of complications of alcoholism or drug dependence. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her Paris funeral and followed the procession to her interment in the Cimetière parisien de Thiais. Her tomb identifies her as “Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actress, painter, Queen of Montparnasse.” Tsuguharu Foujita has said that, with Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnasse were buried forever.

Long after her death, Prin remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked that period of life in Montparnasse. She represents a strong artistic force in her own right as a woman. In 1989, biographers Billy Klüver and Julie Martin called her “one of the century’s first truly independent women.” In her honour, a daylily has been named Kiki de Montparnasse.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et Blanche
1926
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 8¼ in. (17.5 x 21cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Gertrude Stein (at Home)' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Gertrude Stein (at Home)
1922
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16”H × 6 1/16”W (20.16 × 15.4cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Berenice Abbott' 1921, printed later

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Berenice Abbott
1921, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1926 Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realised that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps”) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture
1936
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Photographed during the year in which her liaison with Edward VIII became public and he abdicated the throne of the British Empire.

 

 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces its upcoming exhibition, Man Ray: The Paris Years, on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021, through February 21, 2022. Organised by Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, the exhibition includes more than 100 compelling portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, featuring cultural luminaries such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray with funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, film, sculpture and painting, photography would be his primary means of artistic expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his era. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-fashioning of his subjects. Whether they had their portrait taken to promote their work, affirm their self-image, project their desires, fulfil their dreams or create a new identity, Man Ray’s sitters were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble to be shaped and coerced, but were instead highly creative cultural and thought leaders who were active participants in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective sitters and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Paris Years empowers the subjects portrayed in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realised in monographic accounts of modern artists.

“Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Paris Years will prove to be a visually provocative and especially relevant exhibition,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is an opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” said Taylor. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and aimed instead to capture the essence of his sitters as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of Les Années folles (the crazy years) of Paris between the two world wars.”

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important constituency of the avant-garde at this time, namely the femme moderne (modern woman). Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-assured modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder took full advantage of their unprecedented freedom and access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals to their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women were interested in erasing sexual differences,” said Taylor. “They often embraced the symbolic trappings and autonomy of their male counterparts including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes and sporting tightly cropped ‘bobbed’ haircuts.”

The exhibition also tells the important stories of Black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the margins of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist’s series of portraits of the dancer and singer Ruby Richards, who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and grew up in Harlem, New York, brings to light an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been acknowledged in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace the legendary African American performer Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère, and the famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce her to French audiences through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects portrayed in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the flamenco dancer Prou del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum that has free general admission and is open 365 days a year, VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. This data has informed the museum’s decision to incorporate dual-language labels throughout the Man Ray: The Paris Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognising that English is not the native language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA is offering content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Informed by extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

Press release from VMFA

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Mossé was a surrealist artist and performer in a lesbian cabaret.

 

Ray’s double portraits are among his most spellbinding. Two feature Nusch Éluard, the actress, acrobat and hypnotist’s assistant who married the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. One shows Nusch with the openly bisexual actress, singer, surrealist and model Sonia Mossé. Taken in 1937, the photograph trembles with the intimacy and uncanniness of the culminating scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” where the face of Bibi Andersson begins to merge with that of Liv Ullmann. …

To try to square Man Ray’s magical, tender double portrait with Mossé’s subsequent life, as sketched in by Taylor in the catalogue, is to feel the 20th century – stretched to breaking point by the contrary forces of personal liberation and vicious repression – suddenly snap, like the shutter of a camera taking a photograph no one can bear to look at.

Mossé, writes Taylor, was romantically involved with the French dramatist Antonin Artaud. Best known for conceptualising the Theater of Cruelty movement, Artaud had tried to break off their relationship in 1939 “via handwritten malediction” (a letter in which he wrote curses – e.g., “You will live dead” – in an envelope containing drawings and burned holes).

But Mossé would never receive it. War had broken out. And on Feb. 11, 1943, Mossé and her stepsister Esther were denounced as Jews to the Gestapo. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp in a northeastern suburb of Paris and then to the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland, where Mossé was murdered in a gas chamber.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Igor Stravinsky
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1922
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

The American Surrealist Man Ray made a number of portraits of Picasso over the years, beginning with this photograph that appeared in the July 1922 issue of Vanity Fair. It was taken on the second floor of Picasso’s apartment at 23 rue de La Boëtie in Paris, where he established a studio in November 1918 and completed many of the Cubist paintings that form the background of this portrait. Man Ray’s portrait brilliantly captures both sides of Picasso’s personality at this time, since the proud and successful artist is also shown to be emotionally distant and seemingly uncomfortable with his newfound wealth and fame.

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Constantin Brancusi' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Constantin Brancusi
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 10 1/4″ (23.5 x 26cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Feathers' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Feathers (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ruby Richards (aka The Black Pearl) was a singer and dancer born in Saint Christopher Island (Saint Kitts) in the West Indies.

In 1938 the dancer and singer moved to Paris to replace Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère. The famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce Richards to French audiences through his innovative portrait photographs.

 

 

Louis Jordan Soundie: Fuzzy Wuzzy

Featuring Louis Jordan and His Tympany Band with dancer Ruby Richards (recorded on New Year’s Eve 1942).

 

Man Ray. 'Ruby Richards' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Diamonds' c. 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Diamonds
c. 1938
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro, Miami
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin
1937
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

He called her his “little black sun.” Born in Guadeloupe, Adrienne Fidelin was the American artist’s partner in Paris before World War II tore them apart. She appears in almost 400 of the renowned artist’s photographs, and in 1937 became the first Black model to be featured in a leading U.S. fashion magazine. However, she was pushed to the sidelines of history. …

Man Ray himself only mentions Fidelin fleetingly in his autobiography. This marginalisation continues today, despite current efforts to recognise the stories of people of colour throughout history…

Adrienne Fidelin was born on March 4, 1915, in Pointe-à-Pitre. At the age of 13, she lost her mother in a hurricane that devastated Guadeloupe, and her father died a few years later. The orphaned teenager joined other members of her family living in Paris in the early 1930s. At the time, the French capital was under the thrall of the Colonial Exposition and obsessed with France’s far-flung colonies. At the Bal Blomet, a cabaret in the 15th arrondissement, the West Indian diaspora and the artistic avant-garde partied to the sounds of Creole biguine music, and Fidelin joined a Guadeloupean dance company.

This is most likely where she and Man Ray first set eyes on each other. She was 19, he was 44. In a diary entry dated December 29, 1934, the artist simply wrote “Ady.” Wendy Grossman discovered this valuable evidence of their first meeting in the Man Ray archives at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The following year, he wrote down her number (“Odéon 79-95”) and photographed her wearing a simple white tank top. The artist and the dancer were inseparable. On May 13, 1937, Man Ray combined their names in a tender Surrealist pairing, writing “Manady” and “Adyman” in his diary. …

On September 15, 1937, a full-page portrait photo of Fidelin taken by Man Ray was published in the U.S. magazine Harper’s Bazaar – a first in segregated America. However, captured “wearing a tiger-tooth necklace, an ivory arm bracelet, and a Belgian Congo headdress, and adopting a seductive pose, Fidelin was presumed to represent the sensual African ‘native’ identified in the article’s title,” writes Wendy Grossman. “The article shows how the Surrealist movement exoticised ‘the other.'”

Man Ray found a partner in Fidelin, but their relationship was asymmetrical. “She stops me from sinking into pessimism,” he wrote. “She does everything: shining my shoes, making me breakfast, and painting the backdrops on my large canvases.” Fidelin also danced in the “negro clubs” on the Champs-Elysées and worked with photographers and directors looking for “exotic girls.” …

The couple was torn apart when the Wehrmacht entered Paris in June 1940. After trying – and failing – to flee to the Côte d’Azur together, Man Ray returned to the United States alone. The lovers continued writing each other for a few months, but the war severely impacted the postal service and Man Ray soon fell in love with another dancer in Hollywood. Fidelin remained in Paris, married another man in 1957, and died in a retirement home a few miles outside Albi in Southern France [February 5, 2004].

Clément Thiery. “Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray’s Forgotten Muse,” on the Fance-Amérique website February 2, 2022 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Adrienne Fidelin with washboard' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Adrienne Fidelin with washboard
1937
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 23cm
Collection Musée Picasso
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' (portrait for "Ulysses") 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce (portrait for “Ulysses”)
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

If, in the early 1920s, you happened to walk into Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate Sylvia Beach, you would have noticed that the walls were covered with photographic portraits by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Beach. The habitues of Shakespeare and Company famously included such somebodies as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1922, Beach commissioned Ray (1890-1976) to make a publicity photograph of James Joyce, the Irish novelist whose book “Ulysses” she was about to publish (to her everlasting glory). That same year, Ray photographed Marcel Proust on his deathbed (below).

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Marcel Proust on His Deathbed' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Marcel Proust on His Deathbed
1922
Gelatin silver print
Mark Kelman, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ~ Marcel Proust

 

Ravaged by bronchitis and pneumonia, Marcel Proust spent the last night of his life dictating manuscript changes for a section of his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Man Ray did not know Proust, but he had become such an important photographer that mutual friends dispatched him to the celebrated French author’s bedside to make a final portrait two days after his death. The side view associates Man Ray’s photograph with a tradition of postmortem photography dating back to the inception of the medium.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October / November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Elsie Houston' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Elsie Houston
1933
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“Houston sang Brazilian folk songs by candlelight in Paris. She moved to New York in 1939, where she performed as a possessed woman muttering “voodoo” incantations and playing the drums. She died in her home in 1943, an empty vial of sleeping pills by her bedside. In Ray’s photograph, her smile is soft. Her head tilts in line with her elongated hand. That hand is adorned with a piece of jewellery in the shape of a spotted disc, which rhymes with her hoop earring and the arches of her eyebrows. The cool, clean contrasts of her white turban and dark clothes make the portrait one of Ray’s finest.”

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Elsie Houston (Brazilian, 1902-1943)

Elsie Houston (22 April 1902 – 20 February 1943) was a Brazilian singer.

Houston figured in the Brazilian literary/art/music scene during a critical time in its history. It was an era of tremendous creative energy. In addition to Mário de Andrade and Pagu, Houston knew others famous members of this artists movement, including the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the painters Flavio de Carvalho, Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and the leader of Brazilian modernism, Oswald de Andrade.

Houston moved to Germany and studied with Lilli Lehmann a renowned voice teacher. She then studied with another famed soprano, Ninon Vallin, first in Argentina and then in Paris. Houston’s relationship with Heitor Villa Lobos began in her teens. Houston was definitely a soloist at Villa Lobos’s 1927 Paris concerts. In 1928 she married Benjamin Péret, French surrealist poet, with whom she lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931. Their son, Geyser, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Houston had moved to New York City. She was a brilliant singer, particularly skilled in the interpretation of Brazilian songs. The New York Times during this era praised for her performances. She was also an active supporter of young Latin American composers, performing early pieces by composers such as Jayme Ovalle and Camargo Guarnieri.

She died in 1943. Her death was listed as an apparent suicide.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Ravel – Sur l’herbe – Elsie Houston (1930s)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Lee Miller' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Lee Miller
1929
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Ray learned from the history of painting as much as from other photographers. He borrowed from Rembrandt’s tenebrism (his dramatic use of engulfing shadow), the slanting light and perspectival structure in Vermeer’s interiors, and the directness of Hans Holbein (strong light on the face, minimal backgrounds). But of course, he was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.

Ray’s 1929 portrait of Lee Miller is a good example – surely one of the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken. What is the source of its uncanny power? It’s not just that Miller – herself a great photographer who for several years was Ray’s lover – is so beautiful; or that her direct gaze is simultaneously so trusting and challenging; or even that her unblemished skin and the symmetry of the whole composition suggest something impossibly pristine and inviolate. It’s because the image is slightly out of focus. The effect of the blur is to slow one’s response, as smoke rings slow the mind – and to trigger a dream state.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Emak Bakia (Leave Me Alone)
1926

 

 

But you may be less familiar with some of Ray’s other subjects, including Germaine Tailleferre, the female composer who changed her name from Taillefesse, Taylor writes, “partly to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies, but also because she disliked the connotations of the name Taillefesse, which translates as buttock in English”; Janet Scudder, an American sculptor, whose partner was the children’s author and suffragist Marion Cothren; and Barbette (below), the high-wire performer who presented as a graceful woman, but at the end of her act removed her wig and revealed herself as a man.

Personae like these – and Ray’s always inventive approach to their portraits – make this show more than just a roll call of famous names. They make it revelatory. The show is further enhanced by the inclusion of Ray’s wonderful 1926 film, “Emak-Bakia” (he called it a “cinépoème”), and a portfolio of semiabstract photographs he made for a Paris Electricity Co. marketing campaign. Both are remarkable.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Barbette' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Barbette
1926
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society

 

 

Vander Clyde Broadway (American, 1899-1973)

Vander Clyde Broadway (December 19, 1899 – August 5, 1973), stage name Barbette, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist born in Texas. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act.

Following a career-ending illness or injury (the sources disagree on the cause), which left him in constant pain, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures as well as training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses. After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. …

“Barbette,” writes Cocteau,

“transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance Cocteau likens to a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics. That blindness is so complete that at the end of his act, Barbette does not simply remove his wig but instead plays the part of a man. He rolls his shoulders, stretches his hands, swells his muscles… And after the fifteenth or so curtain call, he gives a mischievous wink, shifts from foot to foot, mimes a bit of an apology, and does a shuffling little street urchin dance – all of it to erase the fabulous, dying-swan impression left by the act.”

Cocteau calls upon his fellow artists to incorporate deliberately this effect that he believes for Barbette is instinctive.

Cocteau commissioned a series of photographs of Barbette by the Surrealist artist Man Ray, which captured not only aspects of Barbette’s performance but also his process of transformation into his female persona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ernest Hemingway' 1928

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ernest Hemingway
1928
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Aldous Huxley' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Aldous Huxley
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

This photograph was taken two years after the publication of Huxley’s novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'La Ville' (The City) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
La Ville (The City)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite (CPDE) to produce a series of pictures promoting the private consumption of electricity. The resulting portfolio, Électricité (Electricity), comprises rayographs reproduced as photogravures. Le Monde (The World), a picture of the moon above an electrical cord, suggests that even celestial bodies rely on the CPDE for their illumination; the photogravure Électricité equates the electric charge of the electron with the erotic beauty of a nude female figure; and Le Souffle (Breeze) combines spinning fan blades with the weblike stimuli of electrical current.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray. 'Électricité' 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Électricité
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Man Ray’s innovations are not excluded. A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to his light-bending portfolio Électricité (1931), a commercial project commissioned by the Paris Electric Company to promote the use of electrically powered household appliances. Comprised of ten “Rayographs” (another name for photograms), the portfolio pulses with kinetic energy. Fans spin with an otherworldly force, a fowl is perfectly cooked as by magic rays, and the Eiffel Tower swims in hi-wattage advertisements.

Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Souffle' (Breeze) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Souffle (Breeze)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Monde' (The World) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Monde (The World)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

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06
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940: The Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th September 2021 – 13th February 2022

Curated by Sarah Meister, former Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and Quentin Bajac, Director, Jeu de Paume, with Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

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

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye)
1928
Gelatin silver print
30.2 × 40cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton © 2021 Max Burchartz/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

A huge posting today that took hours to compile and all I can think of to say is – wow, I want them all in my collection!

If I had to specify one era of photography that is my favourite it would be the experimental, avant-garde photographs from the interwar period. There was such freedom, revolution and danger in the air which encouraged artists to produce radical art that defined a generation (and which ideological others found offensive and degenerate).

The tremendous diversity of “modern” photography is on show in the different sections of the exhibition – from portraiture to perspective, from science to magic realism, from interiority and surrealist dreams to new objective visions of self and the landscape – the works investigating how photographs transcend their conventional function of documentation through their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

I have added relevant biographical details and salient book covers and pages from the exhibition catalogue to enhance the viewing experience. My particular favourites in the posting are Willi Ruge’s vertiginous Seconds before Landing (1931, below); Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s unforgettable portrait of Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane (1911-1912, below); Lyonel Feininger’s almost-there, atmos/sphere Bauhaus (February 26, 1929 below); and Gertrud Arndt’s masterpiece, At the Masters’ Houses (1929-1930, below).

I hope you enjoy your Sunday looking at these stunning images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975) 'Backstroke' 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975)
Backstroke
1930
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 34.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Reprinted with permission of the Steinitz Family Art Collection
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Runner in the City (Experiment for a Fresco for a Sports-Club)
1926
Gelatin silver print
26.7 × 22.4cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988) 'Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)' 1928

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988)
Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.4cm (diam.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Test for the Film "Culte Vaudou," Exposition 1937' 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Test for the Film “Culte Vaudou,” Exposition 1937
1936
Gelatin silver print with cellophane sheet
29.3 × 23cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)' c. 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984)
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 5/8″ (23.5 × 16.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Roger M. Parry (French, 1905-1977)

Born and educated in Paris, Roger Parry was originally interested in painting and worked as a draftsman after graduation. In 1928 he met Maurice Tabard, who taught him photography and for whom Parry worked as a darkroom assistant. Parry published his photographs in Art et Métiers Graphiques, a photographic annual, and Banalités, a book of poems. These publications gained the attention of André Malraux, with whom Parry became associated around 1930.

Parry worked for Malraux and the Gallimard publishers for more than forty years. In 1934 Gallimard published Parry’s photographs of Tahiti. During World War II Parry was a photography war correspondent for the news agency L’Express. He eventually became head of photography and art director for the Gallimard publication Nouvelle Revue Française.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 25/01/2022

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Franz Lederer' c. 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Franz Lederer
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Grace M. Mayer Fund
© Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Francis Lederer (November 6, 1899 Prague – May 25, 2000) was a Czech-born American film and stage actor with a successful career, first in Europe, then in the United States. His original name was Franz (Czech František) Lederer.

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H. 'Untitled (Cover illustration from 'Here Comes the New Photographer')' c. 1928-1929

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H.
Untitled (Cover illustration from Here Comes the New Photographer)
c. 1928-1929
Gelatin silver print
21.9 × 16.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Masterworks of MoMA

Introduction

In 2001 and 2017, The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 350 photographs from the collector Thomas Walther. This collection, which is now one of the pillars of MoMA’s modern collection, is presented for the first time in France in an exhibition of some 230 images.

Comprising iconic works from the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition provides a history of the European and American photographic avant-gardes. Through the works of a hundred or so photographers, from Berenice Abbott to Karl Blossfeldt, from Claude Cahun to El Lissitzky, from Edward Weston to André Kertész, this fusion of masterpieces and lesser-known images traces the history of modernity in photography. Mixing genres and approaches – architecture and urban landscapes, portraits and nudes, reportage, photomontage, experimentation, etc. – the exhibition delves deep into the artistic networks of the inter-war period, from the Bauhaus to Surrealist Paris, via Moscow and New York.

In their visually radical inventiveness, these images capture perfectly the utopian spirit of those who wanted to change images in order to change the world; now we fully understand the words of the photographer and theoretician Lázló Moholy-Nagy who, a century ago, stated that “the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the camera and the pen alike.”

 

The Exhibition

Life as an artist

While it is true that throughout the 20th century photographers took great pleasure in portraiture, the Thomas Walther Collection also illustrates the spirit of freedom that characterised the lives of these artists and the circles they moved in.

Marcel Duchamp once described the Paris of the 1920s as home to the first truly international community of artists. The body of photographs by André Kertész assembled by Thomas Walther offers a fine summary of the photographer’s affinities, empathies and networking during his Parisian years, while also reflecting his interest in abstract and post-Cubist art and the play of light on highly geometric volumes.

The period between the two World Wars saw the affirmation of a collective artistic adventure most strikingly evidenced by the Bauhaus – one of the main axes of the Thomas Walther collection. From Florence Henri to Lotte Beese and Umbo, many of the artists represented in the collection spent time there; and all of them practiced photography without necessarily being photographers. Thus the works relating to the Bauhaus here are essentially snapshots of documentary interest. Lázsló Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy were both very active photographers, but while Lázsló’s work attracted considerable critical attention, this is less true of his wife, who, although not an official member of the school, took numerous photographs of architecture and portraits.

Similarly, Lyonel Feininger, a trained painter and head of the engraving workshop, and Gertrud Arndt and Lotte Beese, students in the weaving workshop, acquired skills through an intense photographic activity that went far beyond the official teaching.

Experiments with night photography, high- and low-angle shots, multiple exposures, distorting reflections: a large part of the vocabulary of the avant-gardes can be found at the Bauhaus.

The third body of work in this section documents these artistic networks and communities in a different way. The self-portrait plays a predominant role here, revealing the shaping of a new identity for the photographer via an emphasis on the camera that underscored photography’s mechanical character – an aspect often skirted by the art photographers of the previous generation.

Now, whether on a tripod or in the hand, the camera was omnipresent, to the point where it merged completely with the user as an artificial extension of the eye.

El Lissitzky redefined photography as a mental activity and the photographer as a “constructor”, a producer of images who must unify the work of eye and hand, in a context of photography become inseparable from graphics.

 

Here comes the new photographer!

Photography was the ideal medium for catching the feel of modern life in the aftermath of the First World War: looking both up and down – from planes, bridges and skyscrapers – photographers discovered unparalleled views and a new, dynamic visual language, free of convention.

A new thirst for photographic images took hold of the illustrated press between the wars, a period that saw the advent of reports and magazines built entirely around the photographic image. Another feature of this period was its passion for sport and speed. Advances in the sensitivity of photographic film and paper and the development of more manageable cameras allowed artists to capture movement as never before.

Totally unexpected points of view were thus created. One of the most famous is doubtless the aerial view, where the aviator embodies this new sporting modernity, as does the racing driver.

A sense of weightlessness and lightness is found in the images of Kate Steinitz and John Gutmann, both influenced by Dada and European Surrealism. Alexander Rodchenko’s images of divers emphasise the space that the body travels through as well as the athlete himself.

Their out-of-kilter framing, pushing the bodies into the corners of the image, attempts to summarise a rapid, complex movement in a single still image. While using an overtly avant-garde photographic grammar – high-angle, low angle – the themes of these photographs seem to be fully in line with the political context of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Lissitzky too was fascinated by the figure of the athlete: his photomontage Rekord (Record), a model of a project for the photographic decoration of a sports club in Moscow, offers a modernist yet dreamlike vision in which the entire illuminated metropolis mutates into a sports arena.

Finally, this exaltation of a new humanity underlies in a much more literal way Leni Riefenstahl’s images of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Armed with impressive technical and financial resources, photographer / filmmaker Riefenstahl directed Olympia, commissioned by the Hitler regime to hymn the new Aryan type. In images markedly avant-garde in style, one finds many features of the aesthetics of the Third Reich, from the references to antiquity to the celebration of the athlete-hero and the geometrisation and perfect synchronisation of figures in movement.

 

Discovering photography

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented a hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic potential had only just been discovered when he and other members of avant-garde circles adopted the medium. With their brief history and no connection to traditional fine arts disciplines, photography and film became true modernist instruments.

