Archive for the 'photojournalism' Category

29
Jun
16

Australia as an After Image: Middle Australia and the politics of fear

June 2016

 

 

“An afterimage … is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”1

 

I don’t usually mix politics and art on this website but today, before the general election this Saturday in Australia, I ask this question: what kind of country do we want in the future? One that cares about human beings of all ages, races, sexualities, socio-economic positions and health – or one that has no vision for the future and which is governed by market greed.

As an immigrant I am forever grateful that I can call Australia home. I arrived in 1986 and got to stay as a permanent resident because of a gay de facto relationship. I was one of the lucky few. But today, dear friends, I feel that something has gone terribly wrong with this country. Looking back nearly 30 years later I wonder what has happened to that progressive country that was an unpolished diamond, a bit rough around the edges but generous and welcoming when I arrived all those years ago. Things seem to have gone backwards, terribly backwards over the last 30 years. It’s almost as though the country of hope and fun that I arrived in is just an afterimage located in my memory, a vision that continues to flicker in the recesses of the mind but is no longer present in actuality.

Today, as with many countries in the Western world which are edging towards the right through a “conservative movement” with clearly defined tenets and agenda, we live in a country governed by the politics of fear. This politics of fear – grounded in rampant capitalism where making a buck takes precedence over the lives of people: its business – and linked to the Christian fundamentalist right and the “re-engagement between church and state” – is, as David Kindon notes, “moving Australia away from the notion of a secular democracy.”2

Australia is now a less generous place than it was 30 years ago, ruled by god-given, government-aligned order. Bugger the pensioners, cut the arts program funding, get rid of public health care, call for plebiscite on gay marriage where the bigots can come out of the woodwork and other people decide whether you are deemed “equal” to them, imprison vulnerable people in state run concentration camps where the government has the right to hurt other people… and the list goes on and on: Border Force as a quasi paramilitary force for our protection, more people in jail than at any time in our history (due to the privatisation of the jails = money, profit), and “new anti-protest laws [In New South Wales which] are the latest example of an alarming and unmistakeable trend. Governments across Australia are eroding some of the vital foundations of our democracy, from protest rights to press freedom, to entrench their own power and that of vested business interests.” (Sydney Morning Herald)

Further, there is the “privatisation of government assets and services, attacks on public broadcasting services, deregulation of the private sector, and widespread cuts in the public sector.” (Kindon) As ever, the rich get richer, the miners get wealthier, and the poor get screwed. More entitlements were delivered to the wealthy and the corporate sector despite having seen the “end of the age of entitlement” announced by the Treasurer. Those very vested business interests.

This situation is not akin to the concept of “permanent temporariness” used to describe the plight of the Palestine State but is akin to that of a “permanent blindness” of a nation. Middle Australia will not hear what they don’t want to hear, will not see what they don’y want to see. Today, nationalism has become framed in terms of external (and internal) threats. Xenophobia in the recent Brexit poll in the UK is mirrored by simmering racism in this sun blessed country. Otherness, difference, liberal views, alternative thinking and, heaven forbidden, being an open and responsible member of the human race (on human rights, on global warming, on not being in wars we have no business being in) are all seen as threatening to the middle-brow status quo. Steady as she goes for “Team Australia” and if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Yes, let’s stick with this mob for a little while longer…

WAKE UP AUSTRALIA BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

1. Anon. “Afterimage” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 21/09/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterimage
2. Kindon, David. “The Political Theology of Conservative Postmodern Democracies: Fascism by Stealth,” on the A Fairer Society website [Online] Cited 29/06/2016

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966, printed later

 

David Moore (Australia 06 Apr 1927 – 23 Jan 2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966, printed later
gelatin silver photograph
30.2 x 43.5 cm image; 35.7 x 47.0 cm sheet
Gift of the artist 1997
© Lisa, Karen, Michael and Matthew Moore

 

Mervyn Bishop. 'Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory' 1975

 

Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory
1975
Type R3 photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1991
© Mervyn Bishop. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 

 

Persons Of Interest – Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) surveillance 1949 -1980
Author Frank Hardy in the doorway of the Building Workers Industrial Union, 535 George St, Sydney, August 1955
NAA A9626, 212

 

Lifejacket and lifebuoy from the 'MV Tampa' 2001

 

Lifejacket and lifebuoy from the MV Tampa
2001
Wallenius Wilhelmsen MV Tampa collection
National Museum of Australia

 

“There was one man from Nauru who sent me a letter that I should have let him die in the Ind … the Indian Ocean, instead of picking him up. Because, the conditions on Nauru were terrible. And that is a terrible thing to tell people, that you should have just let them drown.” – Arne Rinnan, Captain of the MV Tampa

 

 

Juan Davila
A Man is Born Without Fear
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

 

J.W.C. Adam. 'Asylum seekers protesting against detention at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on 22 April 2011' 2011

 

J.W.C. Adam
Asylum seekers protesting against detention at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on 22 April 2011
2011
CC BY-SA 2.5

 

 

“And when we call these places of horror in the Pacific ‘concentration camps’, that is an appropriate term, because that is what they are.

And when we accuse the Australian government of selectively torturing brown-skinned people in the way the Nazis chose the Jews and other groups to torture and ultimately eliminate, that is an appropriate thing to do, because we all know, in our heart of hearts, that if these people fleeing oppression were white, English-speaking Christians (white Zimbabweans, say) then their treatment would be completely different.”

Berger, David. “It’s Okay to Compare Australia in 2016 with Nazi Germany – And Here’s Why,” on the New Matilda website May 22 2016 [Online] Cited 29/06/2016

 

Ben Quilty. 'Trooper M, after Afghanistan' 2012

 

Ben Quilty
Trooper M, after Afghanistan
2012
Oil on linen
Collection of the artist

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 - 1974) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand, Australia 1896 – 1974)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph, vintage
30.5 x 35.5 cm image/sheet
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Cronulla race riots 2005

 

Cronulla race riots 2005

 

 

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27
May
16

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

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

The exhibition

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

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

The Morgan Library & Museum website

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19
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Capa in Color’ at Jeu de Paume – Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 21st November 2015 – 29th May 2016

Curator: Cynthia Young, curator at Robert Capa archives

 

 

To be honest, Robert Capa was not the most natural colour photographer, especially when you compare him to the likes of Paul Outerbridge and Saul Leiter who were working at around the same time. Even the official text from Jeu de Paume that accompanies the exhibition is littered with descriptions like “uninspired”, “the color photographs lack focus”, or worse, “Fleur Cowles at Look and Len Spooner at Illustrated were disappointed with the color images.”

His work in this medium is what I would call “observational” colour photography. The images are best when the subject is intimate, human and ‘on set’, preferably using a limited palette with splashes of subdued colour – such as in the gorgeous Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris, France (1948), the delicate Woman on the beach, Biarritz, France (1951), and the simpatico duo of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre on the set of ‘Beat the Devil’, Ravello, Italy (April 1953) and Truman Capote and Jennifer Jones on the set of ‘Beat the Devil’, Ravello, Italy (April 1953). The photographs of Ava Gardner on set are also cracking images for their vitality and overall balance, as is the almost monochromatic Gen X girl, Colette Laurent, at the Chantilly racetrack, France (1952). Other ensemble tableaux might as well have been shot in black and white, such as Spectators at the Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France (c. 1952).

Capa too often resorts to one or two strong primary colours for effect, as in Capucine, French model and actress, on a balcony, Rome, Italy (August 1951), Rambaugh Family Circus, Indiana, USA (1949) or American Judith Stanton, Zermatt, Switzerland (1950). In the the former two images the composition doesn’t work with the colour; only in the latter does it become a vigorous and joyous structural element. Sometimes I think that Capa didn’t exactly know what to do with colour – Woman at an ice bar, Zürs, Austria (1949-1950) and Party, Rome, Italy (August 1951) are not very good at all – but here we must acknowledge an artist experimenting with a relatively new commercial medium, even as he seeks to sell these images to his clients.

Capa in Color is at his best when he employs subtlety, constructing strong human compositions with nuanced placement of shades and hues. One of the most complex images in the posting is Anna Magnani on the set of Luchino Visconti’s ‘Bellissima’ (Rome, 1951-52). Just look at this image: your eye plays over the surface, investigating every nook and cranny, every modular plane. The blue of the skirt, the brown of the top, the patterns of the two bikinis and the earthiness of tree and earth. I am reminded of the paintings of Paul Cézanne.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
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.

 

The first exhibition dedicated to Capa’s fourteen years of color photographs, Capa in Color has an ambition to evaluate and place these photographs in the timeline of his career and of their period. Capa in Color shows how color photography renewed his vision and how his work gained from a new sensibility after the war, by readapting his compositions in color, but also to a public attracted to entertainment and to the discovery of new types of images.

 

 

Robert Capa et la couleur – Portrait filmé/videoportrait from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Regata, Lofoten Island, Hankoe' Norway, 1951

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Regata, Lofoten Island, Hankoe
Norway, 1951
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

“Recently presented at the International Center of Photography and now available for travel, Capa in Color presents Robert Capa’s color photographs to the European public for the first time. Although he is recognized almost exclusively as a master of black-and-white photography, Capa began working regularly with color film in 1941 and used it until his death in 1954. While some of this work was published in the magazines of the day, the majority of these images have never been printed or seen in any form.

Capa in Color includes over 150 contemporary color prints by Capa, as well as personal papers and tearsheets from the magazines in which the images originally appeared. Organized by Cynthia Young, curator of Capa Collections at ICP, the exhibition presents an unexpected aspect of Capa’s career that has been previously edited out of posthumous books and exhibitions, and show how he embraced color photography and integrated it into his work as a photojournalist in the 1940s and 1950s.

Robert Capa’s (1913-1954) reputation as one of history’s most notable photojournalists is well established. Born Endre Ernö Friedmann in Budapest and naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1946, he was deemed “The Greatest War Photographer in the World” by Picture Post in a late 1938 publication of his Spanish Civil War photographs. During World War II, he worked for such magazines as Collier’s and Life, extensively portraying preparation for war as well as its devastating aftermath. His best-known images symbolized for many the brutality and valor of war and changed the public perception of, and set new standards for, war photography.

July 27, 1938, while in China for eight months covering the Sino-Japanese war, Robert Capa wrote to a friend at his New York agency, “… send 12 rolls of Kodachrome with all instructions; … Send it “Via Clipper” because I have an idea for Life“. Although no color film from China survives except for four prints published in the October 17, 1938, issue of Life, Capa was clearly interested in working with color photography even before it was widely used by many other photojournalists.

In 1941, he photographed Ernest Hemingway at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho, in color, and used color for a story about crossing the Atlantic on a freighter with an Allied convoy, published in the Saturday Evening Post. While Capa is best known for the black-and-white images of D-Day, he also used color film sporadically during World War II, most notably to photograph American troops and the French Camel Corps in Tunisia in 1943.

Capa’s use of color film exploded in his postwar stories for magazines such as Holiday (USA ), Ladies’ Home Journal (USA ), Illustrated (UK), and Epoca (Italy). These photographs, which until now have been seen only in magazine spreads, brought the lives of ordinary and exotic people from around the world to American and European readers alike, and were markedly different from the war reportage that had dominated Capa’s early career. Capa’s technical ability coupled with his engagement with human emotion in his prewar black-andwhite stories enabled him to move back and forth between black and white and color film and integrate color to complement the subjects he photographed. These early stories include photographs of Moscow’s Red Square from a 1947 trip to the USS R with writer John Steinbeck and refugees and the lives of new settlers in Israel in 1949-50. For the Generation X project, Capa traveled to Oslo and northern Norway, Essen, and Paris to capture the lives and dreams of youth born before the war.

Capa’s photographs also provided readers a glimpse into more glamorous lifestyles that depended on the allure and seduction of color photography. In 1950, he covered fashionable ski resorts in the Swiss, Austrian, and French Alps, and the stylish French resorts of Biarritz and Deauville for the burgeoning travel market capitalized on by Holiday magazine. He even tried fashion photography by the banks of the Seine and on the Place Vendôme. Capa also photographed actors and directors on European film sets, including Ingrid Bergman in Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, Orson Welles in Black Rose, and John Huston’s Moulin Rouge. Additional portraiture in this period included striking images of Picasso, on the beach near Vallauris, France with his young son Claude.

Capa carried at least two cameras for all of his postwar stories: one with black-and-white film and one with color, using a combination of 35mm and 4 x 5 Kodachrome and medium-format Ektachrome film, emphasizing the importance of this new medium in his development as a photographer. He continued to work with color until the end of his life, including in Indochina, where he was killed in May 1954. His color photographs of Indochina presage the color images that dominated the coverage from Vietnam in the 1960s.

Capa in Color is the first museum exhibition to explore Capa’s fourteen-year engagement with color photography and to assess this work in relation to his career and period in which he worked. His talent with black-andwhite composition was prodigious, and using color film halfway through his career required a new discipline. Capa in Color explores how he started to see anew with color film and how his work adapted to a new postwar sensibility. The new medium required him to readjust to color compositions, but also to a postwar audience, interested in being entertained and transported to new places.”

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'A crewman signals another ship of an Allied convoy across the Atlantic from the US to England' 1942

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
A crewman signals another ship of an Allied convoy across the Atlantic from the US to England
1942
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

It is surprising, even shocking to some, that famous photojournalist Robert Capa (born Budapest 1913, died Indochina 1954) photographed in color, and not just occasionally, but regularly after 1941. His colored work is essentially unknown. Capa is considered a master of black-and-white war photography, a man who documented some of the most important political events of Western Europe in the mid-twentieth century. His photographs of 1930s Paris, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, postwar Europe, and his last images in Indochina are known to us in black-and-white. None of the posthumous retrospective projects of his work have included color, with a few rare exceptions..

