Archive for the 'portrait' Category



30
May
14

Exhibition / text: ‘Vivian Maier (1926-2009). A Photographic Revelation’ at Château de Tours

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2013 – 1st June 2014

 

“Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.”

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan May 2014

 

 

The next best thing

The photographs of Vivian Maier. Unknown in her lifetime (nanny as secretive photographer), her negatives discovered at an auction after her death – some developed, all scanned, in some cases cropped, the medium format images then printed. The latest “must have” for any self respecting photography collection, be it private or public. But are they really that good?

To be unequivocal about it, they are good – but, in most cases, they are not “great”. Maier is a very good photographer but she will never be a great photographer. This might come as a surprise to the legions of fans on Facebook (and the thousands of ‘Likes’ for each image), those who think that she is the best thing since sliced bread. But let’s look at the evidence – the work itself.

The photographs can seen on the Vivian Maier Official website and I have spent quite a lot of time looking at them. As with any artist, there are some strong images and some not so strong ones but few reach ‘master’ status. The lighting is good, the use of low depth of field, the location and the presence of the people she photographed are all there, as are the influences that you recite in your mind as to the people her photographs remind you of: Lewis Hine, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander et al. Somehow through all this she makes the photographs she takes her own for she has a “rare sense of photographic vision” as Edward Petrosky expressed it on my LinkedIn page, but ultimately they don’t really take you anywhere. It’s like she has an addiction to taking photographs (a la Gary Winogrand), but no way of advancing her art to the next level.

Vivien Maier’s photographs stand out because she hasn’t withheld enough within them. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some examples to explain what I mean…

Included in the postings are two comparisons: Vivian Maier, June 19, 1961, Chicago IL, 1961 / Lee Friedlander, Stony Point, New York, 1966; and Vivian Maier, New York, Nd 1966 / Berenice Abbott, New York at Night, 1932. As with most of Maier’s photography, she relies on intuition when taking a photograph and a bloody good intuition it is too. This intuition usually stands her in good stead and she almost always gets the shot, but there is an underlying lack of structure to her images. Here I am talking as much about psychological structure as physical structure, for both go hand in hand.

If we compare the Maier with the Friedlander we can say that, if we look at the windows in the Friedlander, every one is a masterpiece! From the mother and son at left with the white-coated marchers, to the central window with the miniature house, dog and tree, to the dark-suited marchers at right. Everything feels compelling, intricate weavings of a narrative that the viewer has to try and make sense of. Each part of the Friedlander image is absolutely necessary for that picture… whereas there are so many things in the Vivien Maier that belong in other pictures ie. a good picture but a lot that doesn’t belong in that picture. Things that should have been held back, by making another image somewhere else. Her narrative is confusing and thus the eye is also confused.

A similar scenario can be observed when comparing the photographs of New York at night by Abbott and Maier. Abbott’s photograph is a tight, orchestrated and muscular rendition of the city which seethes with energy and form. Maier’s interpretation fades off into nothingness, the main arterials of the city leading the eye up to the horizon line and then [nothing]. It is a pleasant but wishy-washy photograph, with all the energy of the city draining away in the mind and in the eye.

One of Maier’s photographs that most resonates with me is September 1953, New York, NY (1953, below). This IS a masterpiece. There is a conciseness of vision here, reminiscent of Weston’s Nude of 1938 with its link to the anamorphic structure of his photographs of peppers. There is nothing auxiliary to the purpose of the photograph, yet there is that indefinable something that takes it out of itself. The dirt of the clothes, under the fingers, the ring on the hand, the shape that no human should be in and its descent onto the pavement, the despair of that descent captured in the angle of the camera looking down on the victim. The photograph has empathy, promotes understanding and empathy in the viewer. Most of us have been there. Other photographs that approach a higher perspective are Maier’s self-portraits, in which there is a conscious exploration of her reflection in/of the world: a slightly dour, serious figure reflected back from the world into the lens of the camera – a refracted identity, the phenomenon of self as light passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another, between living, the camera and memory.

But too often Maier’s photographs are just so… obvious. Did she wait long enough for the composition to reveal itself to her more, god what’s the word, more ambiguously. Maier doesn’t have a partner to dance with. She sees something well enough, whereas Lee Friedlander expects something. If there is an idea out there in the ether she grabs onto it in a slightly derivative way. Maier states that these things happened with this subject matter but with Arbus, for example, she meets something extra/ordinary and alien – and goes beyond, beyond, beyond.

What we can say is that Maier’s vision is very good, her intuition excellent, but there is, critically, not that indefinable something that takes her images from good to great. This is the key thing – everything is usually thrown at the image, she withholds nothing, and this invariably stops them taking that step to the next level. This is a mighty difficult step for any artist to take, let alone one taking photographs in the shadows. Personally I don’t believe that these images are a “photographic revelation” in the spirit of Minor White. What is a revelation is how eagerly they have been embraced around the world as great images without people really looking deeply at the work; how masterfully they have been promoted through films, books, websites and exhibitions; how Maier’s privacy has been expunged in the quest for dollars; and how we know very little about her vision for the negatives as there are no extant prints of the work.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936

 

Vivian Maier. 'September 1953, New York, NY' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
September 1953, New York, NY
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'June 19, 1961, Chicago IL' 1961

 

Vivian Maier
June 19, 1961, Chicago IL
1961
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Stony Point, New York, 1966' 1966

 

Lee Friedlander
Stony Point, New York, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
New York
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 - 1991) 'New York at Night' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898 – 1991)
New York at Night
1932
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 x 10 9/16″ (32.7 x 26.9 cm)

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953' 1953

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY, 18 Octobre 1953
1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian-Maier-New-York-NY-c-1953-WEB

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
c. 1953
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959' 1959

 

Vivian Maier
St East nº108, New York , NY, September 28, 1959
1959
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'New York, NY' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
New York, NY
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

“Vivian Maier was the archetypal self-taught photographer with a keen sense of observation and an eye for composition. She was born in New York in 1926, but spent part of her childhood in France before returning to New York in 1951 when she started taking photos. In 1956, she moved to Chicago, where she lived until her death in 2009.

Her talent is comparable with that of the major figures of American street photography such as Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. The exhibition presented at the Château de Tours by the Jeu de Paume, in partnership with the Municipality of Tours and diChroma photography, is the largest ever exhibition in France devoted to Vivian Maier. It includes 120 black and white and colour gelatin silver prints from the original slides and negatives, as well as extracts from Super 8 films she made in the 60s and 70s. This project, which is sourced from John Maloof’s collection, with the valuable assistance of Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, reveals a poetic vision that is imbued with humanity.