Moving away from the efforts of the art photographers of the previous generation, out to obscure the mechanical nature of the photographic print through various subterfuges – timeless subjects, use of blur, etc. – the photographic avant-gardes of the early 20th century drew on images from non-art spheres: X-rays, astronomy, medicine and science provided them with representations of the invisible; photojournalism revealed forms in motion, improbably frozen by the snapshot; amateur photography offered a repertoire of strange viewpoints and aberrations of perspective. See differently, that was the maxim.

They experimented every which way, playfully and undeterred by reversion to archaic forms and processes. The photogram is probably the best illustration of this new language. This camera-less technique, which simply prints images of objects directly onto sensitised paper that has been exposed to light, is the origin of photography. It was practiced by all of photography’s pioneers before falling into disuse except as a mere laboratory exercise. It was only after the First World War that it was rediscovered by a few enthusiasts and became a major avant-garde gambit.

Appreciated for its simplicity, playfulness, and undeniable visual impact, it also became a much appreciated tool in the field of applied photography. Moreover, in addition to the photogram as such, advertising, Industry, and publishing were becoming broadly receptive to the new avant-garde photographic language, just as photography was gradually beginning to oust graphic techniques in their respective fields.

At the same time the laboratory began to function as a venue for exploration of both the negative and the print. The stretching of exposure times, with the resultant blurring of movement, allows the representation of time to be modified by embedding duration and movement in the still image. In some cases – think Albert Renger-Patzsch and Jean Painlevé – the precision of a simple close-up framing a particular being or thing as closely as possible, sufficed to imbue the subject with fresh presence and reality.

Last but not least, the avant-gardes revelled in the construction of composite images, notably through collage and photomontage, using all the resources made available to them by the illustrated press and publishing of the time. To these image games we should add the multiple exposure, long considered as no more than a photographer’s failure. In this sense, this generation was the first to practice borrowing and reusing images and forms on such a scale, attesting to the – already – rapid circulation of images within the European avant-garde.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European art movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach, seeking instead to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to bring together dreams and unusual states of consciousness. Echoes of these preoccupations, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Thomas Walther collection.

The images in this section hijack two traditional photographic genres, the portrait and the nude, with the aid of various processes: close-ups, inversion of negative-positive values through solarisation, photograms, overprints. Many of the techniques employed by photographers close to Surrealism aimed to transform reality by pushing technique to the point of destroying the human form. The diffuse influence of Surrealism is of course particularly evident among Parisian photographers, as can be seen in the numerous, often virtuoso laboratory games of commercial, advertising or fashion photographers like Maurice Tabard or Aurel Bauh, and even André Kertész in the early 1930s. The “distortions” Kertész produced, using the countless optical possibilities offered by deforming mirrors, are part of a photographic tradition that goes back to the 19th century, but also remind us of the representation and deformation of the human body undertaken by Picasso and Dalí in the same years.

The press of the 1920s was fond of optical visual games, transforming the human body in line with a certain objectification: loss of scale and reference points, oddness induced by a detail or the texture of skin. Of all the parts of the body, it was undoubtedly the eye, the organ of sight, that attracted the attention of distinction between the real and the fantastic – and created interplay between the animate and the inanimate by approaching the human body through substitutes such as dolls, mannequins, or masks.

 

Symphony of a Great City

Like the cinema, photography in the first half of the 20th century achieved a fragmentation and recomposition of an increasingly insistent urban reality. In an era of rapidly advancing urbanisation, the big city was the stamping ground par excellence for photographers and filmmakers.

The period saw the emergence of a large number of films that treated the city as a living organism: Paul Strand’s Manhattan, Charles Sheeler on New York and Berlin, Walther Ruttmann’s Symphony of a Great City. Often consisting of short, rapidly edited shots, these films have obvious links with the photography of the time: the German photographer Umbo was involved in the making of Ruttmann’s film. The four images on display here play on some of the optical games dear to the avant-garde: the derealisation effected by the bird’s-eye view and cast shadows, the simultaneous transparency and reflection of store windows, and the repetitive geometry of certain urban spaces.

The advent of an architecture of mobility was exactly contemporary with that of the first Kodak-type cameras, which allowed the operator a hitherto unknown freedom and mobility. Photographers would take full advantage of all the new possibilities open to them by favouring symbols and places emblematic of the contemporary: factory chimneys and industry at work; the iron architecture of buildings like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York; subjects and objects in movement, such as cyclists caught in urban traffic; newly pullulating public spaces; and, of course, the omnipresent street. The city was indeed this dynamic organism, the locus of human encounters, of incongruous objects and visual signs, captured at random in its streets. Constantly on the lookout, the pedestrian-photographer of the inter-war period appears as a modern version of the Baudelairean flâneur of the preceding century. With its unprecedented vertical extension, the modern city offers a multitude of new points of view, high-angle or low-angle, magnifying the impression of vertigo or crushing weight.

The city allowed for all kinds of new visual and optical experiments. Iron architecture, by erasing the boundaries between interior and exterior, offered countless possibilities for framing, as in the work of Germaine Krull, a photographer particularly attentive to these exercises in “framing within the frame”. Night shots, which gave pride of place to lighting effects, renewed the experience of nocturnal vision to a point of near-abstraction, simple luminous inscriptions of objects in movement.

But the fragmenting dear to Walter Benjamin is probably nowhere more perceptible than in photomontage, with its fantasised, idealised or monstrous version of the urban and industrial universe. The visual chaos of Paul Citroën’s Metropolis, composed of some two hundred images pasted together, is a perfect example. Citroën evokes a city not in ruins but in pieces, a cacophonous space, all the elements piled up in an incoherent spirit close to Dada.

 

High fidelity

At a time when, in Europe, experimentation was being put forward as a core concept by the photographic avant-gardes, the Americans seem to have put more emphasis on a search for a truth of the world through exact representation. “High fidelity”, a term borrowed from the world of acoustics, was used to designate this approach and its taste for a clear and faithful image.

Pure photography is a discipline in search of perfection and technical mastery at all stages of the production of the image. It is in this near-contradictory tension between the “highly detailed” and the “abstract”, between the use of a large format camera combining an almost hyper-realistic rendering with simplified shooting strategies, that lies one of the main characteristics of a certain American modernist approach. It seems logical, then, that this aesthetic of attention to object, texture and form, quickly pervaded various spheres of American commercial photography of the time.

At Film und Foto, the flagship exhibition of the international photographic avant-garde, some people remarked on the extent to which the American section, with its “refined technique that can rightly be described as cultivated”, contrasted with the more raw work of the Europeans.

However, while straight photography remained a very American movement, it also had ramifications in Europe. In Germany, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, voices began to be raised in photographic circles against the expressive experiments of the previous decade, urging respect for reality and greater objectivity. Karl Blossfeldt’s direct and unmanipulated approach to plants, produced for documentary purposes as part of his teaching at the Berlin School of Applied Arts, was praised. At the same time, it was the sweeping aerial views of Germany taken by balloonist Robert Petschow that aroused the enthusiasm of avant-garde circles, which exhibited them and celebrated both their quasi-abstract singularity and their informative content, blended in the manner of a topographical survey.

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980) 'View of Berlin's Department Store Karstadt' 1929

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
View of Berlin’s Department Store Karstadt
1929
Gelatin silver print
23.7 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Umbo/ Gallery Kicken Berlin/ Phyllis Umbehr/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)' 1929-1930

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 × 7 5/8″ (26 × 19.4 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Henri Cartier-Bresson, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan' March 20, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
38.6 × 49.5 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Mr. Robert C. Weinberg, by exchange
© 2021 Estate of Berenice Abbott
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Pitmen's houses in Essen, Stoppenberg' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Pitmen’s houses in Essen, Stoppenberg
1929
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 14 13/16″ (27.3 × 37.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of James Thrall Soby, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Summer Swimming' 1925-1930

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming
1925-1930
Gelatin silver print
17.8 × 20cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964) 'Untitled' 1929-1932

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964)
Untitled
1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.4 × 23.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear's Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)' 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear’s Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 23.8 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Ficus elastica' 1926

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Ficus elastica
1926
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 × 11 1/8″ (37.5 × 28.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

John Gutmann (American born Germany, 1905-1998)
Classe (Marjorie Gestring, championne olympique 1936 de plongeon de haut vol)
Class (Marjorie Gestring, 1936 Olympic champion in high diving)

1935
Gelatin silver print
22.3 x 19.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1932-1933

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Girl with a Leica
1932-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.3 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection Thomas Walther
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris 2021
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984) 'Exercise' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Exercise
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (29.2 × 21.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Studio Wulz Archive, Florence

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson' 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 11/16″ (24.6 × 19.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 3 1/2″ (13.9 × 8.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Demonstration' 1932

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Demonstration
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 × 9″ (29.6 × 22.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″ (56.2 × 42.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© George Eastman House

 

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

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Lightbulb
1928-1933
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 9 7/16″ (18.2 × 23.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willys P. Wagner and Mrs. Gerald F. Warburg, by exchange
© Estate Franz Roh, Munich

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972) 'Incandescent Lamp' 1928

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972)
Incandescent Lamp
1928
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 9 3/4″ (36.9 × 24.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Stiftung Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum des Landes. Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990) 'Untitled' 1923-1925

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1923-1925
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 × 8 9/16″ (22.1 × 21.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2022 Sylva Vitove-Rösslerova

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris' 'Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris (Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris)
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894–1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 × 3 1/16″ (10.8 × 7.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and gift of the artist, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 1/4″ (22.6 × 15.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'Untitled' 1927-1928

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
Untitled
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print
9 × 6 1/4″ (22.9 × 15.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

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, text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983) 'Metropolis' 1923

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983)
Metropolis (City of My Birth) (Weltstadt (Meine Geburtsstadt))
1923
Gelatin silver print
8 × 6″ (20.3 × 15.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Paul Citroen/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright, Amsterdam

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992) 'Hamburg, Germany's Gateway to the World' 1930

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992)
Hamburg, Germany’s Gateway to the World
1930
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
15 7/8 × 16 1/2″ (40.3 × 41.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 César Domela/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940 book

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book cover

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

 

The creative possibilities explored through photography were never richer or more varied than in the years between the two world wars, when photographers tested the medium with unmatched imaginative fervor. This moment of inventive approaches to documentary, abstract, and architectural subjects is dramatically captured in the more than three hundred and fifty photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art. The Museum acquired these photographs from Thomas Walther’s private collection, which includes exceptionally striking prints by towering figures in the field alongside lesser known treasures by more than one hundred other practitioners. This exhibition also highlights the artists whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions and the printed page, these photographs provide unique insight into the radical objectives of their creators. The transatlantic circulation of ideas, images, objects, and people stimulated vibrant dialogues concerning the transformation of vision, and the varied uses and capacities of photography. Organised to explore thematic connections between the works, the exhibition testifies to the dynamic experience of modernity through genres such as portraiture, expressions of the urban experience, and techniques of estrangement and experimentation, including unfamiliar points of view and distortions.

 

Purisms

Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from those of the growing ranks of professionals and the new hordes of Kodak-wielding amateurs, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints to encourage an awareness of the preciousness of their photographs as objects, often emulating strategies from contemporary fine-art prints and drawings and choosing subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, some avant-garde photographers came to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues, and by the early twentieth century, photographers on both sides of the Atlantic were transitioning from Pictorialism to Modernism – and occasionally blurring the distinction. Modernist photographers made exhibition prints using precious platinum or palladium, or, particularly after World War I, matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. These techniques are in evidence in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in the Walther Collection suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from large-format negatives.

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)

In 1922, en route from his home in Los Angeles to New York City, where he planned to meet Alfred Stieglitz, Weston stopped to visit his sister in Ohio. There he made a series of pictures of the Armco Steel factory that signalled a break from the ethereal portrait practice that characterised his early professional work and an embrace of pure, industrial form. The following year Weston relocated to Mexico City, where he expanded his modernist vocabulary in the company of his apprentice, lover, and muse, the photographer Tina Modotti. In 1926, Weston returned to the United States, where he received increasingly international recognition for the formal rigour of his distilled subjects and the expressive luminosity of his prints.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Shells' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Shells
1927
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2″ (24.1 × 19cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Purchase
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Books and Magazines

The extraordinary fecundity of the photographic medium between the First and Second World Wars can be persuasively attributed to the dynamic circulation of people, ideas and images that was a hallmark of that era in Europe and the United States. Migration, a profusion of publications distributed and read on both sides of the Atlantic, and landmark exhibitions that brought artistic achievements into dialogue with one another all contributed to a period of innovation that was a creative peak both in the history of photography and in the field of arts and letters. Overall, only a small number of European photobooks made their way to the United States, but their significance was evidently appreciated by those Americans who encountered them. These publications signalled a recognition of the artistic potential of photography while also cementing its centrality in the popular imagination, as well as providing the opportunity to discover photographic works no matter the artist’s place of origin. Photographs also circulated in Europe and America through various types of publications such as avant-garde magazines and more widely circulated periodicals. The vast majority of magazines and reviews founded in the 1910s and 1920s did not survive the economic crisis of the end of the decade. This is not to say that the era of photographs in magazines was over – far from it. Life was founded in 1936, and its extraordinary success was followed, if not matched, by dozens of other magazines in the United States and Europe. These, however, did not embrace the experimental artistic and literary practices that had flourished on the pages of magazines and journals in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

 

László Moholy-Nagy, 'Painting, Photography, Film' 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy
Painting, Photography, Film (Malerei, Fotografie, Film)
Munich: Albert Langen Verlag, 1925

 

 

Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film) marked the beginning of an explosively creative and influential decade of photography books. The book features the work of Walther Collection artists Paul Citroen, Georg Muche, and István Kerny in addition to Moholy-Nagy, and was the eighth in the Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) publications series, which was edited by Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius, the German art school’s founding director. Although photography was central to the thinking of Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers, and each incorporated it into the school’s preliminary course, the medium was not formally made a part of the curriculum until 1929, when the Bauhaus hired photographer Walter Peterhans. Peterhans balanced a rigorous attention to technical detail with the reputational benefits of having his work circulate in publications and exhibitions, and he was responsible for teaching a significant number of Walther Collection photographers – from the Argentine Horacio Coppola to the German Umbo.

 

In 1922, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy published the short article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl, identifying the potential for the relatively new mediums of photography and film to transcend their conventional function of documentation. He advocated for their creative application – through multiple exposures, typographic interventions, montage, and oblique perspectives – to produce “new, as yet unfamiliar relationships” in the visual field. In the first half of the twentieth century, publications featuring photography were one of the primary outlets for expressing these new ways of seeing. Viewing these books and journals today provides a richer understanding of modernist photography and its impact on other mediums.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Werner Gräff. 'Es kommt der neue Fotograf!' (Here comes the new photographer!) 1929

 

Cover of Werner Gräff
Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!)
Berlin: H. Reckendorf, 1929

 

 

Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!) features eleven artists (and four artworks) of the Walther Collection, and was likewise designed as a primer for those interested in but unfamiliar with the experimental front lines of its medium. “The purpose of this book is to break down barriers, not create them,” wrote the author of the book Werner Gräff. He declared his bias in favour of “unconventional photographs,” including photomontage, which is featured in a dedicated section.

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold. 'Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit' (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time) Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold
Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time)
Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

From the exhibition Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949 at The Museum of Modern Art. December 8, 2014

 

 

Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) features on its cover El Lissitzky’s work Self-Portrait (The Constructor), a complex photomontage that collapses pictorial and graphic space, merging image with text, geometry with human form, and the act of seeing with, as the title suggests, constructing. In 1931, just two years after it appeared, Foto-Auge was recognised as a vital publication by the American photographer Walker Evans. Evans wrote, “Photo-Eye is a nervous and important book. Its editors call the world not only beautiful but exciting, cruel, and weird. In intention social and didactic, this is an anthology of the ‘new’ photography; yet its editors knew where to look for their material, and print examples of the news photo, aerial photography, microphotography, astronomical photography, photomontage and the photogram, multiple-exposure and the negative print.”

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin. 'Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts' (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans) Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin
Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans)
Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

 

By the mid-1920s, August Sander had fixed on a wildly ambitious (if not intentionally impossible) goal of publishing a synthetic portrait – Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) – comprising hundreds of individual portraits of his fellow Germans. Although this project of capturing “an absolutely faithful historical picture of our time” would remain unrealised in his lifetime, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), published in Munich in 1929, distilled his vision into a suite of sixty photographs accompanied by an essay by novelist Alfred Doblin.

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

Karl Blossfeldt
Urformen der Kunst
1929

Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Die Welt ist schön (The World Is Beautiful) and Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) both appeared in 1928, published in Munich and Berlin, respectively. Renger-Patzsch and Blossfeldt represented two threads of the New Vision: the former was committed to unadulterated photographic depiction as the essence of a modern way of seeing, while the latter explored the intersection of mechanical processes and natural form. Neither chose the path of experimentation that Moholy-Nagy had defined earlier in the decade with Malerei Photographie Film, but in their embrace of the camera’s mechanical capacity, their work resonated with avant-garde practices.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch was one of the most important promoters of modern photography in Weimar Germany. Die Welt ist Schön (The World is Beautiful) is his most well-known book, and the one that has come to define his career. It contains 100 closeup photographs of natural and man-made objects which are sequenced in progression from plants, animals, people, and the natural landscape, to turbines, girders, and other elements of industry before ending with a pair of hands clasped in prayer. The book was hugely popular at the time but received some criticism, particularly over the title which has contributed to a possible misreading of the work. In A Short History of Photography, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists.’ Renger-Patzsch himself maintains that he would have preferred to have used the title Die Dinge (Things), which is more in keeping with his straight documentary approach. He maintained that his aesthetic arose from an interest in the precise nature of scientific photography and an interest in the composition of visual structures of the outside world, rather than from a desire to create a harmonic universal design. In a 1930 letter to Franz Roh he expressed his concern that Die Welt ist Schön was being interpreted philosophically, holding it up instead as his declared belief in optimism. To the end of his life Renger-Patzsch rejected any attempts to push photography toward total abstraction. He maintained his belief that photography was not an art but a means of documenting and recording, and that any attempt to compete with the graphic arts would cause photography to lose it own inherent characteristics of nuance and detail.

Text from the Oliver Wood Books website [Online] Cited 26/01/2022

 

Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capture the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in portraiture throughout the twentieth century. In the Thomas Walther Collection, portraits and self-portraits of artists – as varied as the individuals portrayed – are complemented by works that convey a free-spirited sense of artists’ lives and communities, generously represented here through photographs made by André Kertész in Paris, and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to the French capital in 1925, large sheets of photographic paper were a luxury he couldn’t afford. Choosing less expensive postcard stock instead, he made intimate prints that function as miniature windows into the lives of his bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, includes playful and spontaneous snapshot-like pictures, as well as more considered compositions in which students explore their relationship to the architecture of the school and other aspects of their coursework.

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989) 'Florence Henri' 1927

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989)
Florence Henri
1927
Gelatin silver print
37.2 × 27.9cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2021 Lucia Moholy Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Between 1924 and 1930, Moholy photographed dozens of Bauhaus students, masters, and their families, creating often startlingly close views with her large-format camera. Within very narrow parameters, Moholy conveys her sensitivity to her sitters. Having printed many enlargements for her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, she was well aware of the visual impact afforded by large prints, and she had the experience and talent required to produce them.

The glass plate negative from which this image was made is the largest Moholy used, exposed in a large wooden camera on a tripod. The advantage to working with these fragile and cumbersome glass plates is their exceptionally high resolution, as well as the possibility that one could retouch directly on the negative. Indeed, this print reveals extensive retouching, both in the negative and on the print.

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956) 'Bauhaus' February 26, 1929

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956)
Bauhaus
February 26, 1929; print 1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
7 × 8 1/2″ (17.8 × 21.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

At the Bauhaus in Dessau, all members of the Feininger family (Lyonel, his wife, Julia, and their sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux) were active photographers. In 1927, Andreas built a darkroom in the Feininger basement. The year after, his father also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school, carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed on the verso with the time and place it was taken. Feininger chose a matte paper that invites the eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within this nocturne.

 

In 1926, Lyonel Feininger, accompanied by his wife, Julia, and their adolescent sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux, moved into one of the double Masters’ Houses at the Dessau Bauhaus. In the other half of the house – designed by Walter Gropius, the director of the school – lived the photographer Lázsló Moholy-Nagy with his wife, Lucia Moholy, a skilled professional photographer. Moholy-Nagy enthusiastically advocated photography as the essential modern language, a message he broadcast in his influential book Malerei, Fotographie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film), which was published by the school in 1925 and reprinted in 1927. Feininger initially considered Moholy’s vigorous embrace of camera optics, new perspectives, and recombinant techniques to be outside the realm of art, but after a few years of living in the same house he changed his views: Moholy’s ideas and vitality had proved irresistible not only to the painter but to his three sons as well.

From the Feininger basement, where Andreas built a darkroom in 1927, emerged lively photographs of Bauhaus theatre productions, of the Bauhaus jazz band in which T. Lux and other students played, and of their friends involved in all manner of events. To enlarge their images, the young Feiningers fabricated a projector from a wood box, four lightbulbs, and a camera lens. They secured a glass negative to the front of the device and projected the negative’s image onto sheets of unexposed photographic paper pinned to an easel. The only signs of this procedure in the prints are the tiny white lines of shadow cast by the pins, which blocked the paper’s exposure to the light.

Prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, in 1919, Feininger had shown his paintings with the artist group Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), at the Galerie der Sturm and at the Galerie Dada. Because of these and other accomplishments, Gropius deferred to the somewhat older master and let him give up teaching and devote himself entirely to painting. In 1928 Feininger also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school printed from a 4.5 by 6 centimeter (1 ¾ by 2 3/8 inch) glass-plate negative using the projection technique worked out by his sons. Feininger carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed this large print on the verso with the time and place it was taken.

In making his prints Feininger drew from his experience as a printmaker who knew the critical role of craft and materials – of inks and papers – and Lucia Moholy’s fine printing may also have made him especially attentive to print quality. Feininger chose a thin matte paper with a high rag content, which instead of reflecting light, as glossy papers do, absorbs it. This invites the viewer’s eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within these meditative nocturnes.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg on the Object: Photo MoMA website [Online] Cited 26/01/202

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Hajo Rose/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

 

Trained first as a graphic artist and introduced to photography only upon enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1930, Rose applied his talents with both disciplines to generate this superimposition made from two different negatives: the distinctive facade of the Bauhaus in Dessau circumscribed by a self-portrait. Photography was formally integrated into the Bauhaus curriculum with the appointment of Walter Peterhans to the faculty in 1929, and this image may have been Rose’s response to a Peterhans assignment. Like the school’s curriculum, the picture weaves together photography, graphic design, and architecture into a unique, instructive whole, suggesting the collective nature of the school and the inculcation of Constructivist ideals in the individuals that made up the student body.

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972) 'Untitled' 1921-1922

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972)
Untitled
1921-1922
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 5 7/8″ (23.7 × 15cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of Claude Cahun

 

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the lesbian community of Paris between the two world wars. She and her half-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their theatrical and photographic works. These mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas in minimally staged scenes in their home. This cropped image shows just Cahun’s head. In the full negative she appears full-length as a dandy in a man’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and improper cigarette in hand.

