Archive for the 'Polaroid photography' Category

20
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers’ at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

Exhibition dates: 15th September 2022 – 8th January 2023

 

Unidentified photographer (American). 'Untitled [Two Men in Work Clothes, Wearing Hats, One Standing, One Seated]' c. 1880

 

Unidentified photographer (American)
Untitled [Two Men in Work Clothes, Wearing Hats, One Standing, One Seated]
c. 1880
Tintype
New Orleans Museum of Art
Gift of Stanley B. Burns, MD

 

 

The last posting before Christmas is a valuable photographic exhibition on Black Americans which reveals the importance of photography to their culture.

“Frederick Douglass [that fiery American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman] wrote multiple essays on the power of photography to shape perceptions about race. He posited that the medium would be a great liberator of Black Americans, allowing them to control their own narrative.”1

Any archive of photographs on a particular culture or subject which is collected and then freely disseminated is an incredible resource for researchers and the uninitiated. Nevertheless, what we must be mindful of is who is taking the photographs and collecting them (institutions) and to what purpose, and from what position, what point of view, are the resulting photographs being viewed – from the point of view of the subjugated or from the point of view of the ruling elite. Are the photographers from within the community, or are they colonial, imperial documenters of (for example), ethnographic status, a vanishing race, or slaves. If a person from outside the community takes the photographs (for example, the photographs of Edward S. Curtis), what was his purpose and what was the constructed, mythical story he wanted to tell… and are the photographs still valuable all these years later to contemporary First Nations people looking back on the people, rituals and customs that were portrayed in them.

The photographs in this posting will have a very different meaning to those that live within the community which is portrayed, I expect bringing mixed feelings of pride and the knowledge of the struggle of Black existence in America. And also the knowledge that “blacks had created their own traditions, rituals, and a history that formed a cohesive and complex culture that was the source of a full sense of identity.”2 The photographs “help reframe the history of American photography and place Black photographers and sitters at the centre of that story.”

Personally, I believe there is no centre and periphery… no inside and outsider art. To believe so is a misnomer, for everything is valuable in and of its own right, and should be acknowledged and appreciated as such.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added bibliographic information where possible to give context to the photographers work.

 

  1. Earnestine Jenkins. “Hooks Brothers Photography Documented Black Memphis,” on the Chose 901 website February 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022
  2. Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

.
Many thankx to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

From photography’s beginnings in the United States, Black studio photographers operated on the developing edge of popular media to produce affirming portraits for their clients, as well as a wide range of photographic work rooted in their communities. Called to the Camera offers a comprehensive history of this work, from the nineteenth-century daguerreotypes of James Presley Ball to the height of Black studios in the mid-twentieth century, and considers contemporary photographers responding to Black studio traditions today. In addition to showcasing famous photographers such as Ball, James Van Der Zee, and Addison Scurlock, this volume brings attention to dozens of other artists across the country, including Florestine Perrault Collins, Austin Hansen, and Henry Clay Anderson. The book features more than one hundred extraordinary vintage photographs, many of them unique objects and some, like those by the Hooks Brothers Studio, published here for the first time. Highlighting Black subjects on both sides of the camera, Called to the Camera presents a broader and more inclusive history of photography.

 

 

James Presley Ball (American, 1825-1904) 'Alexander S. Thomas' c. late 1850s

 

James Presley Ball (American, 1825-1904)
Alexander S. Thomas
c. late 1850s
Quarter plate daguerreotype
Cincinnati Art Museum
Gift of James M Marrs, MD

 

 

James Presley Ball, Sr. (1825 – May 4, 1904) was a prominent African-American photographer, abolitionist, and businessman.

Ball was born in Frederick County, Virginia, to William and Susan Ball in 1825. He learned daguerreotype photography from John B. Bailey of Boston, who like Ball was “a freeman of color.” Ball opened a one-room daguerreotype studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1845. The business did not prosper, so Ball worked as an itinerant daguerreotypist, settling briefly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then in Richmond, Virginia in 1846 to develop a more successful studio near the State Capitol building.

In 1847, Ball again departed for Ohio, again as a travelling daguerreotypist. He settled in Cincinnati in 1849 and opened a studio where his brother Thomas Ball became an operator. The gallery, known as “Ball’s Daguerrean Gallery of the West” or “Ball’s Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West,” ascended “from a small gallery to one of the great galleries of the Midwest.” Starting in 1854 and continuing “for about four years,” Robert Seldon Duncanson worked in Ball’s studio retouching portraits and colouring photographic prints. Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1854 described the gallery as displaying 187 photographs by Ball and 6 paintings by Duncanson; furthermore, the gallery was “replete with elegance and beauty,” with walls “bordered with gold leaf and flowers,” “master-piece” furniture, a piano, and mirrors.

Meanwhile, Ball opened the separate Ball and Thomas Gallery with his brother-in-law Alexander Thomas. In 1855, Ball published an abolitionist pamphlet accompanied by a 600-yard-long panoramic painting entitled “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade”; Duncanson probably participated in the production of the painting. During 1855 Ball’s daguerreotypes were shown at the Ohio State Fair and at the Ohio Mechanics Annual Exhibition. In 1856 Ball traveled to Europe. The Ball and Thomas Gallery was destroyed by a tornado in May 1860, but was later rebuilt with assistance from the community.

During the 1870s Ball ended his partnership with Thomas and moved to Greenville, Mississippi; Vidalia, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and then Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he started a new studio. By 1887, the studio was known as “J. P. Ball & Son, Artistic Photographers”; Ball’s son was named James Presley Ball, Jr. In September 1887, Ball became the official photographer of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

In October 1887, Ball again moved, this time to Helena, Montana, where the “J. P. Ball & Son” studio was established. By 1894, Ball had become active in politics in Helena; for example, he was nominated for a county coroner position which he declined. One of the notable series of photographs Ball took his stay in Helena involved William Biggerstaff (an African-American man) before, during, and after he was hanged in 1896 for committing murder.

In 1900, the Ball family probably moved to Seattle, Washington, where Ball opened the Globe Photo Studio. He may have relocated to Portland, Oregon, in 1901. The family moved to Honolulu in 1902, and Ball died there in 1904.

Among the subjects of Ball’s photographic portraits were P.T. Barnum, Charles Dickens, Henry Highland Garnet, the family of Ulysses S. Grant, Jenny Lind, and Queen Victoria. The techniques used for “all the known photographs of J. P. Ball” as of 1993 included mostly daguerreotypes and albumen prints (e.g., as carte de visites).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander S. Thomas (American, 1826-1910) [was] Ball’s brother-in-law, who worked as a steward on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In November 1857, Thomas became a full partner in the [James Presley Ball photographic] business and the name of the studio changed to Ball & Thomas. Three years later the union dissolved for unknown reasons, and Thomas continued in business with Tom Ball, still under the name of Ball & Thomas. Within two months a tornado destroyed that gallery, but many white friends helped them to repair the place, outfitting it more elaborately than before.

Theresa Leininger-Miller. “An American Journey: The Life and Photography of James Presley Ball,” on the Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide website Autumn 2011, [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988) 'Portrait of a young woman dressed in white' 1920-1928

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988)
Portrait of a young woman dressed in white
1920-1928
Gelatin silver print mounted in folder
4 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches
The Historic New Orleans Collection

 

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (1895-1988) was an American professional photographer from New Orleans. Collins is noted for having created photographs of African-American clients that “reflected pride, sophistication, and dignity.” instead of racial stereotypes.

In 1909, Collins began practicing photography at age 14. Her subjects ranged from weddings, First Communions, and graduations to personal photographs of soldiers who had returned home. At the beginning of her career, Collins had to pass as a white woman to be able to assist photographers.

Collins eventually opened her own studio, catering to African-American families. She gained a loyal following and had success, due to both her photography and marketing skills. Out of 101 African-American women who identified themselves as photographers in the 1920 U.S. Census, Collins was the only one listed in New Orleans.

She advertised in newspapers, playing up the sentimentality of a well-done photograph. Collins also included her photograph in the ads to appeal to customers who thought a female photographer might take better pictures of babies and children. Collins’ first husband, Eilert Bertrand, believed that women should not have careers and tried to restrain her public appearances. Collins died in 1988.

According to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Collins’ career “mirrored a complicated interplay of gender, racial and class expectations”.

“The history of black liberation in the United States could be characterised as a struggle over images as much as it has also been a struggle over rights,” according to bell hooks. Collins’ photographs are representative of that. By taking pictures of black women and children in domestic settings, she challenged the pervasive stereotypes of the time about black women.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966) 'Sisters of the Holy Family, Classroom Portrait' 1922

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966)
Sisters of the Holy Family, Classroom Portrait
1922
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
XULA University Archives and Special Collections
Image Courtesy of Xavier University of Louisiana, Archives & Special Collections
© Arthur P. Bedou

 

 

Arthur P. Bedou (July 6, 1882 – July 2, 1966) was an African-American photographer based in New Orleans. Bedou was, for a time, the personal photographer of Booker T. Washington, and documented the last decade of Washington’s life. He also documented campus life at Xavier University of Louisiana, the Tuskegee Institute, and the city life of New Orleans, especially the city’s black residents.

Arthur Paul Bedou was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1882, one of five children of Armand Bedou and Marie Celeste Coustaut. His family was poor and he received very little education; as a photographer he was largely self-taught. Bedou worked for a time as a clerk, but by 1899 he was taking pictures, and his career started in earnest when a photograph he took of a solar eclipse in 1900 received wide notice.

In 1903 Bedou documented a conference at Tuskegee Institute in the hope of gaining visibility for his work. Booker T. Washington saw some of his photographs and invited Bedou to accompany him as his personal photographer, preferring Bedou over other candidates like C. M. Battey in part for his ability to produce dynamic images of unfolding events. Most of Bedou’s photographs of Washington were taken between 1908 and 1915, the year of Washington’s death. Among other tasks, he accompanied Washington on his summer tours with the object of producing an album of each trip. To supplement his uncertain income from these travels, he had some of the photographs he took made into postcards, Christmas cards, and calendars. His position brought him further commissions to photograph notables both black and white, including George Washington Carver, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald.

Through the connection to Washington, who was the school’s founding principal, Bedou was invited to become official photographer of the Tuskegee Institute. Shortly after Washington’s death, however, he was replaced as the school’s official photographer by Battey, who at the time was favoured by campus officials for various reasons. He was also in demand by other black colleges and schools such as Fisk University to document life on their campuses, and by professional organisations such as the National Negro Business League, the National Medical Association, and the National Baptist Convention.

In the 1920s, Bedou opened his own photography studio in New Orleans, where he photographed everything from black families and their children to the laying of the cornerstone at Corpus Christi Church to the visits of jazz bands and celebrity speakers. His photographs often appeared in both the Louisiana Weekly (a newspaper with a primarily black circulation) and the general-circulation newspaper Louisiana Times-Picayune. His photographs won several awards over the years, including the gold medal at the 1907 Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition.

Bedou prospered and invested in real estate and companies like the People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana, of which he was for many years a director and vice-president.

Bedou photographed numerous events, activities, and portraits around the Xavier University of Louisiana campus from about 1917 to the late 1950s. When he died in 1966, he left much of his fortune to educational institutions, and his wife, Lillia Bedou, founded a scholarship in his honour at Xavier University of Louisiana. Since her death, the scholarship has been known as the Arthur and Lillia Bedou Scholarship. Xavier University Archives & Special Collections also holds an extensive collection of his photographs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966) 'The Gold Rush – Xavier University of Louisiana Football Squad' Nd

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966)
The Gold Rush – Xavier University of Louisiana Football Squad
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 4 x 6 inches
Xavier University Archives and Special Collections
Image Courtesy of Xavier University of Louisiana, Archives & Special Collections
© Arthur P. Bedou

 

James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983) 'Untitled (Bride and Groom)' 1926

 

James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983)
Untitled (Bride and Groom)
1926
Gelatin silver print
Museum purchase, City of New Orleans Capital Funds and P. Roussel Norman Fund
© James Van Der Zee Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

James Augustus Van Der Zee was an American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Aside from the artistic merits of his work, Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period.

 

 

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) today announces the fall opening of Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, a major exhibition focusing on the artistic virtuosity, social significance, and political impact of Black American photographers working in commercial portrait studios during photography’s first century and beyond. Organised by NOMA, the exhibition focuses on a national cohort of professional camera operators, demonstrating the incredible variety of work that they produced and their influence on the broader history of photography. Featuring more than 150 photographs spanning from the 19th century to present day – many of which have never been publicly exhibited and are unique objects – Called to the Camera will be on view at NOMA September 16, 2022 – January 8, 2023.

The exhibition explores how Black studio photographers operated on the developing edge of photographic media from its earliest introduction in the United States. They produced affirming portraits for their clients, while also engaging in other kinds of paid photographic work exemplary of important movements in art like Pictorialism and modernism. Called to the Camera will feature work by over three dozen photographers located across the country, demonstrating how the Black photography studio was a national phenomenon. The exhibition includes an interspersed selection of works by modern and contemporary artists, illustrating connections between the historical legacy of Black photography studios and what we consider to be fine art photography today.

Photographers whose works are featured in Called to the Camera include James Van Der Zee and Addison Scurlock, who worked on a national stage, as well as photographers who were active regionally, among them Florestine Perrault Collins and A.P. Bedou (New Orleans, LA), Reverend Henry Clay Anderson (Greenville, MS), Morgan and Marvin Smith (New York City), and Robert and Henry Hooks (Memphis, TN). Among the contemporary photographers included in the exhibition are Endia Beal, Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., and Polo Silk. The exhibition will feature a range of different types of images, from some of the earliest daguerreotypes of significant Black Americans (such as Frederick Douglass) to early hand-painted gelatin silver prints and panoramic photographs, as well as camera equipment, studio ephemera, and an immersive re-creation of a noted studio’s reception room.

“Chief among NOMA’s goals is to support important projects that amplify the histories of under-represented communities,” said Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Called to the Camera does exactly that: it articulates a story that is both local and national, centering the importance of Black photographers in their communities and in the history of photography.”

“As we continue to build our notable photography holdings to make our collection and our exhibition program truly reflect our audiences, this thoughtfully researched national exploration of Black American studio photography is a vital contribution to this work,” added Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Brian Piper, exhibition curator and Assistant Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art added, “Building on the foundational work of scholars like Dr. Deborah Willis, this exhibition gathers original works by a professional class of Black photographers linked by a shared set of visual and cultural concerns. By bringing these objects – many never before exhibited – into the art museum, we can help reframe the history of American photography and place Black photographers and sitters at the centre of that story. Called to the Camera is, in part, an argument for a reconsideration of how historians and institutions evaluate and display photography.”

The exhibition is organised into five sections across 6,000 square feet that proceed chronologically and thematically from the 1840s to present day. The first section emphasises the pivotal role Black American photographers played in photography during the 19th century, focusing on the establishment of commercial studio practices in the United States by photographers like James Presley Ball and the Goodridge Brothers. The second gallery evokes early 20th century commercial studios and domestic interiors, providing a contextual framework that illustrates the ways in which Black Americans used photography after 1900 to shape both private lives and public expressions of self. From there, the exhibition focuses closely on the practices of a half-dozen photographic studios, providing insights into both similarities and differences across geographies and exploring how these artists used a range of photographic processes and aesthetic styles through the end of the 1960s.

As a whole, the exhibition will consider other work that portrait studio photographers engaged in during this time, including photojournalism, advertising, and event photography. Beyond portraits, Called to the Camera demonstrates how Black American studio photographers worked on the vanguard of fine art photography and argues that the business of the studio cannot be divorced from the rest of these photographers’ practices. Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers is curated by Dr. Brian Piper, NOMA’s Assistant Curator of Photographs. The exhibition draws works from both NOMA’s institutional holdings as well as works loaned from both notable public and private collections including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; National Museum of African American History and Culture; the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University; and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Called to the Camera will be accompanied by a catalog distributed by Yale University Press featuring over 100 colour plates and essays by leading scholars of photographic and Black American history including Dr. John Edwin Mason, Carla Williams, Russell Lord, and Brian Piper.

The exhibition is sponsored by Catherine and David Edwards; Kitty and Stephen Sherrill; Andrea and Rodney Herenton; Tina Freeman and Philip Woollam; Milly and George Denegre; and Cherye and Jim Pierce. Additional support is provided by Philip DeNormandie; Aimee and Michael Siegel; and the Del and Ginger Hall Photography Fund. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Research for this project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Press release from New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003) 'Untitled [Marvin and Morgan Smith and Sarah Lou Harris Carter]' 1940

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003)
Untitled [Marvin and Morgan Smith and Sarah Lou Harris Carter]
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Photograph
© Morgan and Marvin Smith

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003) 'Marvin Painting a Self-Portrait' c. 1940

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003)
Marvin Painting a Self-Portrait
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Photograph
© Morgan and Marvin Smith

 

 

Morgan (February 16, 1910 – February 17, 1993) and Marvin Smith (February 16, 1910 – 2003) were identical African-American twin brothers. They were photographers and artists known for documenting the life of Harlem in the 1930s to 1950s. …

The Smiths decided to commit themselves to the media of photography in 1937 and took free art classes taught by sculptor Augusta Savage. There they met numerous other influential artists including Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Morgan became the first staff photographer for New York Amsterdam News in 1937, the most popular Black newspaper at the time. Two years later they opened their own photography studio, M & M Smith Studios, next to the famed Apollo Theater on 125th Street. The twins were the theatre’s official photographers and through this job met influential models, artists and performers. Their studio became a hub of activity for entertainers and writers, as well as the location of the majority of their portrait photography. They photographed George Washington Carver and Billie Holiday, among other famous Black artists and politicians, as well as street life in Harlem during this time.