John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier’s astonishing photos completely by chance in 2007 at an auction in Chicago. At the time, this young collector was looking for historical documentation about a specific neighbourhood of the city and he bought a sizeable lot of prints, negatives and slides (of which a major part had not even been developed) as well as some Super 8 films by an unknown and enigmatic photographer, Vivian Maier. By all accounts, Vivian Maier was a discreet person and somewhat of a loner. She took more than 120,000 photos over a period of thirty years and only showed this consequential body of work to a mere handful of people during her lifetime.

Vivian Maier earned her living as a governess, but all her free time and every day off was spent walking through the streets of New York, then later Chicago, with a camera slung around her neck (first of all box or folding cameras, later a Leica) taking photos. The children she looked after describe her as a cultivated and open-minded woman, generous but not very warm. Her images on the other hand bear witness to her curiosity for everyday life and the attention she paid to those passers – by who caught her eye: facial features, bearing, outfits and fashion accessories for the well-to-do and the telltale signs of poverty for those who were less fortunate.

While some photos are obviously furtively taken snapshots, others bear witness to a real encounter between the photographer and her models, who are photographed face-on and from close up. Her photos of homeless people and people living on the fringe of society demonstrate the depth of her empathy as she painted a somewhat disturbing portrait of an America whose economic boom was leaving many by the wayside.

Vivian Maier remained totally unknown until her death in April 2009. She had been taken in by the Gensburgs, for whom she had worked for almost seventeen years, and many of her possessions as well as her entire photographic output had been placed in storage. It was seized and sold in 2007 to settle unpaid bills.

Her biography has now been reconstructed, at least in part, thanks to a wealth of research and interviews carried out by John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein after the death of Vivian Maier. Jeffrey Goldstein is another collector who purchased a large part of her work. According to official documents, Vivian Maier was of Austro-Hungarian and French origin and her various trips to Europe, in particular to France (in the Alpine valley of Champsaur where she spent part of her childhood) have been clearly identified and documented. However, the circumstances that led her to take an interest in photography and her life as an artist remain veiled in mystery.

Photography seemed to be much more than a passion: her photographic activity was the result of a deeply felt need, almost an obsession. Each time she changed employers and had to move house, all her boxes and boxes of films (that she hadn’t had developed for want of money), as well as her archives comprising books and press cuttings about various stories in the news, came along too.

Vivian Maier’s body of work highlights those seemingly insignificant details that she came across during her long walks through the city streets: odd gestures, strange figures and graphic arrangements of figures in space. She also produced a series of captivating self-portraits from her reflection in mirrors and shop windows.”

Press release from the Château de Tours

 

Vivian Maier. 'Self-portrait' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Self-portrait
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago' Nd

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago
Nd
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Florida, 9 January 1957' 1957

 

Vivian Maier
Florida, 9 January 1957
1957
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Vivian Maier. 'Untitled' 1954

 

Vivian Maier
Untitled
1954
© Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, IL, January, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, IL, January, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Vivian Maier. 'Chicago, August 22, 1956' 1956

 

Vivian Maier
Chicago, August 22, 1956
1956
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

 

Château de Tours
25 Avenue André Malraux
37000 Tours

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Friday: 2 pm – 6 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 3 pm – 6 pm

Vivian Maier Official website

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24
May
14

Review: ‘The Rennie Ellis Show’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 8th June 2014

 

We Are Family

This is FAB, one of the best experiences I have had this year at an exhibition in Melbourne. You know you are having a good time when you laugh out loud at so many photographs, sharing the experience of the artist as though you had been there. As indeed I had, for in many cases the clubs pictured in Rennie Ellis’ photographs are the ones I went to.

I remember: Wednesday nights at Inflation in the late 80s, where to satisfy licensing restrictions you had to be served a “meal” so that you could drink alcohol (Dining Out, Inflation, 1980 below). The famous Razor Club (1986 – 1992), based at the Light Car Club of Australia’s clubrooms on the corner of Queens Road and Roy Street, opposite the Albert Park Lake and golf course. “It was Melbourne’s version of Studio 54, the hedonistic, off-the-wall New York disco of the late ’70s – both places notoriously hard to get into but once inside a wonderland of celebrities, freaks, transvestites and fantastic music free from the tyranny of genre.” Once on a big party night the gang of us tried to get in but the queue was so long it was impossible – so I went down the side, climbed up the drain pipes past the ladies loo, and up to the first floor balcony where someone pulled me over – completely off my face, just to get my friends in. Zu Zu’s, Cadillac Bar, 397, Commerce Club, Tasty, Freakazoid, Dome, Baseline, Hardware Club, The Peel and so many parties you could poke a stick at – what a time we had!

There to capture it all – affectionately, non-judgementally – was Rennie Ellis. He wasn’t like Diane Arbus, who thrust her camera as an outsider at people, waiting for a reaction. He was always part of the action because he was part of the family. He was a humanist photographer in the true sense of the word, for he loved photographing human beings, their social relations and their habitats, whatever that might be – sunning, partying, boozing, smoking, picking up. He referred to himself as a “people perv.”

Ellis had an eloquently clumsy eye, and for the type of baroque photographs he took this is a great thing. No perfect framing, no perfect tension points within the image, no regular alignment of horizontals, verticals or diagonals – just instinctual images taken in a split second, with his own particular brand of humour embedded in them. And always with this slight eccentricity in his vision. Look at the image of Dancing People, Razor Club (1991, below) and notice the odd hand poking in at the left hand side and the attitude of the dancers, or Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach (c. 1981, below), with the angle of the three cigarettes, the drink and the bottle of sun tan lotion strapped to the hip – FIERCE!

But he was not averse to understanding the structure of his images either, as can be seen by my comparison between the tight, formal structure of Paul Strand’s The Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953, below) and the looser, more natural gathering in Ellis’ The Gang, Windsor (1976, below); or the influence of other artists on his work, for example Norman Lindsay in his My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda (1977, below). Ellis also liked to push and pull at the pictorial plane; he liked to use pairs of people; he was not afraid of out of focus elements in the foreground of his images; he used chiaroscuro; and his use of light is always excellent. Above all, there is a consistency to his vision that never falters – a concatenation of images that is his style?