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the Parisian lesbian community between the two world wars. She and Suzanne Malherbe, her stepsister, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their collaborative theatrical and photographic works. The images they made mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas set in minimally staged scenes in their home.

This print is an enlargement from a negative that was cropped to frame Cahun’s face and torso; the full-length image reveals a dandy in a men’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and cigarette in hand. Cahun erased the visible traces of her femininity by shaving her head, wearing masculine clothes, and avoiding jewellery and makeup. Through her wide variety of self-portrayals, she undercut the notion of a fixed identity and challenged the concept of a strict gender binary. Cahun and Moore’s writings – particularly their 1930 book Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), where this photograph was reproduced – also explored a shifting, malleable concept of personhood. Cahun considered their self-imaging project to be never-ending, explaining, “Under this mask another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976) 'Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp' 1920

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976)
Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp
1920
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 × 6 3/16″ (20.7 × 15.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In 1920, collector-philanthropist Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp cofounded the Société Anonyme, an organisation intended to promote and exhibit modern European and American art in New York. Various other artists assisted in this enterprise, including Man Ray, who photographed the art and artists for publicity and postcards, and the Italian Futurist Joseph Stella, who helped to select and hang the early exhibitions.

The presence of Stella and Duchamp together on the couch in this image reflects their close association with Dreier at this moment. Stella contrasts in joviality and girth with the monkish intensity of Duchamp; combined with the photograph of the woman smoking on the wall (an image also taken by Man Ray) this incidental pairing was just the sort of delicious, lightly barbed nonsense that delighted Man Ray. He referred to portrait photography, with which he would earn his living in Paris, as “taking heads”; that he considered the picture of the woman an essential part of this image is indicated by his title, Three Heads.

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'High School Student' 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
High School Student
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
© 2022 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

 

 

Around 1910 Sander began producing his monumental project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century): a photographic catalogue of the German people that traces the country’s transformation from agrarian society into modern industrialised nation, organised in seven categories: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, urbanites, and the “last people,” or those individuals on the fringe of society. In 1929, he published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), a group of sixty of these photographs that outlined his ideas about the existing social order, but the project’s incompatibility with Nazi ideology eventually caught the attention of Third Reich censors, who destroyed the printing plates in 1936. This portrait appeared in Antlitz der Zeit, and was classified in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts as a representative image of a modern high school student.

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975) 'Woman Smoking' 1928

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975)
Woman Smoking
1928
Gelatin silver print
23 1/16 × 16 5/16″ (58.6 × 41.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Committee on Photography Fund

 

 

Atelier Stone was a photography studio founded in Berlin by Sasha and Cami Stone, a married couple who collaborated professionally. Their pictures were disseminated in German magazines throughout the 1920s, and in 1929 their photographs were included in the exhibition Film und Foto. This large-scale print was almost certainly made for display, rather than reproduction. Oozing cool confidence, the figure portrayed here is emblematic of the Weimar-era “neue Frau,” or “new woman,” a social type whose independence, feminist outlook, and daring style challenged traditional gender expectations.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity shifted away from a realist approach, instead seeking to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to mingle dreams and conscious states. Echoes of these concerns, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Walther Collection. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details, playing with scale, or rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” in 1919 as an effect resulting from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, engaging the human body through surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques while capturing the image or developing prints in the darkroom.

 

Maurice Tabard (France, 1897-1984)

Although he started out as a more conventional portrait photographer in the United States, Tabard made his name internationally as a magician of solarisation – a method that creates a hybrid image (part negative, part positive) by interrupting the development process to expose the image to an additional flash of light—and other darkroom manipulations. From 1928 to 1931 he was director of the photography lab at the Parisian type foundry Deberny & Peignot, which was at the forefront of the printing, advertising, and magazine trades, bringing him into contact with leading writers and artists of the day.

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985) 'Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985)
Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)
1932
Gelatin silver print
38.9 × 29.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In the case of the Germans Herbert Bayer and John Guttman, it is the photographer’s own body that is the object of this doubling. In his Humanly Impossible – part of a series of photomontages titled Man and Dream – Bayer calls up the themes of the double and the ancient. Mingling disbelief and horror, the photographer watches himself performing his own amputation. The reflection in the mirror shows him his own body turned into a statue, his own flesh transformed into marble, and the present reverting to antiquity.

 

From 1925 to 1928 Bayer led the workshop in printing and advertising at the Bauhaus. In 1928, he relocated to Berlin, where he became the art director of the German edition of Vogue magazine and of Dorland Studio, an international advertising agency. It is at that time that he started creating dramatic montages, including this one, in which Bayer observes his reflected double in a mirror. A slice of his arm is severed from his torso. Although the picture is playful, reflecting both Dada humour and Surrealist dream states, the horror on Bayer’s face could reflect something darker, perhaps the physical and psychological traumas of World War I and the growing fears that such a cataclysmic nightmare might recur.

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Untitled' February 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Untitled
February 1931; print 1931-1933
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 × 4 7/16″ (13.7 × 11.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2015 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Pari

 

 

A key Berlin-based Dadaist, Hausmann exhibited assemblage sculptures, collages, and photomontages made with magazines and newspaper clippings between 1918 and 1922. By the late 1920s he had taken up photography in earnest, making straight camera-based images of landscapes and plants before turning to more experimental works on light and optics. Hausmann made this untitled image during these years of intense focus on photography. The model is his second wife, Hedwig Mankiewitz-Hausmann. The reflection in the shaving mirror magnifies the organ of vision, the eye, a strategy popular in avant-garde photography of that period. The round mirror becomes a metaphor for the camera’s mechanical lens, which enables the operator to see the world literally larger than life.

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942) 'Untitled' 1934-1935

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942)
Untitled
1934-1935
From Na jehlách těchto dní. On the Needles of These Days
Gelatin silver print
3 9/16 × 3 3/8″ (9 × 8.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

 

Štyrský – an avant-garde poet, photographer, editor, painter, and collagist – was among the many avant-garde artists between the two world wars who were interested in the mannequin motif. Like the Surrealists in France, he was drawn to the bizarre, erotic, and morbid, and to the symbolic forms in which they appeared in popular culture. Štyrský trawled the streets of Paris and Prague, looking for such subjects. In 1941, in occupied Czechoslovakia, he published a clandestine edition of On the Needles of These Days, a book of photographs accompanied by Jindřich Heisler’s poems. This print of a mannequin in the window of a Prague shop comes from a maquette for the book.

 

“Na Jehlach Techto Dni (On the Needles of These Days)” published by Fr. Borovy v Praze, Prague in 1945 was preceded by the extremely scarce clandestine self-published edition of 1941 with original tipped-in silver gelatin prints. In “The Photobook: A History”, Parr and Badger write, “This remains a haunting photobook, 50 years after the war. It is a prime example of one of the photobook’s great truths – it’s not necessarily the individual pictures that count, but what you do with them”. Commenting in the book, “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century”, Vince Aletti states, “On the Needles of These Days” is a Surrealist meditation on war and resistance the book’s aura of alienation, repression, and anxiety not only captured the war’s home front theatre of the absurd, it anticipated the depth of postwar pessimism.” Cited in all three reference books on photobooks: “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century” by Andrew Roth and “The Photobook: A History”, by Parr and Badger, and “The Open Book” by Andrew Roth.

Text from the Abebooks website

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985) 'The Secret Gathering' 1938

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985)
The Secret Gathering
1938
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 11 11/16″ (39.7 × 29.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

At the time of his association with Surrealism in the 1930s, Ubac distinguished himself with deft darkroom manipulations, creating complex photographs through multiple experimental techniques. This image is from a series that has come to be associated with the legend of Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons. To construct this picture, Ubac carefully lit and posed his wife, Agui, and a friend in the studio. The resulting images were collaged into a new composition, which he rephotographed and solarised (exposed to an additional flash of light) to partially annihilate their forms. Recalling the transformative rituals of secret societies, the tangled mass of naked flesh and hair evokes unconscious sexual and aggressive drives, while the title suggests secret societies and subterfuge.

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-1912

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-1912
Gelatin silver print
6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

 

Writer, painter, and philosopher, Witkiewicz made extraordinary close-up portraits of himself, his parents, and his friends, including this elusive portrait of his lover, Anna Oderfeld. This photograph is an intimate record of a young man’s romantic obsession, yet the blurred image and extremely tight cropping look nothing like a traditional portrait of a sweetheart. As evidenced by the dark oval left by a negative clip in the top right corner, this is a contact print, and the light source – a paned window – is reflected in the dark of the subject’s eyes. Witkiewicz’s embrace of these technical “flaws” was not merely a signal of creative license; he was keenly attuned to their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Articulated Mannequin' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Articulated Mannequin
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 13/16″ (23 × 17.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Makoto Yamawaki

 

 

Trained in architecture at the Tokyo School of Arts but disenchanted with architectural practice in his native country, Yamawaki applied to study architecture and interior design at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Once in Germany, however, he turned to photography, creating images of architecture, people, furniture, and objects. This image is a prime example of the exquisite sculptural quality Yamawaki could achieve in his photographs. Involved in designing and producing theatre and dance at the school, Yamawaki employed theatrical lighting to emphasise the voluminous forms of a commonly available artist’s mannequin.

 

Experiments in Form

In 1925 László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented one hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic possibilities were only then being discovered, as he and others in his avant-garde circles adopted the medium. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines, photography and cinema were truly modern instruments with the greatest potential for transforming visual habits – a key goal of the New Vision, the movement of young photographers synthesised through Moholy’s writing. These ideas were distilled in widely circulated publications by Moholy-Nagy, Franz Roh, and others who deployed innovative combinations of text and image. From the photogram to solarisation, from negative prints to double exposures, New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering older techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, their emerging photographic vocabulary was adopted by the advertising industry, which was quick to exploit the visual efficiency of its bold graphic simplicity.

 

Franz Roh (Germany, 1890-1965)

Roh was an art historian and a pioneering critic of the twentieth-century avant-garde, with a special interest in photography. In 1927, encouraged by his friend László Moholy-Nagy, whom he had visited at the Bauhaus in Dessau the year before, he started making his own experimental photos. Some of Roh’s favourite techniques were photomontage, which he often used to combine shots of nudes and of architecture in nonsensical compositions; negative printing; and sequenced contact prints that suggest a film-like narrative. He coauthored the seminal photography book Foto-Auge with the Dutch graphic designer Jan Tschichold in 1929 and launched Fotothek (Photo Library), a short-lived series of small books about new photographers, in 1930.

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982) 'Composition No.19' 1928-1930

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982)
Composition No.19
1928-1930
10 5/16 × 14 3/8″ (26.2 × 36.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Florence Henri, Galleria Martini e Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

 

Henri arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927 as a painter and left a few short months later as a photographer. Back in Paris in 1928 and influenced by Lucia Moholy’s ideas about photography, Henri started a series of still lifes with mirrors, playing with photography’s usual perspective. Every adjustment of mirrors and objects yielded fascinating new perceptions in this elastic environment. These images circulated in avant-garde magazines and major photography exhibitions of the day, including the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto.

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting,” the artist Florence Henri has said about her artistic approach. “The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.” …

Henri turned to photography after spending a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in 1927. Even though photography wasn’t introduced into the curriculum until 1929, it had already been used on campus for documentary, publicity, and experimental purposes for years. Henri’s professor, László Maholy-Nagy said, “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

Though photography is a medium that uses light to capture the surfaces of physical objects, she manipulated light and manipulated objects to create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. Henri frequently experimented with mirror, angling them to create surreal still lives and self-portraits marked by spatial ambiguity. She also manipulated her images via photomontage, multiple exposures, and negative printing. This experimental work exemplified the New Vision movement (a term coined by Moholy-Nagy), and it earned its place on the walls of the prominent international photography exhibitions of the time, including Fotografie der Gegenwart (1929), Film und Foto (1929), and Das Lichtbild (1930).

In 1929, Henri established her own successful studio in Paris, and she taught photography to artists such as Gisèle Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation, photographic supplies became difficult to acquire, and Henri’s experimental style was in danger of being deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Henri returned to painting, but it was her photographs, taken mainly between 1927 and 1940, that left lasting impressions on her contemporaries and later generations alike.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography. “Florence Henri,” on the MoMA website Nd [Online’ Cited 292/01/2022

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring the unique experience of capturing the world through a camera’s lens. Photography was ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I: looking both up and down (from airplanes, bridges, and skyscrapers), photographers found unfamiliar points of view and a new dynamic visual language, freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts to tell a story. It wasn’t just photojournalists like Willi Ruge whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers; the illustrated press was a primary means of distribution and circulation for most photographers of this era.

 

Leni Riefenstahl Archive
Underwater after the Start…
1936

 

Having enjoyed success as a dancer and actress, Riefenstahl pivoted to directing films in the 1930s. Although never a formal member of the Nazi Party, she infamously made propaganda films for the Nazi Party and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Hitler. With the assistance of various cameramen Riefenstahl extensively documented the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in both still photography and film, using her technical virtuosity to craft an image of German triumph for an international audience. The resultant 1938 film Olympia broke ground with its innovative cinematography, and many photographs of the games taken by her and her team, including this one, were compiled in the 1936 multilingual publication Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf (Beauty in the Olympic Games). During post-war denazification proceedings, Riefenstahl was classified as a Nazi sympathiser.

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1892-1961)
Seconds before Landing
1931
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump
Gelatin silver print
20.4 × 14.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In 1931, the photojournalist Willi Ruge took a series of photographs during a parachute jump over Berlin, using a camera attached to his waist. The reportage was backed up by a number of more conventional shots from another plane and from the ground. The story was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, at the time Germany’s leading magazine using photography. Such was the success of the story that it was subsequently picked up by other magazines ranging from England to the United States.

 

Oscillating between documentation and entertainment stunt, this series depicts a parachute jump made by press photographer Ruge in 1931 from the Staaken airfield, near Berlin. In addition to the photographs Ruge made during his descent using a camera strapped to his belt, published accounts included pictures made from a second plane, and by at least one other photographer on the ground before and after the jump. The images Ruge produced while jumping echo many of the concerns and qualities put forward by New Vision photographers, including taking a more personal and almost amateur approach; unusual, dynamic vantage points; unexpected cropping; fractured, collage-like images; and the exaltation of modern sporting heroism. Distributed by the Berlin-based press agency Fotoaktuell, the pictures were published in a variety of magazines, first in Germany and then in Great Britain.

 

 

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22
Jan
22

Text: ‘Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth century’ on the exhibition ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 3

Exhibition dates: 31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Ginza 4 Chome P.X.' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Ginza 4 Chome P.X.
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Abstract

Using the media images from the exhibition The New Woman Behind the Camera at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022) as a starting point, this text examines the (in)visibility of the “New Woman” behind the camera. The text briefly investigates the disenfranchisement of women in 19th century through the work of George Sand and Camille Claudel; the role of the female flâneuse and the rise of the suffragettes; the relationship between two women and two men; a story; the work of two women photographers (Germaine Krull and Claude Cahun) who through photography challenged the representation of gender identity; a Zen proposition, and the particular becomes universal – in order to understand how artists, both female and male, find integrity on their chosen path.

 

Keywords

New Woman, photography, art, integrity, George Sand, Camille Claudel, female flâneuse, suffragette, camera, Germaine Krull, Claude Cahun, Leni Reifenstahl, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, female emancipation, gender identity, representation, Sabine Weiss, Susan Sontag, self recognition, patriarchal society.

 

Download the complete text of Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century (5.6Mb Word docx)

 

 

“The world doesn’t like independent women, why, I don’t know, but I don’t care.”

.
Berenice Abbott

 

 

Finding Integrity: “New Woman” artists and female emancipation in the first half of the twentieth-century

After thousands of years of human existence, woman still do not have equality. They have to fight for equal pay for the same job, they fight for equal opportunity in many jobs and top level positions, they fight for control of their body, and they fight against misogyny, discrimination and the aggression of hypermasculinity. They, and their children, fight not to be killed by jealous and enraged (x)lovers or (x)husbands – where x in mathematics is a variable number which is not yet known (in 2021 in Australia 43 women died at the hands of men) – whose ego and possessiveness cannot bear the thought of a vibrant, free thinking woman living beyond their control. I know of these things having grown in the womb, having grown up for the first 18 years of my life feeling my mother being abused, and then being abused myself trying to protect my mother.

My mother wanted to study music at Cambridge after graduating from the Royal College of Music but because she got married and had children she never had the opportunity. Her struggle, as with many women still, was to find her place in a man’s world – as a wife and mother in her case – to live within the parameters of the social construct that is a patriarchal society. At the time (in the 1960s) she said she felt less than human… for there was no help and little opportunity for women to escape their situation. Her one salvation was music and the one way she found to subvert the dominant structures was to teach piano. Now ninety years old, she has taught piano for the rest of her life. She found her voice and her independence. She found her integrity.

 

Earlier generations

In earlier generations, before the “New Woman”, women had to conform (to society’s expectations) and submit (to men) … unless they were notorious, celebrities or geniuses. Otherwise they were mainly disenfranchised and disempowered.

Women had to write under men’s names to be accepted, to sell and make a living. The novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin initially collaborated with the male writer Jules Sandeau and they published under the name Jules Sand before Dupin took up the pen name that was to make her famous and a celebrity across Europe: George Sand (French, 1804-1876). “Sand’s writing was immensely popular during her lifetime and she was highly respected by the literary and cultural elite in France.”1 She chose to wear male attire in public without a permit (which “enabled her to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries, and gave her increased access to venues from which women were often barred, even women of her social standing”1), and she smoked “tobacco in public; neither peerage nor gentry had yet sanctioned the free indulgence of women in such a habit, especially in public… While there were many contemporary critics of her comportment, many people accepted her behaviour until they became shocked with the subversive tone of her novels.”1 Sand was also politically active and “sided with the poor and working class as well as women’s rights. When the 1848 Revolution began, she was an ardent republican. Sand started her own newspaper, published in a workers’ co-operative.”1

 

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer
c. 1865
Albumen silver print from a glass negative
24.1 x 18.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In other words because of her visibility, celebrity, social standing, writing, intellect and revolutionary fervour she was acknowledged as a great woman. Men consulted with her and took her advice. Upon her death under the heading “Emancipated Woman,” in The Saturday Review, Victor Hugo commented: “George Sand was an idea. She has a unique place in our age. Others are great men … she was a great woman.” All well and good, but then he continues, “In this country, whose law is to complete the French Revolution, and begin that of the equality of the sexes, being a part of the equality of men, a great woman was needed. It was necessary to prove that a woman could have all the manly gifts without losing any of her angelic qualities; be strong without ceasing to be tender. George Sand proved it.”2 In other words to be the equal of a man, a woman must act like a man but also keep her womanly qualities (tenderness, femininity). She couldn’t really be herself because she had to measure up to the ideals of men. What a slap in the face, a kind of pseudo-equality – if you played your cards right and obeyed the rules of the game.

An incredibly sad example of female disenfranchisement in the arts is that of August Rodin’s assistant Camille Claudel (French, 1864-1943) who became his model, his confidante, and his lover. Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop in 1883 and became a source of inspiration for him.

 

César (French) 'Portrait de Camille Claudel' before 1883

 

César (French)
Portrait de Camille Claudel
before 1883
Musée Camille Claudel
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

“The exact nature of the tasks with which she was entrusted remains uncertain, but she apparently spent most of her time on difficult pieces, such as the hands and feet of figures for monumental sculptures (notably The Gates of Hell). For Claudel, this was an intensive period of training under Rodin’s supervision: she learned about his profiles method and the importance of expression. In tandem, she pursued her own investigations, accepted her first commissions and sought recognition as an independent artist at the Salon. Between 1882 and 1889, Claudel regularly exhibited busts and portraits of people close to her at the Salon des Artistes Français. Largely thanks to Léon Gauchez, Rodin’s friend the Belgian art dealer and critic, several of her works were purchased by French museums in the 1890s.”3

.
But women working under the “master” were not often acknowledged.

“Le Cornec and Pollock state that after the sculptors’ physical relationship ended [with Rodin in 1892 after an abortion], she was not able to get the funding to realise many of her daring ideas – because of sex-based censorship and the sexual element of her work. Claudel thus had to either depend on Rodin, or to collaborate with him and see him get the credit as the lionised figure of French sculpture. She also depended on him financially, especially after her loving and wealthy father’s death, which allowed her mother and brother, who disapproved of her lifestyle, to maintain control of the family fortune and leave her to wander the streets dressed in beggars’ clothing.

Claudel’s reputation survived not because of her once notorious association with Rodin, but because of her work. The novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau described her as “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”” …

Ayral-Clause says that even though Rodin clearly signed some of her works, he was not treating her as different because of her gender; artists at this time generally signed their apprentices’ work. Others also criticise Rodin for not giving her the acknowledgment or support she deserved. …

Other authors write that it is still unclear how much Rodin influenced Claudel – and vice versa, how much credit has been taken away from her, or how much he was responsible for her woes. Most modern authors agree that she was an outstanding genius who, starting with wealth, beauty, iron will and a brilliant future even before meeting Rodin, was never rewarded and died in loneliness, poverty, and obscurity. Others like Elsen, Matthews and Flemming suggest it was not Rodin, but her brother Paul who was jealous of her genius, and that he conspired with her mother, who never forgave her for her supposed immorality, to later ruin her and keep her confined to a mental hospital.”4

.
This “sculptor of genius” was eventually “voluntarily” committed by her family to a psychiatric hospital in 1913 where she lived the remaining 30 years of her life, unable to practice her art. Her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum, her bones mixed with the bones of the most destitute. Her brother Paul Claudel could not be bothered with a grave for her, while he specified the exact place of his internment… the ultimate irony being that, Rodin had decided to include an exhibition space reserved exclusively for Camille Claudel’s works in the future museum that would house the collections he bequeathed to the French state on his death (at the Rodin Museum) – a request that could not be honoured until 1952, when Paul Claudel donated four major works by his sister to the museum.5 Bitter irony.

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Ruth Orkin
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

The female flâneuse and a period of transition

During the 19th century women could not stroll alone in the city.