The Smiths photographed with the intention of showing the different facets of Black life. Along with capturing the Civil rights movement and anti-lynching demonstrations the brothers were among the first to capture the vibrant lives of Harlem residents.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rev. Henry Clay Anderson (American, 1911-1998) 'A hand-tinted portrait of a young woman' 1950s

 

Rev. Henry Clay Anderson (American, 1911-1998)
A hand-tinted portrait of a young woman
1950s
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
8 x 10 in.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson
© Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

 

 

From the late 1940s into the 1970s, photographer Henry Clay Anderson created a remarkable record of the lively African American community in Greenville, Mississippi. He photographed ordinary people in portraits and at events, including weddings, funerals, baseball games, and school proms and homecomings. Anderson worked as a teacher before serving in the military, and he studied photography on the GI Bill. While working as a photographer, he also served as a minister and helped African Americans pass the literacy test to obtain a voter’s card. Anderson said, “A photographer understands that pictures will show what is in the person… [M]aking pictures is a lot like telling a story.” The story Anderson recorded concerns an aspect of mid-twentieth-century American history that has largely been ignored – the existence of thriving, middle-class African American communities throughout the South.

Anonymous. “Oh Freedom! Rev. Henry Clay Anderson,” on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website Nd [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Reverend Henry Clay Anderson was a pastor, teacher, veteran, and photographer, best known for capturing the lives of the black middle class of Greenville, Mississippi from 1948 to 1986. He was born in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi, in 1911 and spent his childhood in Hollandale outside of Greenville, Mississippi. No information is known about his parents or siblings, except that he had a brother who worked at an insurance company in the same building as his photography studio. Anderson attended the segregated Washington County Schools for his early childhood and high school education. His love for photography began when his family gave him a box camera to play with at nine years old. …

Anderson married Sadie Lee with whom he had no children. His first occupation was as a teacher before he served in World War II. When he returned from the war to Greenville in 1946, the GI Bill of 1944 allowed Anderson to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There, he studied photography from 1946 to 1948 when he opened the Anderson Photo Service. His photography studio did not earn enough to support him and his wife financially, so he worked several other jobs throughout his photography career. These included being a pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church, a voter education teacher through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the late 1950s through the 1960s, and a candidate for the Greenville City Council as a Freedom Democratic Party member in 1965 and for the justice of the peace position in District 2 of Washington County in 1971.

Anderson’s photography is notable because he depicted a middle-class blackness that seemed to exist without much racial strife and violence as other Mississippi communities from the 1940s to the 1970s. His work offers a glimpse into young women’s lives participating in beauty pageants, families relaxing in luxury living rooms and on porches, gentlemen and ladies dressed for elegant occasions, and children celebrating birthdays. He recorded what has been called by many a “hidden” portion of middle-class black lives during this period. However, his most recognised work is also his most upsetting: the funeral of Reverend George Lee, who was murdered while helping blacks register to vote in May of 1955. Anderson’s photos of Lee’s marred face and mourning relatives made it into publications of Jet, Ebony, Life, and Time in 1955.

Lane Howell. “Reverend Henry Clay Anderson,” on the Black Past website September 20, 2020 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Austin Hansen (American, 1910-1996) 'Eartha Kitt Teaching a Dance Class at Harlem YMCA' c. 1955

 

Austin Hansen (American, 1910-1996)
Eartha Kitt Teaching a Dance Class at Harlem YMCA
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 in.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library
Photograph by Austin Hansen used by permission of Joyce Hansen

 

 

Austin Hansen (1910 – January 23, 1996) was a Black American photographer known for his chronicling of life in Harlem.

Austin Hansen was born in 1910 in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. He began taking photographs at age 12, and was assisted by the island’s official photographer. He served in the United States Navy as a photographer’s mate.

He came to New York City in 1928, but racist attitudes of the time blocked him from employment despite an excellent reference from a naval officer for whom he had worked. He worked instead as a dishwasher and elevator operator, and occasionally played the drums.

Hansen’s first break came when he took a photograph of a young Black woman singing for Eleanor Roosevelt at an uptown hotel, which he sold to the New York Amsterdam News for $2. Building on this small start, he was eventually able to make photography his full-time profession and his portraits and news photographs captured life in Harlem for the next sixty years.

He did portrait work at his studio, as well as freelancing for newspapers such as The Chicago Defender and the Staten Island Advance. In addition to everyday community life such as weddings, street scenes, and Harlem architecture, Hansen captured images of notable political figures (Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr.), authors (Langston Hughes), entertainers (Count Basie, Eartha Kitt), and others.

Hansen was for decades the official photographer for the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and documented events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. For the last five years of his life, he was artist-in-residence at the Photographic Center of Harlem.

Over the course of his life Hansen built a massive collection of over 500,000 portraits of Black Americans, ranging from churchmen and political leaders to everyday working-class people. More than 50,000 of his images are at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Hansen was the subject of the film Search for Hansen: A Photographer of Harlem, directed by Justin Bryant.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Through his lens, Mr. Hansen, who began taking pictures as a 12-year-old in the Virgin Islands, captured a vast spectrum of activity in the community he joined in 1928. Among his images were enraptured young couples, David N. Dinkins’s wedding and the street-corner grief when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945. Here was Lena Horne being interviewed in the Hotel Theresa, and there was a man walking a picket line, carrying a sign that read: “Do Not Ride These Buses Until You See Negro Drivers.”

The photographs Mr. Hansen took were also the story of his life. “And it hasn’t all been beautiful,” he said one day in 1994. “Some has been sad, the way they treated black people in those days. And I have been part of the suffering.” …

for the next six decades, his portraits and news photographs captured the ordinary and extraordinary in Harlem. Eventually, he opened a studio on West 135th Street, where he worked for 47 years, with time out for a hitch as a Navy photographer during World War II and a job as a darkroom technician for the Office of War Information.

But most of his career was spent making portraits and freelancing for newspapers like The New York Amsterdam News and The Pittsburgh Courier.

He took photographs for Malcolm X and for Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Jr. He recorded historical images of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Marcus Garvey, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Mary McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Hansen was the official photographer for the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and for more than 20 years Mr. Hansen and his brother, Aubrey, who died before him, documented events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Lawrence Van Gelder. “Austin Hansen, Visual Chronicler of Harlem Life, Dies at 85,” on The New York Times website Jan. 25, 1996 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Untitled [Man in Dollar Bill Suit with Congregation]' c. 1940

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Untitled [Man in Dollar Bill Suit with Congregation]
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Untitled [Students looking at photographs]' c. 1950

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Untitled [Students looking at photographs]
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Al Green in the Hooks Brothers Studio' c. 1968

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Al Green in the Hooks Brothers Studio
c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

 

Robert and Henry Hooks opened a family run photography business that endured in Memphis from 1906 until the 1970s. During the 1940s the studio was taken over by their sons, Charles and Henry Hooks. Hooks Bros. photographs document a rich, in-depth, and complex visual record of African American culture in the Mid-South that no longer exist, for the beautiful images reveal a hidden transcript, the world of segregated Memphis.

Over a period of seventy-six years, the Hooks brothers preserved the totality of black middle-class family life in a large urban setting. Their pictures are stories about schools and graduations, weddings, family occasions, birthday parties, social events, social and fraternal organisations, neighbourhood associations, celebratory events like the Cotton Makers Jubilee, amateur athletes and professional sports, as well as musicians associated with the city’s musical heritage. These images document the significance of the sacred and the social life of the church in black middle-class culture in Memphis. They also record the history of black businesses like Universal Life Insurance Company, Tri-State Bank, as well as the black newspapers, the Memphis World, and the Tri-State Defender.

The local and social history of Memphis preserved in Hooks Bros. photographs includes military history, documenting black Memphians’ military service and participation in World War I and World War II, as well as support of the war effort in Red Cross service and bond drives. The portraits of many prominent leaders is a distinctive category of Hooks Bros. photographs. They developed a manner of capturing the character and social position of black male leaders and celebrities, always picturing the individual in settings, and with objects related to his profession or role in the black community.

It has been said that every black family in Memphis has a Hooks Bros. photograph. The statement is a testament to the visual impact and historical significance of these images. They are extraordinary photographic histories of the black communities in Memphis. However, the astounding depth and breadth of the visual record over a long period of time makes them invaluable as a portrait of the broad spectrum of African American culture at a specific time and place in American history.

Earnestine Jenkins. “Hooks Brothers Photography Documented Black Memphis,” on the Chose 901 website February 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Archival pigment print
Gift of the Gordon Parks Foundation in Honor of Arthur Roger
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Polo Silk (American, b. 1964) 'Lo Life, Lo Down, Club Detour' 1993

 

Polo Silk (American, b. 1964)
Lo Life, Lo Down, Club Detour
1993
Unique Polacolor Print Museum
Purchase, Tina Freeman Fund
Copyright Polo Silk, Fab 5 Legacy Archive

 

 

For more than three decades, Selwhyn Sthaddeus “Polo Silk” Terrell (American, b. 1964) has been photographing Black New Orleans, creating a unique body of work that blends elements of portraiture, fashion, performance, and street photography.

Polo Silk mobilised the traditional portrait studio, taking it to the streets and clubs of New Orleans and transforming it into an adaptable, on-the-spot method of picture making. In the course of his career, Polo perfected the use of instant-photo technology, making dynamic, one of a kind portraits that capitalised on the vibrant colour range and immediacy that is a hallmark of Polaroid and other instant films. Sold on demand to clients who wanted a record of an event like Super Sunday, or to show off their carefully planned outfit on any given Saturday night, Polo’s pictures have become an integral part of how many Black New Orleanians have used photography to represent themselves.

Polo’s pictures are often taken in front of the colourful airbrushed backdrops painted by his cousin Otis Spears (American, b. 1969) that feature figures from hip-hop and bounce music, fashion brands, sports logos, and the hot songs of the day. In bringing photography out of the studio and directly to the people, Polo made it a truly accessible phenomenon. While traditional portrait photographs were often designed to appear timeless and placeless, Polo’s pictures are absolutely fixed in time, and rooted in New Orleans. Together, Polo and his subjects have created one of the most important visual archives of this time and place, an important set of pictures that highlight Black expression, individuality, and ultimately, a collective community identity.

Anonymous. “Picture Man: Portraits by Polo Silk,” on the NOMA website [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (American, b. 1993) 'Oftentimes, justice for Black people takes form of forgiveness, allowing them space to reclaim their bodies from wrongs made against them' 2018

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (American, b. 1993)
Oftentimes, justice for Black people takes form of forgiveness, allowing them space to reclaim their bodies from wrongs made against them
2018
Archival pigment print
Museum Purchase
© Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

 

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (born 1993) is a queer black American artist and photographer. In 2019 they received an Emerging Visual Arts Grant by The Rema Hort Mann Foundation.

 

Endia Beal (American, b. 1985) 'Kennedy' 2016

 

Endia Beal (American, b. 1985)
Kennedy
2016
Archival pigment print
27 x 40 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Endia Beal

 

 

Endia Beal is an African-American visual artist, curator, and educator. She is known for her work in creating visual narratives through photography and video testimonies focused on women of colour working in corporate environments.

 

Alanna Airitam (American, b. 1971) 'How to Make a Country' 2019

 

Alanna Airitam (American, b. 1971)
How to Make a Country
2019
Archival inkjet print encased in resin and vignette with oil paint, floated in hand-welded 1 1/2 inch metal frame
14 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Alanna Airitam

 

 

Her newest exhibition, “How to Make A Country” builds on these ideas in her prior work. Including a self-portrait of Airitam stitching an American flag with a basket of fresh cotton at her side, the series highlights the stories that weren’t told. “I was thinking about the people who make up this country, and how this country has become so economically prosperous and huge, and what it took in order to have a country like what we have,” she said.

 

“I was in my living room one day looking at one of the U.S. flags (I say U.S. flag because America as a whole is actually comprised of several countries, not just this one but that’s a whole other topic) we have here in the studio and I started thinking about the story of Betsy Ross and how she made the U.S. flag. It’s one of those awe inspiring, patriotic stories we’re taught in school that never quite sat well with me. I kept thinking, “But where did she get the cotton from?” Then I started thinking about how much Black women contributed to this country with little or no recognition. Without our sweat, blood, and tears we would not have the foundation for the country we know today.

I wanted to create something to honor those women – my ancestors who sacrificed so much for so little. When I ask myself who actually built this country, I have to give credit to all the Black and Brown women and men who struggled and truly believed in what this country is supposed to be even though it was never available to them. They believed in the idea that all men are created equal, that they were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

They were true Americans. And I wanted to honor those spirited women in this photo because they made this country.”

Alanna Airitam. “How to Make a Country, Alanna Airita,” on the Rfotofolio website July 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

 

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12
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Burlafingen, Germany

Exhibition dates: 29th May – 20th November 2022

Curators: Clothilde Morette, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, and Clara Stratmann

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife… [his uncle] bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.” (Press release)

In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. Can you imagine being a precocious 13 year-old, running your own commercial studio, and then at the end of the day creating sets and costumes and taking on roles to reflect his interest in African and Black American style. As a young man he is finding his own identity through pose and play. “Using the camera as a mirror, he takes on and explores various roles. It’s a game of trying on identities that is familiar to teenagers in particular the world over, a game we play in an attempt to find ourselves, or rather to construct an individual identity.”1 It’s not just playing dress ups or charades: the photographs are an exciting investigation into the desire to find oneself, as an artist and as a human being. Whom am I, who can I be in this life?

Fast forward 20 years or so, and “Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.” (press release) Fosso’s goal was to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography.

This is where it takes the courage of your own convictions, an inherent sense of your creativity as an artist, and respect for yourself as a human being … to strike out and do something different from everyone else, to recognise the chance of taking a different path, to use your imagination to create something fresh and new. Fosso understood this was a crossroads in his life. He could carry on down the same path as Keïta and Sidibé or he could take a chance and strike out on his own, to create “a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation” through “self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities.”

Fosso was on his way. More insightful series followed which reflect the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics, which oscillate between personal introspection and collective narratives: reenacting historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, performing an imaginary Black Pope, embodying Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa which highlights the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries, and posing as members of the French colonial military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War.

“By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”” (press release)

By placing himself at the centre of the theatre of postcolonial identity, and at the centre of (sometimes tragic) human dramas, the artist acts (it being theatre), and performs as a prosopopoeia (Greek) which is a rhetorical device (one which conveys a meaning with the goal of persuading the viewer towards considering a topic from a perspective), in which the artist communicates to the audience by speaking as another person. The term literally derives from the Greek roots prósopon “face, person”, and poiéin “to make, to do;”. Prosopopoeiae are used mostly to give another perspective on the action being described.2

Fosso is both himself and the Black Pope; Fosso is himself and he is also the Chairman. Indeed, Fosso offers a complex conceptual framework in order / in disorder, to understand alternative histories of postcolonial identity. What if there was a Black Pope? What if the Chinese bankroll the finances of African governments and then make them subservient to the will of the Chinese government? How are the privileges of colonial occupation and disenfranchisement being played out on Black bodies and Black cultures even to this day?

Through his different personas the artist allows himself to perform what would otherwise be hidden from view, crossing the threshold between reality and fiction. Crossing such a threshold through performative photography and ritual, “makes possible the emergence of a space of play which asserts that the world does not express a determinate and final order but is infinitely open to the emergence of new… forms of self-organization”3

New forms of identity that critique colonial and world histories. In this sense, Fosso is saying that African creativity and representation matters.

“So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. Press release from the exhibition Ladies and Gentlemen: The Camera as a Mirror at the Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden, February – April 2012. Press release
  2. See Anonymous. “Prosopopoeia,” on the Wikipedia website Nd [Online] Cited 12/11/2022
  3. Massie, Pascal. “Masks and the Space of Play,” in Research in Phenomenology Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb 2018), p. 119. Abstract. Brill publishers.

.
Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images Courtesy of The Walther Collection.

 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

“My initial encounter with photographic images outside of the Central African Republic was purely through pictures in magazines, brought by young American Peace Corps volunteers who came to the Central African Republic to visit Pygmies. I was especially excited by the images of the African Americans and their sense of style. I was also very much taken with the style of the popular singer and musician Prince Nico Mbarga, who was very hot around West Africa in 1976 and 1977 with his record Sweet Mother. I wanted to replicate these two stylistic approaches in the studio with me, posing as a model.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

 

Samuel Fosso was only 13 years old when he started his own photography studio in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, in September 1975. The previous year, he had carried out a five-month-long apprenticeship with a local photographer, thanks to the support of his uncle’s wife. Acknowledging his nephew’s precocious talent, Fosso’s uncle, a cobbler with whom he was living, bought him a large camera in Cameroon and agreed to open a photography studio for him. Fosso named it Studio Photo National, to reflect how the Central African Republic had gained independence from France in 1960.

Besides photographing families and friends and taking people’s passport photos, he captured popular occasions, weddings, baptisms and ceremonies. In the evening, his commercial work complete, he would finish off a Kodak roll by taking staged self-portraits. “If I hadn’t finished the film, I used the last two or three for my own account, and I benefited from that to make my own works,” says Fosso when we meet at the home of his long-standing agent, Jean-Marc Patras, in Paris.