This is not just nostalgia. These are bloody good images, and Ellis takes these insightful type of images over and over again – the excesses of hedonism, the influences of wealth, the see-and-be-seen syndrome, things erotic and bizarre and, most importantly, enduring friendships. He photographs what he sees with a love and affection for his subject matter. None of this “staged” vernacular photography that I recently featured in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This is the real deal. A friend said to me recently, “Ah, but you know, he never did in depth photo-essays like Mary Ellen Mark did of the circus, for example.” To which I have a one word reply: BULLSHIT. His whole oeuvre is a huge photo-essay on the human race, specifically the construction of Australian identity as evidenced in sections like portraits, gangs, sharpies, Aboriginals, Kings Cross, Social Documentary, Decadence, Graffiti, Life’s a Parade, Life’s a Beach etc…

When you look at his photography it would seem to me that his images dissolve the barriers between image/subject/viewer. It’s a strange phenomena to feel so connected to a person’s work. It’s the journey that he takes us on, that we went on too – not so much the destination but the rejoicing in this journey… of company, of environment, friends, places – the joy of being human. He was allowed entry into these public/private spaces because he earned our trust. He lived with the people, and they allowed him to take a bit of their life with him – as a photographic memory, to be retold and relived in the present, allowing us all to relive those times and places. It’s the love, trust, humour and anticipation of the journey that make Ellis’ images truly unique in the history of Australian photography.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Many thankx to Manuela Furci, Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973' 1973

 

Ponch Hawkes
Rennie Ellis photographing at the Gay Liberation march, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1973
1973
Silver gelatin photograph
© Ponch Hawkes

 

In researching photographs for the upcoming exhibition Out of the closets, onto the streets: Gay Liberation photography 1971-73 I came across this photograph taken by Ponch Hawkes of the Gay Liberation march that was part of Gay Pride week in 1973. Ponch had never seen this image before until I scanned the negative. And there, front and centre as always, is Rennie Ellis capturing the action… What a special find and a wonderful photograph by Ponch!

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dancing People, Razor Club' 1991

 

Rennie Ellis
Dancing People, Razor Club
1991
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Robyn Dean. 'Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne' c. 1991-92

 

Robyn Dean
Marcus dancing at an unknown club, Melbourne
c. 1991-92

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dining Out, Inflation' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis
Dining Out, Inflation
1980
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Fitzroy extrovert' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Fitzroy extrovert
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis
Dino Ferrari, Toorak Road
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis
Bon Scott and Angus Young, Atlanta, Georgia
1978
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was a Scottish-born Australian rock musician, best known for being the lead singer and lyricist of Australian hard rock band AC/DC from 1974 until his death in 1980.

Angus McKinnon Young (born 31 March 1955) is a Scottish-born Australian guitarist best known as a co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter of the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC. Known for his energetic performances, schoolboy-uniform stage outfits, and popularisation of Chuck Berry’s duckwalk, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Young as the 24th greatest guitarist of all time.

AC/DC’s popularity grew throughout the 1970s, initially in Australia, and then internationally. Their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States, and the band seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. However, on 19 February 1980, Scott died after a night out in London. AC/DC briefly considered disbanding, but the group quickly recruited vocalist Brian Johnsonof the British glam rock band Geordie. AC/DC’s subsequent album, Back in Black, was released only five months later, and was a tribute to Scott. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'At the Pub, Brisbane' 1982

 

Rennie Ellis
At the Pub, Brisbane
1982
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'The Gang, Windsor' 1976

 

Rennie Ellis
The Gang, Windsor
1976
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Paul Strand. 'The Family, Luzzara, Italy' 1953

 

Paul Strand
The Family, Luzzara, Italy
1953
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

“The photographer Rennie Ellis (1940-2003) is a key figure in Australian visual culture. Ellis is best remembered for his effervescent observations of Australian life during the 1970s-90s, including his now iconic book Life is a beach. Although invariably inflected with his own personality and wit, the thousands of social documentary photographs taken by Ellis during this period now form an important historical record.

The Rennie Ellis Show highlights some of the defining images of Australian life from the 1970S and ’80S. This is the period of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke; AC/DC and punk rock; cheap petrol and coconut oil; Hare Krishnas and Hookers and Deviant balls.

This exhibition of over 100 photographs provides a personal account of what Ellis termed ‘a great period of change’. Photographs explore the cultures and subcultures of the period, and provide a strong sense of a place that now seems worlds away, a world free of risk, of affordable inner city housing, of social protest, of disco and pub rock, of youth and exuberance.”

Text from the MGA website

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My son Josh learns to swim' 1972

 

Rennie Ellis
My son Josh learns to swim
1972
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda' 1977

 

Rennie Ellis
My Bare Lady, The Ritz, St Kilda
1977
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Norman Lindsay. 'The Olympians' Nd

 

Norman Lindsay
The Olympians
Nd
Oil on canvas
Collection of Hamilton Art Gallery

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Interesting to note that Ellis must have been shooting both black and white and colour film during the VFL Grand Final of 1974. He must have had two cameras with him (this is more likely than swapping between films in the same 35mm camera) to shoot the photograph above in colour and the black and white image of Robbie McGhie (1974, below).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach' c. 1986

 

Rennie Ellis
Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach
c. 1986
Chromogenic print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Fully-equipped-Albert-Park-Beach-c.1981-WEB

 

Rennie Ellis
Fully equipped, Albert Park Beach
c. 1981
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach' 1985

 

Rennie Ellis
Don and Patrizia, St Kilda Beach
1985
Chromogenic print
40.5 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne' 1980

 

Rennie Ellis
Berlin Party, Inflation, Melbourne
1980
Digital C Type photograph
Fuji Crystal Archive print
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: 'Decade, 1970-1980' (left) and 'Decadent, 1980-2000' (right)

 

Rennie Ellis book covers: Decade: 1970-1980 (left) and Decadent: 1980-2000 (right)

 

Decade: 1970-1980 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. With an introduction by film maker and Rennie contemporary Paul Cox and an essay by academic Susan Van Wyk, Decade highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1970s. The photographs, predominantly black and white, are drawn from a core selection originally made by Rennie from his own unpublished book, supplemented by other significant and iconic images from 1970 to 1980 drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Many of the photographs are accompanied by extended captions written by Rennie himself, published here for the first time. Decade explores the cultures and sub-cultures of the seventies: the political upheavals, alternative lifestyles and counter culture, the women’s movement, gay liberation, the new religions and cults, pop festivals, Vietnam and other protests, massage parlours, the disco scene, the blossoming of Australia’s film industry, the new sexual freedom, Aboriginal rights, street festivals, the new theatre, fashion, drugs and the emergence of a decadent and hedonistic society that would later characterise the 1980s.

Decadent: 1980-2000 is a photography book showcasing Rennie Ellis’ (1940-2003) contribution to photography and social history. It is a fascinating snapshot of the wild, opulent, sometimes tacky and always decadent 1980s in Australia by a true original. With an introduction by photographer and Rennie contemporary William Yang and an essay by photographer and art critic Robert McFarlane, Decadent highlights Ellis as one of Australia’s most important chroniclers of the 1980s. The photographs, both colour and black and white, are drawn from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and the State Library of Victoria Rennie Ellis collection. Decadent explores the rise of the hedonism that we now associate with the 1980s. Ellis’ boundary-pushing, racy and sometimes voyeuristic works capture a society that seems to be revelling in its abandonment of the politically charged 1970s documented in Decade.