“In Baudelaire’s essays and poems, women appear very often. Modernity breeds, or makes visible, a number of categories of female city-dwellers. Among the most prominent in these texts are: the prostitute, the widow, the old lady, the lesbian, the murder victim, and the passing unknown woman… But none of these women meet the poet as his equal. They are subjects of his gaze, objects of his ‘botanising’. The nearest he comes to a direct encounter, with a woman who is not either marginal or debased, is in the poem, À Une Passante (Even here, it is worth noting that the woman in question is in mourning – en grand deuil). The tall, majestic woman passes him in the busy street; their eyes meet for a moment before she continues her journey, and the poet remains to ask whether they will only meet again in eternity… (But if this is the rare exception of a woman sharing the urban experience, we may also ask whether a ‘respectable’ woman, in the 1850s would have met the gaze of a strange man).”6

But as Janet Wolff observes, women clearly were active and visible in other ways in the public arena, especially when it came to the construction of women’s dress as a sign of their husbands’ position: in effect, the less they worked and the more they evidenced the performance of conspicuous leisure and consumption, the more this was to the credit of their master rather than to their own credit. Wolff further notes, “The establishment of the department store in the 1850s and the 1860s provided an important new arena for the legitimate public appearance of middle-class women…” but denies this has anything to do with women being a female flâneur – a flâneuse – because the fleeting, anonymous encounters and purposeless strolling she has been considering “do not apply to shopping, or to women’s activities either as public signs of their husband’s wealth or as consumers.”7 Wolff rejects the notion of a female flâneuse as “such a character was rendered impossible by the sexual divisions of the nineteenth century.”8

Others disagree with this interpretation. In a paper titled “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century”, Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen offer the following history of the flâneur9 and the flâneuse concepts (apologies for the long quotation but it necessary):

 

“The term flâneur originated from the 18th century. It was described by Charles Baudelaire as ‘gentleman stroller of city streets’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005). …

‘The flâneur was an idle stroller with an inquisitive mind and an aesthetic eye, a mixture of the watchful detective, the aesthetic dandy and the gaping consumer, the badaud. A solitary character, he avoided serious political, familial or sexual relationships, and was only keen on the aesthetics of city life. He read the city as a book, finding beauty in the obsolete objects of other people, but in a distanced, superior way’ (van Godsendthoven, 2005).

The flâneur is a product of modern life and the industrial revolution, parallel to the references of the tourist in contemporary times. The arrival of department stores and the ‘Haussmannization’ of Paris’ streets in the second half of the nineteenth century swept away large parts of the historical city and also the domain of the flâneur. The archetype of the flâneur disappeared with its surroundings, in favour of the women- oriented department stores. ‘The department store may have been, as Benjamin put it, the flâneur’s last coup, but it was the flâneuse’s first’ (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse is not a female flâneur, but she is a version of the flâneur. She does not experience the city in the same way as he does. It is hard to define the archetype of the flâneuse, because the flâneur himself consists of paradoxes and many subcategories. Key concepts for flâneur and flâneuse are the amount of spare time, the aesthetic detachment towards objects, crowd and sceneries they see and their ambiguity about it.

The department stores were a starting point for the existence of the flâneuse, but this also marked her as a consumer, a ‘badaud’. The difference between badauds and flâneuses are the distance they create between themselves and the activities in the city. A characteristic of flânerie is an aesthetic distance between the subject and the object of attention. The badaud-flâneuse lacks this distance. The city is not being experienced, but is reduced to a place to consume.

As implied, the badaud-flâneuse did not have the full ability to flânerie. However, she has many qualities, which are at least some first initiatives to stroll around. Her domain moved from the interior of her home to the interior of the department store and sometimes even to the streets (Parsons, 2000). Shopping, art and day trips contribute to develop a certain view in that period of society, which was at the end of 19th century. Friedberg was very well aware that this new freedom was not the same as the freedom of the flâneur (Friedberg, 1993).

The flâneuse concept developed throughout the years expanded somehow further than being a badaud. She was discovering domains like art forms, like for example the cinema and the theatre at the beginning of the 20th century. But she was still objectified by men and patriarchic institutes. However, women became independent, without taking over the absent look and gaze of the flâneur. They changed their lives into art forms and had an opinion about the society they lived in. To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear. She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality.

Through the literature, the life of the flâneuse and the female characters in the city, like passersby, artists, dandies and badauds [gawkers, bystanders] are often interlaced with each other, and difficulties they experienced are alike. The flâneuse often shifted between these roles, but distinguished herself by her independency and distanced. She became a symbol for post-modern urban life: a wanderer in many shapes.”10

.
Nes and Nguyen further argue that the emancipation of women over the last two decades “has brought the flâneuse to a more equal position with the flâneur in the invisible right to be in public urban space. However, aspects like safety and when and where women are spending time in urban space still have effect on how women use public spaces and affect the public spheres.”11 Indeed, with the despicable murder of too many women in Melbourne in recent years by predatory men (Aiia Maasarwe, Mersina Halvagis, Masa Vukotic, Eurydice Dixon, Tracey Connelly, Sarah Cafferkey, Renea Lau and Jill Meagher to name just a few…), women still fear walking the streets alone. “Even when grief enveloped his family, Bill Halvagis can recall the wider sense of public outrage that followed the murder of his older sister Mersina. The shock that someone could do such a thing in a public place was as brutal as the crime itself.”12

 

Unknown photographer (Australian) 'People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012' 2012

 

Unknown photographer (Australian)
People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012
2012
Australian Associated Press (AAP)
Republished under Creative Commons from The Conversation website
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Looking back a century later, one of the key points of female emancipation in the early twentieth century is that women gained their independence “and had an opinion about the society they lived in… She had to claim an active role and to develop her own personality” while present and visible in the community, present in a public place. The world-wide suffragette movement was at the forefront of this early twentieth-century revolution.

“A suffragette was a member of an activist women’s organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner “Votes for Women”, fought for the right to vote in public elections. The term refers in particular to members of the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a women-only movement founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, which engaged in direct action and civil disobedience.” During the First World War “the suffragette movement in Britain moved away from suffrage activities and focused on the war effort… Women eagerly volunteered to take on many traditional male roles – leading to a new view of what women were capable of.”13 However, this new found capability and visibility in society “cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control” by men, embodying the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic – public sites (of interaction) producing “meanings and positions from which those meanings are consumed.”14 Women were “playing” in a man’s world subject to their approval, their gaze and their desire to possess and control the female both physically and sexually.

But, as Griselda Pollock observes, “modernity was not represented as taking place in exclusively masculine, because public, domains: rather, the spaces of modernity were in fact marginal spaces, those in which the city’s “new subjective experiences of exhilaration and alienation, pleasure and fear, mobility and confinement, expansiveness and fragmentation,” were most intense. These spaces of intersection happened to be sites in which bourgeois men came into contact with women…”15

Here comes the “New Woman” taking on traditional male roles, socialising in marginalised spaces, boldly going where few women had gone before, sampling new subjective experiences, becoming who they wanted to be… all under the munificent gaze of the (bourgeois) male.

 

Two women and two men

The “New Woman”, mainly middle class females, took their courage in their hands to become professional photographers and artists: photojournalists, fashion photographers, war photographers, magazine and picture photographers, working with successful men and women in fashion, interior design, news, graphics and art. At the Bauhaus female students pushed the boundaries in fields such as textiles, lighting, ceramics and costume, the “New Woman” putting her femininity under the spotlight.

By pushing boundaries, female artists and photographers broke ground becoming female in a male world… within the framework of modernity and aesthetics, to form the modern divine. In a youthful culture of commercial and technological changes they gained their independence through hard work and talent via the stereotype of the “New Woman” – a constructed image portrayed in the magazines (bobbed hair beauty, flapper, speed, fast cars, cigarette smoking) which played into the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject. By playing the system they became successful and visible, self conscious of their undeniable abilities. But at what cost? Many women, excited by the world of men, where chewed up and spat out, dumped, and sometimes met a terrible end.

 

Unknown photographer (German) 'Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film "Triumph of the Will"' September 9, 1934

 

Unknown photographer (German)
Leni Riefenstahl with Heinrich Himmler (left) during the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in the Luitpold Arena while recording her film “Triumph of the Will”
September 9, 1934
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

The epito/me of this new self consciousness and will to power was the Nazi film director Leni Reifenstahl (German, 1902-2003). Reifenstahl began as an interpretive dancer who often made almost 700 Reichsmarks for each performance. “Her dancing revealed her childlike quality, her surrender to the moment, and this natural, naïve quality made her the perfect heroine for his [Arnold Fanck’s] Alpine love stories. Riefenstahl was involved in a love triangle involving Fanck and her leading man [in director Fanck’s 1920s “mountain films”], Luis Trenker, demonstrating, in Mr. Bach’s words, “Leni’s skill at dominating the exclusive male society in which she found herself now and for almost all the rest of her professional life.””16 Reifenstahl used her beauty, voracious sexual prowess (with both women and men) and talent to infiltrate the world of film and learn acting and film editing techniques. Hitler saw her films and thought Riefenstahl epitomised the perfect German female.

“Riefenstahl heard Nazi Party (NSDAP) leader Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and was mesmerised by his talent as a public speaker… Hitler was immediately captivated by Riefenstahl’s work. She is described as fitting in with Hitler’s ideal of Aryan womanhood, a feature he had noted when he saw her starring performance in Das Blaue Licht. After meeting Hitler, Riefenstahl was offered the opportunity to direct Der Sieg des Glaubens (“The Victory of Faith”), an hour-long propaganda film about the fifth Nuremberg Rally in 1933… Still impressed with Riefenstahl’s work, Hitler asked her to film Triumph des Willens (“Triumph of the Will”), a new propaganda film about the 1934 party rally in Nuremberg. More than one million Germans participated in the rally. The film is sometimes considered the greatest propaganda film ever made… In February 1937, Riefenstahl enthusiastically told a reporter for the Detroit News, “To me, Hitler is the greatest man who ever lived. He truly is without fault, so simple and at the same time possessed of masculine strength”.”17

After the Second World War Riefenstahl was tried four times by postwar authorities for denazification and eventually found to be a “fellow traveller” (Mitläufer) who sympathised with the Nazis but she won more than fifty libel cases against people accusing her of having previous knowledge regarding the Nazi party.18 Research in the first decade of the twenty-first century (Jürgen Trimborn Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Faber & Faber, 2007 and Steven Bach Leni – The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl Knopf, 2007) dismantle Riefenstahl’s myth that she was an artist innocent of political motivations. She hitched her wagon to National Socialism, taking money to make her film Tiefland (Lowlands) and then bringing in extras from a concentration camp, keeping them in rags and starving them. After filming some were executed in the gas chambers. “Bach shows that the contract she entered into with the camp commandant makes clear the terms on which she had access to these ‘extras’ and that she knew they were going back to (at the very least) an uncertain future ‘in the east’.”19 Riefenstahl would later claim that all of the Romani extras – 53 Roma and Sinti from Maxglan, and a further 78 from a camp in eastern Berlin – had survived the war. In fact, almost 100 of them are known or believed to have been gassed in Auschwitz.20

Riefenstahl’s image of wholesome “New Woman” – a “version of an ideal presence, a kind of imperishable beauty” – never faded and she never wavered in her belief in herself and her innocence. The hubris of her egotistical narcissism denied any other version of history was possible, jealousy protecting her self-believed legacy like a protective tigress guarding her cubs, all the while denying her servitude and slavery to Nazi propaganda. Of course, all of it is a lie. There is Riefenstahl after the invasion of Poland filming away dressed as a uniformed army war correspondent replete with revolver around her waist.

 

Oswald Burmeister (German) 'Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera' Poland, September, 1939

 

Oswald Burmeister (German)
Visit of Leni Riefenstahl with a pistol at the XIV Army Corps, conversation with soldiers, on the left a film camera
Poland, September, 1939
German Federal Archives / Wikipedia (public domain)

 

 

“Four of the six feature films she directed are documentaries, made for and financed by the Nazi government… [they] celebrate the rebirth of the body and of community, mediated through the worship of an irresistible leader.”21 Susan Sontag saw Riefenstahl’s aesthetics as entirely inseparable from Nazi ideology, “consistent with some of the larger themes of Nazi ideology: the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical.”22

Naturally, and I use the word advisedly, the leader was male. While Riefenstahl could wish all she liked that she had power as a “New Woman”, “dominating the exclusive male society” of Nazi Germany, she was in reality just a pawn of their largesse. Women in Nazi Germany were seen mainly as baby producing machines, representing the fundamental ideologies of the role of the mother (the role of women under National Socialism). To that end the Cross of Honour of the German Mother (Mutterkreuz – Mother’s Cross) conferred by the government of the German Reich to honour a Reichsdeutsche German mother for exceptional merit to the German nation – 1st class, Gold Cross: eligible mothers with eight or more children; 2nd class, Silver Cross: eligible mothers with six or seven children; 3rd class, Bronze Cross: eligible mothers with four or five children – reinforced traditional feminine and family values, and “traditional” lifestyle patterns.23 The New Woman in Germany thus became a pure woman of German blood-heredity and genetically fit, the mother worthy of the decoration. In Nazi Germany the New Woman became “decoration” herself, the ideal protected as Sontag puts it as, “the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders).”24

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1920

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1920
Platinum print
Wikiart (Public domain)

 

 

One of the greatest artists of the twentieth-century was the painter Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). O’Keeffe, born in a small town named Sun Prairie in Dane County, Wisconsin grew up on the family farm south of the city. “As a child she received art lessons and her abilities were recognised and encouraged by local teaches and family throughout her school years. After O’Keeffe left Sun Prairie she pursued studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905-1906) and at the Arts Students League, New York (1907-9108).”25 She took a job as a commercial artist and then began teaching art, taking summer at classes at the University of Virginia for several years before becoming chair of an art department beginning the fall of 1916. A friend sent some of O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings to the photographer, gallerist and impresario Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) who exhibited them at his 291 gallery in April 1916. Stieglitz found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while,” and in the spring of 1917 he sponsored her first one-artist exhibition at 291 – the last show held at the galleries before they closed in July of that year.

At this time, “O’Keeffe painted to express her most private sensations and feelings. Rather than sketching out a design before painting, she freely created designs. O’Keeffe continued to experiment until she believed she truly captured her feelings [in watercolour] … After her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz started, her watercolour paintings ended quickly. Stieglitz heavily encouraged her to quit because the use of watercolour was associated with amateur women artists. … Stieglitz, twenty-four years older than O’Keeffe, provided financial support and arranged for a residence and place for her to paint in New York in 1918. They developed a close personal relationship while he promoted her work. She came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’s circle of artists, including painters Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and photographers Paul Strand and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work.”26 Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were married in 1924. Between 1918 and 1928 O’Keeffe worked primarily in New York City and at the Stieglitz family’s summer home at Lake George.

Working creatively side by side with that egotistical beomoth of American art that was Stieglitz could not have been easy. While Stieglitz promoted his wife’s art, provided financial support, directed the medium of her continued development, he also controlled her “purest” form (a symbol of the ideal) – that of her image. O’Keeffe became Stieglitz’s muse (a goddess, a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist), between 1918-1920 the photographer “making more than 140 photographs of O’Keeffe that, unlike his earlier analytic work, resonated with emotion and personal meaning… conjoining her art and her body, suggesting they were one.”27

 

“Stieglitz conceived of his portraits of O’Keeffe as a single work – a composite portrait. Each photograph stands on its own, revealing a certain innate quality at a given moment. But because change is a constant, only a series of photographs can evoke a subject’s entire being over time. To underscore the composite nature of his project, in 1921 Stieglitz exhibited more than forty photographs of O’Keeffe – many clustered by body part – under the title “Demonstration of Portraiture.”

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe married in 1924, and he continued to photograph her through the 1930s – his composite portrait eventually numbering 331 works. But his pictures of her changed markedly over the years. In 1923 when he became entranced with photographing clouds, he made smaller, more casual pictures of her at work or holding the subjects of her paintings. Many of his portraits of her from the 1930s lack the feverish intensity of those he made from 1918 to 1920 and reveal instead the distance in their relationship.”28

.
Stieglitz’s early photographs of O’Keeffe capture her in intimate encounters with the camera, portraying her through the gaze of male passion. “Extreme close-ups evoke an intimate sense of touch,” “different body parts were expressive of O’Keeffe’s individuality,” while in other photographs “she looks directly and longingly at the camera…”.29 O’Keeffe’s supposed independent New Woman was tied to the coat tails of an older man, her place in the cult of beauty (the ideal of life as art) an ideal eroticism. Her image was presented not as a temptation, not as a repression of the sexual impulse … but as its ultimate revelation in the seduction of the physicality of the photograph. Stieglitz’s composite “portrait in time,” “reflects his ideals of modern womanhood and is evocative of their close relationship.”30 Under the control of the man.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Wikipedia (Public domain)

 

 

O’Keeffe of course realised the power that Stieglitz had over her and she started to remove herself from his field of vision, from his power of influence. To truly gain her independence. As Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen observed earlier, “To gain respect as artists, the image of women as muses had to disappear” as so this is what O’Keeffe did: she stopped becoming Stieglitz’s muse. After first visiting New Mexico in 1917 O’Keeffe returned to what was her spiritual home in 1929 when she travelled to Mexico with her friend Rebecca Strand and stayed in Taos with Mabel Dodge Luhan, who provided the women with studios,31 from then on spending part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. “Upon returning to the place that touched her heart so deeply, O’Keeffe’s mental health did indeed improve. Her life and her artwork would never be the same again. “I felt as if something was ending and another was beginning,” O’Keeffe once said. She began to feel more like her true self, integrated with parts of her personality that had been submerged in New York City.”32

The distance in the relationship between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz (both physical, he in New York and she in New Mexico, and spiritual with her attenuation to the Cerro Pedernal landscape) was exacerbated by his long-term relationship with Dorothy Norman which started in 1928, leading to O’Keeffe’s mental breakdown and hospitalisation in 1933. She returned to New Mexico and in August 1934 moved to Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú. Literally, her place in Mexico was faraway, an isolated landscape which she called the Faraway: “She often talked about her fondness for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, as in 1943, when she explained, “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.””33 Metaphorically, it was faraway from the life she led with Stieglitz, far away from her wifely concerns. “Shortly after O’Keeffe arrived for the summer in New Mexico in 1946, Stieglitz suffered a cerebral thrombosis. She immediately flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946. She buried his ashes at Lake George. She spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949, spending time at both Ghost Ranch and the Abiquiú house that she made into her studio.”34

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Rams Head, White Hollyhock - Hills' (Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico) 1935

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Rams Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico
1935
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

Stieglitz never came to New Mexico. It was her space. Here she found her integrity, her own voice, far from the madding crowd, far from the gallery openings – a voice full of songs of the world. “She painted Taos Pueblo, San Francisco de Asís Catholic Church, a tree on the D.H. Lawrence ranch (that still stands), Mexican paper flowers, wood carvings, wild flowers, hills and sky around Taos.”35 She painted her “flowers of the desert”, bleached animal bones that were alive to her; and “she hoped people could see the music that she painted.” In New Mexico she truly became a “New Woman”: independent, intelligent, talented and famous … and her own woman – untamed by men, full of fierce self-protection and formidable work ethic, a woman adept at embracing the unknown and appreciative of the art of solitude.

 

Pushing the boundaries, finding themselves

While the physical presence of women photographers and their work in the “Roaring Twenties” or “golden 1920s” – “which saw young women breaking with traditional “mores” or likewise step aside from “traditional” lifestyle patterns”36 – was apsirational for young and independent women in order to achieve social prestige and material success, for most women photographers it was all about having a job and making a living.

Paradoxically, while the “New Woman” behind the camera “embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression”, promoting female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art they also bought into a capitalist system of male dominance in a patriarchal society where the “feminine” – that is a feminine perspective – underwent a process of sublimation through the sequestering (hiding away) of gender. As women photographers “sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights”, their independence, so women were still outsiders in the male system of the recognition of the feminine subject – both of the female body as subject and that of the female photographers’ body (although the latter less so, with the numerous self-portraits of the “New Woman” and their cameras captured in mirrors). Indeed, most “New Woman” photographers never seem to have had the desire, or the eroticism, to virtually put gender in the image. They were still in servitude to the dominant status quo.

The story of the two mites is apposite here. In the story (see below) many rich people put money into the treasury, while a poor widow puts in two mites (two small coins worth a few cents) which is all she has. “The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.””37 In other words, the widow (in our case the New Woman) contributes her whole livelihood to maintaining the social system (patriarchal society) that oppresses her by supporting the value system that motivates her action… a system, controlled by men, that keeps her in servitude.

Many “New Woman” photographers behind the camera had to operate in such a value system in order have a job and make a living. Variously, they had to build a career as a fashion photographer, advertising and graphic photographer, magazine photographer, studio photographer, photojournalist, war photographer, social documentary photographer, street photographer and ethnographic photographic … and usually had be proficient at most styles of photography in order to obtain sufficient work for survive. For example, Sabine Weiss bridled at being labelled a humanist, “because she considered her street photography to be just one part of her oeuvre. Most of her career was spent as a fashion photographer and a photojournalist, shooting celebrities like Brigitte Bardot and musicians like Benjamin Britten. “From the start I had to make a living from photography; it wasn’t something artistic,” Weiss told Agence France-Presse in 2014. “It was a craft, I was a craftswoman of photography.”38

I suspect for most women photographers of the era this was the truth: taking photographs wasn’t something artistic it was a craft from which they earned a living. While part of the profound shaping of the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change they did not initiate the “modernisation” of photography but were undoubtedly an important part of that movement. But, and here is the key point, they were still producing “mainstream” images and, as Annette Kuhn notes, “‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.”39 They bought into the value system.

 

Among others (such as Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, Aenne Biermann, Eva Besnyö and Florence Henri to name just a few of my favourites) … two women photographers who did push the boundaries of the art of photography and, in their case, what was acceptable in terms of the representation of gender identity were the temporarily bisexual, pan-world Germaine Krull (1897-1985) and the “neuter” (neither) photographer Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954).

Krull published her seminal book Métal in 1928 in Paris, and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

 

“With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower. The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable…

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.”40

 

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs A. Calavas, Editeur.

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket. Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

Folio 30 x 23.5cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
Plate 29.2 x 22.5cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
Image 23.6 x 17.1cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer) From the portfolio 'Les amies' c. 1924

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer)
From the portfolio Les amies
c. 1924
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In 1924, in an earlier portfolio of eleven photographs titled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends), Krull depicts “a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare.” In a tangle of insouciant bodies that hid breasts and eyes, in which none of the models stares at the camera, Krull presents an eroticism that “is contained between the two women, with no imaginary space for a third, presumably male, viewer to enter…,” Krull dismissing “”the male gaze of Weimar culture in favor of a female gaze” and her emphasis on the gazes within the images as the female models view each other. In Les Amies, there is no space for a third party: the only possibility is to become one of the women.”41

“By photographing erotic scenes, Krull not only constructed the desiring gaze but also placed herself in the position of that gaze, taking on privileges previously permitted only to male photographers…”42 whilst at the same time transgressing the definition of middle-class respectability – all the while emphasising the fluidity of female sexual identity in the 1920s, especially for the adventurous “New Woman”.

While these images received little attention during her lifetime (much like the gender bending images of Claude Cahun) they are representations of queer desire which picture the dissolution of the controlling male gaze. Using the mirror of her / Self and her camera, Krull’s staged (erotic) encounters in Les Amies and Métal undermine the male space of control through spatial disorientation – her “reforming mirror” performing a tangle of limbs, the fragmentation of the female body in which gender becomes neutral coupled with the dismantling of the phallocentrism of the (Eiffel) tower until its form becomes an unrecognisable and different “other”. “Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”43

The French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914.