There were two other reasons why Fosso became impassioned about photography. One was that he desperately wanted to send photographs of himself to his grandmother in Nigeria. “Whenever I would make my self-portraits, I would send one picture to my grandmother to reassure her that everything was going well for me and keep one for myself,” Fosso says. The other reason is linked to his early infancy. Born in 1962 in Kumba, south-western Cameroon, to Nigerian parents of Igbo ethnicity, Fosso was born partly paralysed. His mother took him to Nigeria – where his grandfather was a ‘native doctor’, or ‘priest healer’ – to be cured, so he could walk normally. He remained there with his grandparents during the Biafran War, during which time his mother died. After the war ended, his uncle collected him and the pair returned to Cameroon for one year before moving to Bangui.

Fosso had missed out on the tradition of being photographed as a three-month-old baby due to his health condition. In an interview with the late Okwui Enwezor (the influential Nigerian-born curator, for a forthcoming Steidl monographic book, Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait), Fosso recounts: “Even though my mother believed I was a normal child, despite the fact that I was paralysed, there was still no photograph commissioned, even after one year, because my father did not see the need to waste money on a paralysed child. So, when you ask me why I privilege my self-portraits, I believe the answer is rooted in the condition of my life and the meaning of self-representation.”

As if to compensate for what had been denied to him, Fosso began asserting his identity and marking his presence, existence and vitality for life by experimenting with self-portraiture, nurturing the freedom this offered. It is a selection of these seminal photographs, titled Autoportrait/Self-portrait from 70s Lifestyle (1975-1978), made between the ages of 13-16… They show the young, slim-framed Fosso striking poses in front of theatrical backdrops and wearing elegant outfits made by a local tailor with fabrics he had purchased. In one image, Fosso – dressed in a white shirt, dark flared trousers and patterned jacket – is bowing slightly, a smile across his face, as if imagining that he is about to meet someone. In others, he has gloved hands on his hips, sporting just a pair of underpants, or he dons tasselled trousers and high-heeled boots.

For inspiration for his looks, Fosso would peruse catalogues, magazines and album covers. “I used American magazines, especially photos of black musicians like James Brown, and showed the magazine pictures to the tailor,” he recalls. “During the colonial years, [African] ministers were obliged to wear a suit and tie, so I chose to make seven photos of me wearing suits like the French. I would also design the décor.” Providing an insight into Fosso’s studio, the photographs show a large picture of Bangui on the wall and several curtains being used for backgrounds. They also offer a social commentary about modern life in Bangui during the post-independence years. Coincidentally, Fosso was making these works at the same time as Cindy Sherman was developing her Murder Mystery series (1976) and Bus Riders (1976) in New Jersey before her iconic Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980). In a similar vein, Fosso was becoming his own director and character, developing his form of self-expression.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) '70's Lifestyle' 1974-1978 

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
70’s Lifestyle
1974-1978

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'La femme américaine libérée des années 70' (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
La femme américaine libérée des années 70 (The Liberated American Woman of the 1970s)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

“That’s how my Tati series (1997) began, because I did not want to go back to the black-and-white style as Keïta and Sidibé had done for their Tati commissions. Since there were three African photographers, I wanted my project to register a different mood of the African imagination, and not the images that were already associated with African photography. My goal was to take a new direction in my work.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Le Rocker' (The Rocker) 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Le Rocker (The Rocker)
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Three years later, Tati, the French, low-budget department store, commissioned Fosso, as well as the eminent Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, to make a group of self-portraits recreating the African photo-studio environment. Upon learning that Keïta and Sidibé had already made their pictures in black-and-white, Fosso asked if he could make his in colour. His goal was to take a new direction in his work and capture a different mood from the images associated with African photography.

In each photograph in the Tati (1997) series, Fosso changes like a chameleon, masquerading as various figures, exploring issues around gender and stereotypes. His image titled The Chief (the one who sold Africa to the colonists), above, which was printed on the cover of the catalogue of the travelling exhibition, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2004-2007), questions the role of African chiefs in the slave trade. Fosso also transforms himself into a liberated woman, wearing brightly coloured trousers, high heels and a Panama hat, a bourgeois woman in a sequinned top holding a white fur, and to a sailor.

How did people react to these pictures? “People asked if I was homosexual and why I wanted to disguise myself as a woman; wearing women’s clothes was taboo,” he replies. “Now the mentality is changing a bit. Now people are asking why I wanted to do it. I thought of doing something about how black Americans were liberated in the 1960s and 70s, and the liberated woman.”

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Chief (who sold Africa to the Colonists)
1997
From the series Tati

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'The Golfer' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
The Golfer
1997
From the series Tati

 

 

Conceptual Framework

The Walther Collection presents a retrospective exhibition of photographic works by Samuel Fosso (b. 1962), one of the most renowned contemporary African artists working today. Spanning his five-decade career, Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces revisits bodies of work that explore issues central to the contemporary art scene. The exhibition retraces a career that oscillates between personal introspection and collective narratives through major series and lesser-known works from his youth.

Since the mid-1970s, Samuel Fosso has dedicated his artistic practice to self-portraiture and performative photography, transforming his body and envisioning compelling variations of postcolonial African identities. His early studio experiments and later series created innovative imagery that questioned ethnographic views of Africa as well as the economic imperatives of studio portraiture. Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is presented across two galleries of The Walther Collection’s White Cube, bringing together a selection of works from all the artist’s series: early studio photography from the 1970s to 1990s is exhibited in the upper gallery and later works reflecting the artist’s personal and artistic trajectory and global politics are shown in the main gallery space.

Fosso’s work reflects the shifts that occurred in the history of photography in Africa when Africans began to turn the camera onto themselves and began to visualise and embody postcolonial perspectives. In 1975, at the age of thirteen, Fosso opened his Studio Photo Nationale in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. By day he photographed paying clientele, highlighting their fashion and individual styles, depicting them in sometimes exuberant poses. At night, he focused the camera on himself. Fosso’s expressive black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s reference West African popular culture, formulating a unique and long-term photographic project that critically and playfully examines identity, sexuality, gender, and African self-representation.

Another significant theme that runs through Fosso’s oeuvre is fashion as a powerful tool for expression, transformation, and image-making. In his words, ‘clothes help me tell the character’s story and share their own emotions… but most of all the clothes help me understand them.’ Several of his series examine how self-styling and (manipulation of) the mass media have shaped the representation of social and political ideals and selves.

While the series Tati (1997) investigates the transformative power of fashion through satirical representation, other photo essays such as Mémoire d’un ami (2000) explore themes of memory and ritual. Reconstructing a night in 1997, when the artist’s friend and neighbour was murdered by armed militia in Bangui, Fosso reflects on global socio-political issues through his photographic performance with astonishing vulnerability.

For the series African Spirits (2008), Fosso reenacted historical photos of pan-African liberation and civil rights movement leaders and celebrities, examining the power of iconography. The African and African-American figures represented in the series, like Angela Davis, Malcom X or Haile Selassie, are instantly recognisable through their iconic fashion and adopted poses, their masterful utilisation of self-styling imbuing them with undeniable power to create social and political impact.

Five years later, Fosso embodies Mao Zedong in the series Emperor of Africa (2013), manifesting the relationship between style and image again in a powerful project of political portraits, while at the same time highlighting the neo-colonial relationship between China and debt-ridden African countries.

The selection of two diptychs from the series ALLONZENFANS (2013) depicts Fosso’s intervention into the fraught history of France’s relationship with its former colonies. Fosso poses as members of the military sporting uniforms from the First and Second World War, alternating between a stern-looking soldier at attention and a smiling soldier at ease, drafted for the French regiments. Like African Spirits and Emperor of Africa, ALLONZENFANS illustrates the artist’s ongoing engagement with specific episodes of Africa’s and Europe’s history.

With the Black Pope (2017), Fosso confronts politics of religion between Europe and Africa, addressing the fact that, despite high populations of Roman Catholics on the continent, there has never been a pope of African heritage. While African Catholics hoped that this would be corrected during the 2013 conclave without success, Fosso’s evocative body of work created four years later, teases our imagination, and invites us to consider the improbable event of an African on the papal seat.

By presenting a wide spectrum of Fosso’s work, this comprehensive retrospective offers generous insight into how the artist’s practice deviates sharply from West African studio photography traditions established by Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé during the 1950s and 1960s – from his early work examining postcolonial African society’s burgeoning desires to his later conceptual work which explores the way photographs travel the world and change meaning over time. By centering himself in performative photographic processes, Fosso’s ideas transcend mere self-representation or self-reflection to encompass explorations of what Okwui Enwezor called “self-constituted theatre of postcolonial identity.” In this “theatre,” there is a manifestation of the paradox of guise and masking, where Fosso does not attempt to recreate an individual but the idea of that person as “characters in a larger human drama.”

Samuel Fosso was born in Kumba, Cameroon, in 1962 and raised in Nigeria. He fled the Biafran War as an adolescent, and in 1972 was taken in by his uncle in Bangui in the Central African Republic. After learning about photography from a neighbour, he set up his own photo studio at the age of 13.

Fosso was awarded the Afrique en Création prize in 1995 and was the recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award in 2001. His self-portraits are represented in the collections of international museums such as Tate Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou and musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. In 2017, a solo exhibition of his work was held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 2020, the monograph Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Fosso’s photographs was published by Steidl and The Walther Collection. Samuel Fosso lives and works between Nigeria and France.

 

Publications

On the occasion of the retrospective Samuel Fosso at MEP in 2021, Steidl has published a French edition of Autoportrait, the first comprehensive survey of Samuel Fosso’s oeuvre – originally co-published by The Walther Collection in 2020 – with essays and research by leading scholars and writers. Edited by Okwui Enwezor, it includes contributions by Quentin Bajac, Simon Baker, Yves Chatap, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Jean Marc Patras, Terry Smith, Claire Staebler, James Thomas, and Artur Walther, as well as an in-depth conversation between Samuel Fosso and Okwui Enwezor.

SIXSIXSIX consists of 666 large-format Polaroid self-portraits, produced in an intensive process by Samuel Fosso with a small team in his Paris studio in 2015 and 2016. Shot against the same rich, coloured backdrop, these striking photographs depart from Fosso’s earlier self-portraits through their understated and stripped-back approach. Fosso’s challenge was to create 666 self-portraits each with a different bodily expression, reminding us of the link between his performances and photography. The publication opens with a conversation between Fosso and curator and critic Hans Ulrich Obrist.

 

About the Exhibition

Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces is a touring exhibition organised by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris) in collaboration with The Walther Collection (Neu-Ulm) and Huis Marseille (Amsterdam), with the support of Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

Text from The Walther Collection website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

 

“When I work, it’s always a performance that I choose to undertake. It’s not a subject or an object; it’s one more human being. I link my body to this figure, because I want to translate its history.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Mémoire d'un ami' 2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Mémoire d’un ami
2000

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

“I see slavery as connected to all these questions of freedom, liberation, colonialism, and power. To me, slavery was the source, and I wanted to deal with it in a really deep way. My goal was to restage key images and figures in this history from King during the American civil rights movement to Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire during the independence and liberation of Africa. To my mind, all these struggles had one thing in common, and that is the history of slavery. And these figures were committed to the idea of freedom for black people in order to reclaim their culture and human dignity. This was the underlying concept of African Spirits.

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Angela Davis)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

 

Fosso’s quest to pay homage to historical, political figures that had fought for black civil rights became more precise in his black-and-white series, African Spirits (2008), produced in Patras’ former gallery in Paris. Marking a decisive shift in direction, each photograph is based on a specific image of one of Fosso’s heroes that he faithfully reinterpreted, casting himself as a different character each time. This involved creating elaborate backdrops, hiring costumes and imitating facial expressions. In one, Fosso interprets Martin Luther King Jr’s mugshot following King’s arrest in Alabama in 1956 for his leadership role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Others see him assuming the identities of African-Americans such as Muhammad Ali and the political activist Angela Davis (above), African leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire, who co-founded the Négritude movement to restore the cultural identity of black Africans, and Keïta.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Muhammad Ali)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)' 2008

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Self-Portrait (Malcolm X)
2008
From the series African Spirits

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

 

“We cannot accept, because of Chinese money, the destruction of our environment. We must also preserve it for our children and for generations to come. This is what I wanted to say in Lagos, in 2013, on the occasion of my first exhibition in Nigeria, where my series Emperor of Africa was also presented for the first time. In this series, Mao is the emperor of this Africa that the Chinese have come to invade. It is the question of economic independence which arises after that of political independence.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Emperor of Africa' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Emperor of Africa
2013
From the series Emperor of Africa

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

 

“I want to show the black man’s relationship to the power that oppresses him.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'ALLONZENFANS' 2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
ALLONZENFANS
2013

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

“Samuel Fosso’s Black Pope explores the way religion and its symbols and objects that are used to create the narrative of a papal figure are so removed from the African context and culture that it almost promotes this idea of whiteness and white supremacy. In the history of the papacy, there has never been a black pope, while today the greatest number of Roman Catholics is actually in Africa.”

Azu Nwagbogu, 2017

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

 

Next came the series Allonzenfans (2013), in which Fosso reflects upon how France conscripted men from its West African colonies to fight in the First and Second World Wars, followed by Black Pope (2017), above. For the latter, Fosso was awarded the Infinity Art Award 2018 from the International Centre of Photography in New York. At the Rencontres de Bamako in 2017, one enlarged image from the series was presented alongside contact sheets comprising dozens of shots of Fosso enacting the Pope. In total, 70 unique portraits are being produced, according to Patras. In some, Fosso is reading the Bible, praying or holding the papal ferula while standing on a meteorite – an evident pun on Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture, La Nona Ora (1999), an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite. The series alludes to Fosso’s hope that one day the Catholic Church will have a black pope. “I asked myself why there has never been a black pope, but now there’s been a Polish pope [John Paul II], a German pope [Benedict XVI] and now a pope from South America [Francis], so perhaps one day there’ll be a black pope,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'Black Pope' 2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
Black Pope
2017

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

“It’s neither the body that smiles, nor the body that cries, but a representation of life and all the misfortunes that strike us deep within. In the end, it’s about buried emotions that we ourselves create, and about exorcising my own resentment in the face of this situation.”

Text from the Samuel Fosso website / more images from the series can be found on the website

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

Fosso’s series, SixSixSix (2015) – presented at the National Portrait Gallery in 2017 – is the subject of a second new Steidl book due later this year. Over three weeks in a Parisian studio, Fosso posed shirtless, sitting on a chair, two or three times a day in front of a crimson backdrop, staring at the camera. This culminated in 666 unique Polaroid images that capture Fosso’s varying emotional states, from glum, sad, angry to happy. The classical framing of each self-portrait depicting Fosso’s face and shoulders, his body almost merging into the background, is identical. What differs is the emanating mood and facial expression, no two images being exactly the same.

The title of the series referring to the evil connotation of the figure 666 in the Bible, the work was made partly in response to the Central African Republic’s civil war from 2012-2014. “My house, studio and photography accessories were completely destroyed,” laments Fosso, who eventually managed to escape the violence and catch a flight to France as he had a French passport. Although his archive has been preserved by Patras and the negatives of his series are with Griffin Editions in New York, Fosso lost some of his early colour photographs when his studio was set alight. “Unhappiness has often struck my path – illness and war in my childhood, then wars and wars,” Fosso says.

Anna Sansom. “Me, Myself & I,” on the 1854 photography website 3 May 2020 [Online] Cited 23/10/2022

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962) 'SIXSIXSIX' 2020

 

Samuel Fosso (Nigerian born Cameroon, b. 1962)
SIXSIXSIX
2020
Polaroid

 

 

The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday 2 – 5pm
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

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30
Apr
22

Photographs: ‘Carnival attractions and circus photos’

April 2022

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Dryden Fair Circus' Dryden, NY, September 1890

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Dryden Fair Circus
Dryden, NY, September 1890
Cabinet card mounts
Images: 2 5/8 x 2 5/8″

 

 

One image depicts painted banners outside a tent; the other a crowd gathered around a stage, with a stand offering “Hot Taffy” in the background.

 

 

More fascinating circus photographs from the 1890s-1980s, some from the excellent Edward J. Kelty to supplement an earlier posting I did on the artist.

Please remember the photographs of burlesque and “girl revue” show fronts for next week’s posting (and the work of Susan Meiselas).

I have added bibliographic information for the circuses, photographers and sitters where possible. All photographs have been digitally cleaned and colour balanced.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are used under fair use conditions for the purpose of education and research purposes. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Barnett Bros. Three Ring Circus Sideshow. Morristown, NJ' New York: Century, 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Barnett Bros. Three Ring Circus Sideshow. Morristown, NJ
New York: Century, 1929
Silver gelatin print
11 x 19″

 

 

Sepia toned photo depicts the side show cast in front of their accompanying banners that feature “The Mexican Knife Thrower,” “Prof. Jackson’s Jazz Band and Minstrels,” “Mille Leatrice: Charmer of Reptiles,” and the “Venetian Glass Blower.”

 

The Barnett Bros. Circus was founded in Canada by Vermont native Ray W. Rogers in 1927. The circus showed both Canada and the United States. In 1929 the show closed it’s season in Easley, S.C. and began wintering in York, S.C..

In 1937 Rogers joined with financiers George and Minter Wallace and the circus changed the name to Wallace Bros. Circus for the seasons of 1937 and again 1941 to 1944. Ray Rogers died in 1943 and in 1944 the Wallace Bros. circus merged with the Clyde Beatty Circus.