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About the Author

No other photographer has documented – in such depth – the life and times in Australia, throughout the 1970s until his death in 2003, with such insight into the human condition as Rennie Ellis. His non-judgmental approach was his ‘access-to-all-areas’ pass. Ellis used his camera as a key to open the doors to the social arenas of the rich and famous and to enter the underbelly of the nightclubs, bearing witness to the indulgences and excesses. In today’s post-Henson era, these captured moments offer an intimate access to an Australia tantalisingly, but sadly, now almost out of reach.

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Robert McGhie, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Robert ‘Robbie’ McGhie is a former Australian rules football player who played in the VFL between 1969 and 1972 and again in 1979 for the Footscray Football Club, from 1973 to 1978 for the Richmond Football Club and in 1980 and 1981 for the South Melbourne Football Club. His height was 192 cm and he weighed 85.5 kg. He played 46 games for Footscray, 80 games for Richmond and 16 games for South Melbourne. He was a Richmond Premiership Player 1973, 1974 (the year this photograph by Rennie Ellis was taken at the Grand Final).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross' 1970-71

 

Rennie Ellis
Property of Hells Angels, Kings Cross
1970-71
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
50.8 x 40.5 cm
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

invite-web-final-WEB

 

Invitation to The Rennie Ellis Show at the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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22
May
14

Film: ‘Traveller Homes, a film about Dave Fawcett’

 

Traveller Homes, a film about David Fawcett from PARC_UAL on Vimeo.

 

 

Traveller Homes, a film about Dave Fawcett made by Tom Hunter and Robin Christian in France in 2013.

“Sadly a large part of this activity has become transformed into a nostalgic archive for a lifestyle that has largely disappeared from the highways & byways of England.” (Dave Fawcett, 2013)

Dave Fawcett’s archive of converted buses and trucks is a unique photographic record which formed the basis for his ‘Traveller Homes’ website. His topographic studies record a segment of English social history, which still struggles to survive.

Since graduating from Leicester University in 1984 ‘Traveller’ Dave Fawcett has embraced the bender lifestyle. His first ‘mobile home’ was an ex-British Telecom Bedford TK. In 1992 he bought a 1966 Albion Chieftain furniture lorry and drove it on a one-way trip to Europe. He survives as a fruit picker during the summer months and still lives on his bus.

A selection from Dave Fawcett’s ‘Traveller Homes’ series is showing in Life on the Road, a Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC) project, made in partnership with London College of Communication as part of Green Week, 2014.

The exhibition features photography by Tom Hunter and Dave Fawcett and films by Andrew Gaston, at London College of Communication from 6 – 26 February 2014.

 

 

Travellers Homes website

Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC) website

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20
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 22nd June 2014

 

Some familiar images that were also seen in the posting Wols’ Photography: Images Regained are complimented by 5 new ones. The two portraits of the artist Max Ernst are eerie (is that a suitable word for a portrait that is strong and unsettling?) and perceptive, Wols responsive to the status of his sitter as a pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

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

 

Art Informel

The term Art Informel was originated by the French critic Michel Tapié and popularized in his 1952 book Un Art autre (Another art). A Parisian counterpart of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel emphasized intuition and spontaneity over the Cubist tradition that had dominated School of Paris painting. The resulting abstractions took a variety of forms. For instance, Pierre Soulages’s black-on-black paintings composed of slashing strokes of velvety paint suggest the nocturnal mood of Europe immediately after the war.

 

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still life - dining table]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Still life – dining table]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Nicole Bouban' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937

 

Wols
Nicole Bouban
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937
© Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Pavilion de l'Elegance - Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Pavilion de l’Elegance – Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903-1993), known as Alix Barton and later as “Madame Grès”, relaunched her design house under the name Grès in Paris in 1942. Prior to this, she worked as “Alix” or “Alix Grès” during the 1930s. Formally trained as a sculptress, she produced haute couture designs for an array of fashionable women, including the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolores del Río. Her signature was cut-outs on gowns that made exposed skin part of the design, yet still had a classical, sophisticated feel. She was renowned for being the last of the haute couture houses to establish a ready-to-wear line, which she called a “prostitution”.

The name Grès was a partial anagram of her husband’s first name and alias. He was Serge Czerefkov, a Russian painter, who left her soon after the house’s creation. Grès enjoyed years of critical successes but, after Grès herself sold the business in the 1980s to Yagi Tsucho, a Japanese company, it faltered. In 2012, the last Grès store in Paris was closed. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Swiss Pavilion - Wire Figure]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Swiss Pavilion – Wire Figure]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols, was born in Berlin in 1913. As a painter and graphic artist he is considered to have been an important trailblazer of Art Informel. For the first time the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting the largely unknown photographic oeuvre of Wols. These works foreshadow his development in the direction of non-representational art.

Wols grew up in Dresden, where he had an early encounter with photography as a profession through his attendance at a course in the studio of the Dresden photographer Genja Jonas. In 1932, after a brief sojourn in the milieu of the Berlin Bauhaus – then in the process of breaking up – the young Wols set off for Paris to realize his artistic ambitions.

Soon he was involved with the local Surrealists and made the acquaintance of other personalities in the theatrical, literary and art scenes. In this period Wols was mainly active as a photographer. In 1937 his works were exhibited for the first time in the prestigious Parisian Galérie de la Pléiade, which established his reputation as a photographer. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Wols. One of his commissions was to document the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

At the same time he produced striking multiple black-and-white portraits of personalities such as Max Ernst, Nicole Boubant or Roger Blin. Over the years Wols’ imagery became increasingly radical. The representational motifs gradually acquired a more abstract dimension and forced the viewer to see the objects represented in a new light. In particular, an extraordinary set of photograms confirms his interest in replacing representational motifs with non-representational ones. Transferred to painting, this trend would later make him a pioneer of Art Informel.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War Wols spent over a year in various internment camps in the south of France. In this period he turned more to watercolours, most of which were lost while he was fleeing from the Nazis.

Living in straitened circumstances Wols fought a losing battle with alcoholism and poor health. In 1951, as a result of his weakened physical condition, he died of food poisoning in Paris at the early age of 38. After his death, Wols’ work was displayed at the first three documenta exhibitions in Kassel (1955, 1959, 1964) and, in 1958, at the Venice Biennale. On 27 May 2014 he would have been 101.