“In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” … [She] is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations.”44

.
Cahun’s self-portraiture over a period of 27 years (in collaboration with her lover Marcel Moore) was a unique investigation into the multiplicity of sexuality and gender identity. “By 1930, Cahun had amassed a considerable image bank of photographic self-portraits; that year, she publicly disseminated a handful of those images for the first and only time.”45 In her photographs she explored the mutable definitions of gender through multiple ‘masked’ personas – using photomontage, the doubling of the image (asserting another conception of gender identity that of a “third sex” or an “Androgyne”), the various ways photographs can be produced and viewed (meant to unsettle the audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality), and the dissolution of the self in the space between the body and the mirror to aid her investigation. Self-reflection was not her objective in the use of the mirror but Cahun did use the mirror as a source of reflection in a contemplative, interrogatory mode in her photographs; and these were private photographs never intended for public display. “It has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.”46

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

In Cahun’s gender non-conforming self-portraits “identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Laura Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary47 these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption48 to the world.”49

These were private manifestations of her inner self for the benevolence of her own spirit. She made art for herself, willing enough to face uncertainty and take the untrodden path of inner discovery. She was a “New Woman” where the term “woman” is fluid and fragmentary, open to adaptation and interpretation.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
Used under fair use conditions for the purposes of academic research and education

 

 

A proposition and, the particular becomes universal

So the question becomes – when is a photographer a photographer a photographer. Does it matter who is behind the lens?

On the evidence of almost 200 photographs in the postings on this exhibition, if the photographs were labelled “unknown photographer”, many of these images could as easily have been made by men as by women. So in one sense it does not matter. What matters is the quality of the work.

But from other perspectives of course it matters, it matters a great deal. These women photographers have been whitewashed from the history of photography as though they never existed. Their challenge to the dominant narrative of male supremacy in society and the continuation of the struggle for female visibility and emancipation, requires a recognition of their courage and sacrifices. These were talented, strong and creative human beings and their work demands the recognition it deserves.

And then we ask, why has it taken a hundred years to shift the institutionally constructed history of photography, which has been perpetuated from generation to generation, where only male photographers were to be looked at, collected, admired and displayed? And the simple answer is that one word: “men”. Although things are changing slowly, too slowly, it was and still is a patriarchal society, a system of society controlled by men, and in the time period we are talking about (1920s-1950s), it was a world where institutions and their collecting practices were controlled by men; where photography was not being collected by many museums; and where the photographs of the “New Woman” behind the camera was not seen as collectible because it was what they did to make a living… it wasn’t art.

Further, we might postulate a proposition with regard to the practice of “New Woman” photographers, a form of Zen kōan if you like:

It doesn’t matter that I am a woman / I am a woman

.
In relation to this in/sight, I muse on a quotation about the work of Imogen Cunningham: “I keep coming back to this duality: Don’t pigeonhole her for being a woman. But don’t forget she’s a woman!” says Dunn Marsh. “She photographed flowers, which people sort of treated as a feminine subject matter. But Edward Weston was photographing peppers, and nobody considered that to be an exclusively masculine subject matter.”50

If we unpack this quotation, it reads as ‘it doesn’t matter that Cunningham was a woman… but don’t forget she’s a woman!’. Weston made images of peppers and nobody commented on his masculinity or the masculine “nature” of his subject matter and the same should go for Cunningham. Just because she is a women why comment on the femininity of flowers – but don’t forget Imogen is a women! It’s about the quality of the work, not the gender of the artist and then maybe it’s about being female but only if the artist chooses it to be … (Georgia O’Keeffe got very annoyed by the reading of her close-up flower paintings which many interpreted as representing female genitalia, insisting that the paintings has nothing to do with female sexuality).

Finally we can say, it’s doesn’t matter what gender you are when you look through the camera lens (as a machine it’s impartial), it is about the reality of yourself as a human being and your relationship to the camera. The actions of the photographer are a personal engagement with the camera (in other words, in relation to the women behind the camera, the camera in relation to her/Self) but through direct action – an engagement with time and light – their can be a shift in consciousness from the personal (the particular) to the universal.

It shouldn’t (that is the key word) matter whether you are male or female … it’s about the quality of the work and it’s about following the light. The light of self recognition of the path that you are on. As Maria Popova insightfully observes,

“And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.”51

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The “New Woman” broke new ground by challenging the (in)visibility of women in a male dominated world. She placed herself in a man’s world but she still had to fit into that man’s world and conform to his image of her. But she followed her path of uncertainty with conviction and motivation, a path until then untrodden by anyone else, until she turned around and found that she had forged her own singular path, had looked within and had found her own voice. Looking back from a contemporary perspective we can finally recognise the struggle of the “New Woman” behind the camera, we can see their singular paths and recognise their achievements. What we can learn from the “New Woman” today, is that we all have a choice… to accept the status quo or offer determined defiance to prejudiced social conventions.

All human beings have to live within the parameters of social constructs but as human beings what we can do is push against the limits society imposes on us, push against the barriers of economic, political and sexual freedom. We can transgress the taboo. We can struggle that great and mighty struggle on the path of life, to push at the boundaries of being. What we all need to do, both women and men, is to find our integrity in relation to the reality of the world and to our own spirit. Through the efforts of those that came before us, we all now have a choice as to the path we follow and how we fit into this multifarious society.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

January 2021

Word count: 8,590

 

Footnotes

  1. Anonymous text. “George Sand,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  2. Victor Hugo. Les funérailles de George Sand quoted “Emancipated Woman,” in the Saturday Review: Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 41, June 17, 1876, pp. 771 [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  3. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Musée Rodin website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  4. Anonymous text. “Camille Claudel,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  5. Musée Rodin op cit.,
  6. Janet Wolff. “The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity” in Theory, Culture and Society Volume 2, Number 3, Sage, 1985, p. 42
  7. Ibid., p. 44
  8. Ibid.,
    “When flanerie moves into the private realm of the department store, feminization alters this urban practice almost beyond recognition … By abolishing the distance between the individual and the commodity, the feminization of flanerie redefines it out of existence. The flaneur‘s dispassionate gaze dissipates under pressure from the shoppers’ passionate engagement in the world of things to be purchase and possessed. The flaneur ends up going shopping after all. … The department store cannot be the scene of urban strolling, not only because it is an enclosed and circumscribed space, but, more importantly, because shopping is a pre-defined and purposeful activity.”
    Janet Wolff. “Gender and the haunting of cities (or, the retirement of the flâneur),” in Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 21
  9. Flaneur – “The flaneur symbolises the privilege or freedom to move about the public arenas of the city observing but never interacting, consuming the sights through a controlling but rarely-acknowledged gaze… The flaneur embodies the gaze of modernity which is both covetous and erotic. … The site of pleasurable looking, this look actively cast women as passive, erotic objects, subjecting them to a kind of voyeuristic control; it was in this sense that the visual purview of the bourgeois stroller – now the representative of middle-class masculinity in its entirety – became thoroughly implicated in issues of gender.”
    Griselda Pollock. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art. London, UK: Routledge, 1988.
  10. Akkelies van Nes and Tra My Nguyen. “Gender Differences in the Urban Environment: The flâneur and flâneuse of the 21st Century,” in Daniel Koch, Lars Marcus and Jesper Steen (eds.,). Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium. Stockholm: KTH, 2009
  11. Ibid.,
    “Prostitution was indeed the female version of flânerie, which serves only to emphasise the inequality of gender differences in this era. The male flâneur was simply a man who loitered on the streets; but women who loitered risked being seen as prostitutes, streetwalkers, or les grandes horizontales as they were known in nineteenth-century Paris.”
    Bobby Seal. “From Streetwalker to Street Walker: The Rise of the Flâneuse,” on the Psychogeographic Review website 24/12/20212 [Online] Cited 20/01/2022
  12. Bianca Hall and Adam Cooper. “From Jill Meagher to Aiia Maasarwe: The murders that changed Melbourne over the past decade,” on The Age website December 30, 2019 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021.
  13. “Suffragette,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 14/12/2021
  14. Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (eds.,) The Invisible Flâneuse? Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. London, UK: Manchester UP, 2006, p. 8
  15. Ibid., p. 6
  16. Steven Bach quoted in Carl Rollyson. “Leni Riefenstahl on Trial,” on The New York Sun website March 7, 2007 [Online] Cited 04/01/2022
  17. Anonymous. “Leni Riefenstahl,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2021
  18. Ibid.,
  19. Taylor Downing. “Leni: fully exposed,” on The Observer website Sun 29 April 2007 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  20. Kate Connolly. “Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favourite film-maker,” on The Guardian website Thursday 9 December 2021 [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  21. Susan Sontag. “Fascinating Fascism,” in The New York Review February 6, 1975 issue [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  22. Ibid.,
  23. See “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  24. Sontag, op. cit.,
  25. Text from a sign commemorating birth of Georgia O’Keeffe, located next to Sun Prairie City Hall, 300 E, Main Street
  26. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2022
  27. Mark Levitch. “Stieglitz Career Overview: Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918-1920,” on the National Gallery of Art website Nd [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  28. Ibid.,
  29. Ibid.,
  30. John Black. “Alfred Stieglitz and Modern America,” on the Boston Event Guide website Wednesday, 23 August 2017 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  31. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  32. Roberta Courtney Meyers. “O’Keeffe in Taos,” on the Taos News website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  33. Anonymous. “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/02/2022
  34. Ibid.,
  35. Meyers, op. cit.,
  36. Anonymous. “Cross of Honour of the German Mother” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 12/01/2022
  37. Anonymous. “Lesson of the widow’s mite,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2022
  38. Clay Risen. “Sabine Weiss, Last of the ‘Humanist’ Street Photographers, Dies at 97,” on The New York Times website Jan 4, 2022 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022
  39. Annette Kuhn. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.
  40. Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  41. Anonymous. “Germaine Krull, From Séries les Amies, 1924,” on the La Petite Mélancolie website 19/06/2012 [Online] Cited 15/01/2022
  42. Ibid.,
  43. Ibid.,
  44. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  45. Jennifer Josten. “Reconsidering Self-Portraits by Women Surrealists: A Case Study of Claude Cahun and Frida Kahlo,” in the Atlantis Journal Vol. 30, No. 2, 30/02/2006 p. 24
  46. Anonymous. “Claude Cahun,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  47. Those with non-binary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognised gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.
  48. “The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.
  49. Marcus Bunyan. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask” on the Art Blart website 24th May 2017 [Online] Cited 16/01/2022
  50. Dunn Marsh quoted in Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022
  51. Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

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

 

 

Uncertainty is the price of beauty, and integrity the only compass for the territory of uncertainty that constitutes the landmass of any given life.

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

.
Maria Popova. “Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”,” on The Marginalian website 12th July 2021 [Online] Cited 13/12/2021

 

The beautiful woman will continue to serve as a symbol of feminine mystery to the man who desires her and of potency and success to the man who can claim her. And to the women around her, she will remain a symbol of the ideal against which they will be judged. This can only change when beauty loses its distorted power in the evaluation of a “woman’s worth”; that is, when the dependent relationship between women and men has been dismantled. Thus are the politics of appearance inextricably bound up with the structures of social, political and economic inequality … Fighting pressure to conform, attempting to hold one’s own against the commercial and cultural images of the acceptable is a crucial first act of resistance. The attempt to pass and blend in actually hides us from those we most resemble. We end up robbing each other of authentic reflections of ourselves. Instead, imperfectibly visible behind a fashion of conformity, we fear to meet each others’ eyes …

Real diversity can only become a source of strength if we learn to acknowledge it rather than disguise it. Only then can we recognize each other as different and therefore exciting, imperfect and as such enough.

.
Wendy Chapkis. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press, 1986, p. 175.

 

… in practice, images are always seen in context: they always have a specific use value in the particular time and place of their consumption. This, together with their formal characteristics, conditions and limits the meanings available from them at any on moment. But if representations always have use value, then more often than not they also have exchange value: they circulate as commodities in a social / economic system. This further conditions, or overdetermines, the meanings available from representations. Meanings do not reside in images, then: they are circulated between representation, spectator and social function.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 6.

 

Meanings readable from photographs … are at all points connected with the status they occupy as products, with the contexts of reception and the discourses of authorship, aesthetics, criticism and marketing which surround them. ‘Mainstream’ images in our culture bear the traces of the capitalist and patriarchal social relations in which they are produced, exchanged and consumed.

.
Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985, p. 10.

 

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Woman Selling Her and Her Husband's Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)' c. 1950-1953, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Woman Selling Her and Her Husband’s Poetry Books (Street Snapshot in Tokyo)
c. 1950-1953, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.6 x 29.6cm (11 5/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

 

Lesson of the widow’s mite

The lesson of the widow’s mite or the widow’s offering is presented in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), in which Jesus is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.

 

Biblical narrative

“He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.'”

 

Commentary

… In the passage immediately prior to Jesus taking a seat opposite the Temple treasury, he is portrayed as condemning religious leaders who feign piety, accept honour from people, and steal from widows. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honour in synagogues, and places of honour at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

The same religious leaders who would reduce widows to poverty also encourage them to make pious donations beyond their means. In [Adison] Wright’s opinion, rather than commending the widow’s generosity, Jesus is condemning both the social system that renders her poor, and “… the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'The Labor Offensive Heats Up' 1946, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
The Labor Offensive Heats Up
1946, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.9 x 37.2cm (9 13/16 x 14 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) '"Living New Look" Photography Exhibition' 1950, printed 1993

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
“Living New Look” Photography Exhibitionkru
1950, printed 1993
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.6 x 29.5cm (14 13/16 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 41 x 51.2 x 2.5 cm (16 1/8 x 20 3/16 x 1 in.)
Collection of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

 

Photographer unknown. 'Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo' 1940, printed 2020

 

Photographer unknown
Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 18.2 x 18.2cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 46.99 x 36.83cm (18 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Hiroshima Peace Memorial' 1953, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
1953, printed 2020
Inkjet print
Image: 37.4 x 37.3cm (14 3/4 x 14 11/16 in.)
Frame: 55.88 x 50.8cm (22 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.15 x 52.07cm (22 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914) 'Untitled' 1940, printed 2020

 

Tsuneko Sasamoto (Japanese, b. 1914)
Untitled
1940, printed 2020
Inkjet print image: 47.5 x 33.8cm (18 11/16 x 13 5/16 in.)
Frame: 60.96 x 45.72cm (24 x 18 in.)
Tsuneko Sasamoto / Japan Professional Photographers Society

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928) 'Full of Life' 1954

 

Toshiko Okanoue (Japanese, b. 1928)
Full of Life
1954
Collage on paper
Image/sheet: 23.8 x 24.9cm (9 3/8 x 9 13/16 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, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Okanoue Toshiko

 

 

Toshiko Okanoue (岡上 淑子, Okanoue Toshiko, born 3 January 1928) is a Japanese artist associated with the Japanese avant-garde art world of the 1950s and best known for her Surrealist photo collages. …

 

Early career

Born in Kochi and raised in Tokyo, Okanoue began to make photo collages while studying fashion and drawing at the Bunka Gakuin in Tokyo in the early 1950s. The young Okanoue, initially knew little of art history or the Surrealist movement.

In 1952, a classmate from Keisen Girls’ High School introduced Okanoue to poet and art critic Shuzo Takiguichi, a leading figure in the Japanese Surrealist movement, who would help introduce her to the wider art world, including the work of European Surrealists, such as German artist Max Ernst, who was an influence on her subsequent work.

Over the next six years she would produce over 100 works. She exhibited in two exhibits including, solo shows at the Takemiya Gallery in Tokyo, In the second show at Takemiya, over fifty pieces of Okanoue’s monochrome photographs were hung on display. Also exhibited at the “Abstract and Illusion” exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo between 1 December 1953 and 20 January 1954, which attracted total of 16,657 audiences appreciating 91 artworks by 91 artists.

 

Artistic style

In post-war Japan, shortages of goods meant that foreign goods filled the market and fashion and lifestyle magazines such as Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Life magazine provided the raw materials for Okanoue’s collages. Her black and white photo collages mix images of places, objects and people, often fashionable European women, in dynamic and often unsettling compositions whose subjects explored themes of war, femininity and the relations between the sexes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photographer unknown. 'Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the "Photo Times"' October 1940

 

Photographer unknown
Page spread featuring Eiko Yamazawa and her assistant, from the “Photo Times”
October 1940
Magazine
Open: 25.4 x 30.48cm (10 x 12 in.)
Cradle: 8.89 x 33.02 x 26.35 cm (3 1/2 x 13 x 10 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

American, 20th Century. '"Photo-Fighter," in "True Comics"' July 1944

 

American, 20th Century
“Photo-Fighter,” in “True Comics”
July 1944
Comic book
Open: 25.4 x 35.56cm (10 x 14 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899–1998) 'Self portrait with Leica' 1931 printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (United States of America, Germany 1899-1998)
Self-Portrait With Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg/Ilse Bing Estate

 

Ré Soupault (German, 1901–1996) 'Self-Portrait, Tunis' 1939

 

Ré Soupault (German, 1901–1996)
Self-Portrait, Tunis
1939
Gelatin silver print
Artists Rights Society, New York

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991) 'Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau)' (Untitled (Crying woman)) c. 1934

 

Elisabeth Hase (German, 1905-1991)
Ohne Titel (Weinende Frau) (Untitled (Crying woman))
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 22.8 x 17.1cm (9 x 6 3/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 44.5 x 36.8cm (17 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2016
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Resource, NY

 

 

Elisabeth Hase (December 16, 1905 – October 9, 1991) was a German commercial and documentary photographer active in Frankfurt from 1932 until her death in 1991, at the age of 85.

Hase was born in Döhlen bei Leipzig, Germany. She studied typography and commercial art from 1924 to 1929 at the School of Applied Arts, and later at the Städelschule, under, among other teachers, Paul Renner and Willi Baumeister. Hase was active as a photographer during the time of the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich and through post-WWII Germany. She was able to avoid government oversight of her work by establishing her own photographic studio in 1933.

Hase’s work included surreal photography, such as close-up photographs of dolls.

She received several awards, several for paper designs and collages. During a two-year collaboration in the studio of Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler, Hase took architectural photographs in New Objectivity style for the magazine Das Neue Frankfurt (The New Frankfurt) and documentary photographs of modern housing projects, including those of Ferdinand Kramer.

In 1932, Hase started her own business. It focused on timeless designs like still life, structures, plants, dolls, people, especially self-portraits. Often she used herself as a model in her photographic “picture stories.” Cooperation with agencies like Holland Press Service and the Agency Schostal enabled her to publish her photographs internationally.

Despite the bombing of Frankfurt in 1944 by the Allies, Hare’s photographic archive survived the war without major damage. Many of those works are now part of the collections held by the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany, in the Albertina (Vienna) in Vienna, and in the Walter Gropius estate in the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, as well as in private collections in Germany and abroad.

Despite loss of her cameras and other technical equipment in the chaos of war, Hase was able to resume taking photographs in 1946 by the help of emigre friends who provided her with film and cameras to use. Among other subjects Hase documented was the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt.

From 1949, her work focused on advertising, consisting mostly of plant portraits.

Hase died at the age of 85 in 1991 in Frankfurt am Main.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962) 'Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald' (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest) Before 1934

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (German, 1883-1962)
Mädchen aus dem Guttachtal, Schwarzwald (Young Woman from the Guttach Valley, Black Forest)
Before 1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.1 x 13.2cm (6 3/4 x 5 3/16 in.)
Mount: 26 x 18.4cm (10 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
Frame (outer): 52.07 x 39.37cm (20 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Erna Lendvai-Dircksen (born Erna Katherina Wilhelmine Dircksen, 31 May 1883 – 8 May 1962) was a German photographer known for a series of volumes of portraits of rural individuals from throughout Germany. During the Third Reich, she also photographed for eugenicist publications and was commissioned to document the new autobahn and the workers constructing it. …

 

Critical reception

Lendvai-Dircksen’s portraits of farmers suited the Nazi ethos except that in her initial publication, almost all her subjects were old, and indeed she clearly portrayed the damage to their bodies as a sign of authenticity. She later widened her focus to include children. She never, however, photographed sport, whether for technical reasons or because of her personal philosophy.

Although Lendvai-Dircksen has been referred to as “brown Erna” for the promotion of Nazi ideals in her work under the Third Reich, her portrait photography can be compared to the work of Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans as documentation of impoverished people, and Margaret Bourke-White also photographed labourers in a heroic light. As pointed out by Berlin photographic curator Janos Frecot in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Albertina which included her work, her portraits and those of others at the time can be seen as applications of the same ethnographic principle as portraits of people in faraway cultures; similarly, Leesa Rittelmann has shown that the same principle of characterising a country by the physiognomies of its people, although a throwback to 19th-century theories, was shared by Weimar-era photographers such as the progressive August Sander, in his Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005) 'Serge Lifar, "El espectro de la rosa"' (Serge Lifar, "The Spirit of the Rose") 1935

 

Annemarie Heinrich (Argentinian born Germany, 1912-2005)
Serge Lifar, “El espectro de la rosa” (Serge Lifar, “The Spirit of the Rose”)
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.4 x 20.7cm (11 3/16 x 8 1/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund

 

 

Annemarie Heinrich (9 January 1912 – 22 September 2005) was a German-born naturalised Argentine photographer, who specialised in portraits and nude photographs. Heinrich is considered one of Argentina’s most important photographers.

She is known for having photographed various celebrities of Argentine cinema, such as Tita Merello, Carmen Miranda, Zully Moreno and Mirtha Legrand; as well as other cultural personalities like Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Eva Perón. She also photographed landscapes, city scenes, animals, and abstracts. Her photographs of South America hold significant ethnographic value, showing changes to the area through the 20th century.

 

Career

In 1930, she opened her first studio in Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires. She also married Ricardo Sanguinetti, a writer under the name Alvaro Sol, in the same year. Two years later she moved to a larger studio and began photographing actors from the Teatro Colón.

Heinrich co-founded Foto Club Argentino and was a founding member of Consejo Argentino de Fotografía (Argentine Council on Photography) and the Consejo Latinoamericano de Fotografía (Latin American Council on Photography). Her photos were also the cover of magazines such as El Hogar, Sintonía, Alta Sociedad, Radiolandia and Antena for forty years.

In Argentina during the Second World War, Heinrich was part of the anti-war movement, Consejo Argentino por la Paz (Argentinian Council for Peace). She was also in the Junta de la Victoria (Victory Board), a women’s group advocating against fascism and for the Allies. After the war, Heinrich travelled across Europe, exhibiting her work in Rome, Milan, Paris, and Zürich. In the 1950s Heinrich was part of a modernist group calling themselves Carpeta de los diez (Group of Ten).

Heinrich was brought to court in 1991 for displaying one of her nude photographs in the Avenida Callao studio window. National and international outcry in support of Heinrich and the aesthetic value of the photograph led to the case being dropped.

In 2015, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires held a retrospective of her work. Heinrich’s work was shown in New York for the first time in 2016 at Nailya Alexander Gallery in the show “Annemarie Heinrich: Glamour and Modernity in Buenos Aires.”