Capa first experimented with color in 1938, two years after Kodak developed Kodachrome, the first color roll film. While in China covering the Sino-Japanese War, he wrote to a friend at his New York agency, Pix, “Please immediately send 12 rolls of Kodachrome with all instructions; whether special filters are needed, etc. – in short, all I should know. Send it ‘Via Clipper’, because I have an idea for Life“. Only four color images from China were published, but Capa’s enthusiasm for color was born. He photographed with color film again in 1941 and for the next two years he fought hard to persuade editors to buy his color images in addition to the black-and-white. After the war, the magazines were eager to include color and his color assignments increased. For the rest of his life, he almost always carried at least two cameras: one for black-and-white and one for color film.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'American Captain Jay F. Shelley stands in front of "The Goon," a B-17 bomber, before a raid over Italy, Tunisia, 1943' 1943

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
American Captain Jay F. Shelley stands in front of “The Goon,” a B-17 bomber, before a raid over Italy, Tunisia, 1943
1943
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Jay F. Shelley, Sr., 88, of Yuma,formerly of Scottsdale, Arizona, entered Eternity on June 6, 2004. Jay was born May 16, 1916, in Long Beach, California. He was a decorated B-17 Bomber Pilot during WWII and flew 54 combat missions. He received a degree in business administration with a major in accounting from University of Montana. Jay worked as an accountant until 1979 when he retired with his wife to Scottsdale, Arizona. Capt. Jay F Shelley was assigned to the 301st BG 32nd Squadron.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Damaged plane hosed down with chemicals after landing on belly following a raid over Occupied France, England, July 1941' 1941

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Damaged plane hosed down with chemicals after landing on belly following a raid over Occupied France, England, July 1941
1941
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

The plane is a Bristol Blenheim.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'American crewmen stand in front of a B-17 bomber' England 1942

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
American crewmen stand in front of a B-17 bomber that is being prepared to take off from a Royal Air Force base for a daylight bombing raid over occupied France. This B-17 was one of the first 300 to be brought overseas by the US Army Air Forces
England, 1942
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'An American B-17 gunner awaits take off from a Royal Air Force base for a daylight bombing raid over occupied France' England, 1942

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
An American B-17 gunner awaits take off from a Royal Air Force base for a daylight bombing raid over occupied France
England, 1942
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

World War II

In 1941, Capa produced his first color film story for the Saturday Evening Post, about crossing the Atlantic from new york on a convoy. Once in England, he was also able to sell these images to the English magazine Illustrated, because the two magazines did not have the same readerships.

He made the crossing again the next year, carrying a larger format camera that made bigger, more spectacular portraits of the ship’s crew. The turnaround time for Kodachrome film was several weeks. As Kodak maintained secrecy surrounding the formula, the undeveloped film had to go to a special Kodak processing plant and then returned to the photographer. It was not ideal for timely news. The magazines published few of Capa’s color images from the UK, but he persisted in using it. In 1943, he entered the battlefields of World War II in North Africa, first traveling on a troop ship from England to Casablanca. His last color images from the war were taken on a boat from Tunisia to Sicily in July 1943, where he debarked and moved up to Naples with America soldiers over the following months. It appears that for the rest of the war he did not use color film, apparently discouraged by a combination of the slow shutter speed of the film, long processing times, and the uneven commitment to his color images by the magazines.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Rambaugh Family Circus, Indiana, USA' 1949

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Rambaugh Family Circus, Indiana, USA
1949
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

USA

Soon after his return from England, in the fall of 1941, Capa traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho, to do a story for life on his friends, the writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, whom he had met during the Spanish Civil War. After World War II, Capa sought out new relationships with magazines and holiday became one of his most important supporters.

A glamorous travel magazine that featured New Yorker – caliber writers, Holiday was launched in 1946 by the Philadelphia-based Curtis Publishing Company, which also carried The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. Born in full color, it was a peacetime publication catering to an ideal of American postwar prosperity. Holiday covered American cities, but immediately assigned stories on stylish international hot spots, places readers could dream of visiting with the advent in 1947 of nonstop transatlantic flights. In 1950, Holiday sent Capa to Indianapolis, and while his pictures of a nuclear family of five exploring the city are uninspired, he also photographed a family-run traveling circus. Despite Capa’s lukewarm attitude toward American culture, the color images present a strong vision of American small-town life.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Young visitors waiting to see Lenin's Tomb at Red Square' Moscow 1947

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Young visitors waiting to see Lenin’s Tomb at Red Square
Moscow, 1947
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

USSR

The year 1947 was a turning point in Capa’s life. He founded Magnum, the photographers cooperative agency he had dreamed of since 1938. The same year, he traveled to the Soviet Union, a trip that he had wanted to make in 1937 and then in 1941, both times unable to obtain a visa or magazine support for the trip.

He teamed up with writer John Steinbeck to report on the lives and opinions of ordinary Russians in opposition to Cold War rhetoric. Their adventures were published in the book A Russian Journal the following year and syndicated in newspapers and international picture magazines. Although the color images were well represented in the magazines and on the cover of Illustrated for a special issue, Capa did not shoot much color film in the Soviet Union, and no color was included in A Russian Journal, except for the cover. Either he deemed only a few places worthy of the new medium format Ektachrome color film that did not require special processing – chiefly Moscow and collective farms in the Ukraine and Georgia – or he had only a limited amount of film and used it sparingly. The images of Red Square take full advantage of color film.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude, near Vallauris, France' 1948

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude, near Vallauris, France
1948
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Picasso

Some of Capa’s color works were considerably less successful than his black-and-white photographs. This was the case with his 1948 feature on Picasso, originally sold to look as a story about the artist’s pottery, but as Capa failed to take pictures of the pottery, it became a story about Picasso and his family.

He instructed his Magnum colleague Maria Eisner: “Look gave me a definite assignment but no price so you have to insist on $200 pro black and white and $300 pro colored page, and $250 for expenses. If they are not willing to pay a reasonable sum, you can withdraw, but Madame Fleurs Cowles was so positive on this matter and the pictures are so exclusive that I could be very surprise[d] if this doesn’t work”. Both Fleur Cowles at Look and Len Spooner at Illustrated were disappointed with the color images, although delighted with the story, which included Capa’s now famous picture of Picasso holding a sun umbrella over his ravishing young artist girlfriend, Françoise Gilot, parading on the beach.

 

Hungary

In 1948, Holiday sent Capa to his native Budapest and commissioned him to write the accompanying article. Capa had been widely praised for the hilarious and self-deprecating 1947 book about his wartime exploits, slightly out of focus, so the editors were hardly taking risk by asking him to write a long article.

Holiday used four color images in the November 1949 issue. Unlike the glamorous destinations the magazine usually covered or that Capa would later cover for them, the images and accompanying article, one of the strongest texts he wrote about a place, functioned more as a letter from Budapest. He observes with fascination and humor the clashing end of one empire with the start of another, bittersweet against the reality of what his childhood city had become. While he seemed to have had more color film on this assignment than in Russia, it was expensive to buy and process, so he still conserved, and there are many more black-and-white negatives of similar scenes than in color.

 

Morocco

Capa’s 1949 trip to Morocco was one of the few postwar stories he made concerning a political subject, but it was a complicated sell and failed as an international news story.

The assignment was muddled from the start, as it combined Moroccan politics, lead mines, and the filming of The Black Rose with Orson Welles. Paris Match first published some of the pictures in a piece about the annual tour of the country by the Moroccan leader Sultan Sidi Mohammed. Illustrated published a story with only black-and-white images about the strange effects of the Marshall Plan, in which as a French colony Morocco received American aid through France, although the French General was not recognized as the leader in charge by the U.S. State Department. Some of the best images are portraits of the Moroccan people.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Construction of the new settlements for workers, Neguev Desert, outside Be'er Sheva, Israel' 1949-1950

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Construction of the new settlements for workers, Neguev Desert, outside Be’er Sheva, Israel
1949-1950
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Former shop near Jaffa gate, Jerusalem, Israel' 1949

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Former shop near Jaffa gate, Jerusalem, Israel
1949
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Israel

Capa’s big geopolitical assignment of the late 1940s took him to Israel. He first traveled there in 1948 to cover the Arab-Israeli war, then returned in 1949, for Holiday and Illustrated, with writer Irwin Shaw.

He came back in 1950 to continue photographing the new nation in transition, focusing on the influx of refugees arriving from Europe and neighboring Arab countries, the ongoing repair of the physical destruction, portraits of immigrants, agricultural work, kibbutzim, and various Jewish festivities. While there is only one color image from the 1948 trip, of the Altalena ship burning in the water off the beach in Tel Aviv – a result of the conflict between extreme right-wing Irgunists and the Israeli government – by the time Capa arrived in 1949, he seemed to have all the color film he needed. His Israel stories were picked up by all the major international picture news magazines, spurred by the 1950 publication Report on Israel, with text by Shaw and photos by Capa.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Jetty, Socoa, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France' August 1951

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Jetty, Socoa, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France
August 1951
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Woman on the beach, Biarritz, France' August 1951

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Woman on the beach, Biarritz, France
August 1951
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Deauville and Biarritz

Following the success of his skiing story, Capa proposed a piece on French seaside resorts. In the summer of 1950, he traveled to Deauville in Normandy, with its racetrack and casino, photographing only in black-and-white (all that appeared in Illustrated).

He knew he could do more with the story and pitched it to Holiday as a double feature with Biarritz, in Basque Country. A year later, he returned to Deauville with color film to photograph the scene, capturing the mix of social classes at the horse races. He then traveled to Biarritz, covering the beach, nightlife, and traditional folklore. For this story, the black-andwhite and color images complement each other – the color adding details to the black-and-white, which set the stage. The layout, not published until September 1953, balances the color and black-and-white with Capa’s humorous, self-deprecating text about his time in each resort.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Capucine, French model and actress, on a balcony, Rome, Italy' August 1951

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Capucine, French model and actress, on a balcony, Rome, Italy
August 1951
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Capucine (6 January 1928 – 17 March 1990) was a French fashion model and actress known for her comedic roles in The Pink Panther (1963) and What’s New Pussycat? (1965). She appeared in 36 films and 17 television productions between 1948 and 1990. At age 17, while riding in a carriage in Paris, she was noticed by a commercial photographer. She became a fashion model, working for fashion houses Givenchy and Christian Dior. She adopted the name, “Capucine” (French for nasturtium). She met Audrey Hepburn while modeling for Givenchy in Paris. The two would remain close friends for the rest of Capucine’s life.

In 1957, film producer Charles K. Feldman spotted Capucine while she was modeling in New York City. Feldman brought her to Hollywood to learn English and study acting under Gregory Ratoff. She was signed to a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1958 and landed her first English-speaking role in the film Song Without End (1960) for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Over the next few years, Capucine made six more major motion pictures. They included North to Alaska (1960), a comedy, as a prostitute who becomes the love interest of John Wayne, and Walk on the Wild Side (1962), in which she portrayed a redeemed hooker, before moving to Switzerland in 1962.

Much of 1963’s hit film The Pink Panther was shot in Europe. A crime comedy that led to a number of sequels, the film starred David Niven and Peter Sellers along with Capucine. The risqué comedy What’s New Pussycat? (1965), which co-starred Sellers and Peter O’Toole, was filmed entirely in France. She continued making films in Europe until her death. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Party, Rome, Italy' August 1951

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Party, Rome, Italy
August 1951
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Rome

In his article on norway for Holiday, Capa wrote: “I have revisited Budapest because i happen to have been born there, and because the place offered only a short season for revisiting. I even got to Moscow, which usually offers no revisiting at all. I kept on revisiting Paris because I used to live there before the war; London, because I lived there during the war; and Rome, because I was sorry that I had never lived there at all.”

Capa traveled to Rome for Holiday in 1951 and his pictures were published in April 1952, with a text authored by Alan Moorehead. A writer for The New Yorker at the time of the Rome assignment, Moorehead had been a correspondent for the Daily Express of London during World War II, and he and Capa had been together in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. Capa’s accompanying color photographs pursued a glamorous city filled with beautiful people engaged in endless partying, reflecting a Rome removed from postwar destruction and entering the period of La Dolce Vita.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'American Judith Stanton, Zermatt, Switzerland' 1950

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
American Judith Stanton, Zermatt, Switzerland
1950
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Woman at an ice bar, Zürs, Austria' 1949-1950

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Woman at an ice bar, Zürs, Austria
1949-1950
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Skiing

Skiing was one of Capa’s favorite pastimes and he vacationed annually in Klosters, Switzerland, to relax and recuperate. In 1948, he and a Magnum colleague were trying to drum up a story on Megève, France, a popular ski resort for Parisians, on its “dual personality . . . simple peasant life and gay, café society set.”

Capa photographed in Zürs, Austria, in early 1949, for a Life story, although the magazine ultimately killed it. Holiday pulled in after Life dropped out and, in late 1949, signed on to a feature about the great skiing resorts of Austria, Switzerland, and France, which would become one of Capa’s most joyous and successful color stories. In fact, it was arguably better in color, which provided the additional elements of glitter and humor that black-and-white often missed. For two months, he traveled from the Austrian resorts of Kitzbühel, St. Anton, Zürs, and Lech, to the Swiss towns of Davos, Klosters, and Zermatt, then over the French border to Val d’Isère. In each place, he found a glamorous circle to depict: director Billy Wilder and writer Peter Viertel from Hollywood, young international ski champions, and current and ex-European royalty, including the Queen and Prince of Holland. Everyone was healthy and the mood festive. Capa found a relaxed, casual confidence in his subjects.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Spectators at the Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France' c. 1952

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Spectators at the Longchamp Racecourse, Paris, France
c. 1952
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris, France' 1948

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris, France
1948
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Paris

Paris was Capa’s de facto home from 1933 to 1939 and then as his postwar base, usually in a back room of the elegant Hotel Lancaster off the Champs-Élysées, where he was friend with the owner.

Holiday‘s editor Ted Patrick commissioned Capa to provide photographs for a special issue on Paris in 1952, and Capa brought in other Magnum colleagues – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim, and the young Dennis Stock. The magazine included texts by Irwin Shaw, Paul Bowles, Ludwig Bemelmans, Art Buchwald, and Colette, among others, and is a romantic paean to the city, almost a stage set for romance, gastronomy, and history. Some of Capa’s best images from this story are the quirkiest ones and play with the contrasts that he seemed to revel in, between the young and old, human and animal, high-life and low-life, particularly at the horse races, about which he noted: “The sport of kings is also the sport of concierges”. For his photographs of plein air painters, Capa wrote: “Place du Tertre is a painter’s paradise. A few stops from Sacré Coeur we find an old gentleman in beard and beret looking like an American movie producer’s idea of the kind of French painter found in Montmartre”.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Gen X girl, Colette Laurent, at the Chantilly racetrack, France' 1952

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Gen X girl, Colette Laurent, at the Chantilly racetrack, France
1952
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Generation X

Capa developed Generation X, also known as Gen X, for Magnum on the mark of the half century in late 1949. McCall’s was originally behind the project, but had pulled out by 1951, when Capa insisted on injecting more political content.

Holiday filled the void and supported the project all the way to a three-part series published in early 1953. Capa observed, “it was one of those projects, of which many are born in the minds of people who have big ideas and little money. The funny thing about this project is that it was accomplished.” He assigned the photographers, including Chim, Cartier-Bresson, and Eve Arnold, to each create a portrait of a boy and/or girl in countries where they were already working or had worked. Each subject answered a detailed questionnaire about his or her life, family, personal beliefs, and goals. The project eventually included twenty-four individuals in fourteen countries on five continents. Capa photographed all his subjects – a French girl, a German boy, and Norwegian boy and girl – in color and black-and-white, but only the Norwegian photos were published in color. Capa’s biographer Richard Whelan suggested that Capa’s depiction of the French girl, Colette Laurent, was an oblique portrait of himself at the time: “Her life is superficial, artificial on the surface and holds none of the good things except the material ones.”