The show covers all of his photographic work, including multiple portraits of famous artists, actors and writers, photographs of the “Pavillon de l’Élégance”, numerous still lifes, and many hitherto unknown motifs. The exhibition has been curated by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, where this unique collection will be kept and systematically catalogued.”

Press release from Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wols permanently settled in Paris in 1933, producing his first paintings but also working as a photographer. His photographic work of this period showed the clear influence of Surrealism. In 1936, he received official permission to live in Paris with the help of Fernand Léger; as an army deserter, Schulze had to report to the Paris police on a monthly basis. In 1937, the year in which he adopted his pseudonym WOLS, his photographs began to appear in fashion magazines such as Harper’s BazaarVogueFemina as well as Revue de l’art. Many of these photographs anticipate the displays at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme held in Paris in the following year, in which much use was made of mannequins.

At the outbreak of World War II Wols, as a German citizen, was interned for 14 months in the notorious Les Milles camp – together with some 3500 other artists and intellectuals. He was not released until late 1940. After his release Wols moved for two years to Cassis, near Marseille, where he struggled to earn a living. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee to Dieulefit, near Montélimar, where he met the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, one of his earliest collectors. He spent most of the war trying to emigrate to the United States, an unsuccessful and costly enterprise that may have driven him to alcoholism.

After the war Wols returned to Paris where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara and Jean Paulhan. He started to paint in oils in 1946 at the suggestion of the dealer René Drouin, who showed 40 of his paintings at his gallery in 1947. The same year Wols began to work on a number of illustrations for books by Paulhan, Sartre, Franz Kafka and Antonin Artaud. He fell ill but lacked the money to go to hospital, and throughout 1948 he worked largely in bed on these illustrations. In 1949 he took part in the exhibition Huit oeuvres nouvelles at the Galerie Drouin, along with Jean Dubuffet, Roberto Matta, Henri Michaux and other artists with whom he had a stylistic affinity.

Undergoing treatment for alcoholism, he moved to the country at Champigny-sur-Marne in June 1951. His early death later that year from food poisoning helped foster the legendary reputation that grew up around him soon afterwards. His paintings helped pioneer Art informel and Tachism, which dominated European art during and after the 1950s as a European counterpart to American Abstract Expressionism. Influenced by the writings of the philosopher Lao Tzu throughout his life, Wols also wrote poems and aphorisms that expressed his aesthetic and philosophical ideas.”

Text from the Weimar blog 2010

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Flea Market]' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Flea Market]
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Palisade]' Fall 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Palisade]
Fall 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Eiffel Tower]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Eiffel Tower]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still Life - Grapefruit]' 1938 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Still Life – Grapefruit]
1938 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Self Portrait with Hat' 1937/38

 

Wols
Self Portrait with Hat
1937/38
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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13
May
14

Review: ‘Standing Stone’ by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 30th April – 17th May 2014

 

I like this exhibition, I like it a lot.

The premise, spelt out in the intelligent and articulate catalogue essay by Laura Skerlj (below), is the holistic connection between an Aboriginal stone circle of the Western Victorian Volcanic Plains used for astronomy > the moles on the artists back as lexias or nodal points of energy > and the energy of celestial bodies in the cosmic sky, arranged by humans into pictures.

Evans precariously suspends pieces of rock (taken from near the site of the Aboriginal stone circle) in the air on the end of long poles in the position of the moles on her back – and then maps out the energy lines between them, connecting them with translucent Sellotape on the gallery wall. These lines become a trans/figured form of ley line, those lines of energy that exist within the earth that link spiritual places together. The lines could also be linked to reflexology, chakras, the positioning of stones on the body in reiki healing and Kundalini: a form of feminine shakti or “corporeal energy”, an unconscious, instinctive or libidinal force. As the press release notes, “Standing Stone encompasses both the geographic and the corporeal time scales in order to examine the latent histories of these materials – that traverse the mineral to organic, the human and geologic, the infinite to the micro. At once personal and universal, Standing Stone opens up compelling new dialogues about the body and materiality.” The work traverses both time and space, macro and micro. It undermines dichotomies and makes liminal connections which allows the viewer to embrace a quality of ambiguity or disorientation. Ultimately this lets them see the world and the cosmos from different, multiple perspectives via new associations and energies.

There are a couple of missed steps. The colour pink (associated with the flesh of the body) on the poles did not really work for me. It was too didactic. Better some translucent perspex rods that would have continued the theme of the Sellotape and would have made the rocks seem to float in the air more, made the balancing more ambiguous. Both the press release (“the raw materials of photography, such as unprocessed photographic paper exposed to ambient light”) and the catalogue essay (“Flesh-pink geometric shapes, made from unprocessed (and still-processing) photographic paper, provide platforms for rock-relics: two materials accumulating time at vastly different rates”) make reference to elements that were not in the exhibition. Flesh pink geometric shapes were to be placed under rocks on the ground and this would have made the flesh pink rods seem more logical and tied the exhibition together… but they were not necessary. While the installation of such a work is always going to be a fluid process, and the pared down version is ultimately a lot better, it is unfortunate that the catalogue had been printed and the press release not amended to reflect the changes. Such is energy and life.

The other element that envisioned a jarring note was the image of the bruise on the thigh of the artist (which I initially thought was an elbow). A beautifully ambiguous image in its own right I can see why Catherine included it in the exhibition (as it links specifically to the energy of the moles on her back), but it brought to my mind issues of domestic violence, control and power, and I don’t know whether these additional thoughts needed to be placed in the mind of the viewer. I loved the image, I liked some of its energies but others, not so much.

Having said all  that, this is a fascinating, intelligent, thoughtful and beautiful installation. Like the artist herself, it has great energy and presence. I really enjoyed spending time with both.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Catherine Evans for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting and to Laura Skerlj for allowing me to publish the catalogue essay. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All artworks courtesy of the artist, installation documentation by Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

Catherine Evans. 'Constellation II' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Constellation II
2014
Ballpoint pen on photographic paper
21 x 30cm
© Catherine Evans

 

 

“Standing Stone is an exhibition of photographs and sculpture that transposes the marks on our own bodies into a large-scale map using basalt boulders, sticky tape and the raw materials of photography, such as unprocessed photographic paper exposed to ambient light.

In this exhibition the artist will create a large-scale constellation where precariously suspended volcanic rocks collected from the Western Victorian Volcanic Plains mark the positions of moles on the artist’s own back. With reference to the Indigenous stone arrangement, Wurdi Youang,* that is situated on these plains, Standing Stone encompasses both the geographic and the corporeal time scales in order to examine the latent histories of these materials – that traverse the mineral to organic, the human and geologic, the infinite to the micro. At once personal and universal, Standing Stone opens up compelling new dialogues about the body and materiality.