Heinrich’s archive has been digitised in a project between the British Library Endangered Archives Programme and the Institute for Research in Art and Culture, Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, in 2016. The collection is available online at the Endangered Archives Programme website.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Ohne Titel (Studie für "Der Akt")' (Untitled (Study for "The Nude")) 1924

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Ohne Titel (Studie für “Der Akt”) (Untitled (Study for “The Nude”))
1924
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.23 x 16.51cm (8 3/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Trish and Jan de Bont

 

 

The photographer Germaine Krull is little known outside of specialist circles today, but in 1928 she was the toast of Paris. Her avant-garde photographs of the city filled the pages of VU, a magazine known for its dynamic spreads and modern, bold aesthetic. Krull was one of its signature photographers. She shot sailors on the docks, piles of curios at the flea market, dancers at the Moulin Rouge. As both photojournalist and art photographer, Krull was one of the leading lights of the Parisian photography scene. Her pictures hung in the Salon de l’Escalier, a major exhibition of modernist photography, and over the next few years, her work featured in exhibitions across Europe. By 1931, the cultural critic Walter Benjamin used Krull as an example of photography’s potential in his celebrated essay “Little History of Photography.”1

Krull, born in Posen (then Germany, now Poznán, Poland), wound up in Paris after an itinerant childhood, a few years’ study of photography in Munich, and a series of political embroilments that sound like the stuff of fiction. Banned from Bavaria for aiding a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape through the Alps, she was later deported from the Soviet Union as a supposed counterrevolutionary.

After a stint in Berlin, where she ran her own photography studio, she made her way to Paris. There, she published her photo book Métal in 1928 and began to receive attention alongside other practitioners of new, assertively modern photographic styles such as Man Ray and André Kertész.

With Métal, Krull turned her lens on the soaring structures of industrial Europe: Rotterdam’s railroad bridge De Hef, Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, a number of nameless industrial cranes, factory machinery, and, most recognizably, the Eiffel Tower.2 The portfolio bore the subtitle “métaux nus” (bare metals), and critics have often likened these metallic bodies to the nude photographs she made around the same time. In both cases, Krull got close to her subjects, dislocating them from their environments. In Métal, Krull rendered the familiar form of the Eiffel Tower nearly unrecognizable. She tended to shoot the tower from beneath, its iron lattices stretching vertiginously upward, such that the monument’s iconic shape is lost.

In an untitled nude photograph from 1928 or ’29, she deployed a similar approach, keeping the camera fixed on an unclothed torso twisting off toward the edge of the frame with upturned face cut off at mid-cheek. The dramatic play of shadow and light renders the figure’s gender indistinct. Whether focused on a living subject or an architectural one, Krull’s camera resists the viewer’s urge to name and categorize.

Before Krull became a famous Parisian photojournalist, she made a series of enigmatic pictures of female couples. In 1924, while living in Berlin, Krull shot a portfolio of eleven photographs entitled Les amies (French for “the friends,” specifically denoting female friends). The photographs depict a pair of women in stages of gradual undress, eventually left only in their stockings, the rest of their flesh laid bare. In the narrative that unfolds from image to image, the two women move between sofa and floor: the shape of their union shifts but their bodies remain interlocked. The images were risqué enough that they received little attention during Krull’s lifetime – perhaps a bit too lewd for fine art display, and yet not quite pornographic either. Certainly though, these photographs are representations of queer desire; they were made by an artist who desired women herself.

In her memoirs, Krull describes the relationship she had with a woman (perhaps pseudonymously) referred to as “Elsa,” noting, “We would have laughed if someone had labeled us lesbians.” At the time, Krull and Elsa were both married to men, and Krull frames the affair as an exception. She calls Elsa “the only woman I have loved and who has loved me.” In another passage, she seems to contradict herself, stating, “I never loved a woman.” But she does not altogether dismiss this relationship: “With Elsa, the joy of feeling united was so great. … She was so much mine that the physical question did not count.”3

One of the Les amies photographs in The Met collection shows two women wrapped in an amorous knot, so engaged in their pursuit of pleasure that their faces remain almost entirely obscured. This elision of the models’ faces is, perhaps, an effect of modesty or concealing their identity, but it also produces a sense of intense absorption in the sexual act – despite performing for a camera, the two women seem concerned only with each other. The photographs offer a vision of queer feminine sexuality in its most visible form.

Krull’s straightforward depiction of these female lovers is all the more striking given that she took these photographs at a time when lesbians were often imagined to be invisible – or at the very least, imperceptible. In the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s, and especially in France, anxieties ran high about precisely this problem. If lesbians could not be identified on sight, how could they be apprehended? How could the dangers of rampant female sexuality be curtailed with lesbians walking around Paris in plain sight, undetected? These worries occupied novelists, social scientists, and sexologists alike, as Carolyn J. Dean describes in her book, The Frail Social Body.4

Krull, unlike her (largely male) contemporaries, seems to have had no trouble locating queer female sexuality, or representing it. On the contrary, the Les amies photographs adopt a direct, frontal view of the two lovers. Krull’s models become almost indistinguishable over the course of the series. This compositional strategy suggests a particularly queer eroticization of sameness, very different from the conception of a butch-femme dyad imaged by Krull’s contemporary Brassaï in his photographs of the Parisian lesbian bar Le Monocle. But the representation of queerness as a kind of doubling accords with popular French conceptions of the so-called sapphist as a “female Narcissus,” as Nicole Albert puts it in her 2005 study of the lesbian phantasm at the fin-de-siècle, Lesbian Decadence.5

Just as Narcissus gazed upon his own likeness, the lesbian often appeared in popular representations gazing upon another woman as a kind of mirror image of herself. Mirrors, long linked with feminine vanity, became a convenient shorthand for the idea that lesbian desire is the ultimate narcissism. This allowed for artists and writers to simultaneously denounce sexual immorality and the eroticization of that sin. Contemporary illustrations in magazines and advertisements, for instance, offered up sensuous sights of women embracing through, near, or against mirrors. The mirror’s reflection plays up the autoeroticism of self-regard, and supposedly of sapphism itself. Meanwhile, literary accounts of lesbianism in the interwar period frequently staged scenes of erotic encounters in mirrored rooms.6 Such spaces – be they brothels, nightclubs, or private bedrooms – facilitated both voyeurism and spatial disorientation.

Nor was sapphism the mirror’s only resonance in the 1920s. Contemporary critics frequently compared photography to a mirror. The poet and polymath Jean Cocteau, for instance, told Krull of her art: “You are a reforming mirror. You and the darkroom [chambre noire] obtain a new world, a world that has passed through [the camera’s] workings and a soul.”7 Here, he plays upon the double meaning present in the French “chambre noire,” which refers at once to the literal darkroom where photographs are developed and to the camera obscura, which we might think of as a stand-in for the enterprise of photography itself. As Cocteau would have it, Krull herself was the mirror, not photography. Armed with her camera, she had the power not only to depict reality but to transform it.”

Marina Molarsky-Beck. “Germaine Krull’s Queer Vision,” on The Met website August 17 2021 [Online] Cited 15/12/2021

 

Footnotes

  1. Walter W. Benjamin, “Little History of Photography,” in Selected Writings: 1927-1934, ed. Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, and Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 507-28
  2. Kim Sichel, Making Strange: The Modernist Photobook in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), 19
  3. Germaine Krull, La vie mène la danse, ed. Françoise Denoyelle (Textuel, 2015), 179-180
  4. Carolyn J. Dean, The Frail Social Body: Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France (Berkeley, C.A.: University of California Press, 2000)
  5. Nicole G. Albert, Lesbian Decadence: Representations in Art and Literature of Fin-de-Siècle France, trans. Nancy Erber and William A. Peniston (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 241-242. Originally published as Albert, Saphisme et décadence dans Paris fin-de-siècle (Paris: Martinière, 2005)
  6. Dean, The Frail Social Body, 193
  7. “Vous êtes un miroir reformant. Vous et la chambre noire obtenez un monde neuf, un monde qui a traversé des mécanismes et une âme.” Jean Cocteau, Jean Cocteau to Germaine Krull, April 1930. Quoted in Pierre MacOrlan, Germaine Krull (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1931), 16

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'André Malraux' 1930

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
André Malraux
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.5 x 16cm (8 7/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
Mount: 29.1 x 22.8cm (11 7/16 x 9 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985) 'Selbstporträt mit Icarette' (Self-Portrait with Icarette) c. 1925, printed 1978

 

Germaine Krull (German, French, and Dutch, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand and India, 1897-1985)
Selbstporträt mit Icarette (Self-Portrait with Icarette)
c. 1925, printed 1978
Gelatin silver print sheet: 30.8 x 24.3cm (12 1/8 x 9 9/16 in.)
Image: 23.3 x 17.3cm (9 3/16 x 6 13/16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library © Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, this landmark exhibition will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was previously on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from July 2 through October 3, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

“This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. “The transnational realities of modernism visualised in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past.”

 

About the exhibition

This landmark exhibition critically examines the extraordinary impact women had on the practice of photography worldwide from the 1920s to the 1950s. It presents the work of over 120 international photographers who took part in a dramatic expansion of the medium propelled by artistic creativity, technological innovation, and the rise of the printed press. Photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Niu Weiyu, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others, emerged at a tumultuous moment in history that was profoundly shaped by two world wars, a global economic depression, struggles for decolonisation, and the rise of fascism and communism. Against the odds, these women were at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Organised thematically in eight galleries, The New Woman Behind the Camera illustrates women’s groundbreaking work in modern photography, exploring their innovations in the fields of social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, commercial studio practice, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion. By evoking the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman was easy to recognise but hard to define. Fashionably dressed with her hair bobbed, the self-assured cosmopolitan New Woman was arguably more than a marketable image. She was a contested symbol of liberation from traditional gender roles. Revealing how women photographers from around the world gave rise to and embodied the quintessential New Woman even as they critiqued the popular construction of the role, the exhibition opens with a group of compelling portraits and self-portraits. In these works, women defined their positions as professionals and artists during a time when they were seeking greater personal rights and freedoms.

For many women, the camera became an effective tool for self-determination as well as a source of income. With better access to education and a newfound independence, female photographers emerged as a major force in studio photography. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna, to earning recognition as one of the first professional female photographers in their home country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. A collaborative space where both sitters and photographers negotiated gender, race, and cultural difference, the portrait studio was also vitally important to African American communities which sought to represent and define themselves within a society that continued to be plagued by racism. Photography studios run by Black women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins and Winifred Hall Allen, thrived throughout the United States, and not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to the stereotyping images that circulated in the mass media.

With the invention of smaller lightweight cameras, a growing number of women photographers found that the camera’s portability created new avenues of discovery outside the studio. In stunning photographs of the city, photographers such as Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga used their artistic vision to capture the exhilarating modern world around them. They depicted everyday life, spontaneous encounters on the street, and soaring architectural views in places like Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo, revealing the multiplicity of urban experience. Many incorporated the newest photographic techniques to convey the energy of the city, and the exhibition continues with a gallery focused on those radical formal approaches that came to define modern photography. Through techniques like photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, extreme cropping, and dizzying camera angles, women including Aenne Biermann, Imogen Cunningham, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, and Cami Stone pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Women also produced dynamic pictures of the modern body, including innovative nude studies as well as sport and dance photography. Around the world, participation in spectator and team sports increased along with membership in fitness and hygiene reform movements. New concepts concerning health and sexuality along with new attitudes in movement and dress emphasised the body as a central site of experiencing modernity. On view are luminous works by photographers Laure Albin Guillot, Yvonne Chevalier, Florence Henri, and Jeanne Mandello who reimagined the traditional genre of the nude. Photographs by Irene Bayer-Hecht and Liselotte Grschebina highlight joyous play and gymnastic exercise, while Charlotte Rudolph, Ilse Bing, Trude Fleischmann, and Lotte Jacobi made breathtaking images of dancers in motion, revealing the body as artistic medium.

During the modern period, a growing number of women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled widely for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad and interactions with other cultures as they engaged in formal and informal ethnographic projects. The exhibition continues with a selection of photographs and photobooks by women, mainly from Europe and the United States, that reveal a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Gender provided some of these photographers with unusual access and the drive to challenge discriminatory practices, while others were not exempt from portraying stereotypical views. Publications by Jette Bang, Hélène Hoppenot, Ella Maillart, Anna Riwkin, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Ellen Thorbecke exemplify how photographically illustrated books and magazines were an influential form of communication about travel and ethnography during the modern period. Other works on display include those by Denise Bellon and Ré Soupault, who traveled to foreign countries on assignment for magazines and photo agencies seeking ethnographic and newsworthy photographs, and those by Marjorie Content and Laura Gilpin, who worked on their own in the southwestern United States.

The New Woman – both as a mass-circulating image and as a social phenomenon – was confirmed by the explosion of photographs found in popular fashion and lifestyle magazines. Fashion and advertising photography allowed many women to gain unprecedented access to the public sphere, establish relative economic independence, and attain autonomous professional success. Producing a rich visual language where events and ideas were expressed directly in pictures, illustrated fashion magazines such as Die DameHarper’s Bazaar, and Vogue became an important venue for photographic experimentation by women for a female readership. Photographers producing original views of women’s modernity include Lillian Bassman, Ilse Bing, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Toni von Horn, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, ringl + pit, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary as dominant forms of visual expression during the modern period. Ignited by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political and social unrest, numerous women photographers including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Kata Kálmán, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth engaged a wide public with gripping images. So-called soft topics such as “women and children,” “the family,” and “the home front” were more often assigned to female photojournalists than to their male counterparts. The exhibition asks viewers to question the effect of having women behind the camera in these settings. Pictures produced during the war, from combat photography by Galina Sanko and Gerda Taro to images of the Blitz in London by Thérèse Bonney and the Tuskegee airmen by Toni Frissell, are also featured. At the war’s end, haunting images by Lee Miller of the opening of Nazi concentration camps and celebratory images of the victory parade of Allied Forces in New Delhi by Homai Vyarawalla made way for the transition to the complexities of the postwar era, including images of daily life in US-occupied Japan by Tsuneko Sasamoto and the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu.

The New Woman Behind the Camera acknowledges that women are a diverse group whose identities are defined not exclusively by gender but rather by a host of variable factors. It contends that gender is an important aspect in understanding their lives and work and provides a useful framework for analysis to reveal how photography by women has powerfully shaped our understanding of modern life.

 

Exhibition catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and distributed by DelMonico Books | D.A.P., this groundbreaking, richly illustrated 288-page catalog examines the diverse women whose work profoundly marked the medium of photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book – featuring over 120 international photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla – reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the iconic New Woman. Inclusive scholarly essays introduce readers to these important photographers and question the past assumptions about gender in the history of photography. Contributors include Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Cronin, assistant curator of photography in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library; Mia Fineman, curator in the department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mila Ganeva, professor of German in the department of German, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, Miami University, Ohio; Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Elizabeth Otto, professor of modern and  contemporary art history, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York); and Kim Sichel, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture at Boston University; biographies of the photographers by Kara Felt, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Père Ubu' (Portrait of Ubu) 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Père Ubu (Portrait of Ubu)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.13 x 17.78cm (9 1/2 x 7 in.)
Framed (outer): 40.01 x 33.66 x 2.86cm (15 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Portrait of Ubu (1936; also called Père Ubu), a monstrous close-up image by Maar of what may be an armadillo fetus (she would never confirm), became an icon of the movement.

 

Henriette Theodora Markovitch (22 November 1907 – 16 July 1997), known as Dora Maar, was a French photographer, painter, and poet. A love partner of Pablo Picasso, Maar was depicted in a number of Picasso’s paintings, including his Portrait of Dora Maar and Dora Maar au Chat.

 

Dora Maar the photographer

Maar’s earliest surviving photographs were taken in the early 1920s with a Rolleiflex camera while on a cargo ship going to the Cape Verde Islands.

At the beginning of 1930, she set up a photography studio on rue Campagne-Première (14th arrondissement of Paris) with Pierre Kéfer, photographer, and decorator for Jean Epstein’s 1928 film, The Fall of the House of Usher. In the studio, Maar and Kefer worked together mostly on commercial photography for advertisements and fashion magazines. Her father assisted with her finances in this period of her life as she was establishing herself while trying to earn a living. The studio displayed fashion, advertising and nudes, and it became very successful.

She met the photographer Brassaï with whom she shared the darkroom in the studio. Brassai once said that she had “bright eyes and an attentive gaze, a disturbing stare at times”.

During this time working in advertising and fashion photography, the influence of Surrealism could be seen in her work through her heavy use of mirrors and contrasting shadows. She felt that art should represent the content of reality through links with intuitions or ideas, rather than visually reproduce the natural. Maar also met Louis-Victor Emmanuel Sougez, a photographer working for advertising, archeology and artistic director of the newspaper L’Illustration, whom she considered a mentor.

In 1932, she had an affair with the filmmaker Louis Chavance. Maar frequented the “October group”, formed around Jacques Prévert and Max Morise after their break from surrealism. She had her first publication in the magazine Art et Métiers Graphiques in 1932. Her first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Vanderberg in Paris.

It is the gelatin silver works of the surrealist period that remain the most sought after by admirers: Portrait of Ubu (1936), 29 rue d’Astorg, black and white, collages, photomontages or superimpositions. The photograph represents the central character in a popular series of plays by Alfred Jarry called Ubu Roi. The work was first shown at the Exposition Surréaliste d’objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris and at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. She also participated in Participates in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, at the MoMA in New York the same year.

Surrealist concepts and interests often aligned with the ideas of the political left of the time and so Maar became very politically active at this point in her life. After the fascist demonstrations of 6 February 1934, in Paris along with René Lefeuvre, Jacques Soustelle, supported by Simone Weil and Georges Bataille, she signed the tract “Appeal to the Struggle” written at the initiative of André Breton. Much of her work is highly influenced by leftist politics of the time, often depicting those who had been thrown into poverty by the Depression. She was part of an ultra-leftist association called “Masses”, where she first met Georges Bataille, an anti-fascist organisation called the Union of Intellectuals Against Fascism, and a radical collective of left-wing actors and writers called October.

She also was involved in many Surrealist groups and often participated in demonstrations, convocations, and cafe conversations. She signed many manifestos, including one titled “When Surrealists were Right” in August 1935 which concerned the Congress of Paris, which had been held in March of that year.

In 1935, she took a photo of fashion illustrator and designer Christian Berard that was described by writer and critic Michael Kimmelman as “wry and mischievous with only his head perceived above the fountain as if he were John the Baptist on a silver platter”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985) 'Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)' 1940

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Untitled (Marion Post Wolcott on assignment, Montgomery County, Maryland)
1940
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.86 x 17.4cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 25.2 x 20.2cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame (outer): 50.48 x 37.78cm (19 7/8 x 14 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Marion Post Wolcott with Rolleiflex and Speed Graphic in hand in Montgomery County, Maryland

 

 

Marion Post (June 7, 1910 – November 24, 1990), later Marion Post Wolcott, was a noted American photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression documenting poverty and deprivation. …

 

Life

Marion Post was born in New Jersey on June 7, 1910. Her parents split up and she was sent to boarding school, spending time at home with her mother in Greenwich Village when not at school. Here she met many artists and musicians and became interested in dance. She studied at The New School.

Post trained as a teacher, and went to work in a small town in Massachusetts. Here she saw the reality of the Depression and the problems of the poor. When the school closed she went to Europe to study with her sister Helen. Helen was studying with Trude Fleischmann, a Viennese photographer. Marion Post showed Fleischmann some of her photographs and was told to stick to photography.

While in Vienna she saw some of the Nazi attacks on the Jewish population and was horrified. Soon she and her sister had to return to America for safety. She went back to teaching but also continued her photography and became involved in the anti-fascist movement. At the New York Photo League she met Ralph Steiner and Paul Strand who encouraged her. When she found that the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin kept sending her to do “ladies’ stories”, Ralph Steiner took her portfolio to show Roy Stryker, head of the Farm Security Administration, and Paul Strand wrote a letter of recommendation. Stryker was impressed by her work and hired her immediately.

Post’s photographs for the FSA often explore the political aspects of poverty and deprivation. They also often find humour in the situations she encountered.

In 1941 she met Leon Oliver Wolcott, deputy director of war relations for the U. S. Department of Agriculture under Franklin Roosevelt. They married, and Marion Post Wolcott continued her assignments for the FSA, but resigned shortly thereafter in February 1942. Wolcott found it difficult to fit in her photography around raising a family and a great deal of traveling and living overseas.

In the 1970s, a renewed interest in Wolcott’s images among scholars rekindled her own interest in photography. In 1978, Wolcott mounted her first solo exhibition in California, and by the 1980s the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art began to collect her photographs. The first monograph on Marion Post Wolcott’s work was published in 1983. Wolcott was an advocate for women’s rights; in 1986, Wolcott said: “Women have come a long way, but not far enough. … Speak with your images from your heart and soul” (Women in Photography Conference, Syracuse, N.Y.).

Marion Post Wolcott’s work is archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur Rothstein (July 17, 1915 – November 11, 1985) was an American photographer. Rothstein is recognised as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people. His photographs ranged from a hometown baseball game to the drama of war, from struggling rural farmers to US Presidents.

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'A Café, Brazil' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
A Café, Brazil
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 16.51 x 17.78cm (6 1/2 x 7 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26 cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

 

Genevieve Naylor (February 2, 1915 – July 21, 1989) was an American photographer and photojournalist, best known for her photographs of Brazil and as Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal photographer. …

 

Career

At the age of 22, in 1937, Naylor was chosen by Holger Cahill of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a photographer for the Harlem Arts Center. She also worked for the WPA in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and New York. She then worked for the Associated Press and was one of the first women photojournalists to be hired by any American news wire services.

In 1940, Genevieve Naylor was assigned by the U.S. State department as part of a team to travel to Brazil. In an effort to further and strengthen the anti-Nazi relationship between the United States and Brazil and to promote mutual cultural awareness, the U.S. Office of Inter-American Affairs, under the leadership of Nelson Rockefeller, created a team of notable Americans that included Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, and Walt Disney. Genevieve Naylor and her partner (and later husband) Misha Reznikoff arrived in Brazil in October, 1940, where he showed his paintings while Miss Naylor took photographs. Naylor’s assignment was to document Brazil’s progress toward becoming a modern nation, capture images that would boost war-time morale, foster cultural interchange, and promote the Allied cause. But Naylor, with her energetic and outgoing personality, soon ventured into other milieus, taking photographs of Brazilian workers jammed into trams, school children, religious and street festivals, and various aspects of everyday lives. Because it was war time, film was rationed, and Naylor’s equipment was modest. She had neither flash nor studio lights and had to carefully choose her shots, balancing spontaneity with careful composition. Of her work, nearly 1,350 photos survived and were preserved. After her return to the states in 1943, Naylor become only the second woman photographer to be given a one-woman show when her work was exhibited by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Naylor later spent 15 years as a photographer with Harper’s Bazaar and from 1944 to 1980 was a freelance photographer for Vogue, McCall’s, Town and Country, Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Women’s Home Companion, Cosmopolitan, Fortune, Collier’s, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, House Beautiful, Holiday, Mademoiselle, American Home, Seventeen, Better Homes and Gardens, Charm, Bride’s, amongst others. She was a war time photographer, covering parts of the Korean War for Look magazine.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989) 'São Januário Trolley' Early 1940s

 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915-1989)
São Januário Trolley
Early 1940s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.05 x 19.05cm (7 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 20.32 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988) 'Selbstporträt' (Self-Portrait) 1933

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (German, 1908-1988)
Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait)
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Support: 23.81 x 17.94cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Mat: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.44 x 41.28 x 3.33cm (20 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 5/16 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

 

 

Elfriede Stegemeyer (1908-1988); German photographer, painter and film artist. In a bombing raid on Berlin in 1943, much of her work was destroyed. After the war, she dedicated herself under the pseudonym Elde Steeg increasingly to painting and drawing, and experimented with Surrealist and Constructivist expression. From 1945 she lived and worked under the name Elde Steeg. In 1974 she moved to Innsbruck and worked there until her death.