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Ava Gardner on the set of 'The Barefoot Contessa', Tivoli, Italy' 1954

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Ava Gardner on the set of ‘The Barefoot Contessa’, Tivoli, Italy
1954
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Ava Gardner on the set of The Barefoot Contessa, Tivoli, Italy' 1954

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Ava Gardner on the set of ‘The Barefoot Contessa’, Tivoli, Italy
1954
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre on the set of Beat the Devil, Ravello, Italy' April 1953

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre on the set of ‘Beat the Devil’, Ravello, Italy
April 1953
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Truman Capote and Jennifer Jones on the set of Beat the Devil, Ravello, Italy' April 1953

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Truman Capote and Jennifer Jones on the set of ‘Beat the Devil’, Ravello, Italy
April 1953
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Jeffrey Hunter on the set of 'Single-Handed (Sailor of the King)'' Malta, 1952

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Jeffrey Hunter on the set of ‘Single-Handed (Sailor of the King)’
Malta, 1952
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'John Huston at the café Les Deux Magots during the filming of 'Moulin Rouge'' Paris, 1952

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
John Huston at the café Les Deux Magots during the filming of ‘Moulin Rouge’
Paris, 1952
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Anna Magnani on the set of Luchino Visconti's 'Bellissima'' Rome, 1951-52

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Anna Magnani on the set of Luchino Visconti’s ‘Bellissima’
Rome, 1951-52
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders on the set of 'Viaggio in Italia'' Naples, April 1953

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders on the set of ‘Viaggio in Italia’
Naples, April 1953
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

On the set

Capa was friends with a number of movie stars and directors and incorporated them into his professional work. He met John Huston in Naples in 1944, while Huston was making films for the Army Signal Corps, and Ingrid Bergman in 1945 when she was filming in Paris, before beginning a one-year love affair.

As part of his 1948 trip to Morocco, he included a story on The Black Rose and its star Orson Welles. He photographed the set of Huston’s Beat the Devil, written by Truman Capote and filmed in the hillside town of Ravello, Italy. The cast visited the set of Viaggio in Italia in nearby Almalfi with Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, and George Sanders and Capa also dipped down to Paestum with his friend Martha Gellhorn, casting her as a caryatid in the ancient ruins. Capa covered another Huston film, Moulin Rouge, about the life of painter Toulouse Lautrec, shot in Paris and at Shepperton Studios near London. Capa’s color portraits of the actors eschew traditional head shots and capture the varied pace and playful moments on the set.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'Spectators along the procession route in Piccadilly Circus before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, London, England' February 6, 1953

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
Spectators along the procession route in Piccadilly Circus before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, London, England
February 6, 1953
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

London and Japan

In 1953, Capa traveled to London to cover the coronation of the young Elizabeth II with friends Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. His color images of crowds waiting for the parade of guests before the coronation, for which he used 35mm Kodachrome, suggest a new interest in color for color’s sake.

In 1954, he received an invitation from Mainichi Press to travel to Japan for six weeks with Japanese cameras and an unrestricted amount of film to shoot what he liked in return for images they could publish. The trip was an easy one, but the color photographs lack focus. He wandered around markets, documented foreign signs, watched people visiting temples and shrines, and photographed Children’s Day in Osaka, but they are little better than tourist snaps. Only a few images of a May Day workers’ celebration in Tokyo, in bright colors, show some engagement, reminiscent of his 1930s images of workers in France and Spain.

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'On the road from Namdinh to Thaibinh, Indochina (Vietnam)' May 1954

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
On the road from Namdinh to Thaibinh, Indochina (Vietnam)
May 1954
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

Robert Capa (1913 - 1954) 'West of Namdinh, Indochina (Vietnam)' May 1954

 

Robert Capa (1913 – 1954)
West of Namdinh, Indochina (Vietnam)
May 1954
International Center of Photography, New York
© Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

 

 

Indochina

In 1953, Capa expressed his readiness “to get back to real work, and soon. What and where I do not know, but the Deauville and Biarritz and motley movie period is over.”

In the same letter, he writes of his desire to go to “Indochina, or any other proposition which would get me back to reporting on my own type of territory”. While in Japan the next year, Capa received a cable from Life asking him to cover for their photographer in Indochina. The assignment was only for a few weeks and would bring in some needed money. He reached Hanoi on May 9 and on May 25, with Time reporter John Mecklin and Scripps-Howard correspondent John Lucas, left Mandihn with two cameras, a Contax with black-and-white film, and a Nikon with color film. Their convoy traveled along a dirt road lined by rice paddies. Moving toward Thaibinh, Capa left the convoy and walked on by himself. He photographed the soldiers advancing through the fields, and as he climbed the dike along the road, he stepped on a land mine and was killed. While the color images are some of the strongest war pictures he made, none were used in the press at the time, probably in part because of the extra time required to process the color film.

 

 

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21
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 8th May 2016

 

I absolutely love Japanese photography from this period.

Subjective photographs with a gutsy pictorial language: rough, grainy, and blurred intimations of a postwar reality mated with “the search for a new Japanese identity.” An identity (pop!) art with a elemental, chthonic twist – containing a dark sensuality – producing images that pull no punches. Wonderful stuff.

Marcus

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

 

The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is viewed as a one-of-a-kind agglomeration of post-war artistic efforts. In the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, the Albertina examines the complex genesis of this magazine and thereby presents a representative cross-section of photographic trends present in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s.

With around 200 objects, this showing unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. In light of the massive protest movements active in Japan during this period, their photographs arose at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These images thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and the renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition is a coproduction between Albertina, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Le Bal (Paris), and Art Institute of Chicago.

 

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki. 'Provoke 3' cover, 1969

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki
Provoke 3 cover
1969
© Nakahira Gen/Moriyama Daido/Takahiko Okada/Takanashi Yukata/Taki Koji

 

 

The three numbers of Provoke were printed in small editions of only one thousand copies each. Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, Kōji Taki, and Takahiko Okada founded the magazine; Daidō Moriyama joined the group with the magazine’s second issue. While the first two numbers were dedicated to the subjects Summer 1968 and Eros, the last issue had no focal theme.

The photographers of Provoke worked spontaneously and dynamically, often without looking through the viewfinder of their small-format cameras. This made for a rough, grainy, and blurred (“are,” “bure,” “boke”) pictorial language influenced by Ed van der Elsken and William Klein. This language broke with traditional photography defined by sophisticated compositions, perfect tonal values, and the vintage print. The tonal quality of pictures reproduced through printing differed from that of traditional photographic prints, and the pictures were regarded as independent works in their own right. Contrary to the objectives of the traditional matter-of-fact documentary photography, they mirrored their authors’ subjective experience of Japan’s postwar reality. The manifesto in the first Provoke issue defined photography as an autonomous medium independent of spoken language and aimed at “provoking” thoughts and ideas. The title of the magazine Provoke: Provocative Materials for Thought expresses this intention. (Wall text)

 

Takuma Nakahira (1938-2015) | For a Language to Come

The photographer, theorist, and critic Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki were responsible for the discursive orientation of Provoke. Nakahira’s works rejected the rules of photojournalism and its claim of rendering facts in a generally valid, objective way. They were also critical of the visual mass media which increasingly pervaded the everyday life of Japan’s consumerist society. According to Nakahira, the media, having lost all relation to reality through the information explosion, were only concerned with presenting a virtual reality. Nakahira did not regard the photograph as an artist photographer’s means of expression but as a mere mechanical document of his subjective perception.

It is the relationship between photography and language which is central for Nakahira’s photography. This is not only evident in Provoke but also in his book For a Language to Come published in 1970. This volume assembles a non-linear and unhierarchical sequence of snapshots evoking imaginary, post-apocalyptic sceneries which not least reveal the photographer’s skepsis about the US consumerist culture spreading throughout Japan. (Wall text)

 

Three Waves of Protest Books

The protest books can be divided into three groups. From the 1960s, mainly collective publishing projects highlighted social unrest such as mass demonstrations and strikes organized by the trade unions against the ratification of the Security Treaty. The trade union publication Rope Ladder and Iron Helmet, for example, documents the occupation of a publishing house by its employees. The second wave saw primarily individual publications by various photographers such as Kazuo Kitai’s book Resistance. It depicts the students’ activities, and its rough and grainy pictorial language became important for Provoke. The third wave of protest books, generally designed by students and published from 1967 on, focused on violent street fights in Tokyo directed against the Vietnam War. The collectively produced volume Sanrizuka – The Hokusō Plateau on Fire. Document 1966-71 deals with the protests against the construction of the airport in Sanrizuka, in which students joined forces with the local farmers. (Wall text)

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960 – 1975 at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969' 1969

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969
1969
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna; permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate, courtesy | PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne

 

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (1930-2012)

Shōmei Tōmatsu is seen as a key figure for Provoke. He photographed the sociopolitical changes in Japan from the 1950s on, depicting US military bases, the consequences of dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, and the student protests in a new, symbolic documentary style. The pictures’ subjective approach revolutionized traditional documentary and reportage photography, which strove to convey a comprehensible story and a clear social message. The strategies developed by Tōmatsu are to be found in the Provoke artists’ works in a pointed form.

Tōmatsu also supported the Provoke photographers as an exhibition organizer and editor. Together with Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, he prepared the first major exhibition of Japanese photography in 1968, which was to stimulate the founders of the magazine to explore the medium. Tōmatsu and Nakahira edited the photo galleries I am a King in the magazine Gendai no me (The Contemporary Eye), which for the first time assembled works by the photographers who would form the Provoke group. (Wall text)

 

Eikoh Hosoe. '"Kamaitachi" #31' 1968

 

Eikoh Hosoe
“Kamaitachi” #31
1968
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna – permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Eikoh Hosoe/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Performance

Pictures taken in the context of performances breach the boundary between photographic documentation and live action and emphasize performative aspects of the medium like the brief act of pictorial production and the materiality of the picture. For his series Kamaitachi, Eikō Hosoe portrayed the butoh and performance artist Tatsumi Hijikata from 1965 on. The performer incorporated the demon Kamaitachi in scenes specifically staged for the camera, visualizing the photographer’s memories of World War II. As Hosoe used his camera in a very dynamic way, the shooting may be seen as a happening involving two artists.

Competing with Provoke, Nobuyoshi Araki produced a number of Xerox photography books from 1970 on. Araki and his assistants xeroxed photographs and sent the copies bound between black covers to colleagues and friends. The production process resembling a happening, the use of technically inadequate means, and the preference of copies over the original defied classical photography in ways to be found in the Provoke magazines.

Also inspired by Provoke, Jirō Takamatsu turned to conceptual photography. For Photograph of Photograph he employed a photographer to take pictures of pictures from his family albums. The snapshot-like pictorial language manifesting itself in reflections and random image sections defamiliarizes the album pictures. Like in Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident, processes connected with the production of prints become a visible element of work that questions the supposed factuality of the medium. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 1) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 1)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

Protest

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Japan was shaken by massive, partly violent waves of protests. The key event was the ratification of the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States in 1960. Japan’s role as a military base for the war against Vietnam, the construction of Narita Airport in Sanrizuka, and the neoliberal activities of big concerns also led to protests. The years between 1960 and 1975 saw the publication of about eighty publications on the protests and the assessment of Japan’s recent history, particularly the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, connected with it.

Published by artist photographers, student associations, trade unions, and professional photo journalists, the protest books were produced in different ways. They were aimed at spreading information and mobilizing people for further protests. The strategies of subversive self-representation were characterized by an innovative design: appeal-like combinations of texts and images, suggestive sequences, dynamic croppings, and an interplay of inferior materials and sophisticated layouts.

Though the members of Provoke, excepting Moriyama, were active politically, they held the opinion that the possibilities of protest photography had been exhausted and that it could not bring about political change. Nevertheless, Provoke followed the models developed by it. The most striking feature next to layout and printing techniques is the protest photographers’ abstract and blurry aesthetic resulting from technical shortcomings. (Wall text)

 

Anonym (Bild 2) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 2)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

“The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is regarded as a highlight of post-war photography. The Albertina, in the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, is taking a close look at this publication’s creators and its long genesis. The presentation encompasses a representative cross-section of Japanese photographic trends during the 1960s and 1970s. With around 200 objects, the exhibition Provoke unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers – including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. Before the backdrop of the massive protest activities in Japan during this period, they created their images out of an awareness of being at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These works thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and a renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition places Provoke in a historical context, focussing on the dialogue between the group’s photography in particular and contemporary protest photography and performance art in general.

Photography is examined as a document of – and/or a call to – protest against injustice: the period around 1960 saw numerous books published in connection with the first great wave of protests in Japan against renewal of the alliance with the USA. A few of them document the demonstrations themselves, while others deal with related themes – above all with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The years during which Provoke was published saw these protests, which were staged employing great creativity, give rise to a captivating visual world of resistance to the illegal actions of large corporations and the despotism of the neoliberal Japanese state.

As the 1960s wore on, the protest movements intensified, leading to a flood of photo volumes and prints. The makers of Provoke – critic Kōji Taki, author Takuma Nakahira, critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama – were of the opinion that journalistic photography had exhausted itself and that it was impossible to effect long-term change through direct political action. But even so, in their texts and their photos, they oriented themselves on the aesthetic strategies to which Japan’s protest photography had given rise: their works feature strikingly innovative graphic design that employs image sequences, pithy text/image combinations, dynamic outtakes, and the interplay of specifically chosen cheap materials (rough paper, low-resolution printing) with fold-outs and unusual formats.

The exhibition concludes by examining the Japanese photography of its chosen period as a variant of performance art and/or as documentation of live actions: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those photographers who, around 1970, developed great interest in portraying darkroom work or other processes connected to the production of photographic prints as visible and active components of photographic creativity. They were preceded in their efforts by dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata, who worked with filmmakers and photographers, as well as by groups like the Hi-Red Center, which blurred the distinctions between photographic documentation and live actions in which photography and other media played a role.

But such influences worked both ways: directly inspired by the activities of the photographers of Provoke, Hi-Red Center member Jiro Takamatsu and Koji Enokura turned to photographic conceptual art in the early 1970s.”

Press release from the Albertina

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964' 1964

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu
Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate – INTERFACE

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'The Beatles' 1965

 

Yutaka Takanashi
The Beatles
1965
From the series Tokyoites
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna
© Takanashi Yutaka

 

 

Yutaka Takanashi (b. 1935) | Towards the City

From the mid-1960s, Yutaka Takanashi focused on the urban change of the metropolis. Tokyo’s massive expansion, the modernization of its infrastructure, and its ruthless industrialization were captured in spontaneous pictures often shot from a driving car. Unlike his Provoke colleagues’ works, Takanashi’s photographs are easier to read, less pessimistic, and show a stronger affinity to classical documentary photography. He composed all his pictures by looking through the viewfinder.