Information from the York County Library

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ready for the Spec – Ringling Back Yard' New York: Century, 1926

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ready for the Spec – Ringling Back Yard
New York: Century, 1926
Silver gelatin print
7 x 10 1/2″

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus in New York's Mammoth New Coliseum in the Bronx' New York: Century, 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus in New York’s Mammoth New Coliseum in the Bronx
New York: Century, 1929
Silver gelatin print panoramic photograph
12 x 20″

 

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) moved to New York City following his service in the Navy during World War I, and opened up his first studio, Flashlight Photographers. Kelty was drawn to the circus and visited Coney Island often. In the summer of 1922, he transformed his truck into a mini studio, darkroom and living quarters, and traveled across America. His panoramic views captured the performers – human and animal – associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Sells-Floto, Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros. and other train, wagon and truck shows.

A typical day for Kelty would have him waking at dawn to set up cameras and tripods, gathering bearded ladies and sword swallowers, snake charmers and giants and shooting all morning. At times he had as many as 1,000 people in a picture. Afternoons were spent processing film and making proofs, taking orders and printing well into the night. The following day, he distributed prints, most often to circus staff and performers, before returning to his New York studio to work on his wedding and banquet photography business.

Kelty was hit hard by the Depression, and by 1942 had cashed in his glass plate negatives to settle a hefty bar tab. He moved to Chicago and, as legend has it, never took another photograph. His extant negatives eventually made their way into a Tennessee collection of circus memorabilia. Since Kelty used Nitrate-based film, which is unstable when improperly housed, the negatives self-destructed and were disposed of.

After Kelty died in 1967, his estranged family found no photographs, cameras or negatives among his belongings – just one old lens and a union concession employee ID card identifying him as a vendor at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. There was no evidence of the man who, along with his custom mammoth-size banquet camera and portable studio, documented America’s greatest traveling circuses.

Text from the Swann Galleries website

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Harold Barnes Featured with Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus Little Falls, N.Y.' July 17, 1935

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Harold Barnes Featured with Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus, Little Falls, N.Y
New York: Century, July 17, 1935
Silver gelatin print panoramic photograph
11 1/2 x 19 1/4″

 

 

The World’s Youngest Wire-Walking Wizard (1934)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967) 'Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Blacksmith Shop Dept.' 1938

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blacksmith Shop Dept.
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographer (English?) '"Lil" the Performing Elephant' c. 1920s

 

Unknown photographer (English?)
“Lil” the performing elephant
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver prints
4 3/4 x 6 1/2″

 

 

“Lil” interacting with pedestrians and a trainer in an unknown location, but probably in England. Interesting to note that the trainer is a bowler-hatted black man back in the 1920s.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Performing elephants' 1920s-1930s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Performing elephants
1920s-1930s
Gelatin silver prints

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Monkeyland' Early 1950s

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Monkeyland
Early 1950s
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
Minneapolis, June 1964
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
August 1961 Austin, MN
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Carroll’s Shows
Austin, August 1964
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
Dales Circus
August 1965
Gelatin silver print

H.H. Bennett Studio (H.H. Bennett photographer, American 1843-1908)
Grand Electrical Display
Moving Pictures
Positively Free From Flickering
See the Great
Valu Artillery Battle
Japanese Soldier Buried Alive
c. 1904
Gelatin silver print

 

 

The only reference I can find to the “Valu Battle” is an entry in the Bendigo Advertiser newspaper from Mon 9 May 1904 when commenting on the Russo-Japanese War, found on the Trove website. The reference to a Japanese soldier “buried alive” can only be a reference to this war.

 

The H. H. Bennett Studio is a historic photographic studio and photography museum located in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, United States. The studio building was built in 1875 by noted landscape photographer H. H. Bennett. It was operated by his family until 1998, when the studio was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Today the studio, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as a historical museum.

Henry Hamilton Bennett (January 15, 1843 – January 1, 1908) was an American photographer famous for his pictures of the Dells of the Wisconsin River and surrounding region taken between 1865 and 1908. The popularity of his photographs helped turn the city of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin into a major tourist destination.

For more information on H. H. Bennett please see the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Carnival light towers' 1950s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Carnival light towers
1950s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

Collins Shows possibly mid-late 1950s (right)
Frank W. Babcock United Shows September 1959 (top centre)
Other photographs are August 1969 (bottom centre), October 1970 (bottom left ) and the colour photo, early 1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Wild animals and motordromes and motorcycle "hell riders"' Various dates

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Wild animals and motordromes and motorcycle “hell riders”
Various dates
Gelatin silver prints

Art 3. Thomas July 20, 1968 Canada

Morris-Hannum
1959 (prints July 1965)

Wild Animals Alive
Nd

Queens of Speed
Thrill Arena
Lady Hell Riders
Nd (mid-late 1950s?)

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Astro Wheels and Roll-A-Whirl' Various dates 1920s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Astro Wheels and Roll-A-Whirl
Various dates 1920s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Carnival entrances' Various dates 1950s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Carnival entrances
Various dates 1950s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

James H. Drew World’s Fair & Exposition
1960s

Dobson Shows
Blue Earth, MN July 2, 1961

Gayland Main Entrance
August 1970

James H. Drew World’s Fair & Exposition
June 1965

Penn Premier Shows Main Entrance
1950s?

Bill Dillard Presents Myers Amusements Co.
August 1973

T. S. & W. T. Main Rides Shows Entrance
Nd

 

 

Unknown photographer (American)
James H. Drew Shows
Torture Show, Sadistic Atrocities First Time Here
See Them Suffer
How Could They Be Unfaithful
September 1959
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Shooting galleries and Prize Games carnival "fronts"' Various dates 1960s-1990s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Shooting galleries and Prize Games carnival “fronts”
Various dates 1960s-1990s
Gelatin silver prints and colour photograph

Long Range Shooting Gallery
February 1966

Prize Every Game
19th April 1998

 

 

Unknown photographers (American)
James E. Strates Shows Inc.,
1940s
Logo and Gelatin silver prints

Hitler’s Monsters(?) after Death
Hitler and Tojo: See The Now

c. 1946-1948

Dwarfs
1947

Magician banner
1948

Wild animals
1947

James E. Strates Shows trailer
1947

 

 

James E. Strates Shows Massive show passes
King of the Midways
1950s-1960s

Unknown photographer (American)
Zola Alive
1950
Gelatin silver print

Unknown photographer (American)
The Great Lester’s Museum of Magic
1952
Gelatin silver print

 

Jack Zipf and unknown photographers (American) The Great Lester c. 1950

 

Jack Zipf and unknown photographers (American)
The Great Lester
c. 1950
Gelatin silver photo collage print
8.5 x 10″

 

 

Photo collage print of The Great Lester and his performance feats, publication honours, and Museum of Magic

The Great Lester’s Museum of Magic

The LESTERS’ (Top right): Picture (right) by Jack Zipf, Staff photographer THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Penna.

MYSTIFYING and marvelous, THE GREAT LESTER’S MUSEUM offers magic and illusions which battle but entertain and fascinate. The refined and clean manner in which the show is presented has brought laudatory comment from the press and educators the nation over. Gorgeous girls add charm and intrigue to the mystifying fantasies. LOOK and LIFE magazines proclaimed Lester the greatest and top magician of the times. Always anxious to witness things which are mysterious, the crowd above is ready for the “come on in” invitation.”

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Monstrosities and oddities shows' 1880s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Monstrosities and oddities shows
1880s-1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Calcutta Monster sideshow “front”
c. 1957

Adolph-Rudolph Siamese Twins
27 years old
Born, Vienna, Austria
c. 1880s

 

Adolph and Rudolph were false Siamese (cojoined) twins traveling with P. T. Barnum in the late 1800’s. Rudolph had tiny malformed legs. It seems Barnum considered the affliction not unique enough in itself and thought there was more money to be made by rigging a “cojoined twin harness” with his twin brother.

Rudolph had malformed legs and considered the affliction not curious enough to command the amount of money that Siamese twins were making at the time, so he rigged a conjoined-twin harness to attach to his twin brother.

 

The Man with the biggest Feet in all the World
“Francisco Sandoval Rios”
Weight: 180 Height: 5’2″
Speaks Spanish Only
He Can Walk
Comes from Central America
Printed in U.S.A.
1970s

 

A Nicaraguan man in his 30’s who probably had Milroy’s disease, as did many who were billed as “Big Foot” people.

 

Arctic Whale
Clyde Beatty Circus
1950s

 

Clyde Beatty (June 10, 1903 – July 19, 1965) was a famed animal trainer, zoo owner, and circus mogul. He joined Howe’s Great London Circus in 1921 as a cage boy and spent the next four decades rising to fame as one of the most famous circus performers and animal trainers in the world. Through his career, the circus impresario owned several circuses, including his own Clyde Beatty Circus from 1945 to 1956.

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Calcutta Monster sideshow in Florida' c. 1957

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Calcutta Monster sideshow in Florida
c. 1957
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Primarily a snake show, boas were very rare and were a good draw for a sideshow during this era.

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Monsters shows' 1950s-1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Monsters shows
1950s-1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Calcutta Monster sideshow
February 1959

Giant Kongo Family Alive
September 1964

Hagen Bros. Circus
Alive! Giant Snakes Alive!
January 1962

 

Front and rear of the same sideshow trailer.

 

Hagen Bros. truck show that was on the road from 1949 until 1961. The circus was owned by Howard W. Suesz who also owned the “Clyde Bros. Circus”, which was an indoor circus, playing in buildings and stadiums.

The Clyde Bros. Circus played mostly Shrine dates in larger towns and the Hagen Bros was set up to show under canvas in smaller cities. The circus was managed by Robert Couls and Joe McMahon was the general agent. The Circus made Edmond Oklahoma it’s winter Home.

Anonymous text from the Circuses and Sideshows website [Online] Cited 09/02/2022

 

Globe Poster Corp. (printer) 'Hagen Bros. 3-Ring-3 Circus' between 1950 and 1961

 

Globe Poster Corp. (printer)
Hagen Bros. 3-Ring-3 Circus
between 1950 and 1961
Colour lithograph
71.44 x 52.07cm (28 1/8 x 20 1/2 in.)
The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Human attractions' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Human attractions
1960s-1970s
Gelatin silver prints

World’s Strangest Married Couple

Alive
Richard King
America’s Smallest Man
27 in tall

“Ronnie & Donnie” In Person

 

Ronnie and Donnie Gaylon were conjoined twins, born on October 28, 1951 and died on July 4, 2020, making them the world’s longest-surviving conjoined twins who worked in carnivals and circuses as a sideshow act from the age of three.

“The twins exhibited themselves in an air-conditioned trailer for most of their carnival show careers. They lounged about watching television while spectators paid to peer in the window to observe them conduct daily life. Old advertisements read: ‘Still a sensation! The Gaylon Siamese twins, the U.S.’s most visited attraction on any Midway.’

Ronnie and Donnie found a community among the sideshow performers and workers who ran the concession stands. Their friends included Johann the Viking Giant; Little Pete, who was billed as the smallest man in the world, and Margaret Pellegrini, an actress who starred as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz.

‘When we were on the road, it was all like one big family,’ said Ronnie to MLive in 2014.

As freak shows and carnival acts became taboo in the United States during the 1970s, the ‘Sensational Siamese Twins’ took their act to Central and South America where they performed as the headlining act in the circus doing magic tricks.

‘They were treated totally different down there,’ said their brother Jim. ‘They were treated like rock stars’.”

Tate Delloye. “World’s longest-surviving conjoined twins who worked in carnivals and circuses as a sideshow act from the age of three – and always insisted they ‘lived a good life’ – die together at the age of 68,” on the Daily Mail website 7 July 2020 [Online] Cited 10/04/2022

 

He weighs 800 lbs
You must See… to believe
ALIVE World’s Biggest
92 st
Fat Albert

 

T.J. “Fat Albert” Jackson (Kent Nicholson) (American, 1941-1988)

One of the last performing fat men in the United States was Kent Nicholson, who used the alias T.J. “Fat Albert” Jackson. He was born around 1941 in Canton, Mississippi. Although he was exceptionally large since birth, his parents taught him never to be ashamed of himself. His highest recorded weight was said to be 898 pounds. Albert’s wife Carrie and daughter Arkeba accompanied him on tour for nine months out of the year. He continued appearing at carnivals and fairs well into the 1980s, along with Eddie Taylor, a dwarf known as the World’s Smallest Man, and successfully avoided being shut down by politically correct reformers who found his show “insensitive”.

“HI! My name is T.J. Albert Jackson, better known as Fat Albert. I was born in the U.S.A. At birth I weighed 22 lbs. 6 ½ oz., and was 26 ½ inches long. At present I am 872 lbs. and 6′ 4 ½” tall and still growing! I also have a wife. She is 110 lbs., and 5’3″ tall. WE ALWAYS LIKE TO MEET NEW FRIENDS. GOD BLESS YOU. HEY, HEY, HEY! FAT ALBERT. Thank you.”

Albert died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on December 18, 1988.

Text from the Find A Grave website 24 Oct 2010 [Online] Cited 10/04/2022

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Girl Shows: Girl reviews and Rock 'N' Roll' 1960s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Girl Shows: Girl reviews and Rock ‘N’ Roll
1960s
Gelatin silver prints

Kitty’s Starlite Review
Nd

Vals Girls
July 1965

Mickie Girl Review
January 1962

Rock ‘N’ Roll
October 1960

 

Burlesque and “girl revue” shows at carnivals

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Century 21 Shows Presents Roxanne's Playgirls / Century 21 Shows Presents Broadway A-Go-Go' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Century 21 Shows Presents Roxanne’s Playgirls
Century 21 Shows Presents Broadway A-Go-Go

1960s-1970s
Gelatin silver print and colour photographs

 

Burlesque and “girl revue” shows at carnivals

 

Triangle Poster & Printing Company (printer) 'Kunz Century 21 Shows : world's largest motorized midway' c. 1966

 

Triangle Poster & Printing Company (printer)
Kunz Century 21 Shows: world’s largest motorized midway
c. 1966
Colour lithograph
71.12 x 55.56cm (28 x 21 7/8 in.)
The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library

 

 

Midway (fair)

A midway at a fair (commonly an American fair such as a county or state fair) is the location where carnival games, amusement rides, entertainment, dime stores, themed events, exhibitions and trade shows, pleasure gardens, water parks and food booths cluster.

The term originated from the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. It was the first world’s fair with an area for amusements which was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This area, which was concentrated on the city’s Midway Plaisance, included amusement rides (among them the original Ferris Wheel), belly dancers, balloon rides, and other attractions.

After the Exposition, the term midway came into use as a common noun in the United States and Canada to refer to the area for amusements at a county or state fair, circus, festival, or amusement park.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unknown photographers (American) 'Drugs and Weird Creatures carnival "fronts"' 1960s-1970s

 

Unknown photographers (American)
Drugs and Weird Creatures carnival “fronts”
1960s-1970s
Colour photographs

Drug Horror
Nitemares, Scream!

Drug Abuse
Can A Show Go To Far

See The
Weird Creatures
From Outer Space Alive
They’re Watching Us!
Weird Creatures
Menace from Outer Space

 

 

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23
Sep
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 3rd October 2021

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: Fresh Coons and Wild Rabbits, Harlem, NY, 1975; A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman and a Child in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1975; Clockwise, from top left: Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY, 1977; A Woman and Two Boys Passing, Harlem, NY, 1978; Deas McNeil, the Barber, Harlem, NY, 1976; A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY, 1976; Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY, c. 1976; A Young Boy from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1977; Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978; A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

 

To fit it in with other exhibitions closing soon, a mid-week posting on this strong exhibition – Dawoud Bey: An American Project – this time at the Whitney Museum of American Art, with further media images, audio and installation photographs. The first posting with my comments about the exhibition was at the High Museum of Art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Since the mid-1970s, Dawoud Bey (b. 1953) has worked to expand upon what photography can and should be. Insisting that it is an ethical practice requiring collaboration with his subjects, he creates poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race. Bey chronicles communities and histories that have been largely underrepresented or even unseen, and his work lends renewed urgency to an enduring conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera.

Spanning from his earliest street portraits in Harlem to his most recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Dawoud Bey: An American Project attests to the artist’s profound engagement with the Black subject. He is deeply committed to the craft of photography, drawing on the medium’s specific tools, processes, and materials to amplify the formal, aesthetic, and conceptual goals of each body of work. Bey views photography not only as a form of personal expression but as an act of political responsibility, emphasising the necessary and ongoing work of artists and institutions to break down obstacles to access, convene communities, and open dialogues.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project is co-organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Elisabeth Sherman, Assistant Curator at the Whitney, and Corey Keller, Curator of Photography at SFMOMA.

 

Room 800 Introduction

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls at Lady D's, Harlem, NY' c. 1976, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls at Lady D’s, Harlem, NY
c. 1976, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 in. (27.9 × 35.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

1

.
Harlem, U.S.A.

Bey began photographing in Harlem in 1975, at the age of twenty-two. Although he was raised in Queens, Bey was intimately connected to the neighbourhood: his parents had met there, and members of his extended family still made it their home. Drawn to the neighbourhood as both a symbol of and a wellspring for Black American culture, Bey wanted to portray its residents as complex individuals in images free of stereotype. These works all come from the series Harlem, U.S.A. (1975-1979).