This exhibition is the outcome of a mentorship with artist Susan Jacobs, supported by the Victorian College of the Arts and Arts Victoria through its Graduate Mentorship program. Accompanying the exhibition will be an essay by Laura Skerlj.

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About the artist

Catherine Evans is a Melbourne-based artist who incorporates photography, video and sculpture to explore the latent history of materials. Often working with volcanic rocks and the raw materials of photography, she juxtaposes and isolates them against images of the body, testing the limits of scale and gravity.

Since completing first class Honours at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011, Catherine has participated in many group and solo exhibitions. She is a current recipient of the inaugural VCA Graduate Mentorship (2013-14) and was selected as a finalist in the Substation Contemporary Art Prize (2013 and 2011). Grants include an Australia Council ArtStart grant (2012) and a National Gallery of Victoria Trustee Award (2010).”

Press release from the Blindside

This exhibition and research took place on the lands of both the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong people who have been the traditional custodians of these lands for thousands of years, and whose sovereignty was never ceded. This exhibition is supported by the Victorian College of the Arts and Arts Victoria through its Graduate Mentorship program.

 

*The Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in Victoria was built by the Wathaurung people before European settlement, but all records of its use have now disappeared. This egg-shaped ring of stones, about 50m in diameter, has its major axis almost exactly East-West. In a paper published in May 2013 in Rock Art Research, Ray Norris and his colleagues confirm a suggestion (originally made by John Morieson) that some outlying stones seem to indicate the setting positions of the Sun at the equinoxes and solstices, and have shown that these same astronomically significant directions are built into the shape of the main ring. They also show, using a Monte Carlo statitical test, that this is unlikely to have occured by chance, but instead the builders of this stone ring intentionally aligned it on the setting Sun on these astronomically significant dates. More information…

 

Catherine Evans. 'Standing Stone' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Standing Stone
2014
Aluminium, steel, volcanic rocks, sticky tape
7 x 3m
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne 2014

 

 

Installation view of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

 

Installation view of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail)
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

WITH THE UNIVERSE AT OUR BACKS

We have long looked skyward, consumed by a desire to arrange celestial bodies into pictures. Sometimes these formations are difficult to see amid the city’s night-haze of light and pollution. Yet, on a drive out of town, these cosmic arrangements come into view. Constellations describe a visual relationship between groups of stars, which, over time, become culturally recognisable. To make a constellation, a dreamer must draw a line from one bright body to the next: the stars implicated in this formation need not be close to one another in reality, but merely form a visual engagement when viewed from an Earthly vantage point. For millennia, ancient cultures have made these connections, constructing apparitions in the ether that recall existential stories. However, these cosmic sketches have also served as insightful gauges of time.

In the volcanic plains of Western Victoria – the third largest of its kind in the world – lies a geological constellation. It is an Indigenous ‘map’ made of ancient stones, named by the Wathaurong people as Wurdi Youang. This egg-shaped arrangement is relatively humble in size, and up until recently was thought to be an initiation site. However, Wurdi Youang is now being considered a geological record of equinoxes and solstices, with each stone set at a considered angle, marking the movements of the sun over time.1 For artist Catherine Evans, this cosmic calendar held within it a latent agency that was both intimate and expansive. Through its very construction, the Indigenous peoples of the area had used a prehistoric material to articulate a schema that connected themselves, and their activities, with the unreachable workings of the universe: “I find the contrast in time scales at this site fascinating – that on the one hand we have an ancient time scale of the land (geologic), and on the other the human time scale, which in comparison is only a blip.”2

In Evans’ current exhibition, Standing Stone, the artist has used rocks from the plains nearby Wurdi Youang to recreate a constellation of markings found on her own body. The layout for these marks was initially realised on an inverted black and white photograph Evans took of her back: in this image, her usually pale skin appears darker than its illuminated blemishes. Using a biro and ruler, moles and freckles were connected with diagrammatic lines, just as planets, stars and dark nebula are drawn to one another in astronomical illustrations. In the exhibition, this exact configuration of blemishes is re-presented using volcanic rocks in a sculptural installation. Across the walls and floor, each point is connected with a gleaming line of transparent cello-tape.

Here, two seemingly opposing containers of time – the body and the universe – are depicted as insulated, yet reflexive, systems. Just as skin imperfections are reminders of age, trauma, exposure and adaptation, the individual rocks at Wurdi Youang are conscious notations of the sun’s movements in the sky. Each rock or blemish represents a passed event that, in conjunction, forms the schema for a cosmos. Although more commonly understood as the extraterrestrial zone outside the Earth’s atmosphere (and therefore, outside of ourselves), the etymology of ‘cosmos’ is derived from the less-boastful ‘ornament’: a sphere seen as ultimately expansive is reined into a handheld trinket. This oscillation becomes an underlying consideration in Evans’ new work, as temporality swings between what is known, even embodied, and what is all encompassing.

In understanding these holistic systems, we can draw on biosemiotician Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of ‘umwelt’. Umwelt describes the ‘phenomenal world’ or ‘self world’ of an animal, as shaped by a series of functions necessary for survival. These sets of functions are programmed to suit each specific organism, creating a harmonious motion, or pattern, for existence. In consequence, all animals, from the simplest to the most complex, are fitted into their unique worlds with equal completeness: “A simple world corresponds to a simple animal, a well-articulated world to a complex one.”3 From this theory, both the humble body and the celestial sphere could be seen to exist within an umwelt, or environment, tuned to its innate processes.

In Evans’ work, it is the configuration of a constellation that represents these sets of motions as markers on a temporal scale. For example, the blemishes found on our bodies, or the rocks moved by Indigenous people at Wurdi Youang thousands of years ago, exist in perfect accord with each organism, or system’s, relative lifespan. That could be a sunspot the artist developed one summer, 17 years into her life, or the fusion of gases that combined to form a star 13 billion years ago in the Milky Way’s galactic halo. As Uexküll explains, the animal or subject creates time through its own set of harmonious processes, no matter how simple or complex: “Instead of saying… that without time, there can be no living subject, we shall now have to say that without a living subject, there can be no time.”4

The visualisation of these essential movements is euphonious. Feminist and cultural theorist Elizabeth Grosz articulated Uexküll’s umwelt as nature set to counterpoint.5 In her interpretation, the environment works in a similar way to a musical melody, following a set of instructions that can be syncopated with another. She recalls one of Uexküll’s most examined specimens, the tick, describing the way in which it “lives in a simplified world, a harmonic world of its own rhythms and melody.”6 This melody, according to Grosz, is composed of the animal’s umwelt, as the conjunction of its three most vital processes: moving up a twig following the warmth of the sun; smelling the butyric acid expelled from the sweat of an animal; dropping onto the animal to suck its blood. In turn, the tick becomes what she describes as “a connective, an instrument.”7

This musicality is innate within Evans’ new work. Here, rocks intonate the room, propped at varied heights like notes on musical score, while reflective tape connects the specimens to one another in directional locomotion. Flesh-pink geometric shapes, made from unprocessed (and still-processing) photographic paper, provide platforms for rock-relics: two materials accumulating time at vastly different rates. Just as the vision of celestial space seen at night expands our image of the natural world, the constellation found on the artist’s back is magnified out into the gallery as an assemblage that connects ancient time with personal time. It is within this singular temporal frame that the intimate (that nebula-birthmark on your wrist) is a reflection of the processes that, even now, evade us (tangible stars imagined into dream shapes).