In close collaboration with the book designer Kōhei Sugiura, Takanashi published the artist book Toshi e (Towards the City). Embedded in a cardboard box, its two volumes comprise a number of different, partly overlapping work groups: while the smaller one, titled Tokyo-jin (Tokyoites) contains pictures of the city’s inhabitants from 1966, the larger one explores Tokyo’s new topography, documenting its outlying districts. Shot in the Provoke era, the pictures’ blurriness and apparent exposure mistakes testify to the group’s influence. (Wall text)

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi
Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka / Taka Ishii Gallery
© Keio University Art Center / Courtesy of Butoh Laboratory Japan

 

Daidō Moriyama. 'Untitled' from the series 'Akushidento (Accident)' 1969

 

Daidō Moriyama
Untitled, from the series Akushidento (Accident)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Daidō Moriyama / Shadai Gallery, Tokyo Polytechnic University

 

 

Daidō Moriyama (geb. 1938) | Accident

Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident interlinks sociopolitical subjects, references to Western art, and media-analytical considerations. Against the background of Japan’s strengthening consumerist culture, Moriyama, inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art pictures, relied on everyday mass media. Next to demonstrations and pop culture motifs, Moriyama, alluding to Warhol’s work Silver Car Crash of 1963, photographed police posters that campaigned for safe driving with deterrent pictures of car accidents. Reflections on the material and blurs resulting from the pictures’ enlargement emphasize the reproduction process. Moriyama questions the illusionary nature of photography and underlines their material quality. Regarding contents, the series investigates the conflict between the US consumerist culture’s attraction and the quest for a Japanese identity. (Wall text)

 

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am – 9 pm

Albertina website

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08
Apr
16

Exhibitions: ‘Werner Bischof: Point of View’ and ‘Helvetica’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 27th January – 1st May 2016

Curators: Marco Bischof, Werner Bischof Estate, for the exhibition Point of View and Daniel Girardin, Musée de l’Elysée, for the exhibition Helvetica.

 

 

After seven years of constructing this website, finally I can talk about an exhibition on one of my favourite humanist/social documentary photographers. This fact alone shows how rare it is to get to see his photographs in an exhibition, let alone display them online, such is the control that agencies have over the artist’s work.

Personally, I prefer the earlier, more avant-garde work around the time of the Second World War which has more bite, more of a cutting edge. But then again how can you argue against the sheer beauty and formalism of Harbour of Kowloon (1952, below) or the “atmosphere” of that wondrous photograph Courtyard of the Meiji shrine (below) where the snow has been falling since 1951. I remember starting out as an artist, seeing this image and staring in disbelief at this vision.

Perhaps that is a good metaphor for Bischof’s work: that of a visionary, for you never sense the presence of the photographer in his work (unless he wants you to!) but always know that it is a Bischof photograph. The photographs are almost ego-less, which is one reason I suppose that they are so damn good. The artist gets physically close to the subject matter (as in Stallion Remus, 1944 and On the road to Cuzco, 1954) and then lets the subject reveal itself. This is such an art, to be present and absent in the work at the same time.

It is a great sadness that Bischof died so young (at age 38, when the jeep in which he was travelling plunged off  a cliff in the area of Peña de Águila, in the Peruvian Andes) and that the work of such a sympathetic photographer is not as well known as the work of that other Swiss photographer, Robert Frank. Bischof’s work lives and breathes in the top echelons of photography but somehow, you never hear of him. In my humble opinion, one of the great photographers of all time.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Werner Bischof, Point de vue et Helvetica

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Werner Bischof: Point of View' and 'Helvetica' at the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Werner Bischof: Point of View and Helvetica at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne
Photo: © Yannick Lüthy / Musée de l’Elysée

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Plants' Zürich c. 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Plants
Zurich, c. 1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Oak Tree' Switzerland, c. 1941

 

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Oak Tree
Switzerland, c. 941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Demonstration on the Piazza del Duomo' Milan, Italy 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Demonstration on the Piazza del Duomo
Milan, Italy, 1946
© Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Enfants des rues (Street children)' Naples, Italy 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Enfants des rues (Street children)

Naples, Italy, 1946
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'The Swiss Worker at the steelworks of Winterthur' 1943

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
The Swiss Worker at the steelworks of Winterthur
1943
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Stallion Remus' Avenches, Switzerland 1944

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Stallion Remus
Avenches, Switzerland, 1944
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Brandenburg Gate' Berlin 1946

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Brandenburg Gate
Berlin, 1946
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof 'Streams' (darkroom drawing), 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Streams (darkroom drawing)
1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Zebra Woman' 1942

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Zebra Woman
1942
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Breast with grid' Zurich, Switzerland 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Breast with grid
Zurich, Switzerland, 1941
© Werner Bischof / Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Army Boot' Zürich, Switzerland c. 1941

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Army Boot
Zurich, Switzerland, c. 1941
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos
From the exhibition Helvetica

 

 

To mark the centenary of the birth of Swiss photographer Werner Bischof (1916-1954), the Musée de l’Elysée is presenting a retrospective of his work entitled Point of View, produced by Magnum Photos (Paris). The exhibition offers almost 200 original and sometimes unpublished prints selected from the Werner Bischof Estate (Zurich). The exhibition will also display contact sheets, books, magazines and private letters. Several projections will give a contemporary approach to his work. The exhibition will present his work in Switzerland (1934-1944), Europe (1945-1950), Asia (1951-1952), and North and South America (1953-1954).

A second exhibition, produced by the Musée de l’Elysée and entitled Helvetica focuses exclusively on Bischof’s Swiss years, the period of training, studio work fashion and advertising and then the war years in Switzerland during which he became a press photographer working for the magazine DU. The exhibition Helvetica is the subject of the first publication of the “Collection – Musée de l’Elysée”.

Text from the Musée de l’Elysée website

 

“The Swiss genius is an exceptional photographer possessing tremendous technical knowledge and experience for his age (he’s only 32 years old), being able to make great pictures, both inside studio (a sphere in which she gets superb results thanks to his lighting mastery, the control on the depth of field, etc) and with persons in outdoor assignments, where by means of his great humanistic sensitiveness, intuition, precision in the timing on pressing the release shutter button of his cameras, outstanding grasping to capture the most representative moments and passion for his trade, also creates very powerful and meaningful images once and again, taking care of the most minute details, even when working under the most extreme contexts, since he’s a great perfectionist… Throughout all of his career as a professional photographer, Bischof proved to be an accomplished master of medium format made using a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) Rolleiflex medium format cameras. He also used a rangefinder 35 mm Leica IIIc camera with Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens with which he likewise got great photographs.”

Extract from José Manuel Serrano Esparza. “Werner Bischof: A Master of Photography whose work goes on being very alive,” 23rd July 2013 [Online] Cited 07/04/2016.

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Americana, USA' 1954

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Americana, USA
1954
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Aerial view of New York City' 1953

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Aerial view of New York City
1953
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Penguins of Edinburgh Zoo on a walk' 1950

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Penguins of Edinburgh Zoo on a walk
1950
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Harbour of Kowloon' Hong Kong, China 1952

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Harbour of Kowloon
Hong Kong, China, 1952
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'On the road to Cuzco' Valle Sagrado, Peru 1954

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
On the road to Cuzco
Valle Sagrado, Peru, 1954
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

“Another timeless photographic icon in which stands out the lavish level of detail in the garment of the boy and his typical hat, along with the intricate texture of the sack he is wearing on his back, the impression of volume of his right hand, the fibrous musculature in his calves, the soft bokeh in the mountainous area which can be seen in the background and above all a millenary synergy between man and nature that Werner Bischof realized was endangered.”  – José Manuel Serrano Esparza

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'A pleasant sleeping' Island of Kau Sai 1952

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
A pleasant sleeping
Island of Kau Sai, 1952
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Courtyard of the Meiji shrine' Tokyo, Japan 1951

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Courtyard of the Meiji shrine
Tokyo, Japan, 1951
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

“Bischof creates a kind of living landscape highlighted by its unmatched formal and compositive precision, masterfully using the natural light, obtaining plentiful details and exceedingly delicate transitions and hues of gray scales, exploiting the capacities of square medium format to the utmost. The very pure whites of the snow on the ground, the temple roof and the tree tops are likewise worth being mentioned.” – José Manuel Serrano Esparza

 

Werner Bischof (1916 - 1954) 'Famine stricken area' State of Bihar, India, April 1951

 

Werner Bischof (1916 – 1954)
Famine stricken area
State of Bihar, India, April 1951
© Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

 

 

The Musée de l’Elysée
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH - 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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01
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Exhibition dates: 18th September 2015 – 13th March 2016

 

THIS IS THE FIRST OF THREE POSTINGS ABOUT (MAINLY AMERICAN) 19th CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHY.

 

This monster posting is both fascinating and gruesome by turns. They were certainly dark fields, stained crimson with the blood of men of opposing armies, left bloated and rotting in the hot sun. Can you imagine the smell one or two days later when Alexander Gardner arrived to photograph those very fields.

Particularly in the early war years (1861-62).”Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady.” Gardner worked for Mathew Brady, running his Washington office and working in the field (as many other operatives did) during the early part of the Civil War. Gardner’s negatives were published under the banner of the studio of Brady. He finished working for Brady in 1862 before setting up his own studio in May 1863 a few blocks from Brady’s Washington studio. This fluidity of authorship continues later in the war when Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s photographs, an assistant to Gardner, appeared under the masthead of Gardner’s studio. Evidence of this can be observed in the image Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) where, at least, Sullivan is credited with the negative at bottom left under the image.

Gardner changed the face of photography. He endowed it with an immediacy and energy that it had previously been lacking. His photographs of the battlefield brought the action “presently” into the lounge rooms of the well-heeled and, by engravings taken from the photographs, into newspapers of the time. His series of photographs of the hanging of the conspirators convicted of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are “considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.” But he wasn’t above rearranging the scene to his liking, as in the moving of the body in Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (July 1863, below) to make a more advantageous “view” … much like Roger Fenton’s moving of the cannonballs in his epic photograph The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855). Today this would be frowned upon, but in the era these photographs were taken it seemed the most “natural” thing to do, to make a better photograph, and nothing was thought of it.

The exhibition text states, “But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.” Malfeasance is a strong word. Malfeasance is defined as an affirmative act, “the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).” (Dictionary.com) The exhibition text also states that “His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view,” and are a blot on Gardner’s career.

I don’t agree. Of course Gardner trusted the images that his camera captured, he was a photographer! This is a ludicrous statement… it is just that, arriving days after the battle, he wanted compositions that created news and views that were memorable. His affirmative action was not illegal or contrary to the law. Although morally it could be seen as a violation of public trust he was reporting the depravities of war within the first 25 years of the beginning of photography, and he was trying to get across to the general public the lonely desperation of death. In that era, at the very beginning of photographic reportage, who was to tell him it was wrong or illegal? We view these actions through retrospective eyes knowing that this kind of re-arrangement would not be tolerated today (but it is, in the digital manipulation of images!) and the condemnation of today is just a hollow statement. Photography has ALWAYS re-presented reality – through the hand of the author, through the eyes of the viewer.

Other interesting things to note in the posting are:

  • the mechanical overlaying of colour in the stereograph View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (1862, below) where the colour is applied subtly in the left hand photograph while in the right hand image, the colour almost obliterates the figures
  • the attitude of the participants in Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (1868, below). The military and civilian representatives of the government sit at right on boxes, four of them staring directly into the camera aware they are being photographed for prosperity (General William T. Sherman does not, looking pensive with his hands clasped) while on the left, the Native American Indian representatives sit on the ground wrapped in blankets with the backs of two interpreters towards the camera. They do not make eye contact with the camera except for one man, who has turned his head towards the camera and gives it a defiant stare (perhaps I am imagining, but I think not)

.
The strongest photographs in this posting, other than the masterpiece Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter are not the empirical scenes of the battlefield but two portraits: Ulysses S. Grant (1864, below) and the war weary “cracked plate” image of Abraham Lincoln (1865, below). Both are memorable not just for the low depth of field or the “capture” of remarkable leaders of men during war but for something essentially interior to themselves – their contemplation of self. With Grant you can feel the steely determination (this in the second last year of the war) and, yet, comprehend his statement,

“Though I have been trained as a soldier, and participated in many battles, there never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword”

in this image. What must be done has to be done, but by God I wish it wasn’t so. The eyes have it.

With the Lincoln portrait – of which Gardner only pulled one print from the plate before he destroyed it, making this the rarest of images – the charismatic leader is shown with craggy, war weariness. The contextless space around the body is larger than is normal at this time, allowing us to focus on the “thing itself” … and then we have that prophetic crack. “During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident,” says the text from the exhibition. How do you create a portrait like this by accident? With the length of the exposure, Lincoln would have had to remain immobile for seconds… not something that you do by accident. No, both Gardner and Lincoln knew that a portrait was being taken. This is previsualisation (depth of field, space around and above the body) at its finest. That the plate was accidentally cracked and then discarded in no way makes this portrait an accident. If this is a portrait of, “Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination,” it is also the face of a man that you could almost reach out and touch!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

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“Gardner has often had his work misattributed to Brady, and despite his considerable output, historians have tended to give Gardner less than full recognition for his documentation of the Civil War. Lincoln dismissed McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, and Gardner’s role as chief army photographer diminished. About this time, Gardner ended his working relationship with Brady, probably in part because of Brady’s practice of attributing his employees’ work as “Photographed by Brady”. That winter, Gardner followed General Ambrose Burnside, photographing the Battle of Fredericksburg. Next, he followed General Joseph Hooker. In May 1863, Gardner and his brother James opened their own studio in Washington, D.C, hiring many of Brady’s former staff. Gardner photographed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863) and the Siege of Petersburg (June 1864-April 1865) during this time.

In 1866, Gardner published a two-volume work, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. Each volume contained 50 hand-mounted original prints. The book did not sell well. Not all photographs were Gardner’s; he credited the negative producer and the positive print printer. As the employer, Gardner owned the work produced, as with any modern-day studio. The sketchbook contained work by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, James F. Gibson, John Reekie, William Pywell, James Gardner (his brother), John Wood, George N. Barnard, David Knox and David Woodbury, among others. Among his photographs of Abraham Lincoln were some considered to be the last to be taken of the President, four days before his assassination, although later this claim was found to be incorrect, while the pictures were actually taken in February 1865, the last one being on the 5th of February. Gardner would photograph Lincoln on a total of seven occasions while Lincoln was alive. He also documented Lincoln’s funeral, and photographed the conspirators involved (with John Wilkes Booth) in Lincoln’s assassination. Gardner was the only photographer allowed at their execution by hanging, photographs of which would later be translated into woodcuts for publication in Harper’s Weekly.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872

His photographs have “a terrible distinctness.” So wrote the New York Times about the work of trailblazing photographer Alexander Gardner (1821-1882). In a career spanning the critical years of the nineteenth century, Gardner created images that documented the crisis of the Union, the Civil War, the United States’ expansion into the western territories, and the beginnings of the Indian Wars.