Bey used a 35mm camera with a slightly wide-angle lens, which required him to get close to his subjects while grounding them in the cityscape behind them. His set-up was nimble and discreet, and let the artist carefully control the framing. In 1979, the series was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a museum dedicated to the arts of the African diaspora. Even at this very early moment in his career, it was critical to Bey that the works be shown in the community where they were made, allowing the people he was representing to have access to the work they inspired.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY' 1977, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Waiting in the Doorway, Harlem, NY
1977, printed 2019
From Harlem, U.S.A.
Gelatin silver print
14 × 11 in. overall (35.6 × 27.9cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Four Teenagers after Church Service, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). Clockwise, from top left: Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
Image courtesy the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

2

.
Syracuse, NY

For much of the 1980s Bey continued to use the same slightly wide-angle lens and 35mm camera that he had used to make Harlem, U.S.A. Increasingly attuned to the formal and expressive geometries of the camera’s rectangular frame, he explored new ways to make use of shadow and light to help define a dynamic and improvisational composition. These aesthetic choices were deeply informed by the photographers he knew and studied, most importantly Roy DeCarava (1919-2009).

In 1985 Bey had a residency at Light Work in Syracuse, New York. Residencies and the projects that grew out of them would become a key aspect of his career, allowing him to focus on one place or organisation and incorporate that specificity into his work. In this series of photographs made in Syracuse, Bey portrays the city’s Black community. He noted: “It was a deliberate choice to foreground the Black subject in those photographs, giving them a place not only in my pictures … but on the wall[s] of galleries and museums when that work was exhibited.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY' 1985, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY
1985, printed 2019
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Ask a Curator: Dawoud Bey: An American Project

Join assistant curator Elisabeth Sherman and curatorial assistant Ambika Trasi for an overview of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project. For more than four decades, Dawoud Bey has used the camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, power, and race, chronicling communities and histories that have largely been underrepresented or even unseen. The exhibition traces continuities across Bey’s major series, from his earliest street portraits in Harlem through his most recent project imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990; A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988; Max, Celia, Ramon, and Candida, New York, NY, 1992; Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL, 1993. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man at Fulton Street and Cambridge Place, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

3

.
Type 55 Polaroid Street Portraits

After more than a decade of using a handheld 35mm camera, in 1988 Bey chose to slow down his process, moving to a larger and more conspicuous tripod-mounted 4 × 5-inch-format camera to make this series of street portraits. Like many other photographers working at that time, Bey was increasingly concerned with the ethics of traditional street photography, “which privileged the photographer at the expense of the subject,” and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters.

He began openly approaching strangers he wished to photograph in order to give “the Black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.” He used Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that could be used later to make additional prints. Printing technologies have advanced in the decades since Bey made the photographs; the images here have been reprinted at nearly life-size, realising his original intention of creating a more heightened encounter between subject and viewer.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY' 1988, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY
1988, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 803 Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY' 1989, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY
1989, printed 2019
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2cm)
Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right: (clockwise, from top left) Two Boys, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man with a Bus Transfer, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Two Boys at a Syracuse Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Car in Backyard, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Young Man at the Bus Stop, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Four Teenagers After Church Service, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986; Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985; A Woman and Three Children, Syracuse, NY, 1985; Kenosha II, 1996; Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL, 1992; A Girl with School Medals, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Boy Eating a Foxy Pop, Brooklyn, NY, 1988; A Girl with a Knife Nosepin, Brooklyn, NY, 1990. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Hilary and Taro, Chicago, IL
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids)
30 1/8 × 44 in. overall (76.5 × 111.8cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Max, Celia, Ramon and Candida, New York, NY
1992
Three dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 67 7/8 in. overall (76.2 × 167.64cm)
Collection of Candida Alvarez
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

4

.
20 × 24 Polaroids

In 1991, Bey began using the 20 × 24-inch camera that the Polaroid Corporation made available to artists through its Artist Support Program. The camera was gargantuan and cumbersome – more than two hundred pounds and over six feet tall and five feet wide – and required two people to operate it, the photographer and a technician. Unlike the chance, and often brief, encounters with his subjects outside when using a 35mm camera, the Polaroid camera studio sessions offered Bey the opportunity to orchestrate all the conditions of the image and to have a more contemplative and sustained engagement with each sitter.

His earliest subjects were his artist friends; later he photographed teenagers that he met through a series of residencies at high schools and museums around the country. Over the course of Bey’s eight-year engagement with the 20 × 24-inch Polaroid camera, he increasingly explored the possibilities of multi-panel portraiture as a way of conveying a sense of the length of a portrait session as well as acknowledging the reality that no one image can fully portray an individual’s complexity.

 

Room 804 Lorna, New York, NY

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Lorna, New York, NY' 1992

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Lorna, New York, NY
1992
Two dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
30 × 44 in. overall (76.2 × 111.76cm)
Collection of Eileen Harris Norton
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL' 1993

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Martina and Rhonda, Chicago, IL
1993
Six dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroid)
48 × 60 in. overall (121.9 × 152.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

 

Reimagining History: Dawoud Bey in conversation with Jason Moran and Sarah M. Broom

On the occasion of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project, this conversation brings Dawoud Bey together with artist and musician Jason Moran and writer Sarah M. Broom to discuss their shared interest in specific histories and shared memories as the ground for their respective practices.

Inspired by Bey’s The Birmingham Project (2012) – a tribute to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL, in 1963 – and Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2019), which imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the final leg of the Underground Railroad, the three speakers reflect on how an artwork can become an act of commemoration and radical reinvention.

Jason Moran is an interdisciplinary artist, musician, and composer who draws on and celebrates the history of Black music and musicians such as James Reese Europe, Thelonious Monk, and Fats Waller, among others.

Sarah M. Broom is the author of The Yellow House, a memoir that weaves the story of her family in New Orleans across multiple generations.

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right, from Class PicturesKevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 2005; Simone, Kenwood Academy, Chicago, IL, 2003; Danny, Fashion Industries High School, New York, NY, 2006. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Kevin, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

5

.
Class Pictures

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and political. In Class Pictures (1992-2006) he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” The series originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high-school students; during residencies at other museums and schools around the country, he expanded the project to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made careful and tender formal colour portraits of teens. He then invited them to write brief autobiographical statements to accompany their images, giving his subjects voice as well as visibility. Many of the residencies also included a curatorial project with the students using works in the museums’ collections. While the photographs and texts are what remain of these projects, it is the collaborative undertaking that Bey considers the work of Class Pictures.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Jordan, School of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
2006
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 805 Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA' 2005, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Omar, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA (detail)
2005, printed 2019
From Class Pictures
Pigmented inkjet print
40 × 32 in. (101.6 × 81.3cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Braxton McKinney and Lavone Thomas, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

6

.
The Birmingham Project

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four Black girls – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley – inside. Two Black boys – Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware – were also killed in racially motivated violence later that day. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project (2012) commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event. The artist made formal portraits of Birmingham residents, pairing children the same ages as the victims with adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived.

Bey said of the experience making these works: “To think of someone striking such a young life down with impunity is a renewed horror each time a young person sits in front of my camera. To see the older men and women, having lived rich full lives, reminds me constantly of the tragically abbreviated lives of those six young people.” Bey made the portraits in two locations: Bethel Baptist Church, an early headquarters for the civil rights movement in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum of Art, which in 1963 was a segregated space that admitted Black visitors only one day a week. The resulting works both honour the tragic loss of the six children and make plain the continued impact of violence, trauma, and racism.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 32 in. each (101.6 × 81.3cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). From left to right, from The Birmingham Project: Braxton McKinney and Lavon Thomas, 2012; Betty Selvage and Faith Speights, 2012; Jean Shamburger and Kyrian McDaniel, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Installation view of 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17-October 3, 2021)

 

Installation view of Dawoud Bey: An American Project (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 17 – October 3, 2021). Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, from The Birmingham Project, 2012. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

 

Room 103 Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mathis Menefee and Cassandra Griffin, Birmingham, AL
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Pigmented inkjet prints
40 × 64 in. each (101.6 × 162.56cm each)
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
West 124th Street and Lenox Avenue, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

7

.
Harlem Redux

In 2014, Bey began the series of which this work is a part, Harlem Redux. It marked a return to the neighbourhood, where four decades earlier he had made his first critically acclaimed body of work, Harlem, U.S.A. If the earlier series is a love letter to the historic epicentre of Black community and culture in the United States, Harlem Redux (2014-17) is an incisive and elegiac look at its recent, rapid transformation and gentrification. Bey used a medium-format camera and made the pictures large scale and in colour, techniques common to contemporary photography practices, in order to signal that these changes are taking place now, and not in a historical moment.

This series commemorates sites of cultural significance in Harlem – such as the legendary jazz club the Lenox Lounge, which was demolished not long after Bey’s photograph was made – and makes evident the impacts of otherwise invisible socioeconomic forces. In his words, Harlem is now a neighbourhood “increasingly defined by a sense of ‘erase and replace’, wherein pieces of social and cultural history, along with memory itself, are routinely discarded.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY' 2015, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Young Man, West 127th Street, Harlem, NY
2015, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. overall (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 801 Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY' 2016, printed 2019

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, NY
2016, printed 2019
From Harlem Redux
Pigmented inkjet print
40 3/8 × 48 1/4 × 2 in. (102.6 × 122.6 × 5.1cm)
Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #21 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence II)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 54 5/8 in. (111.8 × 138.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

8

.
Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom. As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret. Bey’s photographs suggest the experience of the journey and the landscapes and buildings that may have provided protection along the way. Night Coming Tenderly, Black (2017) marks the first time in his career that Bey turned completely to landscape photography, removing the presence of the figure entirely.

Nonetheless, the images imply the perspective of the individuals whose invisibility was requisite for their safety. Their large scale and rich black tones invite the viewer to engage their own body in the act of looking, taking time for their eyes to adjust and moving around to register the entirety of each image. The series pays homage to two Black American artists, the photographer Roy DeCarava and the poet Langston Hughes. DeCarava’s influence can be seen in the lush and protective darkness of the prints, while the project’s title is drawn from the final couplet of Hughes’s “Dream Variations”: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie)
2017
from Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
48 × 55 in. (121.9 × 139.7cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee, in honour of Sondra Gilman
© Dawoud Bey

 

Room 806 Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)

 

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
44 × 55 in. (111.8 × 139.7cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

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18
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood’ at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 8th August 2021

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio' 1998 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio
1998 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke; Photo by Lee Stalsworth
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

I have always liked Mary Ellen Mark’s work.

Photographing subjects living outside of mainstream society, there is something of the spirit of Diane Arbus present in her photographs (see Tashara and Tanesha Reese, Twins Days Festival, Twinsburg, Ohio 1998, above) but pushed further, photographed with more sensitivity and compassion for subject matter.

As a photographer Mark blends into the background leaving her subjects to speak for themselves. Intimate moments, abandoned youths, institutionalised patients and child prostitutes are all documented with a sensitive eye. She does not judge.

Her work is not about developing novels ways of representation. As an artist it is not always about being “fashionable” or “contemporary” or coming up with new ways to represent things. With her subjects comfortable in her presence and before her lens, she records what she sees. She lets her subjects tell their own stories.

Sumeja Tulic states that the photograph Falkland Road, Mumbai, India (1978, below) “leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.” I don’t feel uncomfortable, do you?

I understand the circumstances of the photograph, I feel sadness that this is happening, I feel anger that this girl has to sell her body to men to survive. I feel the injustice of the world. I want there to be fairness and equity in the world not men controlling women… and I feel the empathy of the photographer towards her subject.

“I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Through her vision we might be able to access some of the many paths that life may take: from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten.

Unbounded steps on the precious path of life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Emine Dressed Up for Republic Day. Trabzon, Turkey
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark/The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1965, Mark was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey. She took this portrait in the courtyard of Emine’s home. Mark gave minimal direction, encouraging the girl to pose herself. With a hand on her hip, Emine mimics an older teen, but her unbuckled, dirt-stained shoes and hair loosening from its bow reveal markers of childhood. Calling this “the first strong photograph I made,” Mark captured a young girl’s eagerness to grow up.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico' 1965

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Women and Children in a Doorway, Mexico
1965
Vintage gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon' 1976 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Laurie in the Bathtub, Ward 81, Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon
1976 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

In 1975, Mark visited the hospital in which Milos Forman’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next (1975) was being shot, on assignment for The Pennsylvania Gazette. The living conditions inside Women’s Ward 81 greatly affected Mark, and she returned a year later, living inside the facility for 36 days. During this time, she made a body of work about the institutionalised patients. The exhibition includes one of these photographs: a girl, Laurie, submerged in a bathtub [featured image]. Her hair rests on the bathtub’s rim, and her eyes gaze out at Mark. The photograph excludes the institutional surroundings, transforming the frame into a scene of deceptive domesticity.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark approached her subjects with sensitivity and compassion. While photographing on the set of the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), shot at the Oregon State Hospital, Mark encountered young women living in a high-security ward for patients considered dangerous to themselves or others. Interested in getting to know the residents, Mark gained temporary permission to live in an adjacent ward. Laurie’s open expression in this portrait reveals little of the institutional environment, as Mark strove to capture the women’s inner selves beyond their diagnoses.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Girl Jumping over a Wall, Central Park. New York City
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Falkland Road, Mumbai, India' 1978

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Falkland Road, Mumbai, India
1978
Dye transfer print
20 x 24 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jean Rossall
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

Mark was not always successful in challenging stereotypes or developing novel ways of representation. An image depicting a woman applying lipstick to the lips of a girl sitting on a bed in a dimly-lit room is a jarring example of this. There is synchronicity between the unbuttoned buttons on the girl’s dress and her slightly open mouth. Mark’s caption states that she made the photograph in a brothel, where villagers brought the girl after her husband left her. The image is part of Falkland Road (1981), a book about sex workers in Bombay, India. Although Mark invested deeply in making the series, the work leaves one uncomfortable at the sight of girls and women performing their sexuality before her lens.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark spent three months photographing the brothels that line Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. Though she typically worked in black and white, for this project she used colour film. The vibrant saturation of the jewel-toned walls, curtains, and clothing heightens the intensity of this somber scene in which a teenage sex worker is made up for a client. Mark portrayed each of her subjects with dignity and empathy. Her photographs called international attention to the injustices faced by these overlooked young women.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York' 1979 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Jeanette and Victor, Brooklyn, New York
1979 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Shaun Lucas
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

 

This portrait of Jeanette and her boyfriend, Victor, captures the tenderness of young love. Mark met fifteen-year-old Jeanette when she was five months pregnant. Several times a week for the remainder of the teen’s pregnancy, Mark visited and photographed the couple and their families in Brooklyn, eventually documenting the birth of their daughter. “Photographing Jeanette was a great learning experience for me,” Mark said. “I learned that you can capture more intimate moments by blending into the background.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Runaway Girls on Pike Street, Seattle, Washington
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1983, Mark traveled to Seattle to document runaway and abandoned youths living on the streets for Life magazine. That assignment became the basis for Streetwise, a photographic series and film documenting the challenges, complexities, and occasional joys in the lives of these children and teenagers. Many of the youths Mark photographed in Seattle fled violent homes or were forced to the streets by poverty. In this image, two girls rest against a graffitied wall on Pike Street, a popular gathering place for the city’s homeless youth.

 

 

An icon of modern photography, Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) created compassionate and candid portraits of subjects living outside of mainstream society. From street children in Seattle to circus performers in India, Mark captured the lives and stories of individuals with empathy, humour, and candour. Through the lens of her camera, she cut through social and societal barriers to champion overlooked communities in the United States, India, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, and other countries.

Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood examines Mark’s depictions of girls and young women living in a variety of circumstances around the globe. While Mark photographed people from all walks of life, she was particularly interested in children. “I don’t like to photograph children as children,” Mark said. “I like to see them as adults, as who they really are. I’m always looking for the side of who they might become.”

Made possible by a recent donation from the Photography Buyers Syndicate of more than 160 Mary Ellen Mark works, this presentation includes approximately 30 photographs that span the artist’s 50-year career – from her earliest work in Turkey in the 1960s to images taken on Polaroid film in the early 2000s. Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood highlights some of the artist’s best-known series, including “Prom,” “Streetwise,” and “Twins,” offering viewers an intriguing glimpse into the artist’s wondrous and uncanny vision of girlhood.

Text from the National Museum of Women in the Arts website

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine' 1987 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Classroom, Kiev, Ukraine
1987 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lakeisha, South Dallas' 1988 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lakeisha, South Dallas
1988 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India' 1989 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Child Acrobat with Two Children in Peacock Costumes, Great Royal Circus, Himmatnagar, India
1989 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Jill and Jeffrey Stern
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

In 1968, during her first visit to India, Mark encountered the Indian circus. Her photographs of the events hint at strange and wondrous sights – including this fantastically costumed trio – but focus on the performers in their down time. Mark said, “I wanted to document the lives of the people when they weren’t performing… If I had photographed from the audience’s point of view, I would have just been a spectator.”