Consequently, Standing Stone envisions landscape as a phenomenological site, where the body and the universe share the same harmonic processes. As British archaeologist Chris Tilley explains, to perceive landscape as phenomenological resists any precise topographical boundary: as we have seen, landscape in its holistic form – as a cosmos – can transcend terrestrial limitations. Instead, he perceives landscape as “embodied sets of relationships between places, a structure of human feeling, emotion, dwelling, movement and practical activity.”8 In this way, Evans presents a landscape that is both intimate and expansive. Just as the celestial exterior looks down upon us, it shifts into us, reflecting back the documents we make. These documents are many, printed on our bodies and arranged in sophisticated groupings in the environment. The constellation, therefore, flips and folds, not just across a horizontal plane, but vertically, between what is cast in the night sky and its earthen recollection.”

Laura Skerlj is a Melbourne-based artist and writer

Laura Skerlj website

 

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

Installation view of 'Standing Stone' by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail) 2014

 

Installation views of Standing Stone by Catherine Evans at BLINDSIDE, Melbourne (detail)
2014
© Catherine Evans
Photos: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

Catherine Evans. 'Bruise II' 2014

 

Catherine Evans
Bruise II
2014
Framed photograph
51 x 76cm
© Catherine Evans
Photo: Matthew Stanton, 2014

 

 

BLINDSIDE
Level 7, Room 14,
Nicholas Building,
37 Swanston Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 6pm

BLINDSIDE website

Laura Skerlj website

Catherine Evans website

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12
May
14

Exhibitions: ‘New Women’ and ‘The Chanel Legend’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

The Chanel Legend exhibition dates: 28th February – 18th May 2014
New Women exhibition dates: 28th February – 27th July 2014

 

Do you feel like a new woman?

Do you feel like a god?

You, in the oft mentioned (ten times in the accompanying texts) LBD (Little Black Dress) or Chanel Suit (ten times as well)

It’s like the ten commandments.

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And ~ on we go… say after me,

“Sashay! Shantay!”

 

PS some of the photos ain’t half bad tho!

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Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Yva. 'Silk stockings' Nd

 

Yva
Silk stockings
Nd
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Aenne Biermann. 'Self-Portrait with silver ball' 1931

 

Aenne Biermann
Self-Portrait with silver ball
1931
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Coco Chanel' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst
Coco Chanel
1937
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Boris Lipnitzki. 'Coco Chanel' 1937

 

Boris Lipnitzki
Coco Chanel
1937
© Getty Images

 

 

New Women

In the 1920s Coco Chanel chiefly influenced the type of the “new woman”. She established skirts that reached just below the knee, encouraged women to wear trousers and represents functional ladies wear. In the photographs by among others Yva, Franz Roth, Lotte Jacobi and Hein Gorny presented here, women show legs in silk stockings, wear cropped hair, drive motorbikes or automobiles and play tennis or go into baths. In this period women begin to take charge of their lives. Being a photographer offered the opportunity to express this new notion of the self in images and in life. The special display of the Photography Department coincides with the exhibition The Chanel Legend.

 

The Chanel Legend

Coco Chanel (1883-1971) is one of the most eminent couturières of the twentieth century. She already appears as an advocate of simple, comfortable clothes in the years just after 1910, thus helping to pave the way for a style which has retained its major importance in the fashion world till today. Such outstanding fashion classics as the “little black dress”, the Chanel Suit and the Chanel handbag are inseparably linked with her person. Since her start-up in 1913, Chanel has built up an international and, till the present day, astoundingly successful fashion empire. It is not until 1983, in the shape of Karl Lagerfeld, that a personality with anything like her charisma and influence becomes her successor. Coco – her real name was Gabrielle – Chanel launched her perfume Chanel N° 5, whose overwhelming commercial success guaranteed her a financial independence which was to last all her life, at the beginning of the 1920s. She combined fashion jewellery and genuine gemstones with surefooted confidence and had herself portraited by celebrity photographers such as Man Ray or Horst P. Horst.

The Chanel Legend investigates why it is that the person of Coco Chanel and the brand she established have attracted such huge attention up to and including the present. It will turn the spotlight both on the fashion designer’s biography and the image which she created for herself, as well as the brilliant achievement of Karl Lagerfeld (*1933) in combining this legacy with the fluctuating currents of contemporary taste since 1983. The exhibition shows a total of more than 200 objects from eminent collections, including women’s suits, accessoires, jewellery, advertising graphic, historical photographs and over 75 fashion magazines spanning a period from 1920 to1971. Besides more than 54 original garments, among them 38 created by Coco Chanel, and some 50 jewellery creations, over 35 adaptions of the Chanel classics can be seen for the first time, which in their own individual way give us a new appreciation of the “Chanel Legend”.

The exhibition approaches the “Chanel Legend” in three chapters. The first documents, with 38 original garments, accessoires and more than 50 items of fashion jewellery from the period between 1925 and 1971 the fashion designer’s oeuvre. Designs for evening and day wear and the perfume Chanel N° 5, of which an original flacon is on show, belong to Chanel’s pre-Second World War creative phase. After her return to Paris in 1954, Chanel continued to lead her firm up to her death in 1971. The exhibition shows, among other items from this period, some 10 garments which Chanel designed for the actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, including day wear and garments for representative occasions. On top of this, a large quantity of pieces of fashion jewellery can be seen, supplemented by original photographs.

The second chapter throws light on the Chanel classics, which have retained their fascination till today. Thus historical original examples of the Chanel Suit are juxtaposed with some 20 different adaptations of it, including models from other fashion houses, unknown ateliers and garment manufacturers. The procession of “lookalikes” and “distant cousins” by no means comes to an end with Chanel’s lifetime, but integrates aspects of contemporary fashion. A selection of the endless variations on the theme of the “little black dress” from the 1920s till the present will also be on show, some of them by designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Max Heyman and Issey Miyake or Nina Ricci. They should by no means be seen as just copies of Chanel models. The short black dress was in keeping with the modern, dynamic lifestyle of the 1920s. Later the “little black dress” is an indispensable requisite in every woman’s wardrobe and, in the Fifties and Sixties, the epitome of Parisian chic.