As one of a pioneering generation of American photographers, Gardner helped revolutionize photography, both in his mastery of techniques and by recognizing that the camera’s eye could be fluid and mobile. In addition to creating portraits of leaders and generals – he was Abraham Lincoln’s favorite photographer – Gardner followed the Union army, taking indelible images of battlefields and military campaigning. His battlefield photographs – including those of the newly dead – created a public sensation, contributing to the change under way in American culture from romanticism to realism, a realism that was the hallmark of his work.

At war’s end, Gardner went west. Fascinated, like many artists, by American Indians, he took a series of stunning images of the western tribes, setting set these figures in their native grounds: these photographs are the pictorial evocation of the seemingly limitless western land and sky. He also took images of the Indians in Washington, D.C., where they traveled to negotiate preservation of their way of life. Gardner’s portraits of Native Americans are dignified likenesses of a resistant people fighting for their way of life.

In their documentary clarity and startling precision, Alexander Gardner’s photographs – taken in the studio, on battlefields, and in the western territories – are a summons back into a darkly turbulent and heroic period in American history.”

Text from the exhibition website

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington with, in the bottom photograph, two people looking at a photograph of Lieutenant General Grant.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ulysses S. Grant' (1822-1885) c. 1864 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ulysses S. Grant (detail)
c. 1864
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

There is a story that when Ulysses S. Grant traveled east in 1864 to take command of all the Union armies, the desk clerk at Washington’s Willard Hotel did not recognize him and assigned him to a mean, nondescript room. (When Grant identified himself, he was upgraded to a suite.) The anecdote points out that likenesses were not yet widely distributed, even after the advent of photography. It was possible for famous people to remain unidentified. But fame meant that one had one’s photograph taken, as Grant did in this image Gardner took after the western general arrived in Washington. Grant was coming off a string of successes in the West, including the successful siege of Vicksburg, which made him the inevitable choice for overall command. In Grant, Lincoln finally found a general who would consistently engage the enemy’s forces. Indicative of Grant’s stature, Lincoln bestowed on him the rare title of lieutenant general, a rank previously held only by George Washington. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This portrait of Abraham Lincoln was taken on February 24, 1861, just before his inauguration on March 4. It has been conjectured that Lincoln is hiding his right hand in his lap because it was swollen from shaking so many hands during his travel from Illinois to Washington. This is also the first studio image depicting Lincoln with a full beard, which he had famously grown between the election and inauguration, purportedly at the behest of a little girl who wrote him from New York that it would improve his appearance. Lincoln was early to recognize the power of the relatively new medium of photography to mold and shape a public persona. He credited a photograph by Mathew Brady, taken when he came to New York City to present himself to Republican Party power brokers, as helping to confirm his suitability for the presidency by showing him well-dressed and dignified. Interestingly, the Brady photograph shows Lincoln standing; in this portrait he is seated, as if ready to begin work as president. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872’ at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington showing the “Imperial” glass-plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio, with a print from the negative on the wall behind.

 

 

This exhibition provides the rare opportunity to display the means by which a photographic image was produced on paper: the glass-plate negative that was the “film” of early photography. Because of their fragility, surviving glass-plate negatives of this size (the so-called “imperial”) are rare: this is one of two of Lincoln that have survived and dates from his August 9, 1863, sitting at Gardner’s Washington studio. The process Gardner used was relatively new to America and consisted of hand-coating a glass plate with collodion – a syrupy mixture of guncotton dissolved in alcohol and ether to which bromide and iodine salts had been added. The difficulty for the photographer was that the glass plate had to be coated with collodion, sensitized in a bath of silver nitrate, and exposed in the camera immediately, while the emulsion was still damp. Gardner was acknowledged as a master in evenly coating the plate, which resulted in prints of exceptional clarity. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

The “cracked-plate” image of Abraham Lincoln, taken by Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865, is one of the most important and evocative photographs in American history. In preparing for his second inaugural, Lincoln had a series of photographs taken at Gardner’s studio. During this sitting, Gardner created this portrait by accident: at some point, possibly when the glass-plate negative was heated to receive a coat of varnish, a crack appeared in the upper half of the plate. Gardner pulled a single print and then discarded the plate, so only one such portrait exists.

The portrait represents a radical departure from Gardner’s usual crisp empiricism. The shallow depth of field created when Gardner moved his camera in for a close-up yielded a photograph whose focus is confined to the plane of Lincoln’s cheeks, while the remainder of the image appears diffused and even out of focus. Lincoln is careworn and tired, his face grooved by the emotional shocks of war. Yet his face also bears a small smile, perhaps as he contemplates the successful conclusion of hostilities and the restoration of the Union. This is Lincoln between life and death, between his role as a historical actor and the mystical figure that he would become with his assassination. Although Lincoln looked forward to his second term, we know, as he could not, that he will soon be assassinated. This image inextricably links history and myth, creating one of the most powerful American portraits. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln' 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln (detail)
1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Smithsonian’s First Major Retrospective of Alexander Gardner’s Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery

Exhibition Will Highlight Gardner’s Civil War Photographs, Including His One-of-a-Kind Image of President Lincoln

“Considered America’s first modern photographer, just as the Civil War is considered the first modern war, Alexander Gardner created dramatic and vivid photographs of battlefields and played a crucial role in the transformation of American culture by injecting a sobering note of realism to American photography.

“Gardner’s photographs showed how the new medium and art form could develop to meet the challenges of modern society,” said Kim Sajet, director of the Portrait Gallery. “These are a record of the sacrifice and loss that occurred in the great national struggle over the Union. Our photograph of Lincoln by him, known as the ‘cracked-plate,’ is the museum’s ‘Mona Lisa.'” [see above]

The first section of the exhibition will highlight Gardner’s Civil War photographs, and his role as President Abraham Lincoln’s preferred photographer. Gardner photographed the president many times, recording the impact of the war on his face. Among these images is the “cracked-plate” portrait, a photograph that is arguably the most iconic image of Lincoln. In addition, the exhibition will encompass Gardner’s portraits of other prominent statesmen and generals, as well as private citizens.

Also in the exhibition are Gardner’s landscapes of the American West and portraits of American Indians. These document the course of American expansion as postwar settlers moved westward, challenged by geography and Indian tribes resistant to losing their ancestral homelands. Gardner’s landscapes are evocative studies of almost limitless horizons, giving a sense of the emptiness of western space. These are contrasted with his detailed portraits of Indian chiefs and tribal delegations.

Curated by David C. Ward, Portrait Gallery senior historian, and guest curator Heather Shannon, former photo archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, with research assistance from Sarah Campbell, this exhibition will feature more than 140 objects, including photographs, prints and books. The exhibition will be the finale of the Portrait Gallery’s seven-part series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.”

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson and his men attempted to slow the Confederate forces. A shell mangled the lieutenant’s right knee as his unit, Battery G of the Fourth U.S. Artillery, drew the attention of Confederate cannons. After amputating his leg with a pocket knife and being carried to an almshouse, Wilkeson ordered his men to return to battle. A few days later, his father, Samuel Wilkeson, a journalist, wrote home to say he had found Bayard dead “from neglect and bleeding.” On the front page of the July 6 New York Times, Samuel wrote a moving, influential, and widely circulated account of the battle. Bayard’s story and his father’s grief became symbolic of the North’s suffering, sacrifice, and righteousness. The article concludes, “oh, you dead, who at Gettysburg have baptized with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied!” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Samuel Wilkeson' (1817-1889) c. 1859 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Samuel Wilkeson (1817-1889) (detail)
c. 1859
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Self-Portrait' c. 1861

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Self-Portrait
c. 1861
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

In this self-portrait taken at Mathew Brady’s Washington studio, Alexander Gardner presents himself wearing the garb of a mountain man or trapper, sporting buckskins and a fur hat; Gardner’s trademark full, ungroomed beard only adds to the frontiersman image. Gardner holds a bow and arrow while standing on Indian rugs. The image captures America’s enduring fascination with the West and adopting the garb of Native peoples. It also shows Gardner, a man about whom we know little, in disguise, hiding himself in a fictional frontier persona. Although he is acting a role, Gardner, whose family had bought land in Iowa in the antebellum period, was genuinely interested in the western lands and the fate of the Indians. In the 1860s he began his project of photographing the western tribal delegations when they came to Washington. After the Civil War he went west to photograph Indians on their native grounds. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863

 

James Gardner
Alexander Gardner
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

James Gardner. 'Alexander Gardner' 1863 (detail)

 

James Gardner
Alexander Gardner (detail)
1863
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West

 

 

Not as flamboyantly costumed as in his first self-portrait, this image of Alexander Gardner shows him as a workingman, which was his family’s heritage back in Scotland. Gardner’s proficiency as a photographer was based in part on his manual dexterity; he was a master at coating the glass-plate negatives with collodion, which formed the plate’s light-sensitive emulsion. By the beginnings of 1863 James Gardner was working with his brother in Washington. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Rose Greenhow' (c. 1854-?) and 'Rose O'Neal Greenhow' (c. 1815-1864) 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Rose Greenhow  (c. 1854-?)
Rose O’Neal Greenhow  (c. 1815-1864)
1862
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

One of the Confederacy’s most successful female spies, Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a prominent Washington widow and a staunch southern sympathizer. The Confederacy recruited her as a spy after war erupted in 1861. Most notably, Greenhow is credited with passing along intelligence prior to the First Battle of Manassas, insuring a southern victory. Soon after, her covert activities were uncovered and she was placed under house arrest. Gardner took this photograph after “Rebel Rose” and her daughter, Little Rose, were transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in 1862. Greenhow served five months before being exiled to the South. She then traveled to Europe to promote the Confederate cause. Returning in September 1864, Greenhow drowned attempting to run the federal blockade of Wilmington, N.C. The Confederacy buried her with military honors. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (detail)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

Alexander Gardner. 'View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
View on Battle Field of Antietam, Burial party at work (details of left and right photographs)
1862
Coloured Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Antietam Bridge, Maryland' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Antietam Bridge, Maryland
1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Antietam Bridge (not to be confused with the more famous Burnside Bridge located to the south, which was the site of a confused Union attack during the Battle of Antietam’s third phase) spanned Antietam Creek, roughly in the middle of the battlefield. Before the battle, some Union troops used it to move toward the Confederate lines arrayed just outside the village of Sharpsburg. The bridge was not brought into play during the battle since George McClellan, fearful of overcommitting his troops, kept a large reserve near his headquarters at the Pry House, a reserve that would have used the bridge in its attack if it had been sent against Robert E. Lee’s lines. Unlike Burnside Bridge, the original stone Antietam Bridge, with its three arches, has not survived and has been replaced by a modern span. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862' October 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Scouts and Guides to the Army of the Potomac, Berlin, MD, October, 1862 (detail)
October 1862
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Alexander Gardner, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War
Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

Gardner documented specialized units in the Union army, as with the Telegraphic Corps, and here with the so-called “Scouts and Guides,” who were part of the intelligence service that Allan Pinkerton ran for the Army of the Potomac. Gardner took this group portrait when he returned to the area around Antietam; Berlin (now Brunswick), Maryland, is on the Potomac, just downstream from Harpers Ferry. In his Sketchbook Gardner wrote about the hardship and dangers faced by men who frequently acted as spies and could be executed if caught: “Their faces are indexes of the character required for such hazardous work.” Gardner’s statement exemplifies how connections are drawn between appearance and personality; a photograph was seen as particularly informative psychologically. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam' 1862 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Completely Silenced: Dead Confederate Artillerymen, as they lay around their battery after the Battle of Antietam (detail)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

The Battle of Antietam (Maryland) occurred on September 17, 1862, and it is still America’s bloodiest day, with more than 25,000 combined casualties (killed and wounded) on both sides. Despite a nearly three-to-one numerical advantage, the Union forces were unable to score a decisive victory. The heavy casualties did force Robert E. Lee to withdraw, however, ending his first invasion of the North. Gardner probably arrived at the battlefield on September 18. He took this image of dead Confederates near the Dunker Church, a focal point of the Union attack, which began shortly after 7.00 am the day before. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam' 1862

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Gathered Together for Burial after the Battle of Antietam (View in Ditch on the Right Wing after the Battle of Antietam)
1862
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Collection of Bob Zeller

 

 

This photograph, probably taken on September 19, graphically exposes the savagery of the fighting that occurred at the “Sunken Road” during the second, midday phase of the Union assault on Lee’s defensive line. A worn-down cart path provided perfect cover for Confederate troops, who initially blunted the Union attack, inflicting tremendous casualties. However, once the northerners had flanked the road, southern troops were trapped and exposed to a withering fire that choked the road with their corpses; hereinafter, the “Sunken Road” was known as “Bloody Lane.” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) 'Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) and Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882)
Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July, 1863
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Photograph by Timothy O’Sullivan, from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165, National Archives Still Picture Branch, College Park, Maryland

 

 

General John Reynolds (1820-1863) of Pennsylvania was the highest-ranking casualty at Gettysburg. One of the Union’s best generals, Reynolds had been considered a potential replacement for George McClellan. On July 1, commanding the left wing of the Union forces, Reynolds moved his infantry forward to blunt the Confederate advance, bringing on a wholesale engagement of the two armies; his decisiveness bought time for the Union to consolidate its forces at Gettysburg. He was killed leading a charge by the Second Wisconsin just west of the town. Despite its title, it is unlikely that Gardner’s photograph depicted this spot since he did not photograph any of the sites from Gettysburg’s first day. Instead, documentary evidence indicates that it was probably taken near Rose Farm, south of the battlefield. Initially Gardner published the photograph without reference to Reynolds. That was added later when Gardner realized he had missed an opportunity and sought to capitalize on Reynolds’s heroism. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Incidents of the War: Unfit for Service at the Battle of Gettysburg
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Gift of David L. Hack and Museum purchase, with funds from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., by exchange

 

 

After the success of his series “The Dead of Antietam,” which he had made while working for Mathew Brady, Gardner paid special attention in his Gettysburg photography to concentrate on the casualties, both human and animal. He got to the battlefield quickly, probably by July 7, as the process of burying the dead was just under way. In addition to the more than 7,000 soldiers killed, it has been estimated that more than 1,500 artillery horses died during the battle. Disposal of the horses complicated the task of clearing the land; while attempts were made to deal respectfully with human remains, the horses were collected into piles and burned. Gardner’s title for this picture may be taken as ironically low-key: the graphic image needed no rhetorical embellishments. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Panorama of Camp Winfield Scott, Yorktown, Virginia
1863
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Museum Purchase, 2005
Image copyright: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

 

 

Gardner and his family immigrated to the United States in 1856. Finding that many friends and family members at the cooperative he had helped to form were dead or dying of tuberculosis, he stayed in New York. He initiated contact with Brady and came to work for him that year, continuing until 1862. At first, Gardner specialized in making large photographic prints, called Imperial photographs, but as Brady’s eyesight began to fail, Gardner took on increasing responsibilities. In 1858, Brady put him in charge of his Washington, D.C. gallery. (Wikipedia)

.
“Before leaving home, he had seen and admired photographs by Mathew Brady, who was already famous and prosperous as a portraitist of American presidents and statesmen. It was Brady that likely paid Gardner’s passage to New York and soon after arriving, he went to visit the famous photographer’s studio and decided to stay.