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys "R" Us Holiday Parade, New York' 2002 (printed later)

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Batman and Little Barbies at the Toys “R” Us Holiday Parade, New York
2002 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation
Photo by Lee Stalsworth

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio' 2002

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Idesha and Mikayla Preston, 8 Years Old, Idesha Older by 10 Minutes, Twinsburg, Ohio
2002
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Susan and Earl Cohen
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom' 2006

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Ursula Phillips and Gregg Whitlock Jr., Malcolm X Shabazz Prom
2006
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Frieder K. Hofmann
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California' 2008

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Lucas Nathan and Grace Bush-Vineberg, Palisades Charter High School Prom, Los Angeles, California
2008
Polaroid
28 1/4 x 22 in.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

From 2006 to 2009, Mark traveled the United States documenting high school proms. A rite of passage for American teens, the prom symbolises an impending transition to adulthood. Mark’s subjects exhibit a range of reactions; some pose seriously with their dates, while others affect more playful mannerisms. Mark used a six-foot-high, 240-pound Polaroid 20 x 24 Land Camera for these portraits. As with the smaller, more familiar Polaroid instant cameras, each shot produces just one unique print with no negative.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'J'Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited' Nd

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds, Streetwise Revisited
Nd
Gelatin silver print
© Mary Ellen Mark / The Mary Ellen Mark Foundation

 

 

The exhibition also includes one photograph, which Mark took the year before her death. In J’Lisa Looks Through the Blinds (2014), a child gazes through broken window blinds. The subject is the daughter of Erin Blackwell, better known as, Tiny. Mark first photographed Tiny in 1983 while working on her most influential body of work, Streetwise. When Mark met Tiny, she was a teen sex worker. By the end of Mark’s life, Tiny was a mother of 10 children and a recovered drug addict. Streetwise also became a film in 1984, documenting runaway children living on the streets of Seattle.

Text from Sumeja Tulic. “Mary Ellen Mark’s distinct depictions of girlhood reflect the diverse realities of that word,” on the 1854 website March 2021 [Online] Cited 03/04/2021.

 

Mark often took personal interest in those she met and photographed, and in some instances she formed lasting connections with her subjects. Mark’s involvement with Erin Blackwell (nicknamed “Tiny”) began in 1983 while filming the Streetwise (1984) documentary, when the girl was just thirteen. Over the next thirty-two years, Mark documented Tiny’s transition from teen runaway to sex worker, to drug addict, to mother of ten. In this image, Tiny’s daughter J’Lisa peers out of a window, her expression brimming with anticipation and skepticism.

 

 

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20005

Opening hours:
Exhibition hours
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm

National Museum of Women in the Arts website

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07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

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

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

.
Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

.
Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4 × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Few images of tenderness have such resounding power as this lush portrait of a young, stylish couple embracing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Note how perfectly their bodies fit together as he relaxes his shoulders, allowing her to easily wrap her arms around him protectively, declaring with the upward tilt of her chin and her direct gaze at us that they are together, united in love. Pictures as openly intimate as this one emerged from Bey’s deep and abiding interest in “wanting to describe the Black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

For more than four decades, renowned photographer Dawoud Bey has created powerful and tender photographs that portray underrepresented communities and explore African American history. From portraits in Harlem and classic street photography to nocturnal landscapes and large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium. The High Museum of Art celebrates his important contributions to photography as the exclusive Southeast venue for Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the artist’s first full career retrospective in 25 years.

Co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features approximately 80 works that span the breadth of Bey’s career, from his earliest street portraits made in Harlem in the 1970s to his most recent series reimagining sites of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The High has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Bey, who was commissioned in 1996 for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honour their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”

Bey, born in 1953 in Queens, New York, began to develop an interest in photography as a teenager. He received his first camera as a gift from his godmother in 1968, and the next year, he saw the exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Widely criticised for its failure to include significant numbers of artworks by African Americans, the exhibition’s representation of Black subjects nonetheless made an impression on Bey and inspired him to develop his own documentary project about Harlem in 1975. Since that time, he has worked primarily in portraiture, making tender, psychologically rich and direct portrayals, often in collaboration with his subjects. More recently, he has explored seminal moments in African American history through both portraiture and landscape.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project includes work from the artist’s eight major series and is organised to reflect the development of Bey’s vision throughout his career and to highlight his enduring engagement with portraiture, place and history.

Press release from The High Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Images courtesy of the artist and High Museum. Photos by Mike Jensen.

 

Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey
Photo: Sean Kelly Gallery

 

 

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey was born in Queens, New York, and began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Since then his work has been featured in exhibitions at numerous institutions worldwide, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.

His photographs are represented in collections worldwide, and his critical writings on photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. Bey received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” fellowship in 2017 and is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003' 2003

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003
2003
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Class Pictures series:

“It was a sort of snapshot of America through its young people at that particular moment. I started working in Chicago, then to New York, California and Florida. I wanted it to be geographically representative of the country. I’ve always been acutely aware that photographs tell you a lot less than what they do tell you. There’s certain things you would never know just from looking at them. You wouldn’t know from a portrait if someone is an only child, whether they have siblings, who their parents are. There’s a lot of information outside of a photograph. For Class Pictures, I thought that was important to bring that information into the construct of work and to create a space of self-representation. The young people who I photographed could give a sense of who they were.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006
2006
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and deeply political. In this series, he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” Class Pictures (2001-2006) originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high school students. He later expanded it to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made formal colour portraits of teens that attend, carefully and tenderly, to their gestures and expressions. He also invited them to write brief autobiographical statements, giving his subjects visibility as well as voice. Class Pictures can also be understood as a play on words, for in several cases, Bey chose to photograph students at elite private schools as well as teens from nearby, poorer neighbourhoods, bringing together these subjects in a single space.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Don Sledge and Moses Austin' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Don Sledge and Moses Austin
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mary Parker and Caela Cowan' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“Together the sitters for The Birmingham Project are simultaneously surrogates, mourners, witnesses, community, and agents of their own narratives. These subjects, then are not symbols but flesh and bone.”

 

In 2012, the project was created as a commission from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It memorialises the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four African-American girls were killed in the bombing, and two boys were later killed in riots that followed.

“I decided to make portraits of young African-Americans in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as those six young people who had been killed that day. I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence.” Bey continues, “It still felt somewhat complete. I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility. Then, I started thinking about making portraits of African-Americans in Birmingham who were the ages of the six young people would have been their age today. I begun pairing those portraits with those young people, which embodied 50 years.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Dawoud Bey’s large-scale photographs dive into art and literary history while trying to re-create the experience of slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

“I consider myself to be making photographs both in conversation with the history of photography and also the history of Black representation within photography. I wanted to use what I learned early on from looking at photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans and Mike Disfarmer – along with what I learned from Roy DeCarava, who was African American – and apply all of that to my own African American subjects as I began to build my vocabulary of picture-making. Because I’m African American myself, and because so few representations of African Americans are made from inside that experience, I set out to make that my space, to make work that operated at the level of those other photographs but with Black subjects, since those were the people I knew best. I also wanted to add something to the history of Black expressive culture. …

Night Coming Tenderly, Black continues my interest in visualising African American history by visualising the past in the contemporary moment. It takes as its conceptual touchstones the photographs of DeCarava, which are about the Black subject and often printed very darkly, some almost black. The blackness of his prints is a very beautiful and materially lush blackness. And the Black subjects inhabit this wonderful material darkness in a way that is not foreboding but is beautiful.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey. ‘Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)’ 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The photographs in this series are some of the most sensual and layered. These are sights that are at first confining then liberating when you understand them through the lens of history.

In their grandeur and mystery, they transform houses masked in darkness, bodies of water, and fields into an emblematic hope. A pristine fencepost and a homestead visible through the haze of the darkness; a wetland glistening in nightfall; a jungle thick with small trees; an image of Lake Erie, with the expansive sky and horizon forewarning the freedom that lies beyond.

 

The Underground Railroad

Night Coming Tenderly, Black contains 25 large-scale images of homesteads with wooded or grassy grounds that are believed to have formed the part of the said Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is an actual invisible web of routes and safe houses believed to have made the final way station for more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. But according to the artist himself, some of the images may be of actual Underground Railroad.

 

The meaning of the title

This series is also a tribute to poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967) and photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who each played significant roles in addressing the experience of African Americans by representing what DeCarava described as a world shaped by blackness. Bey was inspired by DeCarava’s incredible ability to print a spectrum of dark hues, making him picture landscapes of twilight uncertainty.

On the other hand, Hughes Langston wrote a poem titled Dream Variations in 1926, in which he yearned for a time when the black American worker, extremely tired by the daily hustle of hard labor and prejudice, might be truly free. However, this freedom, he imagined, would not be obtained in the glare of daylight, but instead under the ominous, protective cover of the night.

Upending a dominant literary conceit, blackness, rather than whiteness, functioned as an allegory for hope and transcendence. A night coming tenderly, black like me, (Hughes poem), helped the fight for racial equality and justice. The metaphor in the poem is central to Dawoud Bey’s series Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

 

Influenced by Roy DeCarava

Bey has never stopped waxing lyrical on the influence of the two figures that inspired his artistic career, especially Roy DeCarava, who was one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. The images he took were visually rich and redolent, and they pushed the aesthetic limits of photography…

Dawoud Bey noted that DeCarava’s images were characteristically printed in dark and rich colour range. In this context, the dark prints served as a symbol for black subjects and experience. Bey says:

“DeCarava used blackness as an affirmative value, as a kind of beautiful blackness through which his subjects both moved and emerged. His work was formative to my own thinking early on, and these dark landscapes are a kind of material conversation with his work, using the darkness of the landscape and the photographic print as an evocative space of blackness through which the unseen and imaginary black fugitive subject is moving.” …

The artist printed these images in a large size to encase the viewer and deliberately dark to reveal his subject matter: He took the photos of the sites in and near Cleveland associated with the Underground Railroad that guided the slaves to liberation.

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #12 (The Marsh)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #12 (The Marsh)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I ranged far and wideout there since there were expansive rural landscapes that looked as they might have in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscape and the history there have not been built over…

Some of the photographs, to the extent that we know, are actual Underground Railroad sites, and the majority of them are placed in the landscape that I identified in proximity to some of those locations, where I could make work that suggested the movement of fugitive slaves through the landscape…

I wanted the photographs to almost involuntarily pull you back to the experience of the landscape through which those fugitive black bodies were moving in the 19th century to escape slavery. So I had to learn, for the first time, how to make photographs in the kind of space…

It is a tender one, through which one moves. That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown's Tannery)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #17 (Forest)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #17 (Forest)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series:

“The photographs are meant to imagine or reimagine the path of self-liberation in Northeastern Ohio along what is called the ‘Underground Railroad’. Formerly slaved Africans, and then African-Americans moved towards freedom by way of Lake Eerie in Ohio. I began to think about the fugitive moving through this tender space of blackness.”

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The gelatin silver prints in Night Coming Tenderly, Black are moody and dim, overlaid with a sheen that is almost gritty in texture thanks to the coated paper they are printed on. The trees, fences, lakes, and buildings in the photos are initially obscured, purposefully made more difficult to see through Bey’s printing methods (which take advantage of the light sensitivity of silver particles as well as their ability to be chemically “toned” through the introduction of other substances). These images resist both reproduction and easy interpretation. That one also has to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, before slowly traveling over the terrain of each picture, reminds the viewer that the formerly enslaved people who traversed these sites often did so under cover of darkness. Darkness here is multivalent: its obscuring power, which prevents viewers from immediately processing the whole of Bey’s photographs, aided formerly enslaved people in their escape. The Underground Railroad, as the artist has noted, occupies a semi-mythological place in American history, and some of the places Bey photographs are only cannot be confirmed to have been stops on the Railroad. Like the experience of slavery, these places are unrepresentable. They are half-shrouded locales that evade being captured on a map or in a photo.

Though these photographs are dark, they are shot in the daylight and processed in such a way as to make them initially appear to be taken at night. They bring to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerily beautiful “Seascapes” series (1980 – ongoing), which are shot at night, the film exposed for different lengths of time in order to reveal how light plays even after dark. Yet there is no analogous method for bringing night to the day. Bey may make his photos dark, but this is achieved through processing and glazing the finish image, which occurs after the initial act of taking the photograph. How can we account for Bey’s artificial night?

The philosopher François Laruelle’s 2011 book The Concept of Non-Photography suggests one answer to this question. In essence, Laruelle starts with the premise that works of art cannot and do not represent anything, be it objects, thoughts, concepts, or movements. He posits art as an entirely self-sufficient engagement with the world (which he calls the Real), independent even of viewer and creator. Art is a machine; the medium, processes, and even the artist are its materials. What art “shows,” Laurelle argues, is only the world according to itself – which he terms the world-in-painting, the world-in-photo, and so on. He turns to photography in part because of its connection to modern scientific advancement and its attempts literally to illuminate the world “objectively.” Non-photography aims to re-conceptualise the photographic flash, which Laruelle associates with the flash of logos or reason, as a form of potential insurrection against its traditional association with illumination, and against photography’s constant reproduction of the asymmetrical dichotomy between light and dark.

Anna Mirzayan. “”Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America,” on the Art Agenda website December 15 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I was thinking about this narrative of the Black subject — the unseen Black subject, in this case — a fugitive slave moving through the darkness of night,” Bey explains. “And that darkness of night being the kind of Black space that would lead to liberation.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret, and Bey’s landscapes suggest, rather than document, the experience. Photographed by day but printed in shades of grey and black so deep they resemble nocturnes, the sensuous prints conjure a darkness at once ominous and lush. The series title, which is drawn from the last couplet of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variations” (1926), suggests a black night that envelops the fugitives in a darkness that serves as a protective embrace: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

 

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31
Jan
21

Review: ‘DESTINY’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2020 – 14th February 2021

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

“There is no excuse for ignorance, and you should make an effort to understand what happens in our world. How else can you be contemporary?”

.
Destiny Deacon

 

 

Embodied Ab/origin

This is a strong, powerful if rather repetitive exhibition by Destiny Deacon at NGV Australia, Melbourne. It’s like being hit over the head with a blakly ironic blunt object many times over, just like Aboriginal people have had both physical and cultural violence enacted upon them many times over since the arrival of the white man in terra nullius, a misnomer if ever there was one.

“Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture.” Aboriginalia is repurposed “historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes”, especially through the use of white-appropriated and conceptualised Blak dolly models that allegedly “possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.” Deacon photographs her reclaimed dollies using Polaroids from which colour prints are enlarged. Technically and aesthetically this means the photographs loose the uniqueness, size and aura of a Polaroid, perhaps not the best outcome for the use of the instant photography process in the making of memorable images.

The exhibition never strays far from its theme: that whities will never understand the symbols of racism perpetrated against Blaks embedded in white culture, unless they are pointed out to them. This concept is expressed through the silent voice of the archetypal Blak doll – dis/embodied, headless, amputated, tied up, trapped in a blizzard, over the fence, adopted – inserted placelessly into whatever scenario bigotry and racism rears its head, a snatched headline of dispossession and grief. While the Blak dolls are a paradigm that Deacon uses to represent the “collective lives” of Aborigines under the heal of a repressive regime, no idea is ever investigated fully for the viewer is only given a snippet of information. Holistically, these snippets add up to a terrible indictment of a dominant race lording it over a vanquished one.

“Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’.” Personally, I don’t feel any sense of postcolonial anxiety when I look at Deacon’s work. I just feel sad, very sad and guilty. Sad for the invasion, sad and guilty for the lives lost, dispossession, poor health, shorter life spans, racism and inequality, the ongoing discrimination and neglect. It’s like sticking the knife in over and over again. I so wish it was different. We KNOW, if we are informed sentient beings, the injustices that Aboriginal people suffered and continue to suffer. As Deacon says, there is no excuse for ignorance. But this is preaching to the converted. How many Joe Public will come and see this exhibition to be informed and to change their mind? As a friend of mine succinctly said, “Don’t come to this exhibition if you don’t want your racism challenged.” Many will not bother. For others this will be a confronting exhibition. And in all this reclaiming of Aboriginalia, all this confrontation, all this looking back, the dredging up of every little inequality – it leaves me thinking: what is the future, where is the positiveness, where is the forward looking cultural creativity of a great people?

I believe that this contemporary reconceptualisation of history from a singular standpoint – that of a unified Ab/original people represented by Blak dolly – is pure hokum. Aboriginal culture is made up of many mobs, many voices, reflecting the difference in backgrounds and experiences of different communities which come together in diversity to present “a statement about the unity of Aboriginal people, the defiant continuity of their cultural traditions and the personal search of many individual artists for their own Aboriginal identity.”1 In this exhibition, where are the homosexual Aboriginals, the lesbian Aboriginals, the transgender Sista Girls, or an investigation into interracial marriages that are loving and kind, instead of just more and more works that reinforce injustices (of history) in the here and now, through the dis/embodied plastic body of a silent doll. Where is the positivity for the future, for example an acknowledgement of the thousands of people that attended Invasion Day rallies this year?

Collectively, the exhibition powerfully questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation using repurposed Aboriginalia but today Aboriginal identities, like all identities, are in a state of transformation and flux. I look at the work of contemporary African artists and I see joy, hope, colour, movement, new identities, new sites of conceptualisation in the evolving struggle to engage new definitions of nationhood in relation to the autonomous, self-governing body. They acknowledge history, discrimination, the struggle for freedom, but are more forward looking, more engaged with the possibilities of the future rather than the deficits of the past expressed in the inequalities of the present. When is a positive voice of embodied (not disembodied, decapitated) Ab/origin going to emerge in contemporary art?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jennifer Isaacs. “Introduction,” in Jennifer Isaacs (ed.,). Aboriginality: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings and Prints. University of Queensland Press, 1996, p. 8.

.
Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All the other images, as noted, are iPhone images of the exhibition by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Destiny Deacon is one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists. In the largest retrospective of her work to date, DESTINY marks the artist’s first solo show in over 15 years. Featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, the exhibition includes the premiere of newly-commissioned works. Numerous early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon are also on display.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic worldview. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that ‘serious’ art can also have a sense of humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Abi see da classroom' 2006

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Abi see da classroom 2006 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Abi see da classroom' 2006 (still)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian, d. 2021)
Abi see da classroom (stills)
2006
10 min. sound
National Gallery of Victoria
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Abi see da classroom

For the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), Destiny Deacon and her long-time collaborator Virginia Fraser were given unrestricted access to the ABC’s archive, possibly the most significant collection of film and television held in Australia. By searching for any keywords that started with ‘Aborigin’ they were able to uncover a large assortment of videos.