In the third section, the focus is on Karl Lagerfeld’s creations for the House of Chanel. He succeeded in modernising the brand without sacrificing the features which were typical for it. The exhibition shows in particular items which quote the Chanel classics, or pay homage to his revered predecessor in some of their details. This selection, too, is complemented by fashion jewellery. The development comes full circle here, since Lagerfeld’s present winter collection for 2013/14 playfully quotes references to Coco Chanel’s legendary initial phase in the 1920s. More than 100 historical fashion magazines spanning a period from 1920 to 1971 can also be seen in the exhibition, including an issue of the American Vogue dated 1st October 1926 in which the “little black dress” is shown. Magazines were the most important medium for the propagation and reception of Chanel’s fashion. Visitors can leaf through them on the tablet computers provided.

Text from press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

 

Aenne Biermann. 'Portrait of Anneliese Schiesser' 1929

 

Aenne Biermann
Portrait of Anneliese Schiesser
1929
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

 

Hein Gorny. 'Portrait of a Woman' c. 1930/1972

 

Hein Gorny
Portrait of a Woman
c. 1930/1972
Silver gelatin print, Reprint ofHeinrich Riebesehl
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg

 

Atelier Benda/d'Ora. 'The actress Marlene Dietrich with beret' 1927

 

Atelier Benda/d’Ora
The actress Marlene Dietrich with beret
1927
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Madame D'Ora. 'The fashion designer Coco Chanel' about 1927

 

Madame D’Ora
The fashion designer Coco Chanel
about 1927
Silver gelatin print
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown. 'Chanel' 1931

 

Unknown
Chanel
1931
© Corbis Images

 

Man Ray. 'Chanel with cigarette' 1935

 

Man Ray
Chanel with cigarette
1935
© VG Bildkunst Bonn, 2014, and Man Ray Trust

 

Roger Schall. 'Ritz Apartment' Nd

 

Roger Schall
Ritz Apartment
Nd
© Roger Schall-Collection Schall

 

Douglas Kirkland. 'Chanel im Atelier' (Chanel in the studio) 1962

 

Douglas Kirkland
Chanel im Atelier (Chanel in the studio)
1962
© Corbis Images

 


Coco Chanel

Gabrielle Chanel, who grew up in humble circumstances, opened her first Couture Salon in Paris in 1913, after she had already set up in business in 1908 as a modiste. In 1919 she moved to the Rue Cambon 31, which is still the address of the House of Chanel today. Coco Chanel’s first creative phase ended with the outbreak of war in 1939. Her fashion house stayed shut for 15 years before she dared a comeback in 1954, at the age of 70. The exhibition shows creations by Chanel from both periods. The “little black dress” becomes her trademark. Further models of day and evening wear show to what extent the fashion designer had her finger on the pulse of her time, and at the same time bear witness to the high quality of her models both in design and execution. In the 1950s and 1960s it is her women’s suits which cause a furore, first and foremost the “Chanel Suit”, which she first presented at a fashion show in 1957. Her celebrated quilted handbag, launched in February 1955 and called, simply, “2.55”, has long since attained the status of a classic and is a must in every collection of the luxury label. Her collections were always supplemented by matching fashion jewellery. Till today, Coco Chanel appears as an enigmatic and fascinating personality, and has been the theme of many films and books. Fierce controversy also surrounds her links to decision-makers of the Third Reich too, however, up to the present day.

 

The “little black dress” and suits by Chanel – their reception

he reception of Coco Chanel’s fashion and her style is already very widespread in her lifetime. A comparison with other contemporary couturiers reveals that Coco Chanel operated a very tolerant policy as regards the copyright for her models: The fashion designer allowed her models to be copied up to a certain point with her consent. For her, it was an acknowledgement of her eminence if women all over the world dressed in her style – an aspect whose influence on the “Chanel Legend” should not be underestimated, and which is investigated in this exhibition for the first time. In October 1926, the American Vogue magazine described a short black dress by Chanel as “The Chanel Ford – the frock that all the world will wear”. This drew a parallel between Chanel’s dress in its universality and modernity and one of the most important inventions of the time and prophesied a great future for it.

This is the birth of the “little black dress”. And although Chanel was not the first couturier to design simple black dresses for day wear it nevertheless remains inseparably linked with her name. Even the perhaps most celebrated “little black dress”, that worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, is often wrongly attributed to Chanel. The exhibition traces the development of the fashion classic from the 1920s till today. Another model which has gone down as an icon in fashion history is the “Chanel Suit” with its boxy, collarless jacket and often contrasting braided edgings. The term “Chanel Suit” is even quoted as a reference in the Duden. The exhibition shown here also document the fact that Coco Chanel produced a whole range of women’s suits which were adapted by other fashion houses or even home dressmakers. It is mostly no longer possible today to reconstruct whether individual models were made under licence or whether they were freely interpreted or simply copied. Irrespective of this, however, it is certain that all these models also made their contribution to the “Chanel Legend”.

Text from press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

 

Gabrielle Chanel. 'Ensemble' 1960s

 

Gabrielle Chanel
Ensemble
1960s
Jahre Seidencloqué mit Lurex
Deutsche Kinemathek – Marlene Dietrich Collection, Berlin
© Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Fotografie von Christin Losta

 

Gabrielle Chanel. 'Tageskleid/Day Dress' 1960-62

 

Gabrielle Chanel
Tageskleid/Day Dress
1960-62
Seiden-Crêpe de Chine
Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag
© Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Fotografie von Christin Losta

 

Gabrielle Chanel. 'Costume, C. H. Kuehne & Zn' Autumn / Winter 1966/67, licensed by Chanel

 

Gabrielle Chanel
Costume, C. H. Kuehne & Zn
Autumn / Winter 1966/67, licensed by Chanel
Silk brocade
Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag © Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Fotografie von Christin Losta

 

Karl Lagerfeld. 'Costume, Chanel Boutique' Autumn/Winter 1989/90

 

Karl Lagerfeld
Costume, Chanel Boutique
Autumn/Winter 1989/90
Wool tweed, Wool georgette
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Fotografie von Christin Losta

 

Karl Lagerfeld. 'Costume, Chanel Boutique' Spring/Summer 1986

 

Karl Lagerfeld
Costume, Chanel Boutique
Spring/Summer 1986
Cotton poplin, cotton pique
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
© Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Fotografie von Christin Losta

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday and Thursday 11 am – 9 pm

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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