Gardner was so successful there that Brady sent him to manage his Washington, D.C., studio, and soon after that, he was photographing Abraham Lincoln as the owner of his own studio [May 1863], and about to produce his historic images of the nation’s struggle. But there was more – after Appomattox, unknown to most of those who have praised his groundbreaking photographs of the war, he went on to record the westward march of the railroads and the Native American tribes scattering around them.

When the Civil War began, Mathew Brady sent more than 20 assistants into the field to follow the Union army. All of their work, including that of Gardner and the talented Timothy O’Sullivan, was issued with the credit line of the Brady studio. Thus the public assumed that Brady himself had lugged the fragile wagonload of equipment into the field, focused the big boxy camera and captured the images. Indeed, sometimes he had. But beginning with the battle of Antietam in September 1862, Gardner determined to take a step beyond his boss and his colleagues.

It pictured a dead Confederate soldier in a rocky den [see above], with his weapon propped nearby. Photographic historian William Frassanito has compared it to other images and believes that Gardner moved that body to a more dramatic hiding place to make the famous photo. Taking such license would blend with the dramatic way his album mused over the fallen soldier: “Was he delirious with agony, or did death come slowly to his relief, while memories of home grew dearer as the field of carnage faded before him? What visions, of loved ones far away, may have hovered above his stony pillow?”

Significantly, as illustrated by that image and description, Gardner’s book spoke of himself as “the artist.” Not the photographer, journalist or artisan, but the artist, who is by definition the creator, the designer, the composer of a work. But of course rearranging reality is not necessary to tell a gripping story, as he showed conspicuously after the Lincoln assassination. First he made finely focused portraits that caught the character of many of the surviving conspirators (much earlier in 1863, he had done the slain assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth). Then, on the day of execution, he pictured the four – Mary Surrat, David Herold, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt – standing as if posing on the scaffold, while their hoods and ropes were adjusted. Then their four bodies are seen dangling below while spectators look on from the high wall of the Washington Arsenal – as fitting a last scene as any artist might imagine.

After all Gardner had seen and accomplished, the rest of his career was bound to be anticlimax, but he was only 43 years old, and soon took on new challenges. In Washington, he photographed Native American chieftains and their families when they came to sign treaties that would give the government control over most of their ancient lands. Then he headed west.

In 1867, Gardner was appointed chief photographer for the eastern division of the Union Pacific Railway, a road later called the Kansas Pacific. Starting from St. Louis, he traveled with surveyors across Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona and on to California. In their long, laborious trek, he and his crew documented far landscapes, trails, rivers, tribes, villages and forts that had never been photographed before. At Fort Laramie in Wyoming, he pictured the far-reaching treaty negotiations between the government and the Oglala, Miniconjou, Brulé, Yanktonai, and Arapaho Indians. This entire historic series was published in 1869 in a portfolio called Across the Continent on the Kansas Pacific Railroad (Route of the 35th Parallel).

Those rare pictures and the whole expanse of Gardner’s career are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in a show entitled Dark Fields of the Republic: Alexander Gardner Photographs, 1859-1872. Among the dozens of images included are not only his war pictures and those of the nation’s westward expansion, but the famous “cracked-plate” image that was among the last photographs of a war-weary Abraham Lincoln. With this show, which will run into next March, the gallery is recognizing a body of photography – of this unique art – unmatched in the nation’s history.”

.
Ernest B. Furgurson. “Alexander Gardner Saw Himself as an Artist, Crafting the Image of War in All Its Brutality,” on the Smithsonian.com website October 8, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Gardner's Gallery' c. 1863-65

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Gardner’s Gallery
c. 1863-65
Albumen silver print
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

 

The nation’s capital was a center for photography during the war, and Alexander Gardner set up his new studio in May 1863 at Seventh and D Streets, just a few blocks from that of his former employer, Mathew Brady. Gardner split with Brady after the success of his Antietam photographs. The signage gives a full range of Gardner’s services, showing how he catered to the market for photographic images; the main sign reads “News of the War.” (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

“This picture comes from a time when materials worked for each other. If pictures from these times were enlarged we would find their sharpness to be disappointing … but as this concept was not imagined, it shouldn’t be considered. The lens, the paper, the chemistry, the contact process all worked together. It is a superb image. If it were possible to make images like this, it is no wonder that highly talented people wanted to be photographers. And with talent, there were some with this level of sensitivity.

Note how the enlargement shows us some details that were not easily visible, but the tonality of the original has not carried over. Look at how the tonality of the curved branch combines with the figure of Whitman in the original, but it has crumbled in the enlargement … it is probably not possible to scan the original and keep the tonality without spending a squillion. Anyhow, it is a moment that has not been lost. It is almost too big a step of faith to believe that this much of the “air” of the original scene could be preserved.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan, March 2016

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Walt Whitman and Party' c. 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Walt Whitman and Party (detail)
c. 1863
Albumen silver print
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) came to Washington from New York City in search of his brother George, who had been wounded on December 13, 1862, at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman found his brother, whose wound was not serious, and decided to stay in Washington. Whitman had been in a funk in New York: Leaves of Grass was not selling, and he was finding it difficult to write or revise his poetry. In Washington, Whitman assumed the role of a hospital visitor, comforting wounded soldiers, bringing them small treats, and, most important, writing their letters. He observed Abraham Lincoln, whom he idolized, from afar. And he began a relationship with Peter Doyle, a former Confederate soldier, whom he met on a streetcar and lived with for eight years. The other people in this photograph cannot be identified. The leaves on the trees would indicate that it was taken in late spring or summer of 1863. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter' July 1863 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter (detail)
July 1863
Albumen silver print
Collection of Ron Perisho

 

 

Gardner’s manipulation of this Confederate casualty to create a narrative vignette about the soldier’s fate indicates how unstable the line was between fiction and truth in the creation of photographs. Gardner’s intrusion shows that he thought he had to improve his images so that they would function as a sentimental narrative that could be more easily read by his audience. His actions are unforgivable from both a moral and artistic point of view. But his arrangement of the corpse reflects how difficult it was for Gardner and his contemporaries to process the reality of mass casualties in which the dead became anonymous. Caught at a transitional moment, Gardner did not trust the images his camera captured. That this photographic construction would be more marketable to a public still steeped in Victorian sentimentality only adds to Gardner’s malfeasance.

In his Sketchbook Gardner created an elaborate story around his photographs of a dead Confederate “sharpshooter” who apparently had fallen during fighting at the Devil’s Den. Gardner claimed that he took photographs when he returned to the battlefield in the fall of 1863 and “discovered” the corpse, along with the rifle propped against the stone wall, still undisturbed where the soldier had fallen. The story isn’t credible: four months after the battle, the body would have long since decayed, and souvenir hunters would have picked up the rifle. The truth, untangled by photographic historian William Frassanito, is a blot on Gardner’s career: Gardner and his assistants moved a dead soldier [below] from a nearby line of bodies being readied for burial. Shortly after the battle they posed it amid the boulders, including the carefully positioned rifle. The soldier was a regular infantryman, not a sharpshooter or sniper. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'A Sharpshooter's Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863' 1863

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
A Sharpshooter’s Last Sleep, Gettysburg, July 1863
1863
Albumen silver print
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863 '1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ruins of the Arsenal, Richmond, Virginia, April 1863
1865
Albumen silver print
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Museum Purchase, Lloyd O. and Marjorie Strong Coulter Fund

 

 

Ironically, destruction of the major Confederate armory occurred not from a Union assault but by an accidental fire that started in Richmond after the government began to evacuate the city on April 1, 1865, leaving it vulnerable. Chaos and confusion reigned as panicked residents faced the prospect of being occupied by the invading northerners; looting and destruction of property occurred as well. In the breakdown of order, fires broke out and quickly spread, destroying as many as fifty city blocks, until Union soldiers acting as firefighters extinguished them in part. Among the major buildings destroyed were the Tredegar Iron Works and the Arsenal. The Arsenal had been built earlier in the century but had fallen into disuse. It was made operative again when the war broke out; among the weapons it housed were those taken from the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1861. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C.' March 4, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address as President of the United States, Washington, D.C. (detail)
March 4, 1865
Albumen silver print
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

 

Abraham Lincoln’s major speeches as president – at both inaugurals and at Gettysburg – focused on large themes, in particular human nature and God’s will, as well as the character of the nation. The hard politics of formulating and implementing the details of, for instance, emancipation, civil rights, and reconstruction, were kept offstage in the day-to-day process of governing. So at his second inaugural on March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered a moral homily on how neither side, North or South, could know God’s will for mankind, and that the war had unintended consequences. Both parties now had to accept living with those consequences, namely the end of slavery and the beginning of civil equality for African Americans, Lincoln hinted. He ended with his majestic call to move on from war to civic peace: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” let us “bind up the nation’s wounds” to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace.” Flush with victory, many in the North were puzzled or displeased by the president’s conciliatory words. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Adjusting the Ropes' July 7, 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Adjusting the Ropes (detail)
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Indiana Historical Society (P0409)
Daniel R. Weinberg Lincoln Conspirators Collection

 

 

Of the eight Booth conspirators tried for their role in the assassination plot, four were sentenced to death: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt. While the men had been major participants in the plot (even if Herold and Atzerodt had failed at their assignments), Mary Surratt sentence was more controversial, as it was argued that her boardinghouse was simply where the conspirators had met; that her son John was part of the conspiracy did not help her cause. The jury was also uneasy about the federal government executing a woman for the first time. Convicted and sentenced on June 30, the conspirators were executed on July 7 at Washington’s Old Arsenal Prison, out of public view. In a macabre display of chivalry, a man holding an umbrella shielded Mary Surratt from the sun before the traps were sprung.

Gardner was the only photographer allowed to document the executions, a recognition of his prominence as a documentarian. His camera position on the wall of the prison allowed him a panoramic view. (Text from the exhibition website)

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The date was July 7, 1865. Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took a series of ten photographs using both a large format camera with collodion glass-plate negatives and a stereo camera (used to make 3D stereoscope pictures). This series of photographs are considered one of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.

Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and Georg Atzerodt. The four conspirators are now standing (Mrs. Surratt is supported by two soldiers) and is being bound. A hood has already been placed over Lewis Powell’s head by Lafayette Baker’s detective John H. Roberts. The nooses are being fitted around the necks of David Herold and George Atzerodt.

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'The Drop' July 7, 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
The Drop
July 7, 1865
Albumen silver print
Stereograph (Albumen silver print on stereo card)
Library of Congress

 

 

“On July 7, 1865, at 1.15 pm., a procession led by General Hartranft escorted the four condemned prisoners through the courtyard and up the steps to the gallows. Each had their ankles and wrists bound by manacles. Mary Surratt led the way, wearing a black bombazine dress, black bonnet, and black veil. More than 1,000 people – including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters – watched. General Hancock limited attendance to those who had a ticket, and only those who had a good reason to be present were given a ticket. (Most of those present were military officers and soliders, as fewer than 200 tickets had been printed.) Alexander Gardner, who had photographed the body of Booth and taken portraits of several of the male conspirators while they were imprisoned aboard naval ships, photographed the execution for the government. Hartranft read the order for their execution. Surratt, either weak from her illness or swooning in fear (perhaps both), had to be supported by two soldiers and her priests. The condemned were seated in chairs, Surratt almost collapsing into hers. She was seated to the right of the others, the traditional “seat of honor” in an execution. White cloth was used to bind their arms were bound to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together. The cloths around Surratt’s legs were tied around her dress below the knees. Each person was ministered to by a member of the clergy. From the scaffold, Powell said, “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to die with the rest of us”. Fathers Jacob and Wiget prayed over Mary Surratt, and held a crucifix to her lips. About 16 minutes elapsed from the time the prisoners entered the courtyard until they were ready for execution.

A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place. Surratt’s bonnet was removed, and the noose put around her neck by a Secret Service officer. She complained that the bindings about her arms hurt, and the officer preparing said, “Well, it won’t hurt long.” Finally, the prisoners were asked to stand and move foward a few feet to the nooses. The chairs were removed. Mary Surratt’s last words, spoken to a guard as he moved her forward to the drop, were “Please don’t let me fall.” Surratt and the others stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then Captain Rath clapped his hands. Four soldiers of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves knocked out the supports holding the drops in place, and the condemned fell. Surratt, who had moved forward enough to barely step onto the drop, lurched forward and slid partway down the drop – her body snapping tight at the end of the rope, swinging back and forth. Surratt’s death appeared to be the easiest. Atzerodt’s stomach heaved once and his legs quivered, and then he was still. Herold and Powell struggled for nearly five minutes, strangling to death.

Each body was inspected by a physician to ensure that death had occurred. The bodies of the executed were allowed to hang for about 30 minutes. The bodies began to be cut down at 1.53 pm. A corporal raced to the top of the gallows and cut down Atzerodt’s body, which fell to the ground with a thud. He was reprimanded, and the other bodies cut down more gently. Herold’s body was next, followed by Powell’s. Surratt’s body was cut down at 1.58 pm. As Surratt’s body was cut loose, her head fell forward. A soldier joked, “She makes a good bow” and was rebuked by an officer for his poor use of humor.

Upon examination, the military surgeons determined that no one’s neck had been broken by the fall, as intended. The manacles and cloth bindings were removed (but not the white execution masks), and the bodies were placed into the pine coffins. The name of each person was written on a piece of paper by acting Assistant Adjutant R. A. Watts, and inserted in a glass vial (which was placed into the coffin). The coffins were buried against the prison wall in shallow graves, just a few feet from the gallows.”