In this installation, two CRT television screens play alongside each other, creating a mashup of noise and black-and-white moving images. The television on the right shows archival footage of Aboriginal children attending school, reading and playing musical instruments, while the television on the left presents a series of short clips of people in varying degrees of blackface. Switching from uncomfortable to distasteful, to overtly racist, the two channels juxtapose extreme versions of how Aboriginal people have historically been depicted on television. The footage is problematic and offensive; though, some might say ‘it was a different time’. The flashback to the 1950s prompts audiences to consider Australia’s legacy of televised racism and poses the question: how far have we actually come?

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Blak lik mi 1991 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak lik mi' 1991

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak lik mi
1991, printed 1995
Exhibition version printed 202
Colour laser print from Polaroid original
80.0 x 100.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Blak lik mi

Historically photography has been used as a tool to categorise and document Aboriginal people and their lives. In this work Destiny Deacon reclaims three images taken from a 1960s reproduction of a 1957 Axel Poignant photograph, from his photo essay, originally titled Picaninny Walkabout, later renamed Bush Walkabout. Deacon turns the colonial gaze back on the coloniser, photographing the photograph, and subverting her position as both subject and photographer.

The title Blak lik mi is a reference to John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me, in which Griffin took large doses of an anti-vitiligo drug and spent hour daily under an ultraviolet lamp in order to change the appearance of his skin so that he ‘passed’ as Black. Deacon’s work offers a window into her own interrogation about what constitutes her Aboriginal identity. On this, Deacon often jokes that she ‘took the c, out of black little c**t’. Rude words beginning with ‘c’, of which there are many, are often used as offensive slights, and Deacon recalls being taunted with these words as a child.

‘Blak’, unlike ‘Black’, was Deacon’s way of self-determining her identity, and originating a version of the self that comes entirely from within. The legacy of this work has been massive. Countless Aboriginal people now self-determine their identity as Blak, so much so that a Google search of ‘Blak’ returns a nearly all Australian Indigenous search result.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol) 1997 at left, Last laughs 1995 at centre, and Where’s Mickey 2002 at right, on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Me and Virginia's doll (Me and Carol)' 1997

 

Destiny Deacon (Australian, Kuku/Erub/Mer b. 1957)
Me and Virginia’s doll (Me and Carol)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original

 

 

Destiny Deacon began her professional career in photography in her late thirties as a way to express herself and her political beliefs. A self-taught artist, Deacon is primarily known for her photographs and videos where she subverts familiar icons with humour and wit. Often when Deacon photographs people she poses them like paintings. In this image, Deacon presents herself as Frida, staging the image as an homage to Kahlo’s 1937 painting Me and my doll.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Last laughs' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Last laughs
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In this image Deacon both reclaims and ridicules a genre of colonial photography, which historically depicted Aboriginal women as a highly sexualised or exotic ‘other’. In the nineteenth century it was commonplace for Aboriginal women to appear naked in ethnographic photographs that were mass reproduced and distributed as souvenirs around the world. In Last laughs three Blak women pose for the camera, limbs intertwined, performing their sexuality. Unlike in the colonial photography it references, the subjects in this work are the ones in control.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Where's Mickey?' 2002

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Where’s Mickey?
2002, printed 2016
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Where’s Mickey? plays on the Australian slang phrase ‘Mickey Mouse’, used to refer to something that is substandard, poorly executed or amateurish. Mickey Mouse is also the archetypal figure of an (often white) American consumerist culture. In this portrait of Luke Captain, Deacon pokes fun at the cartoon icon, suggesting his animated spirit has possessed the body of an Aboriginal Australian man, who is dressed as a woman.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Where’s Mickey? 2002, and at right Meloncholy 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Meloncholy' 2000

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Meloncholy
2000
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In 1970 African-American film director, Melvin Van Peebles released Watermelon Man, a movie in which a fictional, white insurance salesman wakes up one morning only  to discover he has turned Black overnight. The film is inspired by John Howard Griffin’s autobiographical novel, Black Like Me. In this image Deacon gives the watermelon a double meaning. The emptied peel of the melon cradles the doll’s body, kind of like the coolamon [Coolamon is an anglicised NSW Aboriginal word used to describe an Australian Aboriginal carrying vessel], but it is also a fruit that has been severed from its skin. She challenges the relationship between identity, skin colour, and how the world perceives and responds to both Blackness and Blakness.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Adoption' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Adoption (installation view)
2000; printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016; copy printed 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In this image Destiny Deacon has placed a collection of plastic, black toy babies into paper cupcake shells. Titled Adoption, this work directly references Australia’s shameful history of government-sanctioned Aboriginal child removal. In addition, Adoption also pokes fun at the deeply offensive misnomer of the nineteenth century that Aboriginal mothers were both infanticidal, as well as cannibals of their newborns. Deacon describes how she came to collect dolls, saying ‘in the beginning I wanted to rescue them, because otherwise they’d end up in a white home or something, somewhere no one would appreciate them’.

 

 

Destiny Deacon, one of Australia’s boldest and most acclaimed contemporary artists, will be celebrated in her largest retrospective to date opening at the National Gallery of Victoria on 23 November 2020.

DESTINY will mark Deacon’s first solo show in over 15 years, featuring more than 100 multi-disciplinary works made over a 30-year period, and including the premiere of newly-commissioned works created with the artist and her long-term collaborator Virginia Fraser. The exhibition will also feature a number of early video works created with the late Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi photographer Michael Riley and West Australian performance artist Erin Hefferon.

A descendant of the Kuku and Erub / Mer people from Far North Queensland and Torres Strait, Deacon is internationally known for a body of work depicting her darkly comic, idiosyncratic world view. Offering a nuanced, thoughtful and, at times, intensely funny snapshot of contemporary Australian life, Deacon reminds us that art can have both pathos and humour.

Melbourne-based, Deacon works across photography, video, sculpture, and installation to explore dichotomies such as childhood and adulthood, comedy and tragedy, and theft and reclamation. Her chaotic worlds, where disgraced dolls play out sinister scenes for audience amusement, subvert cultural phenomena to reflect and parody the environments around us.

Featuring early videos which mock negative stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians – Home video 1987, Welcome to my Koori world 1992, I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 – the exhibition will also feature an installation of a lounge room housing Deacon’s own collection of ‘Koori kitsch’. Deacon and Fraser’s highly acclaimed installation Colourblinded 2005 will also be on display. A powerful combination of photographs, sculptures, and video projections, this interactive work leaves the viewer both literally and metaphorically ‘colourblinded’.

“Featuring new NGV commissions and some of the highlights of Deacon’s 30-year career, the retrospective DESTINY pays tribute to an artist who has been challenging audiences for more than 30 years,” said Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria. “Destiny Deacon has never shied away from confronting our country’s difficult history and her work continues to make a vital contribution to Australian cultural discourse,” said Ellwood.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second right, Meloncholy 2000 and at right, Over the fence 2000
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Over the fence' 2000 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Over the fence (installation view)
2000, printed 2000
Exhibition version printed 2020
From the Sad & Bad series
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The nostalgic qualities in Deacon’s poignant photograph Over the fence reinforce a narrative familiar to many Aboriginal people. Two segregated dollies peer at each other across a suburban, wooden fence, leaving the audience wondering who is fenced in, and who is fenced out? The image illustrates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality towards race, which many Aboriginal people would recognise beneath this seemingly ‘friendly’ neighbourhood encounter.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer' 2004 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Peter Blazey, writer (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Peter Blazey, journalist, author and gay activist.

Blazey was born in Melbourne in 1939 and worked for The Australian, the National Times and as a regular columnist for OutRage, a gay magazine. He published a number of books, including a political biography of Henry Bolte, and was co-editor of the short fiction anthology, Love Cries. His personal memoir, Screw Loose, appeared after his death from AIDS in 1997.

“Peter was someone with a lion’s head of loose ends that could never fit into some ideologically sound and tidy space. Storyteller, mythomane, and one of the last great conversationalists in a country wary of the free flow of uncensored language, he was a comet who flashed his tail at everyone.” – Tim Herbert, OutRage, 1997.

Text from the University of Melbourne Scholarship website [Online] Cited 29/01/2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Portrait of Gary Foley, activist' 1995 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Portrait of Gary Foley, activist (installation view)
1995, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Often in Deacon’s portrait photography, sitters are posed like those in paintings. In these three images, Deacon presents Gary Foley, an Aboriginal Gumbainggir activist, academic, writer and actor; Peter Blazey, the late journalist, author and gay activist; and Richard Bell, and activist and artist of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities. All three men are posed in a near identical way to the 1932 painting The boy at the basin by Australian landscape and portrait artist William Dobell.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back (installation view)
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'My boomerang did come back' 2003

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
My boomerang did come back
2003, printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image is a reference to Charlie Drake’s 1961 song ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’. Drake sings in a halting and staccato manner, wildly grunting ‘ho’ and ‘ugh’ as he narrates the story of an effeminate young Aboriginal boy named Mac, who has been banished from his tribe because he is ‘a big disgrace to the Aborigine [sic] race’ because his ‘boomerang won’t come back’. A single hand (Lisa Bellear’s) reachers upward, grasping a bloody boomerang in front of a black background. Deacon suggests that Drake, whose song is at best a kind of vaudevillian blackface, has assassinated himself.

 

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Hear come the judge (installation view)
2006
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Deacon references the 1968 comedic funk song ‘Here Comes the Judge’ by American entertained Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham, which is regarded by many to be the first recorded hip-hop song. Markham’s lyrics ridicule the formalities of courtroom etiquette by painting a picture of a make-believe world where justice is in the hands of Black people. Deacon’s photograph uses humour to disarm and interrogate something that is inherently unfunny. The Blak / Black judge is only comical because it is supposedly unbelievable, a notion Deacon challenges audiences to reconsider.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Border patrol' 2006 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Border patrol (installation view)
2006, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“And they figured a dispossessed people as racial types, suggesting that authentic Aboriginal identity was purely tribal and something to be trivialised as curios and knick-knacks…

But the figurines of a racialised people, of warriors, beautiful girls and adorable children, took this interest into a different realm of curiosity, namely objectification.

.
Elder women, who were often savagely vilified in popular newspapers as “unsightly frights”, never appear among these figurines. Lithe young women, deep-chested warrior tribesmen, dignified elder “noble savages” and sweetly smiling “piccaninnies” were particularly prized. In the early prints of artists Peg Maltby and Brownie Downing, endearing Aboriginal children are orphaned by the bush rather than being at home in the country of their birthright. They find playmates with baby native animals but are divested of family and community. They seem to be crying out for the care that only the state, it was thought, could properly provide. …

The figures found in Aboriginalia evoke a troubling presence, in which visual appeal, sometimes libidinal, stands in for the profound ambivalence at the heart of settler-colonialism, which has benefited from the violent dispossession of a people.

While townships were campaigning to exclude Aboriginal kids from schools, families from housing and adults from pubs, these nostalgic, perplexing images were being taken into white homes in the form of bric-a-brac.

.
Sociologist Adrian Franklin has described the “semiotic drenching” of souvenirs with Aboriginal motifs and argues “these objects became ‘repositories of recognition’ of what was often entirely absent, denied or undermined in the everyday political and policy spheres”.

These objects, he suggests, gave some expression to the sadness surrounding dispossession and removal. In more recent years, Indigenous artists such as Destiny Deacon and Tony Albert have repurposed Aboriginalia.

Thus it is finally being historicised, interpreted and recast through Aboriginal eyes.

.
Deacon uses dolls and kitsch ephemera from her own extensive collection to turn the tables on the uncritical consumption of racist imagery. In one of her best backhanders, she puts plastic, black babies in cupcake shells and titles the photograph Adoption.”

Extract from Dr Liz Conor. “Friday essay: the politics of Aboriginal kitsch,” on The Conversation website March 3, 2017 [Online] Cited 29/01/2021 CC

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right Border patrol 2006
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at second left, Heart broken 2006, and at fourth from left,
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Heart broken' 2006

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Heart broken
2006
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ask your mother for sixpence' 1995

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ask your mother for sixpence
1995
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist © Destiny Deacon

 

 

This image takes its name from a cheeky nursery rhyme Deacon recalls learning when living in Port Melbourne as a child. The playful limerick teases audiences with the threat of a rude word: ‘Ask your mum for sixpence, to see the big giraffe, pimples on his whiskers, and pimples on his – ask your mum for sixpence’. The work was originally displayed in juxtaposition with a photograph of a half-built Crown Casino in Melbourne, challenging audiences to consider the dynamic between the main character, a Blak woman working in service sweeping up coins, and the multinational gambling corporation.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley’s I don’t wanna be a bludger 1999 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020. Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon and Michael Riley's 'I don't wanna be a bludger' 1999

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 with at left, Whitey’s watching 1994; and at right, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004)
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at centre, Moomba princess and Moomba princeling (both 2004), and at right Thought cone (A-F) 1997
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princess' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princess (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Moomba princess and Moomba princeling show Deacon’s young niece and nephew dressed in the robes and regalia of Moomba sovereigns. Moomba is an annual parade and community festival held in Melbourne, which each year crowns a ‘Moomba monarch’. The portraits reference Elizabethan Armada portraiture, a style of painting which first depicted the Tudor queen seated in royal garb and surrounded by symbols against a backdrop depicting the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. At first glance, the Moomba portraits can be read as innocent children playing dress ups, but by presenting two Aboriginal models in this type of colonial ceremonial dress, Deacon challenges audiences to consider the legacy and impact of British invasion.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Moomba princeling' 2004 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Moomba princeling (installation view)
2004, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Thought cone (A-F) 1997 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Thought cone (A-F) (installation view details)
1997, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Whitey's watching' 1994

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Whitey’s watching 1994 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For more than thirty years Destiny Deacon has forged a path as an international artist with a distinct brand of artistic humour unlike any other. Descended from the Kuku and Erub / Mer peoples of Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait, Deacon has been living and working in Melbourne since she arrived here as a small child.

Deacon’s work sits in the uncomfortable but compelling space between comedy and tragedy, and contrasts seemingly innocuous childhood imagery with scenes from the dark side of adulthood. She actively resists interpretation and so called ‘art speak’, instead choosing to let her work speak for itself. The more we look, the greater we understand that the world Deacon conjures is a complex one. Drawing from her vast collection of Aboriginalia, Deacon interrogates the way in which Aboriginal people have been, and continue to be, misrepresented within popular culture. Decapitated, amputated, pants down, tied up, trapped in a blizzard or flying through the air, the characters in Deacon’s world both reflect and parody the one in which we live.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, Regal eagles (A-B) 1994
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Regal eagles (A-B)' 1994 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Regal eagles (A-B) (installation views)
1994, printed 2020
Lightjet print from Polaroid original
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Academic, historian and Indigenous rights activist Marcia Langton once described Destiny Deacon’s work as a ‘barometer of postcolonial anxiety’. This diptych combines two congruent images: the photo on the left shows a pair of young, white boys holding plastic Union Jacks and eating in front of a disregarded, spread-eagled Black doll. The image on the right shows another Black dolly in a Koori flag T-shirt pinned onto a board surrounded by appropriated Aboriginalia. As always in Deacon’s work, the dolls possess a liveliness and personality, making the violence enacted on to them all the more confronting.

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Tom Ross

 

 

Adapting the quotidian formats of snapshot photography, home videos, community TV and performance modes drawn from vaudeville and minstrel shows, Deacon’s artistic practice is marked by a wicked yet melancholy comedic and satirical disposition. In decidedly lo-fi vignettes, friends, family and members of Melbourne’s Indigenous community appear in mischievous narratives that amplify and deconstruct stereotypes of Indigenous identity and national history. For Melbourne Now, Deacon and Fraser present a trailer for a film noir that does not exist, a suite of photographs and a carnivalesque diorama. The pair’s playful political critiques underscore a prevailing sense of postcolonial unease, while connecting their work to wider global discourses concerned with racial struggle and cultural identity.