 

Lillian Bassman. 'Translucent Hat' c. 1950

 

Lillian Bassman (American, 1917-2012)
Translucent Hat
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 26.99 x 34.29cm (10 5/8 x 13 1/2 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 60.96cm (20 x 24 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 63.5cm (21 x 25 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Renee Harbers Liddell Fund and Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund
© Estate of Lilian Bassman

 

 

Lillian Bassman (June 15, 1917 – February 13, 2012) was an American photographer and painter.

 

Career

From the 1940s until the 1960s Bassman worked as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and later at Harper’s Bazaar where she promoted the careers of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer and Arnold Newman. Under the guidance of the Russian emigrant, Alexey Brodovitch, she began to photograph her model subjects primarily in black and white. Her work was published for the most part in Harper’s Bazaar from 1950 to 1965.

By the 1970s Bassman’s interest in pure form in her fashion photography was out of vogue. She turned to her own photo projects and abandoned fashion photography. In doing so she tossed out 40 years of negatives and prints – her life’s work. A forgotten bag filled with hundreds of images was discovered over 20 years later. Bassman’s fashion photographic work began to be re-appreciated in the 1990s.

She worked with digital technology and abstract colour photography into her nineties to create a new series of work. She used Photoshop for her image manipulation.

The most notable qualities about her photographic work are the high contrasts between light and dark, the graininess of the finished photos, and the geometric placement and camera angles of the subjects. Bassman became one of the last great woman photographers in the world of fashion. A generation later, Bassman’s pioneering photography and her mentor Alexey Brodovitch’s bold cropping and layout innovations were a seminal influence on Sam Haskins and his black and white work of the sixties.

Bassman died on February 13, 2012, at age 94.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973) 'Untitled (Street, London)' 1940s, printed later

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (British born Austria, 1908-1973)
Untitled (Street, London)
1940s, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21 x 28cm (8 1/4 x 11 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
Peter Suschitzky, Julia Donat, and Misha Donat

 

 

Edith Tudor-Hart (née Suschitzky; 28 August 1908 – 12 May 1973) was an Austrian-British photographer and spy for the Soviet Union. Brought up in a family of socialists, she trained in photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau, and carried her political ideals through her art. Through her connections with Arnold Deutsch, Tudor-Hart was instrumental in the recruiting of the Cambridge Spy ring which damaged British intelligence from World War II until the security services discovered all their identities by the mid-1960s. She recommended Litzi Friedmann and Kim Philby for recruitment by the KGB and acted as an intermediary for Anthony Blunt and Bob Stewart when the rezidentura at the Soviet Embassy in London suspended its operations in February 1940.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'En su propia cárcel' (In Her Own Prison) c. 1950

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
En su propia cárcel (In Her Own Prison)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.42 x 21.27cm (7 1/4 x 8 3/8 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 45.72cm (20 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 48.26cm (21 x 19 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona Foundation

 

 

Lola Álvarez Bravo (3 April 1903 – 31 July 1993) was the first Mexican female photographer and a key figure in the post-revolution Mexican renaissance. Known for her high level of skill in composition, her works were seen by her peers as fine art. She was recognised in 1964 with the Premio José Clemente Orozco (José Clemente Orozco Prize), by the State of Jalisco, for her contributions to photography and her efforts to preserve the culture of Mexico. Her works are included in the permanent collections of international museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Álvarez was born in a small town in Jalisco, but moved to Mexico City with her father when her parents separated around 1906. For a decade, she lived with her father in a large mansion, but upon his death was taken in by her older half-brother, who sent her to boarding school. After completing a traditional education, in 1922 she enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, where she met her lifelong friend, Frida Kahlo. A friendship with another of her childhood friends, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, blossomed into romance around the same time and the two married in 1925. Her husband taught her photography, as well as development techniques, and for nearly a decade, she acted as his assistant. As she sought to explore her own creativity and was unhappy in the marriage, the couple separated in 1934.

Beginning her career as a teacher, Álvarez took photographic assignments for magazines and newspapers, developing a reputation as one of the only women photojournalists working in Mexico City. She chose to portray subjects candidly, revealing the deeper meaning of culture and social significance, rather than seeking newsworthy work. In 1935, she began cataloging photographs in the Department of Education and two years later was hired to run the photography workshops of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she remained until her retirement in 1971.

In addition to her contributions to advertising and photojournalism, Álvarez took many photographs of her artistic friends, and in 1951 opened the Galeria de Arte Contemporáneo (Gallery of Contemporary Art) to promote their work. In 1953 at the Galeria, she hosted the only exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s works held in Mexico during the artist’s life. From the late 1970s until her death in 1993, she gained international recognition for her body of work. Her photo archive is located at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, United States.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964) 'Grønland' 1940

 

Jette Bang (Danish, 1914-1964)
Grønland
1940
Bound volume
Open: 26.04 x 44.45cm (10 1/4 x 17 1/2 in.)
Closed: 26.04 x 22.86cm (10 1/4 x 9 in.)
Cradle: 6 1/8 (maximum height at left) x 15 1/2 (width) x 10 1/2 (depth) x 3 3/8 in. (maximum height at right)
National Gallery of Art Library, Gift of the Department of Photographs

 

 

Jette Bang (February 4, 1914 – February 16, 1964) was a Danish photographer and film maker who is remembered for the large collection of photographs and films she took in Greenland, depicting the country and the way of life of its inhabitants before their old culture disappeared. …

 

Career

In 1936, Bang arrived in Greenland for the first time and spent eight months taking photographs of the traditional lifestyle of the Greenlandic Inuit, which was beginning to die out as a result of European influence. She travelled around on dog sleds and lived with the natives, sharing their way of life. The result was 400 photographs which were exhibited at the Danish Museum of Art & Design in 1937. Some were published in her book Grønland (1940) with a foreword by Minister of State Thorvald Stauning. The book was an eyeopener for the Danes.

Her next expedition in the winter of 1938-1939 was supported by Denmark’s Greenland Administration, who provided a motorboat, lighting and helpers. Under harsh and primitive conditions, she lived closely together with the Greenlanders, spending most of the winter in a hole in the ground with floor space of just four square metres. Joining the Thule postal sleds, she travelled across Melville Bay up to Cape York in the district of Thule. Her trip resulted in a revealing colour film, Inuit, seen as a work of art when it was shown in Denmark in 1938. The film was in two parts, depicting the old and the new Greenland. The reels on Melville Bay were lost in a fire while she was in Thule but there was still enough material for a four-hour production.

For a time, Jette Bang hoped to go back and take some additional shots but her plans were brought to a standstill by the outbreak of the Second World War. Only after the liberation in 1945 was she able to continue her project.

Many stills taken from the film were published in her book 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart (30,000 kilometers at a snail’s pace) (1941). Bang, a good storyteller, was able to provide an excellent account of her experiences. With the photo book Grønlænderbørn (Greenlandic Children) (1944) she continued to report on her travels, now addressing Danish schoolchildren.

She travelled to Greenland five more times. Disappointed with modern developments there, she republished her book Grønland in 1961. In 1962, she travelled to Greenland for the last time, trying to rework her 1938 colour film; but illness prevented any more trips.

In 1959, she took part in Peter Glob’s archaeological expedition to Bahrain, which led to her film Beduiner (1962).

 

Assessment

Jette Bang was the first photographer to take close-up portraits of the Greenlanders. While earlier photographers had been more interested in their clothing and surroundings, she was more concerned with their behaviour, creating more lasting and universal impressions.

Jette Bang’s photographs from Greenland are the only remaining material documenting the old Greelandic way of life which has now almost disappeared. Her dedication to the country and its people was legendary. She was also a talented author: “The full moon’s twisted face tripped up over the tops of the pointed peaks in the north west like a fakir trying to walk on a bed of nails,” she wrote in 30.000 Kilometer med Sneglefart.

Many of her photographs are in the National Museum of Greenland in Nuuk. The main collection of 12,000 photographs is with the Arktisk Institut in Copenhagen, which has made them available on the Internet.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993) 'Korbgeflecht' (Wicker Basket) c. 1928

 

Gerda Leo (German, 1909-1993)
Korbgeflecht (Wicker Basket)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 36.3 x 29.2cm (14 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 51.3 x 41.3 x 2.7cm (20 3/16 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/16 in.)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

 

Gerda Leo (born February 1, 1909 in Hagen, Westphalia , died September 28, 1993 in Amsterdam, Netherlands) was a German photographer in the field of New Vision and New Objectivity. She studied at the Burg Giebichenstein State School of Applied Arts in Halle (Saale) with Hans Finsler and worked as an assistant to Albert Renger-Patzsch. Her photographic estate is in the Moritzburg Art Museum Halle (Saale).

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

 

Behind the Camera

Women actively participated in the development of photography soon after its inception in the 19th century. Yet it was in the 1920s, after the seismic disruptions of World War I, that women entered the field of photography in force. Aided by advances in technology and mass communications, along with growing access to training and acceptance of their presence in the workplace, women around the world made an indelible mark on the growth and diversification of the medium. They brought innovation to a range of photographic disciplines, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion.

 

The New Woman

A global phenomenon, the New Woman of the 1920s embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was a staple of newspapers and magazines first in Europe and the United States and soon in China, Japan, India, Australia, and elsewhere. A symbol of the pursuit of liberation from traditional gender roles, the New Woman in her many guises represented women who faced a mix of opportunities and obstacles that varied from country to country. The camera became a powerful means for female photographers to assert their self-determination and redefine their position in society. Producing compelling portraits, including self-portraits featuring the artist with her camera, they established their roles as professionals and artists.

 

The Studio

Commercial studio photography was an important pathway for many women to forge a professional career and to earn their own income. Running successful businesses in small towns and major cities from Buenos Aires to Berlin and Istanbul, women reinvigorated the genre of portraiture. In the studio, both sitters and photographers navigated gender, race, and cultural difference; those run by women presented a different dynamic. For example, Black women operated studios in Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere in the United States, where they not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to racist images then circulating in the mass media.

 

The City

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras and the increasing freedom to move about cities on their own spurred a number of women photographers to explore the diversity of the urban experience beyond the studio walls. Using their creative vision to capture the vibrant modern world around them, women living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai), London, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Tokyo, and beyond photographed soaring architecture and spontaneous encounters on the street.

 

Avant-Garde Experiments

Creative formal approaches – photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, unconventional cropping, extreme close-ups, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. Women incorporated these cutting-edge techniques to produce works that conveyed the movement and energy of modern life. Although often overshadowed by their male partners and colleagues, women photographers were integral in shaping an avant-garde visual language that promoted new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

 

Modern Bodies

Beginning in the 1920s, new concepts concerning health and sexuality, along with changing attitudes about movement and dress, emphasised the human body as a central site of experiencing modernity. Women photographers produced incisive visions of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance. Photographs of joyous play and gymnastic exercise, as well as images of dancers in motion, celebrate the body as artistic medium.

 

Ethnographic Approaches

During this modern period, numerous women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled extensively for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while others engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. Some women with access to domains that were off limits to their male counterparts produced intimate portraits of female subjects. While gender may have afforded these photographers special connections to certain communities, it did not exempt some, especially those from Europe and the United States, from producing stereotypical views that reinforced hierarchical concepts of race and ethnocentrism.

 

Fashion and Advertising

Images splashed across the pages of popular fashion and lifestyle magazines vividly defined the New Woman. The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising photographs between the world wars provided exceptional employment opportunities for fashion reporters, models, and photographers alike, allowing women to emerge as active agents in the profession. Cultivating the tastes of newly empowered female consumers, fashion and advertising photography provided a space where women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

 

Social Documentary

Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and the growing political and social unrest that began in the 1930s, numerous women photographers produced arresting images of the human condition. Whether working for government agencies or independently, women contributed to the visual record of the Depression and the events leading up to World War II. From images of breadlines and worker demonstrations to forced migration and internment, women photographers helped to expose dire conditions and shaped what would become known as social documentary photography.

 

Reportage

The rise of the picture press established photojournalism as a dominant form of visual expression during a period shaped by two world wars. Women photographers conveyed an inclusive view of worldwide economic depression, struggles for decolonisation in Africa, and the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the Soviet Union. They often received the “soft assignments” of photographing women and children, families, and the home front, but some women risked their lives close to the front lines. Images of concentration camps and victory parades made way for the complexities of the postwar era, as seen in pictures of daily life in US-occupied Japan and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.
The photographers whose works are in The New Woman Behind the Camera represent just some of the many women around the world who were at the forefront of experimenting with the camera. They produced invaluable visual testimony that reflected both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the early 20th century. Together, they changed the history of modern photography.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018) 'Mulher' (Woman) c. 1957

 

Dulce Carneiro (Brazilian, 1929-2018)
Mulher (Woman)
c. 1957
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.94 x 28.58cm (14 15/16 x 11 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'During an Attack' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
During an Attack
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.72 x 24.29cm (6 3/16 x 9 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

 

Galina Sanko (Russian: Галина Захаровна Санько and also Galina Sankova or Galina Sankowa) (1904-1981) was a Russian photographer who worked as a photojournalist and was one of only five women who served as a war photographer during World War II. She was one of the most noted Soviet photographers and known in the West, winning awards both at home and abroad. …

After the persecution of her husband in 1938, Sanko dedicated her life to photography. When the war broke out, she asked to go to the front as a war correspondent. Initially, Sanko trained as a nurse and then studied driving and auto mechanics. She bandaged the wounded and once she had proved her fitness for battle was allowed as one of only five women who served as war photographers. She worked for the magazine Frontline Illustration (Russian: Фронтовая иллюстрация) and took photographs of battles in Kursk, Moscow and Stalingrad, taking pictures at Bryansk and the Don Campaign near Stallingrad. In 1944, during the northern offensive, she took photographs of the siege of Leningrad. Near the end of the war, she took photographs of the fighting against Japan. She was seriously injured twice during the war. In the movie Wild Honey (Russian: Дикий мед) (1967) based on the novel by Leonid Pervomaisky, there is a scene based upon a real-life event in which Sanko escaped in the nick of time from being fired upon by a German tank.

At the end of the war, Sanko worked for the magazine Spark (Russian: Огонек) but until the 1960s, her work was banned and hidden in an archive. Accused of distorting the truth, with her photographs of the liberation of the Petrozavodsk camp, Sanko was exonerated when 20 years after the war, she returned to the Republic of Karelia and found one of the children she had photographed in the camp. After publishing “Claudia 20 years later”, her archive was opened in 1966 and Sanko participated in many photographic exhibitions at home and abroad. She was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Sanko died in Moscow in 1981.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Prisoners, Stalingrad' 1943, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Prisoners, Stalingrad
1943, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.32 x 29.53cm (8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga' 1942, printed c. 1960s

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Behind the front lines, workers at a factory evacuated from Ukraine to a town on the Volga
1942, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 24.13 x 16.67cm (9 1/2 x 6 9/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981) 'Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N' 1942

 

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981)
Observation Post, the Fight for Hill N
1942
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 29.21 x 20.96cm (11 1/2 x 8 1/4 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
Robert Koch Gallery

 

G. Herbert Taylor. 'My Best Photograph and Why' 1937

 

G. Herbert Taylor
My Best Photograph and Why
1937
Photography book
Closed: 29.53 x 23.18cm (11 5/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Open: 29.53 x 44.77cm (11 5/8 x 17 5/8 in.)
Mount: 1.43 x 44.93 x 29.69cm (9/16 x 17 11/16 x 11 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art Library, David K.E. Bruce Fund

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Autoportrait' (Self-Portrait) c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.5 x 20.1cm (10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
Frame: 53 x 42 cm (20 7/8 x 16 9/16 in.)
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Claude Cahun (born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, 25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954) was a French surrealist photographer, sculptor, and writer. Schwob adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun in 1914. Cahun is best known as a writer and self-portraitist, who assumed a variety of performative personae. Cahun’s work is both political and personal. In Disavowals, she writes: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” During World War II, Cahun was also active as a resistance worker and propagandist. …

Cahun’s works encompassed writing, photography, and theatre. She is most remembered for her highly staged self-portraits and tableaux that incorporated the visual aesthetics of Surrealism. During the 1920s, Cahun produced an astonishing number of self-portraits in various guises such as aviator, dandy, doll, body builder, vamp and vampire, angel, and Japanese puppet.

Some of Cahun’s portraits feature the artist looking directly at the viewer, head shaved, often revealing only head and shoulders (eliminating body from the view), and a blurring of gender indicators and behaviours which serve to undermine the patriarchal gaze. Scholar Miranda Welby-Everard has written about the importance of theatre, performance, and costume that underlies Cahun’s work, suggesting how this may have informed the artist’s varying gender presentations. …

Cahun’s work was often a collaboration with Marcel Moore. Cahun and Moore collaborated frequently, though this often goes unrecognised. It is believed that Moore was often the person standing behind the camera during Cahun’s portrait shoots and was an equal partner in Cahun’s collages.

With the majority of the photographs attributed to Cahun coming from a personal collection, not one meant for public display, it has been proposed that these personal photographs allowed for Cahun to experiment with gender presentation and the role of the viewer to a greater degree.

One of my favourite artists – a hero of mine!

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970) 'Untitled' 1932

 

Toni von Horn (American born Germany, 1899-1970)
Untitled
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 23 x 19cm (9 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 45.09 x 55.25cm (17 3/4 x 21 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Charles van Horne on behalf of the family of Toni von Horn

 

 

Baroness Antonie “Toni” von Horn was born to a prominent family in Germany in 1899. Around 1920, she opened a photography studio in Heidelberg. While in New York on an assignment, she met the editor of Vanity Fair who recommended she pursue a career in New York.

She did, and soon became a leading fashion and advertising photographer in the 1920s and 30s, working for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar and at her own studio. She was one of the first woman photographers to gain a national and international reputation, Her many celebrity portraits included Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ginger Rogers, Cole Porter, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Harlow. Her photograph of Albert Einstein has been called the best ever made of him.

Toni von Horn was among the first woman professional photographers and was the first to join the stable of Conde Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar during those magazines’ glorious years of the early 1930s. Active as Tony von Horn, her images were regular features, along with such luminaries as Edward Steichen, Adolf de Meyer and George Hoyningen-Heune among others, in the magazines from the end of 1930 to 1935.

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985) 'Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of the Wedding," New York City' 1950

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for “The Member of the Wedding,” New York City
1950
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 39.7 x 49.5cm (15 5/8 x 19 1/2 in.)
Frame (outer): 57.6 x 67.8cm (22 11/16 x 26 11/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1980
© Ruth Orkin
Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Ruth Orkin (September 3, 1921 – January 16, 1985) was an American photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker, with ties to New York City and Hollywood. Best known for her photograph An American Girl in Italy (1951), she photographed many celebrities and personalities including Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, and Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Life

Ruth Orkin was born on September 3, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts to Mary Ruby and Samuel Orkin. Ruth grew up in Hollywood, due to her mother’s career as a silent film actress. In 1931, she received her first camera, a 39-cent Univex, and soon began experimenting by taking photographs of her friends and teachers at school. At the age of 17, she decided to bike across America, beginning in Los Angeles, and ending in New York City for the 1939 World’s Fair. She completed the trip in three weeks’ time, taking photographs along the way.

She briefly attended Los Angeles City College for photojournalism in 1940, prior to becoming the first messenger girl at MGM Studios in 1941, citing a desire to become a cinematographer. She left the position after discovering the union’s discriminatory practices that did not allow female members. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II, in 1941 in an attempt to gain filmmaking skills, as advertisements promoting the group promised. The attempt was not fruitful, however, and she was discharged in 1943 without any filmmaking training.

In 1943, Orkin moved to New York City in pursuit of a career as a freelance photojournalist. She began working as a nightclub photographer, and received her first assignment in 1945 from The New York Times to shoot Leonard Bernstein. Shortly after, her freelance career grew as she traveled internationally on assignments and contributed photographs to Life, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal, and others. Orkin is credited with breaking into a heavily male field.

Orkin’s most celebrated image is An American Girl in Italy (1951). The subject of the now-iconic photograph was the 23-year-old Ninalee Craig (known at that time as Jinx Allen). The photograph was part of a series originally titled “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.” The image depicted Craig as a young woman confidently walking past a group of ogling Italian men in Florence. In recent articles written about the pair, Craig claims that the image was not staged, and was one of many taken throughout the day, aiming to show the fun of traveling alone.

In 1952 Orkin married photographer, filmmaker and fellow Photo League member Morris Engel. Orkin and Engel collaborated on two major independent feature films, “Little Fugitive” (1953) and “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955). After the success of the two films, Orkin returned to photography, taking colour shots of Central Park as seen through her apartment window. The resulting photographs were collected in two books, “A World Through My Window” (1978) and “More Pictures from My Window” (1983).

Orkin taught photography at the School of Visual Arts in the late 1970s, and at the International Center of Photography in 1980. After a long, private battle with cancer, Orkin died of the disease at her New York City apartment on January 16, 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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04
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Part 1

Exhibition dates: 31st October, 2021 – 30th January, 2022

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 

 

Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (American, 1905-2002) 'Frontier Nursing Service, Kentucky' 1937

 

Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (American, 1905-2002)
Frontier Nursing Service, Kentucky
1937
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 24.2 x 18.8cm (9 1/2 x 7 3/8 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 Marvin Breckinridge Patterson

 

 

The first of a humungous three-part posting on this archaeological exhibition.

Combined with the posting I did on this exhibition when it was on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this three-part posting will include over 160 new images from the exhibition… meaning a combined total over the four postings of over 200 images with biographical information.

This has been a mammoth effort to construct these postings but so worthwhile!