“Mary Surratt” text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Another in Alexander Gardner’s valedictory series of the major Union commanders in each theater of the war, this photograph groups four of the figures from the 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Philip Sheridan (1831-1888). Sheridan is standing to the left; at the table are cavalry officer Wesley Merritt (1834-1910); George Crook (1830-1890), who had an independent force in western Virginia before joining Sheridan’s army; Sheridan’s chief of staff, James W. Forsyth (1835-1906); and perhaps America’s most famous cavalryman, George A. Custer (1839-1876).

This photograph brings together the men who would be major figures in the settlement of the Great Plains and the Indian Wars – none more emblematic than Custer. As such, it provides the bridge between the first half of Gardner’s career during the Civil War and the images of western land and people on which he focused during the rest of his photographic career. One war had ended; another was beginning. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'General Sheridan and His Staff' c. 1865 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
General Sheridan and His Staff (detail)
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

” … Gardner was born in Paisley in 1821 and trained as a jeweller before moving into the world of newspapers. An idealist and socialist, he formed the left-leaning newspaper the Glasgow Sentinel in 1851. His keen interest in photography led to him emigrating across the pond in the hope of furthering his career. He was headhunted by [Matthew] Brady and at the outbreak of the war was well-positioned in Washington.

He was recruited as a staff photographer by General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, and made history on 19 September 1862 when he took the first photographs of casualties on the battlefield at Antietam. In 1863, Gardner split from Brady and formed his own gallery in Washington with his brother James [May 1863]. In July of that year, he photographed the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, developing images in his travelling darkroom.

Author Keith Steiner said: ‘Gardner was essentially a photojournalist. He had to process and develop the photographs on the move and in the middle of a battlefield which was not easy. He was highly regarded and Walt Whitman once said that he ‘saw beyond his camera’… ‘He was an artist, in some ways a scientist and a publisher. He was the complete package.’

Gardner was also the official photographer to President Abraham Lincoln. He captured him seven times, including before his inauguration in March 1861 and in February 1865, just weeks before he was assassinated. The war-time leader personally visited Gardner to have his photograph taken every year instead of the Scotsman visiting the White House.

Keith said: ‘Most of the photographs you see of Lincoln were taken by Gardner and chart how he aged physically. He was pictured in 1861 then a few years later and it is like a different man. In February 1865, he is a broken man and has aged about 20 years through the stress of the civil war. It is an incredibly revealing photograph’.”

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Anonymous. “How Abraham Lincoln’s Scottish photographer became the first man to capture the horrors of the Civil War but was robbed of the credit… until now,” on the Daily Mail Australia website 25 January 2014 [Online] Cited 27/02/2016.

 

The West, 1867-1872

After the war, Alexander Gardner photographed events and people associated with one of the most abiding preoccupations of the nineteenth century: westward expansion. From 1867 to 1872 he made portraits of American Indian leaders who traveled to Washington to negotiate preservation of their traditional lands and lifeways, even as white Americans flooded the frontier. In 1867, Gardner became the first photographer to document a transcontinental project, making views of the Kansas Pacific Railroad’s construction activities, bustling frontier towns and settlements, Army forts, Indian villages, and magnificent empty landscapes.

The federal government then hired Gardner to photograph the spring 1868 treaty negotiations between the Indian Peace Commission and leaders of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Lakota in the Dakota Territory. The Fort Laramie Treaty established reservations on the northern Plains, marking a watershed moment in the relationship between Native peoples and the government. Gardner’s images are the only photographs of treaty negotiations ever commissioned by the U.S. government. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) '"Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
“Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.” Laying track, 300 miles west of Missouri River, 19th October, 1867 (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10134)

 

 

Alexander Gardner quoted from the final stanza of a 1726 poem by Bishop George Berkeley for the title of this photograph. The Anglo-Irish philosopher had originally offered his verse as a lamentation on the decline of British influence in North America, but after the Civil War, as the United States turned with determination to its expansionist agenda, Americans found particular resonance in Berkeley’s line, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.” Constructing a transcontinental railroad was central to the achievement of these ambitions. Although the company survived into the 1870s, the Kansas Pacific Railroad was unable to rally federal support for a transcontinental route along the southerly thirty-fifth and thirty-second parallels. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point in the Utah Territory, the “Golden Spike” ceremony joined the more northern tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad with those of the Central Pacific Railroad, marking the completion of the first railroads to link the East and West coasts of the United States. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Bridge over the Laramie River near its Junction with the North Platte River, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10128)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory' 1868 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Indian Peace Commissioners in council with the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory (details)
1868
Albumen silver print
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P15390)

 

 

Left to right: Colonel Samuel F. Tappan (1831-1913), General William S. Harney (1800-1889), General William T. Sherman (1820-1891), General John B. Sanborn (1826-1904), General Christopher C. Augur (1821-1898), General Alfred H. Terry (1827-1890), and Commission Secretary Ashton S. H. White (lifedates unknown)

In the summer of 1867, when Congress convened the Indian Peace Commission, popular opinion in the eastern United States supported a diplomatic resolution to the so-called “Indian problem” on both the northern and southern Plains. (The negotiations on the southern Plains were not photographed.) Consisting of civilians and army generals, the commission managed to secure treaties with the region’s “hostile” tribes and convened its final meeting on October 7, 1868. By then, public sentiment had taken an aggressive turn and demanded increased military intervention in Indian matters. Overruling their more diplomatically minded colleagues, the commission’s military members – led by General William T. Sherman – used the shift in the political landscape to advantage. As a body, the commission resolved that the government “should cease to recognize the Indian tribes as ‘domestic dependent nations.'” Treaty-making, or diplomacy, was at an end, and in the coming years, military conflict characterized U.S.-Indian relations on the Plains. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Lakota delegates Medicine Bull, Iron Nation, and Yellow Hawk with their Agent-Interpreter, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print
William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (P10139)

 

 

Left to right: Medicine Bull (lifedates unknown), unidentified interpreter, Iron Nation (1815-1894), and Yellow Hawk (lifedates unknown)

Alexander Gardner made three portraits of each American Indian pictured here: a group portrait and two separate portraits of each delegate, one in his Native and one in his Western attire. (A suit was often among the gifts given to Native delegates to the capital.) It is unknown how Medicine Bull (Sicangu Lakota), Iron Nation (Sicangu Lakota), and Yellow Hawk (Itazipacola Lakota) were dressed when they arrived to sit for their portraits, but Gardner’s apparent desire to make two individual portraits of each in many ways anticipates the popular “before and after” photographs of Native people that circulated in the following decades. The photographs were made to document the supposed salutary benefits of the sitter’s exposure to American civilization. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

The Lakȟóta people (pronounced [laˈkˣota]; also known as TetonThítȟuŋwaŋ (“prairie dwellers”), and Teton Sioux (from Nadouessioux – ‘snake’ or ‘enemy’) are an indigenous people of the Great Plains of North America. They are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ or seven council fires, and speak Lakota, one of the three major dialects of the Sioux language. The Lakota are the westernmost of the three Siouan language groups, occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. The seven bands or “sub-tribes” of the Lakota are:

  • Sičháŋǧu (Brulé, Burned Thighs)
  • Oglála (“They Scatter Their Own”)
  • Itázipčho (Sans Arc, Without Bows)
  • Húŋkpapȟa (“End Village”, Camps at the End of the Camp Circle)
  • Mnikȟówožu (“Plant beside the Stream”, Planters by the Water)
  • Sihásapa (“Black Feet”)
  • Oóhenuŋpa (Two Kettles)

Notable Lakota persons include Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull) from the Húnkpapȟa band; Touch the Clouds from the Miniconjou band; and, Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse), Maȟpíya Lúta (Red Cloud), Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk), Siŋté Glešká (Spotted Tail), and Billy Mills from the Oglala band. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) 'Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C.' 1867 (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882)
Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot and Little Bird, Washington, D.C. (detail)
1867
Albumen silver print National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; William T. Sherman Collection of Alexander Gardner Photographs (P10149)

 

 

In a letter dated February 20, 1867, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Joseph Henry pressed Commissioner of Indian Affairs Lewis V. Bogy to fund a comprehensive effort to photograph Native delegates to Washington. Henry envisioned a kind of archive, a “trustworthy collection of likenesses of the principal tribes of the United States,” urgently adding that with the passing of “the Indian” only a few years remained to undertake such a project. Bogy apparently passed on the project, but the Smithsonian found an alternative collaborator in Englishman William Blackmore. (Blackmore posed before Alexander Gardner’s camera with Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud. The portrait of the two men is on display nearby.) Blackmore commissioned local Washington photographers like Gardner to make portraits of visiting delegates such as the Ihanktonwan Nakota delegates Long Foot (lifedates unknown) and Little Bird (lifedates unknown), pictured here. Blackmore made his photographs available to the Smithsonian; they represent the institution’s very first photograph collection and are now housed in the National Anthropological Archives. (Text from the exhibition website)

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

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09
Feb
16

Text: ‘The multiple singularities of photography’ / Exhibition: ‘Every Photograph is an Enigma’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

The multiple singularities of photography

Photograph, photographer, negative, print

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I have never thought of photography as a “singularity” – the singularity of photography. For me, photography has always been about possibilities, multiplicities rather than singularities.

In Kathrin Yacavone’s text below, the “singularity of photography” is defined as the relationship – the hierarchy – among valuable, perceptual and imaginative relations between the beholder and the image. It is the singularity of the individual and their response at any time to a photograph, but these responses cannot be systematically codified, in the sense that no response can ever be relied upon… certainly, no response to a photograph of a mother could be more singular than the response of a son (as claimed by Barthes Camera Lucida).

In other words, the singularity of photography is how the viewer engages and reads a photograph in a singular way at one point in time, from one “point of view.”

While this point of view is singular, it changes from moment to moment, from context to context, from different points of view. Hence, we have a multiplicity of singularities or, if you like, a multiple singularity of photography. Hasn’t it always seemed false to you in Camera Lucida where Barthes talks about his response to an image (for example, the supposed “lost” image of his mother*), he allows it to freeze in his text? Surely he would feel different later (another singularity). And yet the freezing is necessary for the arguments Barthes makes.

It continues to haunt me – much as photographs haunt our memory – why Barthes stuck with the singularity of a photograph, when at the same time he was pushing the multiplicity of readings in his other texts eg. S/Z (1970). Are we missing something really basic here? Why should a photograph be frozen and a text not?

In this exhibition, Michel Frizot defines a series of classifications (or themes, see below) that seek to organise the ambiguity and perplexity of vernacular and surprising photography. As Frizot himself puts it, “the photograph is not in its essence a transparency through which we gain access to a known reality but, on the contrary, a source of ambiguity and often, perplexity. The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision”.

Frizot suggests questions for the eye offered through forms and signs that are in conflict with natural vision. Barthes pushes further, suggesting that it is not the forms and signs of the photograph that challenge natural vision, but a shift away from a semiology of photography to a phenomenology of photography. From guided message (forms/signs) to emotive response (imagination). Umberto Eco comments that, “Semiology shows us the universe of ideologies, arranged in codes and sub-codes, within the universe of signs, and these ideologies are reflected in our preconstituted ways of using the language,”1 but Barthes, in works such as S/Z, stresses the multiplicity of a reading (its intertextuality). He contends that there can be no originating anchor of meaning in the possible intentions of the author, and that meaning must be actively created by the reader through a process of textual analysis.

An emotive response to a photograph is an “encounter with the represented other [is] a dialectical relationship between the specific and the general, between the personal and the universal, where the dialectic is seen in the psychologically unsettling potential of photographic images, the status of the photographic referent and the poignancy of the relation between time and image.” Thus the photograph can have a capacity for plurality of meaning which is not restrictive.

This response is based on an individuated, ‘feeling’ viewer whose encounter with the photograph is guided by desire and emotion, grounded in his or her unique experience and life history. It is to engage with the photograph in imaginative, affective, and emotional ways. Here, the codified reading is subsumed? by the emotive reading of an enlightened and fully “conscious” reader in the phenomenology of photography. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object – a photograph for example – by the imagination, by thought. Phenomenology requires a bit to grasp – to read a phenomenologial text like Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space as its author intended requires a cultivated mindset – but a prepared reader has many pleasures.

This is one possible response by the viewer to unsettling photographs. But what of the photographer?

Les Walking (my lecturer at RMIT University for many years), used to ask “what are you pointing your camera at?”… so this would permit an imaginative journey on his part as he imagined the subject matter, what he knew of the person, and all possibilities. Sometimes everything happens at once (in photography), and sometimes we recognise the richness of where we are in photography’s ability to generate many singularities within us at rapid fire.

As a photographer we go on an imaginative journey when we take a photograph – we previsualise, snap, extend the “point” of exposure (long time exposure), double expose or do away with the camera altogether. Taking a photograph is a multiplicity before the moment of the pushing of the shutter (decisions, angles, camera, film, light, place etc..), and a multiplicity afterwards… but for that split second it is a singularity, “an encounter with the represented other” as Walter Benjamin puts it…. as though time, history and memory are all focused through the lens (of the camera, of the enlarger, of the scanner) at the object – like a funnel – which then expands afterwards. At the point of “exposure” there is only ever one singularity. Multiple contexts before and after, multiple phenomena if you like, but only one outcome when the negative is exposed. Being aware of all that happens around us leads to that one singularity – the negative. That’s what photographers do, they focus that energy into a singularity.

But the resulting negative is NOT singular!

Of course, there are some things that are forever predetermined in the analogue negative, eg the depth of field, the focus, the grain. Even in the digital negative these determinations apply. But then you think, if I push this film or pull it back in development “other” things may appear. Probably the Leica manual is as good as any for what come after that – they say that when shooting a roll of film with a variety of tonal scales the exposure should be more than the meter indicated, and the development time less. In the Zone System this would be N-1. And a negative like this is what gives the greatest options with graded papers. Multiple options for printing, multiple options for interpreting a negative. I feel these multiple options have been more or less forgotten in the era of the digital print. What you see on the screen is what you aim to see in the print, which negates the multiplicity of the (digital) negative, often leading to bland and underwhelming digital prints. The pre-determination of the screen leads to an over-determination of the print.

While Minor White observed that there was a dragon in the negative that could be reached by careful printing, this locks you into looking for the “one road” in the negative. One person who didn’t was the English photographer Bill Brandt who printed first in a straight documentary style before “unlocking” the surrealist elements of his negs with very contrasty work. He was open to the multiple contexts of the point of exposure of the negative, and it is his later reprinting of his earlier work for which he has become famous.

While it comes down to only several elements when talking about the phenomena of the negative, it is our direct experience of it IN OUR IMAGINATION that, perhaps, gives the negative presence and transcendence. It is the direction of our thought towards the object of our being. And that is what makes us truly human.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

* Of course, the photograph of his mother did exist, it was just necessary for his argument that we never see it, and that he said that it did not exist.