Text from Exhibition: ‘Melbourne Now’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Part 1

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's Melbourne Noir 2013

Installation view of 'DESTINY' at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser's 'Melbourne Noir' 2013

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Melbourne Noir 2013
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

Digital prints, Digital prints on plywood, wood, gelatin silver photographs, high-definition video, sound
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing in the foreground Snow storm 2005
Photos: Tom Ross

Colour Blinded

Man & doll (a)
Man & doll (b)
Man & doll (c)
Baby boomer
Back up
Pacified
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Virginia Fraser (Australian) 'Snow storm' 2005 (installation vie

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Virginia Fraser (Australian)
Snow storm (installation views)
2005
Golliwogs, polystyrene and perspex cube
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Man & doll' 2005 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Man & doll (installation view details)
2005, printed 2020
Lightfoot print from orthochromatic film negative
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Tom Ross

 

Wall text

 

Wall text

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing Destiny Deacon and Virginia Fraser’s Koori lounge room 2021
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Ebony and Ivy face race' 2016 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Ebony and Ivy face race (installation view)
2016, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Sand minding / Sand grabs (installation views)
2017, printed 2020
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

More than half of all mining projects in Australia are in close proximity to Indigenous communities. This relationship has long been, and continues to be, the source of much debate. In this work Deacon condemns the violence committed by the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its people. A latex-gloved hand makes an incision in a bag of soil, destructively releasing the sand inside. The white hand grasps the contents and takes a handful. Two disturbing characters look on with a seemingly perplexed expression, perhaps inviting us to consider the consequences of mining.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left, Arrears windows 2009; at centre, Sand minding / Sand grabs 2017; and in the background Koori lounge room 2021

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Arrears windows' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Arrears windows
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
60.0 x 80.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Gazette

Gossip walks
Look out!
Action men
Arrears windows
Come on in my kitchen

In 2009 Deacon produced the series Gazette. These now eerily familiar scenes appear like vignettes, offering windows into the lives of those living inside Melbourne’s public housing towers. Recent scenes from the news are echoed in Arrears windows, which shows Deacon’s collection of black and brown dolls crammed into yellow plastic tubs. The series draws attention to the individual lives and struggles of residents within these buildings, while also reminding viewers of the often-overcrowded conditions these residents live in. Each image brings to light Deacon’s idiosyncratic take on current global and national events with her semi-autobiographical edge.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Action men' 2009

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Action men
2009
From the series Gazette
Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper
80.0 x 60cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly eyes' (A-H) 2020 (installation view detail)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly eyes (A-H)
2020
Lightjet print
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A doll with piercing blue eyes and dark brown skin is among the unblinking, manic faces that make up Destiny Deacon’s most recent series, Dolly Eyes, 2020. While people of colour can and do have an array of different-coloured eyes, blue eyes are often seen as a signifier of whiteness. Deacon’s tightly cropped images reduce these dollies to just eyes and skin tone, highlighting the problematic nature of using physical features to signify of racial identity.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Dolly lips (A-E)' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Dolly lips (A-E)
2017, printed 2020
Lightjet print
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Dolly lips extracts surprising expressions from some of Deacon’s regular models. Some of these dolls have been posing for Deacon for decades, but these sensitive and suggestive images show them in a new light.

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon's 'Smile' 2017

 

Installation view of Destiny Deacon’s Smile 2017 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Smile' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Smile
2017
Exhibition version printed 2020
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2016
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Deacon undercuts our trust in the innocuous smiley face emoji and prompts the viewer to look more closely at the everyday symbols that proliferate in our lives. The dolls appear decapitated, but perhaps even more ominously the disembodied heads are actually poking through a yellow sheet. Deacon uses an op-shop boomerang to complete the smile. When broken down, the individual features that make up the happy face are all racially charged. However, when viewed at a glance, all people see is the familiar smiley face emoji.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies' 1998

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Oz Games – Under the spell of the tall poppies
1998
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Deacon produced Oz, a series of works parodying the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the original film, Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farmhouse in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. In this series, Deacon transforms the journey undertaken by the original characters into a contemporary recognition of Aboriginality. Dorothy, now known as the ‘traveller’, appears alongside a ‘sad’ tin man, a ‘slow’ scarecrow in blackface and a ‘scared’ cowardly lion. The character’s quest for self-realisation resembles the personal journeys many Aboriginal people go through every day.

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation views of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at right, On reflection 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'On reflection' 2019

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
On reflection
2019
Lightjet print
100.0 x 80.0cm
Collection of the artist
© Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Escape – From the whacking spoon' 2007

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Escape – From the whacking spoon
2007
Lightjet photograph from Polaroid photograph
80.0 x 100.0cm
Courtesy of the artist
© Destiny Deacon

 

 

Whacked

Escape – from the whacking spoon
Whacked to sleep (B)
Fence sitters (A)
The goodie hoodie family
Waiting for the bust
Whacked & coming home

2007, printed 2020
Lightjet print

This series of photographs references familiar imagery from news media and contemporary culture, making a link between themes of terrorism, surveillance, suppression and Australian nationalism. Playing with stereotypes, Deacon and her friends have masked themselves in long johns with disturbing painted faces. The images use sinister humour to highlight shared similarities between fanatics around the world.

 

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

Installation view of 'Postcards from Mummy' 1998

 

Installation view of Postcards from Mummy 1998 on display in DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020

 

Installation view of DESTINY at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 2020 showing at left Dolly eyes (A-H) 2020; and at right, Blak 2020
Photo: Tom Ross

 

 

Throughout her career, this cast of characters has become central to Deacon’s practice, as has her subversive use of language. For Deacon, language, and in particular spelling, has provided an opportunity to reframe and assert her identity on her own terms. In its deceptive simplicity the recasting of ‘Black’ to ‘Blak’ resonated with Aboriginal communities everywhere. What started as Deacon asserting her personal identity as a Kuku / Erub / Mer woman, has since morphed into a Community-owned declaration of Aboriginal pride. It is fitting to conclude this exhibition with a singular photographic work: the letters b-l-a-k emblazoned across the surface with seventeen of Deacon’s regular dolly models.

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957) 'Blak' 2020 (installation view)

 

Destiny Deacon (Kuku/Erub/Mer b. Australia 1957)
Blak (installation view)
2020
Light jet print
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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17
Oct
20

Exhibition: ‘William Wegman: Being Human’ at Fotomuseum den Haag, the Netherlands

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2020 – 3rd January 2021

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Untitled (Three Legged Dog)' 1974

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Untitled (Three Legged Dog)
1974
Gelatin silver print
Collectie Kunstmuseum Den Haag
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Concept

Pathos

Portrait
Polaroid
Performance

History
Humour
Humanity

Master / artist

Human / being

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

People like us / People we like

I didn’t always dress up the dogs. My first dog Man Ray was spared anthropomorphic adornment. That was left for Fay Ray. Fay and I came to a mutual realisation that she had a desire to be observed. Anyway, I found myself looking at her for long periods of time. Then one day, after some looking, I made her tall. Before long I was blurring the pedestal with fabric and creating the illusion of the anthropomorphic vertical. With the birth of Fay’s puppies, my cast of characters grew. Fay’s puppies – Chundo, Battina and Crooky – grew up watching their famous mother, and when it came their turn they were not taken by surprise. They knew what to do.

 

Colour fields

I began by ignoring colour, using the colour Polaroid film as though it were black and white. I distrusted colour. Sensuous, romantic, elusive colour. Colour was … well … colourful. In fact, the first few days with the Polaroid camera I made only black-on-black pictures. Man Ray under a black cloth against a black background. Polaroid film is very beautiful within a limited range. Man Ray was too dark for this film but Fay was perfect. With Fay I began to explore colour and light.

 

Weimaraners

No other breed that I am aware of is as conducive to the illusion of transformation as Weimaraners. Weimaraners are called ‘grey ghosts’. Their fur gives off an almost iridescent glow. They inhabit their forms in a strange way, never appearing to solidify into themselves as, say, a lab, a collie or a bulldog does. When you photograph a collie, you get a collie.

 

Tales

One day my assistant Andrea stood behind Fay to adjust her dress and she gestured out to me with her hand. Her long human arm appeared as Fay’s. The illusion startled me. A miracle. Kind of creepy. Fay was part human. I thought of cartoons and mythology, superheroes and Egyptian gods. Next thing you know, Batty’s son Chip was playing the flute.

 

Sit! / Stay!

The dogs have an obvious pride in what they do. They can sense the feeling in the room when they are working. If it’s a great picture or a difficult picture, they can feel what happens because everyone stops and goes ‘Wow!’ Fay was particularly agile and for her I concocted a series of anatomically challenging poses. I came to understand her balance and points of physical tension. Fay liked the challenge of a difficult pose. I think she liked to impress me.

 

Vogue / Style

I have a very awkward relationship with fashion. I’m a little bit timid about it. This isn’t the attitude of the typical fashion photographer. Fortunately, my Weimaraners are the perfect fashion models. Their slinky elegant forms are covered in grey, and grey, as everyone knows, goes with anything.

 

Nudes / Physique

Up close, unadorned, standing, sitting or lying before the eye of the big camera, the dogs become landscapes, a forest of trees, a topography of hills and valleys, earth and boulders, in a shoreline of endless interconnectivity.

 

Cubists

Since 1972 I have had a habit of keeping a white box in the studio. If I can’t think of anything to do, the box is a good place to start. The original work I made with this box alluded to Sol LeWitt’s minimal sculptures of the 1960s, but this is now a fading memory. I use a box the way a philosopher uses a chair, as a physical object representing hypothetical questions: ‘How many ways can a dog fit on a box?’, ‘How many dogs can fit in a box?’, ‘Around a box?’ And on and on. On these square wheels, round questions keep rolling.

.
William Wegman

 

 

Fotomuseum – William Wegman from Kunstmuseum Den Haag on Vimeo.

 

 

Many artists have a muse. Movie directors perfect their craft working repeatedly with their favourite actors, while choreographers create some of their best works for a specific dancer. In some cases, the muse is a silent partner, the object of an artist’s intense and obsessive gaze; in others the work emerges from a partnership so close that it is unclear which is the artist and which is the muse. For the American artist William Wegman (b. 1943), his muses have been generations of the Weimaraner breed. The inspiration came in 1970 when his first dog, Man Ray – named after Wegman’s favourite artist – sat himself in front of the camera. Instead of sending his faithful companion to his bed, Wegman seized the moment, and the rest is history. Wegman was already a well-known artist, but it is his numerous, human-like portraits of his ever-expanding cast of Weimaraners that have brought him worldwide fame. In partnership with renowned guest curator William A. Ewing and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Fotomuseum Den Haag presents a major survey of no fewer than four decades of Wegman’s wide-ranging collaboration with Man Ray, Fay Wray, Candy and their descendants.

Press release from the Fotomuseum den Haag

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Constructivism' 2014

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Constructivism
2014
Pigment print
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Dog Walker' 1990

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Dog Walker
1990
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Farm Boy' 1996

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Farm Boy
1996
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Tamino with magic flute' 1996

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Tamino with magic flute
1996
Colour Polaroid photograph
61.0 x 50.8cm
Collection of the artist
© William Wegman

 

 

In Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night persuades Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina from captivity under the high priest Sarastro; instead, he learns the high ideals of Sarastro’s community and seeks to join it. Separately, then together, Tamino and Pamina undergo severe trials of initiation, which end in triumph, with the Queen and her cohorts vanquished. The earthy Papageno, who accompanies Tamino on his quest, fails the trials completely but is rewarded anyway with the hand of his ideal female companion, Papagena.

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'George' 1997

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
George
1997
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Wall' 1997

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Wall
1997
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Cut to Reveal' 1997

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Cut to Reveal
1997
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Feathered Footwear' 1999

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Feathered Footwear
1999
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Casual' 2002

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Casual
2002
Colour Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

 

William Wegman: Being Human

Many great artists have a muse. Sometimes this muse is a silent partner, the object of an artist’s obsessive gaze. At other times the relationship is a deeply collaborative act.
The history of photography has its own celebrated cases: Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Renée Perle, for example, or Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe. For William Wegman, whose muses have been all these things and more, inspiration arrived almost half a century ago, when a Weimaraner who had joined the family showed both aptitude and passion for performing before the camera. In honour of one of Wegman’s most admired modern artists, he was named Man Ray, the first in a line of highly spirited performers.

William Wegman is a renowned and versatile American artist who resists an easy classification as he moves adroitly between painting, drawing, photography, film, video, books and performances. Although his famed Weimaraners are not featured in all these media, they reside at the core of his art. In the late 1970s Wegman found, in the large-format Polaroid print, his ideal means of expression – the perfect print size, exquisite colour and an ‘instantaneity’ which allowed for spontaneity and beneficial ‘accidents’. When his Polaroid chapter finally came to an end, the artist shifted to working digitally, rediscovering in this new medium what was essential to him about the Polaroid process: the print size, expressive colour and the studio set-ups.

Wegman’s world may revolve around his dogs, but his choice of sets, costumes and props betray a fascination with art history – Cubism, colour field painting, Abstract Expressionism, Constructivism, Conceptualism and the like. The diverse fields of photography also intrigue the artist, and we find in his work landscapes, nudes, portraits, reportage and fashion.

And yet, is it all really about dogs? Being Human suggests otherwise: these performers are us and we are them: housewife, astronaut, lawyer, priest, farm worker, even a dog walker! Some pose proudly and with confidence, others express doubts or vulnerabilities. It’s all about being human.

William A. Ewing. Exhibition curator

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Upside Downward' 2006

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Upside Downward
2006
Color Polaroid
© William Wegman. Courtesy of the artist

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'From the spirit world' 2006

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
From the spirit world
2006
Colour Polaroid photograph
61.0 x 50.8cm
Collection of the artist
© William Wegman

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'On base' 2007

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
On base
2007
Colour Polaroid photograph
61.0 x 50.8cm
Collection of the artist
© William Wegman

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Cursive Display' 2013

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Cursive Display
2013
Pigment Print
Courtesy of the artist
© William Wegman

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'Contact' 2014

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
Contact
2014
pigment print
111.7 x 86.4cm
Collection of the artist
© William Wegman

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) 'V' 2017

 

William Wegman (American, b. 1943)
V
2017
Colour polaroid photograph
Collection of the artist
© William Wegman

 

 

Fotomuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Den Haag website

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27
Sep
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘L’equilibriste, André Kertész’ at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours Part 2

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 27th October 2019
Visited September 2019 posted September 2020

Curators: Matthieu Rivallin and Pia Viewing

 

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Nageur sous l’eau, Esztergom
Underwater swimmer, Esztergom
1918
Contact original

 

 

“”… especially haptic qualities are demanded of the deconstructionist performer, spectator, and reader; not to follow optically the ‘line of ideas’ in the text or in a picture and see only the representation proper, the surface, but to probe with the eyes the pictorial texture and even to enter the texture.”69 Such “touching” with the eye did not lead to a secure tactile experience of being firmly planted on the ground, for all grounds, all foundations, were suspect, however construed. We are, as Nietzsche knew, swimming in an endless sea, rather than standing on dry land. To “touch” a trace, groping blindly in the dark, is no more the guarantee of certainty than to see its residues.”

.
Gandelman, Claude. ‘Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts’. Bloomington, Indiana, 1991, p. 140 quoted in Martin Jay. ‘Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought’. Berkley: University of California Press, 1993, p. 512.

 

 

Touching with the eye

Part 2 of a large posting on the exhibition L’equilibriste, André Kertész at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours, which I saw in Tours in September 2019.

This posting contains photographs from his famous series “Distortions” (fascinating to see the original plates for the book of the same name, complete with cropping marks and red lead pencil annotations); American works from 1936 onwards, when Kertész moved to the United States to avoid the persecution of the Jews and the threat of World War II; and the late work colour Polaroids.

I admit that Kertész is not my favourite photographer. While I admire some of his photographs, I feel emotionally distant from most of them. Edward Clay observes in the quotation below that Kertész was “one of the most lyrical and formally inventive photographers of the twentieth-century… [His photographs] often convey a quiet mood of melancholy … He remains revered for his clarity of style and ability to blend simplicity with emotion, prizing impact over technical precision, seeking metaphors and geometry in everyday objects and scenarios, to turn the mundane into the surreal.”

Personally, I don’t find his photographs emotional nor lyrical, only a few poetic. Not melancholic, but geometric. In later works, he simplifies, simplifies, simplifies much like his friend Mondrian did. For me, the balance between sacred / geometry, the sacred geometry of the mystery of things, is often unbalanced in these images (particularly relevant, given the title of this exhibition). Is it enough just to turn the mundane into the surreal? Where does that lead the viewer? Is it enough to just observe, represent, without digging deeper.

At his best, in images such as Underwater swimmer, Esztergom (1918, above), Arm and Fan, New York (1937, below) and Washington Square, New York (1954, below) there is a structured, avant-garde mystery about the reality of the world, as re/presented through the object of the photograph, it’s physical presence. In Underwater swimmer, the body is stretched and distorted by an element, water, not a man-made mirror. His photographs from Hungary, Italy and early Paris possess a sensitivity of spirit that seems to have been excised from his life, the older he got. Far too often in later images, there is a “brittleness” to his photography, in which the object of reflection sits at the surface of the image, all sparkling in unflinching light. The single cloud oh so lonely in the sterile city; the man looking at the broken bench; the “buy, buy, buy” of consumer culture. You consumer Kertész’s later images, you do not reflect on them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. View Part 1 of the posting.

 

 

“André Kertész, one of the most lyrical and formally inventive photographers of the twentieth-century, whose work advocated for spontaneity over technical precision, has left a distinctive legacy of poetic images which form a bridge between the avant-garde and geometrical precision. A roamer for much of his life, his feelings of rootlessness manifest in his work and often convey a quiet mood of melancholy. …

Claiming “I am an amateur and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life”, Kertesz was a great source of inspiration to photographic legends such as Cartier-Bresson.

He remains revered for his clarity of style and ability to blend simplicity with emotion, prizing impact over technical precision, seeking metaphors and geometry in everyday objects and scenarios, to turn the mundane into the surreal. Nothing was too plain or ordinary for his eye, since he had a special ability to breathe life into even the most ‘unremarkable’ subjects.”

.
Edward Clay. “André Kertész: between poetry and geometry,” on ‘The Independent Photographer’ website, May 19th 2020 [Online] Cited 26/08/2020

 

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Distortion #34' 1933

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Distortion #34 
1933
Gelatin silver print

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Distortion #40' 1933

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Distortion #40
1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'L'equilibriste, André Kertész' at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours

Installation view of the exhibition 'L'equilibriste, André Kertész' at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours

Installation view of the exhibition 'L'equilibriste, André Kertész' at Jeu de Paume, Château de Tours