I will make comment on the exhibition in part 3 of the posting.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) 'New York' c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (trimmed to image): 18.6 x 24.8cm (7 5/16 x 9 3/4 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of William H. Levitt
© Helen Levitt Film Documents LLC. All rights reserved
Courtesy of Thomas Zander Gallery

 

Renata Bracksieck (German, 1900-1992) 'Karnevalslichter' (Carnival Lights) 1920s-1930s

 

Renata Bracksieck (German, 1900-1992)
Karnevalslichter (Carnival Lights)
1920s-1930s
Gelatin silver print sheet (trimmed to image): 23.8 x 17.8cm (9 3/8 x 7 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 55.25 x 45.09cm (21 3/4 x 17 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

Renata Bracksieck (German, 1900-1992) was trained as a fashion designer at Christoph Drecoll’s in Berlin, and afterwards ran her own successful fashion studio in Bremen. She started taking photographs in 1929, but had been experimenting with and assisting her close friend and future husband Werner Rohde before. Her photographs were featured in the international exhibition Das Lichtbild in Munich in 1930. In 1937 she married Werner Rohde and subsequently was called Renata Bracksieck-Rohde. After he returned from a POW camp in 1945, they moved to the artist colony Worpswede near the city of Bremen, where they continued to live until their deaths.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Lieselotte Felger, die Wespentaille in dem Tanz, der Kreisel, Berlin' (Lieselotte Felger as "Die Wespentaille" in the Dance "Der Kreisel," Berlin) 1931

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Lieselotte Felger, die Wespentaille in dem Tanz, der Kreisel, Berlin (Lieselotte Felger as “Die Wespentaille” in the Dance “Der Kreisel,” Berlin)
1931
Gelatin silver print sheet (trimmed to image): 25.2 x 20.2cm (9 15/16 x 7 15/16 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, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

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

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944) 'Ohne Titel (Schmuck)' (Untitled (Jewellery)) c. 1930

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944)
Ohne Titel (Schmuck) (Untitled (Jewellery))
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image/sheet: 22.7 x 16.2 cm (8 15/16 x 6 3/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56 cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 50.17 x 40.01 cm (19 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

Yva (26 January 1900 – 31 December 1944) was the professional pseudonym of Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon who was a German Jewish photographer renowned for her dreamlike, multiple exposed images. She became a leading photographer in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

When the Nazi Party came to power, she was forced into working as a radiographer. She was deported by the Gestapo in 1942 and murdered, probably in the Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944) 'Ohne Titel (Schmuck)' (Untitled (Jewellery)) c. 1930

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer-Simon) (German, 1900-1944)
Ohne Titel (Schmuck) (Untitled (Jewellery))
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.05 x 15.24cm (7 1/2 x 6 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 50.17 x 40.01cm (19 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection
Gift of the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Brenda and Robert Edelson Collection

 

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

 

Ilse Bing (German, 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

 

 

During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse “new” women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, this landmark exhibition will be on view from October 31, 2021 through January 30, 2022, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It was previously on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from July 2 through October 3, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

“This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. “The transnational realities of modernism visualised in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past.”

 

About the exhibition

This landmark exhibition critically examines the extraordinary impact women had on the practice of photography worldwide from the 1920s to the 1950s. It presents the work of over 120 international photographers who took part in a dramatic expansion of the medium propelled by artistic creativity, technological innovation, and the rise of the printed press. Photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Ilse Bing, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Madame d’Ora, Florence Henri, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Dora Maar, Niu Weiyu, Eslanda Goode Robeson, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Gerda Taro, and Homai Vyarawalla, among many others, emerged at a tumultuous moment in history that was profoundly shaped by two world wars, a global economic depression, struggles for decolonisation, and the rise of fascism and communism. Against the odds, these women were at the forefront of experimentation with the camera and produced invaluable visual testimony that reflects both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the era.

Organised thematically in eight galleries, The New Woman Behind the Camera illustrates women’s groundbreaking work in modern photography, exploring their innovations in the fields of social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, commercial studio practice, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion. By evoking the global phenomenon of the New Woman, the exhibition seeks to reevaluate the history of photography and advance new and more inclusive conversations on the contributions of female photographers.

Known by different names, from nouvelle femme and neue Frau to modan gāru and xin nüxing, the New Woman was easy to recognise but hard to define. Fashionably dressed with her hair bobbed, the self-assured cosmopolitan New Woman was arguably more than a marketable image. She was a contested symbol of liberation from traditional gender roles. Revealing how women photographers from around the world gave rise to and embodied the quintessential New Woman even as they critiqued the popular construction of the role, the exhibition opens with a group of compelling portraits and self-portraits. In these works, women defined their positions as professionals and artists during a time when they were seeking greater personal rights and freedoms.

For many women, the camera became an effective tool for self-determination as well as a source of income. With better access to education and a newfound independence, female photographers emerged as a major force in studio photography. From running successful businesses in Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna, to earning recognition as one of the first professional female photographers in their home country, women around the world, including Karimeh Abbud, Steffi Brandl, Trude Fleischmann, Annemarie Heinrich, Eiko Yamazawa, and Madame Yevonde, reinvigorated studio practice. A collaborative space where both sitters and photographers negotiated gender, race, and cultural difference, the portrait studio was also vitally important to African American communities which sought to represent and define themselves within a society that continued to be plagued by racism. Photography studios run by Black women, such as Florestine Perrault Collins and Winifred Hall Allen, thrived throughout the United States, and not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to the stereotyping images that circulated in the mass media.

With the invention of smaller lightweight cameras, a growing number of women photographers found that the camera’s portability created new avenues of discovery outside the studio. In stunning photographs of the city, photographers such as Alice Brill, Rebecca Lepkoff, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, Genevieve Naylor, and Tazue Satō Matsunaga used their artistic vision to capture the exhilarating modern world around them. They depicted everyday life, spontaneous encounters on the street, and soaring architectural views in places like Bombay (now Mumbai), New York, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo, revealing the multiplicity of urban experience. Many incorporated the newest photographic techniques to convey the energy of the city, and the exhibition continues with a gallery focused on those radical formal approaches that came to define modern photography. Through techniques like photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, extreme cropping, and dizzying camera angles, women including Aenne Biermann, Imogen Cunningham, Dora Maar, Tina Modotti, Lucia Moholy, and Cami Stone pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Women also produced dynamic pictures of the modern body, including innovative nude studies as well as sport and dance photography. Around the world, participation in spectator and team sports increased along with membership in fitness and hygiene reform movements. New concepts concerning health and sexuality along with new attitudes in movement and dress emphasised the body as a central site of experiencing modernity. On view are luminous works by photographers Laure Albin Guillot, Yvonne Chevalier, Florence Henri, and Jeanne Mandello who reimagined the traditional genre of the nude. Photographs by Irene Bayer-Hecht and Liselotte Grschebina highlight joyous play and gymnastic exercise, while Charlotte Rudolph, Ilse Bing, Trude Fleischmann, and Lotte Jacobi made breathtaking images of dancers in motion, revealing the body as artistic medium.

During the modern period, a growing number of women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled widely for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad and interactions with other cultures as they engaged in formal and informal ethnographic projects. The exhibition continues with a selection of photographs and photobooks by women, mainly from Europe and the United States, that reveal a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Gender provided some of these photographers with unusual access and the drive to challenge discriminatory practices, while others were not exempt from portraying stereotypical views. Publications by Jette Bang, Hélène Hoppenot, Ella Maillart, Anna Riwkin, Eslanda Goode Robeson, and Ellen Thorbecke exemplify how photographically illustrated books and magazines were an influential form of communication about travel and ethnography during the modern period. Other works on display include those by Denise Bellon and Ré Soupault, who traveled to foreign countries on assignment for magazines and photo agencies seeking ethnographic and newsworthy photographs, and those by Marjorie Content and Laura Gilpin, who worked on their own in the southwestern United States.

The New Woman – both as a mass-circulating image and as a social phenomenon – was confirmed by the explosion of photographs found in popular fashion and lifestyle magazines. Fashion and advertising photography allowed many women to gain unprecedented access to the public sphere, establish relative economic independence, and attain autonomous professional success. Producing a rich visual language where events and ideas were expressed directly in pictures, illustrated fashion magazines such as Die DameHarper’s Bazaar, and Vogue became an important venue for photographic experimentation by women for a female readership. Photographers producing original views of women’s modernity include Lillian Bassman, Ilse Bing, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Toni Frissell, Toni von Horn, Frances McLaughlin-Gill, ringl + pit, Margaret Watkins, Caroline Whiting Fellows, and Yva.

The rise of the picture press also established photojournalism and social documentary as dominant forms of visual expression during the modern period. Ignited by the effects of a global economic crisis and growing political and social unrest, numerous women photographers including Lucy Ashjian, Margaret Bourke-White, Kati Horna, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Kata Kálmán, Dorothea Lange, and Hansel Mieth engaged a wide public with gripping images. So-called soft topics such as “women and children,” “the family,” and “the home front” were more often assigned to female photojournalists than to their male counterparts. The exhibition asks viewers to question the effect of having women behind the camera in these settings. Pictures produced during the war, from combat photography by Galina Sanko and Gerda Taro to images of the Blitz in London by Thérèse Bonney and the Tuskegee airmen by Toni Frissell, are also featured. At the war’s end, haunting images by Lee Miller of the opening of Nazi concentration camps and celebratory images of the victory parade of Allied Forces in New Delhi by Homai Vyarawalla made way for the transition to the complexities of the postwar era, including images of daily life in US-occupied Japan by Tsuneko Sasamoto and the newly formed People’s Republic of China by Hou Bo and Niu Weiyu.

The New Woman Behind the Camera acknowledges that women are a diverse group whose identities are defined not exclusively by gender but rather by a host of variable factors. It contends that gender is an important aspect in understanding their lives and work and provides a useful framework for analysis to reveal how photography by women has powerfully shaped our understanding of modern life.

 

Exhibition catalog

Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington and distributed by DelMonico Books | D.A.P., this groundbreaking, richly illustrated 288-page catalog examines the diverse women whose work profoundly marked the medium of photography from the 1920s to the 1950s. The book – featuring over 120 international photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Elizaveta Ignatovich, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla – reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the iconic New Woman. Inclusive scholarly essays introduce readers to these important photographers and question the past assumptions about gender in the history of photography. Contributors include Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art; Elizabeth Cronin, assistant curator of photography in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, New York Public Library; Mia Fineman, curator in the department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mila Ganeva, professor of German in the department of German, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, Miami University, Ohio; Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Elizabeth Otto, professor of modern and  contemporary art history, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York); and Kim Sichel, associate professor in the department of the history of art and architecture at Boston University; biographies of the photographers by Kara Felt, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art

 

Olga Máté (Hungarian, 1878-1961) 'Horgász-stég' (Fisherman's Dock) c. 1930

 

Olga Máté (Hungarian, 1878-1961)
Horgász-stég (Fisherman’s Dock)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 22.38 x 17.46cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 48.26 x 38.1cm (19 x 15 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

Olga Máté (1878-1961) was one of the first women Hungarian photographers, most known for her portraits. She was known for her lighting techniques and used lighted backgrounds to enhance her portraits and still life compositions. In 1912 she won a gold medal in Stuttgart at an international photography exhibit. Perhaps her best-known images are portraits she took of Mihály Babits and Margit Kaffka. She was also an early suffragist in Hungary and during the Hungarian White Terror assisted several intellectuals in their escapes.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Kata Kálmán (Hungarian, 1909-1978) 'Weisz Ernö 23 éves gyári munkás, Budapest' (Ernö Weisz, 23-Year-Old Factory Worker, Budapest) 1932, printed before 1955

 

Kata Kálmán (Hungarian, 1909-1978)
Weisz Ernö 23 éves gyári munkás, Budapest (Ernö Weisz, 23-Year-Old Factory Worker, Budapest)
1932, printed before 1955
Gelatin silver print image: 24.2 x 17.6cm (9 1/2 x 6 15/16 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 48.26 x 38.1cm (19 x 15 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

Marianne Brandt (German, 1893-1983) 'Ohne Titel' (Untitled) 1930

 

Marianne Brandt (German, 1893-1983)
Ohne Titel (Untitled)
1930
Photomontage on paper
Overall: 65 x 50.1cm (25 9/16 x 19 3/4 in.)
Frame: 89.22 x 73.98 x 4.13cm (35 1/8 x 29 1/8 x 1 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation, and Thomas Walther

 

 

Marianne Brandt (1 October 1893 – 18 June 1983) was a German painter, sculptor, photographer, metalsmith, and designer who studied at the Bauhaus art school in Weimar and later became head of the Bauhaus Metall-Werkstatt (Metal Workshop) in Dessau in 1927. Today, Brandt’s designs for household objects such as lamps, ashtrays and teapots are considered timeless examples of modern industrial design. She also created photomontages. …

Brandt is also remembered as a pioneering photographer. She created experimental still-life compositions, but it is her series of self-portraits which are particularly striking. These often represent her as a strong and independent New Woman of the Bauhaus; other examples show her face and body distorted across the curved and mirrored surfaces of metal balls, creating a blended image of herself and her primary medium at the Bauhaus. Brandt was one of few women at Bauhaus who distanced herself from the fields considered more feminine at the time such as weaving or pottery.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Rosalie Gwathmey (American, 1908-2001) 'Tobacco Picker, Rocky Mount, North Carolina' 1943

 

Rosalie Gwathmey (American, 1908-2001)
Tobacco Picker, Rocky Mount, North Carolina
1943
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.56 x 34.13cm (10 1/16 x 13 7/16 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons’ Permanent Fund

 

 

Rosalie Gwathmey or Rosalie Hook (September 15, 1908 – February 12, 2001) was an American painter and photographer known for her photos of black southern communities around her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. …

Her photography was known for capturing the lives of residents of Southern African American communities. She focused on black life in her home of Charlotte and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She photographed many of the black sharecroppers and southern townscapes that became the basis of her husband’s paintings. While Rosalie’s social documentary photographs offer no stylistic revolution, her life and art reflect significant issues relating to politics and race relations in the United States during the 1940s. While in the Photo League, she worked with many radical photographers of the era: Paul Strand, Aaron Siskind, Sid Grossman, Dorothea Lange, Bernice Abbott, Lizette Modell, Walter Rosenblum, Dan Weiner, and Lou Stettner.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984) 'Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos' Summer 1933

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Adam Trujillo and His Son Pat, Taos
Summer 1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11.5 x 14.2cm (4 1/2 x 5 9/16 in.)
Frame: 35.56 x 45.72cm (14 x 18 in.)
Frame (outer): 38.1 x 48.26cm (15 x 19 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of the Gallery Girls
© Estate of Marjorie Content

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer from New York City active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime. Since the late 20th century, collectors and art historians have taken renewed interest in her work. Her photographs have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; her work has been the subject of several solo exhibitions.

She was married several times, including for a short period to Harold Loeb, a writer and the editor of the avant-garde journal, Broom. Her marriage to writer Jean Toomer in 1934 lasted more than 30 years, to his death. …

 

Photographic years (1926-1935)

Content began serious photography while married to her second husband, the painter Michael Carr. She used a 3+1⁄4 × 4+1⁄4 inch Graflex, and, after 1932, a 5×7 inch Graflex as well. Despite reports that Stieglitz taught her developing techniques, some scholars believe it was her friend Consuelo Kanaga. Content sometimes worked in Kanaga’s darkroom.

Her travels in the West and Southwest with painter Gordon Grant influenced her style toward a more formalist aesthetic. She briefly worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs photographing rural Native American life. She married a third time, to Leon Fleischman.

In the 1930s Content was also close to painter Georgia O’Keeffe. In 1933 she traveled with her to Bermuda to nurse her through a depression. The following year, she drove with her to New Mexico, where O’Keefe had settled. Other close friends of this period included Stieglitz, Ridge, Sherwood Anderson, Paul Rosenfeld, and Margaret Naumburg, at whose Walden School in New York City both of her children were educated.

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Madame d'Ora (Austrian, 1881-1963) 'Mariette Pachhofer (later Mariette Lydis)' 1921

 

Madame d’Ora (Austrian, 1881-1963)
Mariette Pachhofer (later Mariette Lydis)
1921
Gelatin silver print image: 21.9 x 13.9cm (8 5/8 x 5 1/2 in.)
Mount: 38.7 x 26.4cm (15 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 44.45 x 54.61cm (17 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund and the R. K. Mellon Family Foundation

 

 

Dora Philippine Kallmus (20 March 1881 – 28 October 1963), also known as Madame D’Ora or Madame d’Ora, was an Austrian fashion and portrait photographer.

Dora Philippine Kallmus was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1881 to a Jewish family. Her father was a lawyer. Her sister, Anna, was born in 1878 and deported in 1941 during the Holocaust. Although her mother, Malvine (née Sonnenberg), died when she was young, her family remained an important source of emotional and financial support throughout her career.

She became interested in the photography field while assisting the son of the painter Hans Makart, and in 1905 she was the first woman to be admitted to theory courses at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Graphic Training Institute). That same year she became a member of the Association of Austrian photographers. At that time she was also the first woman allowed to study theory at the Graphischen Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, which in 1908 granted women access to other courses in photography.

In 1907, she established her own studio with Arthur Benda in Vienna called the Atelier d’Ora or Madame D’Ora-Benda. The name was based on the pseudonym “Madame d’Ora”, which she used professionally. D’ora and Benda operated a summer studio from 1921 to 1926 in Karlsbad, Germany, and opened another gallery in Paris in 1925. She was represented by Schostal Photo Agency (Agentur Schostal) and it was her intervention that saved the agency’s owner after his arrest by the Nazis, enabling him to flee to Paris from Vienna.

Her subjects included Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel, Tamara de Lempicka, Alban Berg, Maurice Chevalier, Colette, and other dancers, actors, painters, and writers.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

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

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.9 x 24.5cm (7 1/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
Frame: 40.64 x 50.8cm (16 x 20 in.)
Frame (outer): 43.18 x 53.34cm (17 x 21 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund, Diana and Mallory Walker Fund, New Century Fund, and the Eugene L. and Marie-Louise Garbáty Fund
© Alma Lavenson Archives, All Rights Reserved, 2020
Courtesy Susan Ehrens

 

 

Alma Ruth Lavenson (May 20, 1897, in San Francisco – September 19, 1989 in Piedmont, California) was an American photographer of the early 20th century. She worked with and was a close friend of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and other photographic masters of the period.

 

Rogi André (French born Hungary, 1900-1970) 'Dora Maar' 1941

 

Rogi André (French born Hungary, 1900-1970)
Dora Maar
1941
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17 x 11.9cm (6 11/16 x 4 11/16 in.)
Mount: 28 x 20cm (11 x 7 7/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
rame (outer): 49.53 x 39.37cm (19 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

 

Rogi André (born Rozsa Klein, 10 August 1900, Budapest – 11 April 1970, Paris) was a Hungarian-born French photographer and artist. She was the first wife of André Kertész. …

In 1935, the photographer and theoretician of photography Emmanuel Sougez, writing in the journal Arts et Métiers Graphique compared the photography of Rogi André and that of Laure Albin Guillot, and criticised the former for posing her subjects in their environment. Some critics have noted in her portraits an influence of Cubism, for example in the portrait of Dora Maar (c. 1940) in which she creates a geometric composition using the play of shadows and lights.

What a life she had!

Read a fuller biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Anna Barna (Hungarian, 1901-1964) 'Leskelodo' (Onlooker) 1930s

 

Anna Barna (Hungarian, 1901-1964)
Leskelodo (Onlooker)
1930s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.6 x 16.9cm (8 7/8 x 6 5/8 in.)
Frame: 45.72 x 35.56cm (18 x 14 in.)
Frame (outer): 48.26 x 38.1cm (19 x 15 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert B. Menschel and the Vital Projects Fund

 

 

Behind the Camera

Women actively participated in the development of photography soon after its inception in the 19th century. Yet it was in the 1920s, after the seismic disruptions of World War I, that women entered the field of photography in force. Aided by advances in technology and mass communications, along with growing access to training and acceptance of their presence in the workplace, women around the world made an indelible mark on the growth and diversification of the medium. They brought innovation to a range of photographic disciplines, from avant-garde experimentation and commercial studio practice to social documentary, photojournalism, ethnography, and the recording of sports, dance, and fashion.

 

The New Woman

A global phenomenon, the New Woman of the 1920s embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Her image – a woman with bobbed hair, stylish dress, and a confident stride – was a staple of newspapers and magazines first in Europe and the United States and soon in China, Japan, India, Australia, and elsewhere. A symbol of the pursuit of liberation from traditional gender roles, the New Woman in her many guises represented women who faced a mix of opportunities and obstacles that varied from country to country. The camera became a powerful means for female photographers to assert their self-determination and redefine their position in society. Producing compelling portraits, including self-portraits featuring the artist with her camera, they established their roles as professionals and artists.

 

The Studio

Commercial studio photography was an important pathway for many women to forge a professional career and to earn their own income. Running successful businesses in small towns and major cities from Buenos Aires to Berlin and Istanbul, women reinvigorated the genre of portraiture. In the studio, both sitters and photographers navigated gender, race, and cultural difference; those run by women presented a different dynamic. For example, Black women operated studios in Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere in the United States, where they not only preserved likenesses and memories, but also constructed a counter narrative to racist images then circulating in the mass media.

 

The City

The availability of smaller, lightweight cameras and the increasing freedom to move about cities on their own spurred a number of women photographers to explore the diversity of the urban experience beyond the studio walls. Using their creative vision to capture the vibrant modern world around them, women living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai), London, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Tokyo, and beyond photographed soaring architecture and spontaneous encounters on the street.

 

Avant-Garde Experiments

Creative formal approaches – photomontage, photograms, sharp contrasts of light and shadow, unconventional cropping, extreme close-ups, and dizzying camera angles – came to define photography during this period. Women incorporated these cutting-edge techniques to produce works that conveyed the movement and energy of modern life. Although often overshadowed by their male partners and colleagues, women photographers were integral in shaping an avant-garde visual language that promoted new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

 

Modern Bodies

Beginning in the 1920s, new concepts concerning health and sexuality, along with changing attitudes about movement and dress, emphasised the human body as a central site of experiencing modernity. Women photographers produced incisive visions of liberated modern bodies, from pioneering photographs of the nude to exuberant pictures of sport and dance. Photographs of joyous play and gymnastic exercise, as well as images of dancers in motion, celebrate the body as artistic medium.

 

Ethnographic Approaches

During this modern period, numerous women pursued professional photographic careers and traveled extensively for the first time. Many took photographs that documented their experiences abroad in Africa, China, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while others engaged in more formal ethnographic projects. Some women with access to domains that were off limits to their male counterparts produced intimate portraits of female subjects. While gender may have afforded these photographers special connections to certain communities, it did not exempt some, especially those from Europe and the United States, from producing stereotypical views that reinforced hierarchical concepts of race and ethnocentrism.

 

Fashion and Advertising

Images splashed across the pages of popular fashion and lifestyle magazines vividly defined the New Woman. The unprecedented demand for fashion and advertising photographs between the world wars provided exceptional employment opportunities for fashion reporters, models, and photographers alike, allowing women to emerge as active agents in the profession. Cultivating the tastes of newly empowered female consumers, fashion and advertising photography provided a space where women could experiment with pictures intended for a predominantly female readership.

 

Social Documentary

Galvanised by the effects of a global economic crisis and the growing political and social unrest that began in the 1930s, numerous women photographers produced arresting images of the human condition. Whether working for government agencies or independently, women contributed to the visual record of the Depression and the events leading up to World War II. From images of breadlines and worker demonstrations to forced migration and internment, women photographers helped to expose dire conditions and shaped what would become known as social documentary photography.

 

Reportage

The rise of the picture press established photojournalism as a dominant form of visual expression during a period shaped by two world wars. Women photographers conveyed an inclusive view of worldwide economic depression, struggles for decolonisation in Africa, and the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the Soviet Union. They often received the “soft assignments” of photographing women and children, families, and the home front, but some women risked their lives close to the front lines. Images of concentration camps and victory parades made way for the complexities of the postwar era, as seen in pictures of daily life in US-occupied Japan and the newly formed People’s Republic of China.

 

The photographers whose works are in The New Woman Behind the Camera represent just some of the many women around the world who were at the forefront of experimenting with the camera. They produced invaluable visual testimony that reflected both their personal experiences and the extraordinary social and political transformations of the early 20th century. Together, they changed the history of modern photogr