Word count: 1,400.

  1. Eco, U. (1970). “Articulations of the Cinematic Code,” in Cinematics, 1(1), pp. 590-605
.
Many thankx to my mentor for his advice and thoughts on this text. Many thankx to the Fotomuseum Winterthur for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Photographs often seem familiar and understandable, a visual common sense intimately related to our daily lives. But they can also provoke a spark of amazement or generate a more sustained perplexity and inquiry. Curated by the renowned French photo historian, Michel Frizot, Every Photograph is an Enigma interrogates this paradox. Drawing exclusively from photographs in his private collection, many of them anonymous, he presents a selection of photographic moments at once ordinary and marvellous. Frizot develops a system of classification that explores the strangeness generated by the camera lens. Taken by family members, lovers, or unheralded professional and amateur photographers, the assembled images amount to nothing less than a phenomenology of photography.

The exhibition and book are divided into eleven themes, such as:

Ambiguous assemblages
The enigma of relationship
The enigma of context
The enigma of attentiveness
Challenging the figurative order
The aesthetic solution
Original configurations
The photographer’s options
The space of the gaze
The spirit of the place

 

 

“Every photograph is an enigma for the gaze: for the enigma is part of the photographic act itself. It ensues from the distance between the natural vision and the camera’s photosensitive capture process. By widening this gap, the modes of capture, the photographer’s intentions, and the reactions and involvement of the “photographer” together create new forms and perceptual requirements specific to photography. It is a question, above all, of understanding how much photographs, by transcending our visual capacities and going beyond our intuitions, also give rise to empathy and the need to project personal concerns. The element of enigma in photography bears witness, in fact, to what it is to “be human”.”

 

“The answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, it should be remembered, is humankind. And looking at a photograph means discovering oneself and the human species. Through the disparity and the dissonance between what it shows and what we experience, photography testifies above all, and at every moment, to what “being human” means. And the riddle, the enigma inherent in looking at a photograph is that of our presence in the world.”

.
Michel Frizot

 

 

Photography and Subjectivity

 

Kathrin Yacavone. Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography. Bloomsbury Academic, 2012, pp. 123-124

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
13 x 18 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Professor Piccards Balloon' c. 1930

 

Anonymous (Keystone)
Professor Piccard’s Balloon Destroyed by Flames
25th May 1937
Silver gelatin print
13.4 x 18.5 cm
© Private collection

 

The stratosphere balloon of Professor Piccard catches fire in the moment of ascending over the area of Brussels, Belgium

 

Anonymous (Press Photo) 'Rock and Mud 'Grand Finale',' California, c. 1930

 

Anonymous (Press Photo)
Rock and Mud ‘Grand Finale’
California, c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
19.7 x 24.7 cm
© Private collection

 

Mr. Brodsky. 'Marchand ties, Paris' 1935

 

Mr. Brodsky
Marchand ties, Paris
1935
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
5.9 x 8.1 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1950

 

Anonymous
Untitled
c. 1950
Silver gelatin print
6.5 x 9 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The Photographer set on by His "Victim",' Hollywood Press photo 1938

 

Anonymous photographer (Hollywood Press photo)
The Photographer set on by His “Victim”
1938
Silver gelatin photograph
16.9 x 22 cm
© Private collection

 

International News Photos. 'Untitled' Nd

 

Anonymous (International News Photos)
Untitled
Nd
Silver gelatin print
16.5 x 21.5 cm
© Private collection

 

International News Photos. 'Untitled' Nd (detail)

 

Anonymous (International News Photos)
Untitled (detail)
Nd
Silver gelatin print
16.5 x 21.5 cm
© Private collection

 

France-Presse. 'C’est demain mardi-gras', 5 mars 1935

 

France-Presse
C’est demain mardi-gras / Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday
March 5, 1935
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

Interpress. 'Avant l’ouverture du Salon des Surindépendants' Paris, 1952

 

Interpress
Avant l’ouverture du Salon des Surindépendants / Prior to the opening of Superintendent’s Fair
Paris, 1952
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

 

Mondial Photo-Presse. 'Réunion de modélistes' c. 1930

 

Mondial Photo-Presse
Réunion de modélistes
c. 1930
Silver gelatin photograph
12.8 × 17.6 cm
© Private collection

 

NYT Photo. 'Wind Tunnel in Chalais Meudon' 1935

 

NYT Photo
Wind Tunnel in Chalais Meudon
1935
Silver gelatin print
18 x 24 cm
© Private collection

 

 

“Photographs often seem familiar and understandable, a visual common sense intimately related to our daily lives. But they can also provoke a spark of amazement or generate a more sustained perplexity and inquiry. Curated by the renowned French photo historian, Michel Frizot, Every Photograph is an Enigma interrogates this paradox. Drawing exclusively from photographs in his private collection, many of them anonymous, he presents a selection of photographic moments at once ordinary and marvellous. Frizot develops a system of classification that explores the strangeness generated by the camera lens. Taken by family members, lovers, or unheralded professional and amateur photographers, the assembled images amount to nothing less than a phenomenology of photography.

Immediately a photograph is taken it generates a distance between what the image reveals and what we have seen for ourselves only seconds before. This observation of disparity is central to the phenomenon of photography, creating a sense of indeterminacy that we might describe as the singularity of the photographic. As Frizot himself puts it, “the photograph is not in its essence a transparency through which we gain access to a known reality but, on the contrary, a source of ambiguity and often, perplexity. The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision”. Every Photograph is an Enigma draws out the full implications of this disparity, everything which constitutes the singularity of the photographic process. This begins with the selection procedure itself: Frizot has collected the photographs over many years, with no predetermined objective, finding scraps and castoffs at flea markets and jumble sales. Abandoned photographs escape traditional standards of classification and judgement and are often the work of anonymous photographers. For Frizot, this artlessness offers ‘an extra touch of photographic naturalness which is not shrouded in conventions’. It is the work of the exhibition to reveal, and the role of the visitor to discover, this photographic supplement.

The exhibition explores the modalities of photographic capture and the out-distancing of the senses that results, above all in the relationship between photographer, subject photographed and the operations of the camera, a technical device. Recording different intensities of light on a photosensitive surface, photography is an index of states of light rather than the reality perceived by the eye. The formal consequences of photographic technique are considerable, whether determined by exposure time, framing, exhaustive detail, or the projection of three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface. At the same time, what are fundamentally physical processes are also determined by the split-second decisions taken by the camera operator. It is precisely this that gives rise to the puzzle of photography: the contradictions between the precision of a physical world and the decision-making of the photographer.

Every Photograph is an Enigma explores other aspects of the riddle of photography, including the complexity of the exchange with the subject of the photograph, embodied by a reciprocal glance. The ability of the camera to record human form and gesture is what lends it its quasi-magical vocation. However, that act of recording is dependent on a vast array of potentialities and constraints, including perhaps the demeanour of the participants. The photographic act transforms emotionally-charged, interpersonal experience into uncertain, interpretable signs, a distillation of affect. At the same time, those signs are also dependent on the astuteness of the eyes that scrutinize the photograph, igniting, perhaps, an empathy with others. A photograph is a fragmentary capture and the gaze of the viewer operates in similarly fragmentary bursts. A viewer’s optical capacities are decisive, interpreting, for example, the photograph’s excess of data. The enigma of photography also emerges from the inadequacies and impasses of the energetic viewer’s scrutiny. These, and many other riddles, are explored across eleven separate chapters in the exhibition, which together provide a method for specifically photographic viewing. They probe the way the photographic device is used to celebrate the subject, or the way that processes unique to photography and the photographer’s command of his or her equipment help determine the final image. A further theme investigates the way that viewers are involved in a perceptual relationship which ordinary vision has not accustomed them to, including a display of stereo images. We encounter the myriad ways that photography overwhelms our senses and the many puzzles it presents.

Every Photograph is an Enigma brings together a remarkable selection of everyday photographs, selected over many years by one of the sharpest eyes in the history photography. It offers us the opportunity of a liberated escape into a ‘pure’ photographic act stripped of artistic pretension or historical portent. As Frizot proposes, there are no hierarchies in photography – it is the activity of the gaze that reveals the richness of the image. For the eye, every photograph is an enigma.

Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by the fully-illustrated catalogue Toute photographie fait énigme/Every photography is an enigma, by Michel Frizot, in collaboration with Cédric de Veigy. Published by Éditions Hazan. English/French with a German translation of the main texts. Price 45 CHF.

Credits

The exhibition is curated by Michel Frizot and organised by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris and the Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône in collaboration with Fotomuseum Winterthur.”

Text from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

B.W. Kilburn. 'The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago' 1893

 

B.W. Kilburn
The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago
1893
Stereocard
Albumen photographs
© Private collection

 

B.W. Kilburn. 'The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago' 1893 (detail)

 

B.W. Kilburn
The Surging Sea of Humanity at the Opening of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago (detail)
1893
Stereocard
Albumen photograph
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1900

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1900
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1955

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled (Flagrants délits / Egregious crimes)
c. 1955
Silver gelatin print
5.5 x 5.5 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1970

 

Amateur anonymous photographer
Untitled
Instamatic Kodak
c. 1970
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Children Watching the Apollo 12 Flight on Television' 1969

 

Anonymous photographer
Children Watching the Apollo 12 Flight on Television
1969
Silver gelatin photograph
© Private collection

 

 

For many years, Michel Frizot the historian and theorist has been collecting neglected photographs which have been overlooked because they were taken by anonymous, unknown photographers, unheard-of or non-celebrated artists, throughout the entire history of photography. Avoiding “museumification” and classification, selected first of all for their capacity for surprise, these photographs are no less generous, moving and perhaps “photographic” than others. This exhibition reflects on the element of mystery in all photography.

“Because they are so familiar to us, because they are part of our visual space, photographic images seem to be immediately accessible and understandable. But everyone has experienced that sudden burst of amazement they can set off through suspended movements, the rendering of colours, unexpected coincidences or abruptly frozen expressions. If we pay attention to such features, they provoke the feeling that we are faced at once with something obvious and with a question. When we can look at a photograph as soon as we have “taken” it, we immediately, moreover, sense the distance between what the image tells us and what we have been able to see for ourselves only seconds before. The observation of this disparity, recognisable at every moment, is proper to the photographic phenomenon. We grant each photograph an element of truth but suspect its indeterminacy and sense its contradictions.

The photographic image is a constellation of questions for the eye because it offers viewers forms and signs they have never perceived as such and which conflict with their natural vision.

The enigma, the riddle, the puzzle would thus be fundamental to the photographic act itself.

Inherent in the photographic process, it results from the irreducible distance between the human senses and the camera’s light-sensitive capture: it arises from the split between visual perception and the photographic process.

For the eye, every photograph is an enigma.

Whether they are kept in archives, family albums or agencies, or dumped in the street, photographs are virtual objects which only begin to exist when they find a viewer. The selective collecting process is thus carried out “by eye” and not the eye of the connoisseur or the historian, but the paradoxical eye which goes against the tide of the canonically “good” photograph, it is a slow eye which opens itself to the pleasure of choice. The pursuit of irreplaceable strangeness. A determined eye, in search of what it does not yet know and yet perceives as the baring of the “photographic”, the liberated escape into a “pure” photographic act stripped of its eloquence. By repeating the selections, the eye discovers the unknown properties of the photographic image: it spots the elements of a puzzle to be savoured without anticipation of any solution. As a kind of practical application, when we look closely, these photographs seem more “photographic” than so many other images with more conventional features that quickly lose their interest. They reveal what escapes us in the recognition of the world, what lies beyond its photographic figures repeated over and over again.

The answer to the Sphinx’s riddle, it should be remembered, is humankind. And looking at a photograph means discovering oneself and the human species. Through the disparity and the dissonance between what it shows and what we experience, photography testifies above all, and at every moment, to what “being human” means. And the riddle, the enigma inherent in looking at a photograph is that of our presence in the world.”

Michel Frizot
Extract from the book Toute photographie fait énigme  / Every photograph is an enigma, Hazan, 2014

“Every Photograph is an enigma,” on the Musée Nicéphore Niépce website

 

Marius, Paris. 'Photomontage' c. 1865

 

Marius, Paris
Photomontage
c. 1865
Albumen print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1910
© Private collection

 

Photomontage, photographic postcard, c. 1920

 

Anonymous photographer
Photomontage (photographic postcard)
c. 1920
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Studio Portrait' (Photographic postcard), c. 1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Studio Portrait (Photographic postcard)
c. 1910
Silver gelatin print
9 x 14 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1930
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Transcendental photography with faces of ectoplasm' 1939

 

Anonymous photographer
Photographie transcendetale avec visages d’ectoplasms / Transcendental photography with faces of ectoplasm
1939
Silver gelatin print
© Private collection

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled' c. 1935

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled (Surimpression)
c. 1935
Silver gelatin photograph
8.2 × 5.4 cm
© Private collection

 

L. Olivier. 'Recherches sur l'appareil tégumentaire des racines Marsilea Quadrifolia' (Photomicrographic plate), 1881

 

L. Olivier 
Recherches sur l’appareil tégumentaire des racines Marsilea Quadrifolia 
(Photomicrographic plate)
1881
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Patriot Missile Warheads Promoters' 1991

 

Anonymous photographer (Press photo)
Patriot Missile Warheads Promoters
1991
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 20.2 cm
© Private collection

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Dans un local désaffecté de Budapest, les corps de patriotes hongrois voisinent avec une statue déboulonnée à la gloire du sport soviétique', Budapest. 1956

 

Anonymous photographer
Dans un local désaffecté de Budapest, les corps de patriotes hongrois voisinent avec une statue déboulonnée à la gloire du sport soviétique /
In some abandoned premises in Budapest, the bodies of Hungarian patriots lie beside a statue removed from its base [dedicated] to the glory of Soviet sports

Budapest, 1956
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 22.6 cm
© Private collection

 

Victims of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 brutally put down by the Russians.

 

 

“The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom or felkelés) was a nationwide revolt against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. Though leaderless when it first began, it was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR’s forces drove out Nazi Germany from its territory at the end of World War II and broke into Central and Eastern Europe.

The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation, entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands, was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned and former political prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers’ councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over the Eastern Bloc, alienated many Western Marxists, leading to splits and/or considerable losses of membership for Communist Parties in the West.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

International Newsreel Photo. 'Governor of Alabama Arrested for Breaking Prohibition Laws' 24 november 1926

 

International Newsreel Photo
Governor of Alabama Arrested for Breaking Prohibition Laws
24th November 1926
Gelatin silver print
20 x 15 cm
© Private collection

 

Amateur photographer. 'Untitled' c. 1950

 

Amateur photographer
Untitled
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
7 x 4.5 cm
© Private collection

 

 

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

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

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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